Monday, May 2, 2016


A Codename board

Codenames arrived in 2015 and has quickly taken its place in the pantheon of great social games.  I usually don’t get excited about new games until I get to play them, but Codenames was an exception. I’ve been looking for a good word game for a while and Codenames had gotten rave reviews from the start.  Vlaada Chvatel has made some of my favorite games though none was anything like Codenames or any of his others for that matter.  When I spotted the game brought to a party*, I was desperate to play.  I quickly explained the game rules, which really confused people shortly thereafter when I told them I hadn’t played before.

*Yes, this is the kind of parties I go to.

Czech Games


Vlaada Chvatil

Elevator Pitch:

There is a grid of 25 words where 8 or 9 belong to a red team and a blue team.  The rest of the words are neutral except one assassin which results in instant loss.  Taking turns, a Spymaster says a single word to clue a selected number of words of their color.  For example, a spymaster might say apple (3) to clue New York, lemon, and pie, in the picture above. Field Operatives on the spymaster’s team guess words from the 25 until they run out of selections, pass  or are wrong, and the play passes over to the other team. First team to have all their words guessed without choosing the assassin wins.

Personal Impression:

It would be hard to match the hype I had given Codenames, but the game absolutely delivered.  Games are meant to be fun and everything about Codenames is fun.  It is fun to give clever clues matching disparate words with multiple meanings, only to be thwarted by your team’s inability to understand your brilliance, or more often, missing that different word was even more appropriate for my clue.  It is fun to discuss which word has been clued, while the spymaster sits silently exasperated at your logic just waiting to burst.  If it fun to watch the opposing team guess as you explain how every answer, no matter how absurd, would be completely appropriate.  It is fun to kibitz the game, playing along or laughing at participants.  And it is fun to tell stories of after, like the time robot clued rock and sock, or when in a player’s first game they happily called Tennis (3) only realizing their mistake when Court, the overlooked assassin was selected.

Good for People who Grew up Playing

Password or other word games
Ease of Learning:

Very simple to understand what you are trying to do.  There may be some questions on gameflow or the legality of plays, but they can be answered as you go along.  Worst case scenario a round gets screwed up and you just begin again.

Fidgety Index

Nothing to play with, but you can always heckle your opposition on their turn to pass the time.  Just be careful not to accidentally give them any good ideas.

Universal Theme:

Spymasters are competing to contact all of their agents first.  It is a pretty nonsensical theme that has absolutely no effect on game-play.

Player Count and Length:

2-8+  There is a co-op version to play with 2 or 3 which works okay if you aren’t too concerned about scoring.   With at least 4 players you can divide into teams with at least one spymaster and one guesser per side.  After that just keep adding to teams.  You can play with any number, but after you hit 8-10, teams will start getting unwieldy.  A round takes about 15 minutes, so length is a question of how many rounds you wish to play.


None yet, though Codename: Pictures is coming.

Spin Offs:

No official ones out yet, though Codenames with Dixit cards works surprisingly well.  You feel just as helpless.

Introducing the Game to New Gamers: 

Do a couple of practice words.  Make sure they play a couple rounds before they become a spymaster. Encourage clues that go for multiple words.


No app to play the game yet, but there is a companion app that helps with selecting teams and setup.  You can also play the game through forums. An official app is in the works, and looks pretty neat.


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