Trying Out: Codenames

Cedric Phillips is a Magic player. He lost a game at a GP because he was playing this game I had never heard of and missed the start of the round. The name was Codenames and when I checked it out, its apparently very popular all over the world. In fact, so popular, every place I tried to look for it, it was sold out. So, I had to order it from abroad.


I have the English version, but there’s actually a Finnish version that’s come out very recently (available at Sensei’s Divining Shop, if you’re interested). I’ll probably get it at some point, because there are certain limitations with playing the English version with my nieces, who do speak some English, but as they are 13 and 15, they lack knowledge of certain intricacies of the words involved, which is kind of important.

The game is pretty simple. Although there is a two-player and a three-player variant, you need at least four players to really play the game. You divide your players into two teams of at least two each. One player from each team is the spymaster. The spymaster gives the players clues as to where their contacts are.

The contacts are hidden in a field of 25 words. The spymaster gives one word hints as to where they are, but each hint can be related to several spies, so the spymaster also adds a number to the hint. The other members of the team then make guesses by pointing at the words laid out before everyone. They make one guess at a time. If they guess right, a spy of their color is placed on that that word and you get to make another guess (but you can only make one guess more than the number given by the spymaster). If they guess wrong, a spy of the opposing color, a civilian or an assassin is placed on that tile. Hitting a spy of the opposing team helps them immensely, hitting a civilian is a bummer and hitting the assassin means you just lost the game. If your team finds all your spies before your opponent, you win.

Its fun, its quick and its very strategic, at least as the spymaster. You need to stay away from hints that could lead to the assassin, but you also need to find words that can lead your opponent to as many spies as possible. Sometimes you might need to risk your team hitting an opposing spy, just to stay away from the assassin.

You should probably make teams in such a way (if possible) that no team can abuse shared experiences or similar information. For example, one of the hints given by my niece to her mother in our game was “July”, which pointed to “London” and “tube”, because… well, guess what they did last July…

Still, as a party game, its very good (ranked number 1 on BoardGameGeeks Party Game list and 19th over all). For my nieces, its probably also a nice educational game, because they have to think about how to connect words in a foreign language.

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