Game – Codenames


Have you figured out yet that I love board games?  If you haven’t, maybe you’re not paying close enough attention.  The Boy and I have a lot of games, and they’re not organized very well right now because the previous owners of our house didn’t set up the cabinets in the living room very well.  There’s lots of interior cabinet space, but it’s all open, and so the games are all stacked one on top of another.  The poor boxes at the bottom are never taken out, and they probably feel abandoned.  I promise we’ll get back and play with you again someday, Pandemic!  So smaller games, and ones that we acquired more recently tend to be on the top of the pile, and are more likely to be grabbed when we’re looking for a game.

One I’d heard about late in 2015 was called Codenames.  I had no idea what it was about.  How to play.  I just kept hearing, “It’s really good!”  And it turns out that buzz was right, because it recently won the prestigious Spiel des Jahres, the German “Game of the Year“, which is basically like winning Best Picture at the Oscars, except for board games.  And it’s going to be on the lineup of games played on Tabletop this year, so that’s awesome, and should be completely hilarious (also providing me with a 2 minute video or so of Wil Wheaton explaining the basics of the game, which is my cheaters way of teaching new people how to play games).


So, since Wil hasn’t explained yet how to play…what is it?  It’s a word game played in teams.  All the words are laid out in 5×5 grid on the table.  One person from each team is the “spymaster”.  The two spymasters have a key to the grid that tells them which of the words on the table belong to each team, which are innocent bystanders, and which one is the assassin.  The goal is to give your teammates one word clues that will lead them to guess the words belonging to your team.  You do this by giving a clue like “Hot, 2” if you’re trying to get them to guess “summer” or “fire”.  But watch out – if the other team has “chili” on the table, and that one is guessed, then your turn is over.  First team to guess all their cards wins, or else first team to accidentally choose the assassin loses.


Yes, it’s that easy.  The hardest part is setting up all the cards, and then also trying to explain thoroughly enough so that people aren’t confused.  It’s so simple…it can’t be that simple, can it?  It is.  Don’t over think it.  Most confusing for spymasters is trying to figure out which way the grid lines up with the cards.  Or who goes first.  Or how to get your teammates to choose word X over word Y.  But that last one is gameplay, and it’s kind of fun.


So – who would like this game?  The box says ages “14 and up”, but I think if you had a smart 10 year old, they could probably play too.  There’s a lot of emphasis on vocabulary, meanings, double-meanings, synonyms, phrasing.  So if someone doesn’t have the language skills, it’ll be harder (which may make it harder for those for whom English is not their first language and who aren’t comfortable with idiomatic phrases).  It’s a fairly fast game once you know how to play – perhaps 15 minutes per round?  And it’s fun enough where you can easily play 2 or 3 rounds without thinking much of it.  The artwork is simple and clear in its meaning.  The instructions are well written, and give options for playing with fewer than 4 players (the smallest needed for team play).  Basically, this is one of those games you’re going to start seeing more and more of.  When you go to parties at the houses of smart people who play games, look for it.

And if I haven’t explained it well enough, allow “Watch it Played” to explain in 10 minutes.

Details: Codenames, available at your local game store, or on Amazon.

Leave a Reply