Codenames is a fun guessing word game where you get to compete against another person or group by cleverly using one word and one number and guessing as many words based on that one word and one number.
There are always two teams in a game, Red or Blue. Each team has a spymaster and a field operative. The spymaster is the clue giver (gives a word and a number) and the field operative is the word guesser (guesses words related to the word given by the spymaster and guesses how many words based on the number given by the spymaster). The spymasters are given a key card and they always stay opposite of the field operatives. In front of them lies 25 words (codenames) on a 5×5 grid. The key card shows which codenames belong to which team depicted by color blue or color red. The black color with an X represents the assassin which immediately ends the game; and whichever team chooses it, loses. The pale colors represent bystanders and if chosen, the team who chooses any of these codenames ends their turn immediately. Each team has 8 agent cards of their color and there is one double agent card (one side red and one side blue). The double agent goes to whichever team starts first (this is determined by the keycard chosen; the keycard has lights around the edge that will either show red or blue. i.e. if it’s red, then the red team will go first) The spymaster from one team will give a one word clue and a number (that number stating how many words are related to that one word clue) based on the 25 codenames on the current game. Then the field operative of that team will try to guess the words one by one. Every team takes turns till one team is able to guess all their codenames first and they will be the winner.
Codenames is very simple and fun. It’s been a very popular game since its release in 2015, and it’s been through some reprints and restocks since the demand has been quite high. This has been nominated in plenty of categories from the Dice Tower Awards and Golden Geek Awards and has won Best Party Game and Best Family Game of 2015; it also has won the Spiel des Jahres in 2016. The awards and honors alone it has received should tell you how great this game is. I personally like to play this game as a couples game. One couple against another couple. It’s almost a competition based on which couple knows more about themselves, and they are able to use words that have hidden meanings behind them. The best group to play this with are people you are already close to and know very well especially if there is a lot of history between you. This increases your chances of using words that have a lot of meaning behind it. However, that shouldn’t discourage you from playing it with strangers or acquaintances. It’s also fun, but a different kind of fun. The game isn’t too long, and you can play several rounds and others can take turns being the spymaster.
There’s a lot of game in this small box of cards and cardboard. The game cost anywhere from $13-$20 online or on your FLGS. Whether you buy it for $13 or $20, you will still get a lot of play and fun for it. There are 200 cards double sided print so there are 400 words altogether; and there are 40 keycards that can be orientated on any side. The box can probably be smaller but overall the quality is good for what it is. There’s nothing really fancy about the word cards. They’re very simple looking and no artwork. The cardboard agents are nice to look at but nothing mind blowing. There is another version of this game, Codenames: Pictures, which is nice that they made the effort to make the agents and bystanders look all different. But nevertheless, the artwork is not a game changer. The game could do with or without the aesthetics.
I think the game plays best with 4 player or more. The other player counts are also okay. I personally prefer to play in teams rather than a two or three player. As a two player, you will have to play the game like a co-op, which eliminates competition. You’re basically trying to play against an imaginary AI (spymaster) who covers a codename every turn. So you really have to beat the game in less than 8 rounds or you will lose. And as a three player it will only make it a little unbalanced having only one field operative (and it could be a disadvantage if you don’t know the field operative well). I’m not saying that you will always lose if you don’t know the people you play with, but there is a slight advantage if you do know them.
There is plenty of replay in Codenames since you can have any 400 combinations of words and 40 keycards orientated differently so no team will ever have the same codenames every game. There is also a new game printed recently, Codenames: Pictures which is very similar to this game but uses pictures instead of words. You may also combine both games to have words and pictures in the same game.
Overall, it’s a fun filler light game that can be best played as two couples or a large group.