Review – Codenames

Posted on by Jesta

A Push Your Luck, Team vs Team Word game.

Title: Codenames

Year Published: 2015

Designer: Vlaada Chvátil

Publisher: Czech Games Edition

Players: 2-8

Game Time: 15+ mins

Set-up Time: ~2 mins

Ages: 10+

Theme: Spies

Mechanic: Push Your Luck, Partnerships, Pattern Recognition, Memory

How to win: Contact all of your Teams Agents first.

Game Description

Two rival spymasters know the secret identities of 25 agents. Their teammates know the agents only by their CODENAMES.

In Codenames, two teams compete to see who can make contact with all of their agents first. Spymasters give one-word clues that can point to multiple words on the board. Their teammates try to guess words of the right color while avoiding those that belong to the opposing team. And everyone wants to avoid the assassin.

Set Up

First, split up into 2 teams and each team should choose a spymaster from among their ranks.

Lay out 25 cards in a 5×5 grid, any 25 will do and pick a random key, spin it around face down and put it in its holder.The spymasters need to sit so they can both see the below key, the key is parallel to the board and the other players cannot see it at all…. ever.

Each spymaster takes their 8 Agent cards in their colour. The colour marks on the outside of the key shows which spymaster goes first, that player flips over the double agent card to their side and adds it to their other agents. So they go first but have 1 extra code-name to find.

Game Play

The spymasters will take turns giving clues to their team in a very specific way. They say a word, just one word and a number, just one number. Example “Fish 3”

The word is linking several code-names together; the number is how many code-names that word will link. It’s also how many guesses they can have, mostly, I’ll explain later

The team, to make a guess, must TOUCH the card they are guessing, this makes it final.

If a player touches a card representing a spy on their team they put a card of their colour on it and they continue their turn.

If you do this a number of times equal to the number the Spymaster gave, you can have 1 extra bonus guess. But, you can also stop at any time, no matter how many words your Spymaster said but you have to guess at least 1 word. Either way, the other team takes their turn when the current team ends theirs.

If a player touches a card representing a spy of the other team they put their opponents colour card on it and their turn ends immediately.

If a player touches a card representing an innocent bystander it’s covered with an innocent bystander card and their turn ends.

If a player touches a card represented by the Assassin, you put the Assassin card on the word and the team that picked the assassin loses the game.

Game End

As soon as a team finds their last spy, they win.

Setup a new game by clearing the cards or just flipping those in play as they’re doubled sided, choose a different Spymaster and/or teams if you want and go again!

Round Up

That’s the game, now the little annoying rules because rules help control the fun!

The word you say can’t be a word visible on the table. So “Mug 1” in the below is not only VERY boring, its cheating.

As the Spymaster you can’t give any other clues, including tone of voice and body language, and you really need to try and keep a straight face when the teams are talking.

Your clue must be about the meaning of the words not how many letters are in them, what letter they start with and it can’t be part of a larger word.

The number must relate to the number of keywords and not be a clue itself, such as 8 if you’re trying to get the word ‘Octopus’.

You can spell out your words if you want or if asked for clarification, for example ‘knight’ and ‘night’.

Speaking of Knight and Night, Homonyms can be allowed as a clue if you like so you could say “K/Night 2” for clues if you think your group will get it… Although what if they ask to clarify spelling? No idea

Technically compound words that are one word and not hyphenated are allowed, the others are not.

Proper Nouns are allowed.

Abbreviations and acronyms are technically not allowed unless they are generally considered one word like Laser. These are left as a judgement call to your group.

Rhymes, from the rulebook is explained in the following way… “Snail is a valid clue for MAIL because this rhyme is a common phrase. Snail is also a valid clue for WHALE because they are both animals. Snail is not a valid clue for SCALE because their main association is through the sound of the words”. Go figure that one out.

So, it sounds complex but it really isn’t, just “Play fair and don’t be an idiot”

So, the expert rules…

0 can be given by the Spymaster to give infinite guesses avoiding particular words.

‘Fence 0’ can be used here to push your team towards ANY word except Fence. Used in extreme circumstances.

In the same way you can say “unlimited” to let players guess as many as they like.

The last ‘rule’ is the timer, its your friend, use it ALL THE TIME OR GAMES LAST FOREVER.

Having said that, it’s pretty fun… with the right people.


Good game, but 3/10 without the timer.

I give it 6/10

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