Codenames Board Game: Clean, Simple, Strategic
by Yvonne Hanson © 2019 Gifts for Card Players
So many great titles have been released in the last five years alone, its starting to feel like we’ve entered the golden age of board games. Codenames is one of the many frontrunners of this incredible era. Released in 2015, this game has quickly become a titan. With minimal pieces and rules, Codenames is quick to learn and mentally stimulating to play.
Best played in a group of close friends or family members, since the primary mechanism of the game involves guessing what another player is thinking based on the clues they have given.
The set up is simple: arrange 25 word cards randomly in a 5×5 grid, and divide players into two teams, represented by red and blue tiles. Each team chooses one player, a “Spymaster”, to sit on the opposite side of the table from the rest of the teams. The spymasters select a “Key card” at random which must be concealed from the other players. The Key shows the spymasters which words are their colour (red or blue), which are neutral, and which word is the “Assassin”. During their turn, each spymaster gives their team a one-word clue (that can not be on one of the word cards in play) that will help their team guess which words are their colour. If a clue pertains to more than one word, the spymaster must specify how many words are being hinted at. For example, if the words are knife, pan, and steel, the spymaster might say “metal, for three”.
Teammates can guess as many cards as they like, but the turn ends if they guess a card wrong. The Spymaster must also avoid giving hints that would lead their teammates to guess the card that the Assassin has been assigned to. Guessing the Assassin card ends the game and constitutes instant loss. This ads an extra layer of strategy, since “metal” may not be such a great clue if the Assassin word is “armour”.
One of the best parts about codenames is that you don’t actually have to buy it to play it. If you want to try it out but don’t want to foot the bill for a game you’ve never played, it is easy enough to write out your own cards on some quality card stock. You can use the same words as the official game, or you can get creative and brainstorm your own set of word cards.
One of the first few times I played codenames, it was on a handwritten set. We were snowed in (quite literally) up in Whistler after Christmas, visiting relatives we see less than once a year. There wasn’t much to do, so we played round after round of homemade Codenames with the fire crackling gently beside us. The words didn’t work together as well as they could have, which gave the game a little extra challenge, but Codenames earned a little place in my heart over the course of that trip. I liked it so much that I picked up a copy a few weeks later when I came across it in a board game shop.
Codenames is so easy to learn and play that I have since introduced several people to it (I bring it to a lot of parties). I’ve played it dozens of times in dozens of settings. It was a good investment that has held its charm for years.
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