Codenames Review

2-8+ Players
15 Minutes Playtime

Brief Overview:
Codenames is basically a word game with a spy theme loosely interwoven.  There are agents, double agents, innocent civilians, assassins and plenty of cryptic clues, to give you the impression that this would be some stealthy or action packed game - but truthfully Codenames is just a game of linking random words.

Players will divide into either the red or the blue team and each will nominate their first 'spymaster'. Twenty-Five cards with words are drawn and arranged in a 5x5 grid with a unique key card given for the round.  The key card is an image of the 5x5 grid which reveals the location of the 'Red Agents' and 'Blue Agents, as well as innocent bystanders and the dreaded assassin.  With the information on the key card, the spymasters will have to somehow link words relating to their relevant 'Agents' so the rest of their team is able to find them by giving clues.  The catch with the clue is that it can only be ONE word, followed by a number which reveals how many agents 'Codenames' the clue relates too.

For example, the back of the box gives the clue 'HOT: 2' which is used to link the codenames 'Fire' and 'Dog'.  If your team is able to guess the correct answer and reveal an agent's codename, the corresponding coloured card is placed on top of that word giving your team a point.  With one word clues, quite often players will select the wrong codename and reveal either the other teams Agents or innocent bystanders which will end their turn - or worse, will reveal the assassin which will instantly end the round.

When the codenames are correctly identified, the team who guessed correctly may continue their turn as long as they continue to reveal the agents they were looking for, up to a maximum times of 1+ the number given in the clue.  Play continues alternating between the teams as they guess incorrectly or use up all their allowed guesses, until either all the agents of a colour have been found or the assassin strikes.

My Thoughts:
Codenames is not really a party game.

This isn't a loud, fast paced and frantic game, but rather a quieter mental exercise that can pleasingly reward teams for thinking out of the box.  As the spymaster, aside from your one word and one number clues - your not actually allowed to talk. All your name calling, yelling at your team, sense of bewilderment as obvious clues are misinterpreted, and laughing is done inside your head or after the whole round is complete.  When played with teams of at least three - there's discussion between your side as they try and decipher your clues, but without the freedom to speak back, it removes the 'party' element as not everyone can be as involved in the good times that frequent most party games.

This certainly doesn't spoil the fun, it just makes it less of a party and more of a team game where most of your interaction is done after the round.  There really is no way around the limited interaction between the spymaster and his team, as speaking, gesturing or showing emotion can easily spoil a game or even be considered cheating.  Because of this, some of those funnier in game moments are missed and forgotten, or lose their impact in the moment when you finally can speak about them.  Especially when only playing in teams of two, Codenames is a quiet game. There will also be moments of silence while teams wait for their spymaster as they struggle to come up with a clue that will link words like 'Foot' and 'Mercury', which can again lead to some party crashing.  Now I bring up the 'party' aspect mainly because it originally tarnished my enjoyment of Codenames and its box-label claim of '#1 Party Game', which I found misleading when first playing.

However, once I moved past my initial expecations of what I thought the game should be, the beauty of Codenames could finally be appreciated.  This is a challenging game. Whether you are deciphering the clues or leading your team to victory through vague one word offerings, both aspects can occasionally be extremely tough, which makes them all the more rewarding. Sometimes impossible connections are brilliantly conceived, and seeing them flawlessly executed will leave a satisfying grin and entice you into the world of codenames.  Clever moments abound and when you can use a clue like 'Space' to reveal the codenames 'Satellite' and 'Bed' (there's never any space in our bed), to secure a come from behind victory - it just begs you to come back for more.  

That's the allurement of this game. It's simple enough for anyone to understand and play, but provokes you to think deep and push yourself to either find the connections, or understand how a clue your spymaster gave relates.  With a decent amount of double sided cards that are randomly mixed and matched with various key cards, you'll get sick of Codenames before you start seeing repeat layouts. You'll also get at least as many plays during the night as you have players, as everyone will not only want to be the spymaster, but think they can do a better job than the previous one just did.  Of course, most will want to better their own last efforts as spymaster and try again, making Codenames an easy sell for a full night of gaming.  


My Verdict:
A game to bring out for friends who consider themselves 'clever'
Expect the fun without the party