Gen Con, the largest board gaming convention in the U.S., starts July 30, and Czech Games Edition is releasing Codenames just in time. The company is taking preorders on their website for pickup at the convention for $20. There’s no word on when it will be available to the public.
Codenames in the latest design from Vlaada Chvátil, with art by Tomás Kucerovsky. It plays from two players to more than eight ages 14 and up. It takes about 15 minutes to play, but you’ll probably play more than one round.
It’s a word game, where players are spies trying to find their own secret agents while avoiding the other team’s agents, innocent bystanders, and the assassin.
How it works:
Players break up into two teams, and each team chooses a spymaster. (Two- and three-player games are played cooperatively against the board, but the basics are the same.)
Twenty-five cards are laid on a grid on the table, and each has a different word. The spymasters get a card that shows which words belong to the red team, which belong to the blue team, which are bystanders, and which is the assassin.
The first spymaster says a word and the number of cards that word relates to, such as “Fishing: 3.” The team then has to decide which words the spymaster is talking about, one word at a time. If they are right, they get to cover that word with a card the color of their team. If they guess a word belonging to the other team, that team gets to cover the word, and the first team’s turn ends.
If they guess an innocent bystander, a card marking that is placed over the word and the team’s turn ends. If they guess the assassin, the team loses immediately.
Play continues until one team has found all of their words or has guessed the assassin.
Why you might buy Codenames:
Codenames is an original take on a word game. It’s got elements of Password and Apples to Apples, but the spymaster isn’t allowed to add anything to the clue, not even facial expressions.
With lots of people, Codenames can be really funny, especially if the spymaster gives silly clues.
With fewer people, the game is fairly tense. If there are only two people on a team, there is one person who gives the clues and only one who guesses, so there won’t be any discussion. You’ll be staring at the cards. A lot. And trying to get into the spymaster’s head.
If you don’t want to play against your friends, you can all work against the board, which will lighten the mood.
If someone is taking too long on a turn, the game includes a timer you can flip to speed that person along, but it’s not mandatory.
It also includes rules for clues, but allows players to determine some rules ahead of time. For example, proper names are allowed, but it’s up to the group to decide if you can only say “George,” as opposed to “George Washington.” By figuring this out ahead, it won’t throw the game in the middle of it.
It plays very quickly, and the cards are two-sided, so you can flip them and start another game right away.
Why you might not buy Codenames:
Codenames seems like a party game because you play it in teams, sort of like Taboo, but especially with only a few players, it’s much more intense than most party games. And that intensity will depend greatly on the crowd you’re playing with.
A five-player competitive game feels a little strange. The team with three people can talk, while the two-player team can’t, so one is doing hard work while the other is making jokes. At the five-player count, you’re better off playing cooperatively.
Sometimes it’s really hard to find relationships between the words on the table, so you’ll be giving one clue at a time, which can slow the game down.
Codenames is my kind of game. I like word games a lot, but not all of my friends do. This game allows me to play with words, but it doesn’t require spelling or list-making that can be turn-off for some people. It adds a psychological element, which makes the game about the people you’re playing with as well as the cards you’re guessing.
The theme doesn’t have much to do with the game, but it feels cool and can add to the fun.
I have no idea why they rated this game for ages 14 and up. Younger players could easily play, and I think it would work in English classes to reinforce vocabulary concepts. That said, if you do want to play with younger ages, you may need to think about the potential for dirty jokes. They’re easy enough to avoid.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Codenames from Czech Games Edition. I wasn’t required to give a positive review. These are my honest opinions.