There were a lot of amazing games released in 2015. Perhaps none surprised the gaming world more than the release of Codenames, a party game that I would describe as Password meets the CIA. It retails for $20 and can be played by as few as two players, but is best played with four or more. My setup and review for this game will assume that you are playing with at least four players (a standard game).
17 – Agent Cards (8 Blue, 8 Red, 1 Double-Sided)
7 – Innocent Bystander Cards
1 – Assassin Card
40 – Key Cards
200 – Codename Cards (Double-Sided so 400 words total)
Begin by dividing the four players into teams that are as close as possible in terms of size and skill. For each team, pick a color (Blue or Red) and a Spymaster (person who will be giving the clues), and have both Spymasters sit on the same side of the table. Deal out 25 Codename Cards in a 5 x 5 grid. Have a Spymaster draw a Key Card. The color surrounding the Key Card determines the first player. Each Spymaster receives their 8 Agent Cards and the first player receives the double-sided Agent Card flipped to their color.
Gameplay is simple. Each turn a Spymaster looks at the the 5 x 5 grid and gives a one-word clue followed by a number. The number represents the number of words on the grid that the Spymaster believes relates to his clue. The Spymaster can give no other words, expressions, or body language to guide his teammate to guessing the correct word(s). For every word guessed correctly, the Spymaster takes one of his Agent Cards and places it over the correctly guessed word. You may always guess up to the number the Spymaster gave plus one, so if the number given was two, you may guess three, but you don’t have to and could instead opt to only guess one or two. An incorrect guess has three results, which all result in ending your turn or losing the game. 1. If the other team’s word is guessed, that team gets to place their Agent Card over the word and turn ends. 2. There are seven words denoted by a tan color on the Key Card that belong to no one. If you guess one of those, your turn ends and an Innocent Bystander Card is placed over that word. 3. If you guess the word denoted by a black color on the Key Card, you automatically lose, because you found the Assassin.
If my explanation wasn’t clear, I defer you to the video by Rodney Smith of Watch It Played who gets paid to clearly explain games:
To put it mildly, I LOVE this game! It is such a simple concept of giving a one-word clue to make your opponent guess other words, but you have to be careful that your clue doesn’t match words that aren’t yours or you’ll quick find your turn over or worse, the game over. What’s more is the components are brilliantly made. The box comes with 40 Key Cards and you might think that means you only have 40 grid arrangements. WRONG! Since the grid is a square, you can orient each card four different ways, meaning you have 160 grid arrangements. There are 200 Codename Cards, but each are double-sided. That means no two grids will have the same 25 words arranged in exactly the same way. It also means that playing back-to-back games is simple, because instead of replacing all 25 Codename Cards in the grid, you simply flip them over, and you have a new layout. It is no wonder this game has rocketed to the #1 spot among party games. It’s easy to learn, fun to play, and competitively addictive. The makers of this game could easily release an expansion with more Codename Cards and people would buy them in a heartbeat. However, they instead are choosing to release a game called Codenames Pictures, which will get people thinking with a different part of their brain, and I for one can’t wait for it to be released.
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Copyright 2016 Stuart Dunn