Thoughts about Codenames

Codenames Card Game
Spies wear suits I guess, but this still makes me think of Bugs Bunny cartoons.

Codenames hit the 2016 gaming landscape like Hurricane Vlaada, knocking out rivals Karuba and Imhotep to take home the Spiel des Jahres. It then proceeded to blow the roof off of big box stores across America, where it multiplied into different varieties and franchise adaptions.

Obviously, Vlaada wasn’t content with just having the German game of the year. The Codenames juggernaut continued its party game onslaught until it was the most highly ranked party game on BoardGameGeek.

Designer Vlaada Chvátil had already knocked it out of the park previously with games like Galaxy Trucker, Dungeon Lords and Through the Ages. Codenames certainly put him squarely on the map. Well, he was already on the map, but it gave him a little star thingy inside of his circle.

How to play Codenames

Your goal is to communicate to your team the location of the secret agents that are on your side. You and the other clue giver must communicate the location of your agents as shown on a small card that only the two of you can see. Do this by giving them clues about the relationships between a set of 25 word cards arranged in a five by five array.

If your team correctly determines the location of an agent, then you place a marker of your color on that word. If they manage to identify all of your agents before the other team does, then you win. Make sure to avoid the assassin card. If your team chooses that card, then you lose immediately.

Clues include a word and a value that tells your team the number of cards connected by your clue. So if you say “Junk 2” then they might choose the “Trash” or “Bottom” cards. If they get it wrong, then you have to place either an opposing agent or a confused person card. Seriously, they are just confused. They look like a total stranger who just had someone walk up to them and say “Blowhole 3.”

What I think about Codenames

I like Codenames a lot. It’s easy to teach. It plays well with large groups of people and has a very high replayability value. It’s easy to find a copy and is very inexpensive. I think my favorite game was when we took 25 boardgames and lined them up in a five by five array on a few tables we put together. You could do that with anything really.

I also really like the two-player version of the game, called Codenames Duet. My wife and I love to play that one. I haven’t tried any of the other varieties. I suggest that you play the original version.


The logo of the Spiel des JahresThis is part of my Spiel des Jahres winner series. If you would like to comment on the 2016 winner, Codenames, then please do so on this post. If you would like to discuss or comment on the Spiel des Jahres award in general, please do so on the Spiel des Jahres series post.

By the way, on Monday, July 23rd, 2018, the jury will announce the 2018 Spiel des Jahres winner. I predict that will be Azul, even though I thoroughly enjoyed The Mind.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts about Codenames”

  1. I remember playing that board-games-as-cards version of Codenames! That was great. // I’m picking Azul as the Spiel winner as well. The buzz may be wearing off a bit, but I think the Mind is too divisive to get picked. Some people hate it (or at least think it’s not really a game). Though I love it.

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