Review – Codenames

When you’re a teacher, it’s really difficult to have an opportunity to play board games. Most of the year, you’re marking, or dealing with students or parents, or coming up with lesson plans for the next day, etc.,  so it’s really difficult to have the opportunity to just be able to write.

Now that I’ve got the chance during the Christmas season, there was one game that I played recently over at a friend’s house which is one of my favourite party games this year. It’s easy, fast paced, has a high replay value and is just based on one simple premise: can you figure out what you’re friend is communicating to you when they only say one word.

 Codename is a two team board game designed by Vlaada Chavatil. Two rival spy masters know the secret identities of 25 people, with approximately a third of them being from their own spy group. Their own teammates only know the agents by their code names. The objective is to get your team to make contact with all your agents before the opposing team does.

To play, 25 cards are laid on the table in a five by five grid, which represent the 25 agents. Each card has a code name on it. Then the spy masters will randomly select a key card which shows the identities of all the agents, which include 8 or 9 spies from your team, 7 bystander cards, and 1 assassin. (The reason why I say 8 or 9 is because if your team goes first, you have one more agent to find because you have an advantage).

Once the cards have been laid out, the spy master will say only one word and a number. This word has to relate to at least one of their matching agent cards on the board. Then using the clues provided, the remaining teammates will identify the cards that represent the agents that are on the team. For example, if the spy master were to say “wealthy 3”, this would mean that three words on the board relate to the word wealthy. It would be the job of the spy master’s teammates to identify which three code names would best match this word. I provide this example because when I played it, the words millionaire, oil, and pipe were the ones I wanted to get my team to find. If the team successfully identifies all the correct cards, they may use an additional turn to identify another agent. However, if at any point they identify an opposing team’s agent, or a bystander, their turn is over, and control is given to the other team. Even worse, if any team finds the assassin, the game is over, and the opposing team wins.

This game reminds me of Password, the old game show in the 60s and 70s(okay I guess you can count the remake that was made in the late 2000s which was hosted by Regis Philbin). The idea is that you have to say one word and your partner had to guess what the word was based on the clues given. What’s different about Codename is that it puts a twist on this premise. You can go easy and say one word and go for one obvious agent card. For example you could say “liquid 1”, and your team could simply go for the card “water” provided that there are not any other liquids on the board. But what makes the game challanging is that you can make vaguer clues to try to get more words in one go. For example you can say “recipe 4” and hope they pick the cards “carrot”, “chef”, “pot”, and “smell”. Remember though that it becomes hard to categorize  seemingly unrelatable words while avoiding clues that relate to the assassin word. It is this aspect that makes the game really difficult, but fun and engaging at the same time.

Code names is a game that’s easy to explain and quick to finish. With the dozens upon dozens of words to work with, and the many configurations the code masters can get, it can be played many times over. This game is highly recommended for the casual gamer, or a host who wants to break the ice at a party. This is also a great game to use when warming up for an intense game night, but due to the lack of depth, it should not be the only game that should be played.


Unique word game with a similar mechanic to password

– Quick and easy to teach

– Numerous words and configurations of the board allow for many plays of the game.

– Great board game for encouraging socialization and teamwork skills.


– Not much depth to the game. Could get boring if this is the only game you have.

4 thoughts on “Review – Codenames

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