Thursday 2 June 2016

Cardboard - Codenames card game review (with giveaway!)

I've heard so much about Codenames since its release late last year that I couldn't help but pick up a copy. Initially dismissing it as a party game that I wouldn't be interested in (and to be fair, judging it by its frankly not too exciting cover), it kept popping up again and again in blogs, podcasts and YouTube videos with reviewers whose opinions I trust telling me I needed to play it immediately. Eventually, I gave in!

Codenames card game review - box art

Codenames is a word linking game for 2-8+ players by Vlaada Chvátil, designer of great games like Galaxy Trucker and Through the Ages.

Players divide into two teams, red and blue, with each team picking a 'spymaster'. This person will be doing all the word-linking, while the others will be interpreting their clues and doing the guessing.

A 5-by-5 grid of word cards is laid out on the table, representing a network of agents and their codenames.

Codenames word grid

The red and blue spymasters sit together and draw a key card from the deck which tells them the secret identity of all the agents. This tells them which words relate to blue agents, which are red agents and which are neutral, innocent bystanders. There is also one scary assassin square marked with a black X.

Codenames key card

The spymasters' task is to link as many words of their colour together as possible by giving a one-word clue. For instance the red spymaster might try the clue temperature: 2, where 2 is the number of words they think can be linked to temperature, trying to link degree and Antarctica which correspond to red squares on the grid. This is also the number of guesses the team can have, plus one extra. 

The other team members then discuss amongst themselves what words could be covered by the clue while the spymaster, who isn't allowed to speak (other than when giving their clue), sits attempting to look neutral whilst actually wanting to get up and shake his or her team-mates into understanding. Very amusing to watch if you're on the opposing team!

They then make their guesses, one at a time. For each guess the spymaster takes a coloured tile corresponding to that word's colour on the key and lays it over the card guessed.

Codenames review card game - secret identity cards

Hopefully this is your team's colour, but if the guess is wrong it could be the opposite team's colour, an innocent bystander or even the assassin.

In our example, the temperature clue wasn't too well thought out, because after correctly picking degree the team then go for mercury, with its thermometer connection - oops!

Codenames word grid in progress

If the guess is correct, the team can keep guessing until they reach their limit or get one wrong. If a bystander is guessed by accident or you pick one of the other team's agents, the turn ends and play passes to the other team. If the assassin is picked, that team immediately loses the game.

Codenames review - assassin card

The winning team is the first team to link up all their words, covering all their agents on the word-grid.

This game is great. There's so much fun to be had in picking ridiculously tenuous clues and hoping your friends are close enough to the same wavelength that they match your train of thought. 

Trying to think up the best possible clue really works your brain, too! It's sometimes really hard to come up with something to link the words you need, or you'll come up with the ideal clue but realise it might also relate to the assassin card and you have to go back to the drawing board. Or worse, you don't notice that it could include the assassin until after you've given the clue and you have to sit cringing, quietly hoping your friends don't pick it. It's so easy to focus on your own words and forget about all the others, which can have disastrous consequences for your team!

I love how simple the game is to explain, how quickly people pick it up and how infinitely repayable it is. The game comes with a huge pile of word cards, all double sided, and plenty of key cards to make sure you never play the same game twice.

Codenames review - piles of cards

The only negative point for me is that there can be a bit of downtime while the spymasters think of their link. This can be avoided to some extent by using the handy egg-timer that comes with the game. This can be turned over on anyone at any time, giving them about a minute and a half to give their clue or make their guess. 

As people find their feet with the game, though, downtime does seem to decrease and the clues seem to get more tenuous as spymasters attempt more ambitious links.

Codenames spy card
This guy was clearly at the back of the queue when they were handing out codenames...
I really, really recommended Codenames to anyone who likes word games or needs to entertain a group. This went down really well at work too - we played it during the NSPCC's Big Board Game Day event last week and it was very popular. 

I love this game so much that I feel the need to share the love - I'm giving away one brand new shiny copy of Codenames via the Gleam giveaway widget below (UK only). Good luck!

Designer: Vlaada Chvátil
Publisher: Czech Games Edition
Players: 2-8+
Age: 14+

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Codenames card game giveaway