Vlaada Chvatil is a very busy man. Being heavily involved in video and board game development, he has won multiple Spiel des Jahres awards and released at least one new game every year since 2005. Taking a break from his normal strategic pursuits, Codenames is a party game made for all.
Codenames is simple. It can be played with as few as four players (although the more the merrier), with the group splitting into red and blue teams. One person from each team is selected as spymaster and must sit opposite their teammates – field operatives. Placing 25 random word cards onto the five-by-five grid, only the spymasters can look at the grid map that indicates which is their highlighted words. On their turn, the spymaster must use a single word and number as a clue for the team to try and guess as many words as possible. For example, if there are the words “horse”, “car” and “food”, the spymaster would say “fast three”, indicating there are three words that are connected to the clue. The team must then deliberate on which they believe are the correct words, touching them as they go. If the team is right the spymaster places a spy of their colour on top of the word card.
There are various obstacles to complicate the so-far straightforward game. On their go the team may accidently pick the opposing team’s word card, giving them an extra point, pick an innocent bystander, ending their go, or even pick an assassin, losing and ending the game instantly. The spymaster must try to use as few gos as possible for her team to uncover all the secret words as quickly as they can.
The original game will appeal to anyone aged 10 and up. There are however a great selection of variants that can appeal to certain groups. Deep Undercover is aimed at adults only, containing content of a mature nature. For the kids are Disney, Marvel and Harry Potter versions, each scaling down the grid size and using pictures instead of words. There is even Duet – a co-operative version for two players.
Codenames is an inclusive game with clearer objectives than some party games, like Cards Against Humanity and Exploding Kittens. But despite its intense nature there’s still plenty of fun to be had.