Codenames is the best word association game I’ve played. Vlaada Chvatil is the designer of the game and although I haven’t played any of his previous work, I know he’s a significant figure in the tabletop community. And after playing Codenames I know why.
Codenames requires at least four people to play. There are two teams, the red team and blue team. Each team has one player who acts as a spymaster, whilst the other members of the team are field operatives. There are 25 codenames on the table – random words in a variety of categories – some of these are spies for the red team and some for the blue. The aim of the game is for your team to make contact with all of your spies before the other team. The spymaster knows all of the spies and their codenames, they have to try and tell their field operatives where their spies are by saying a word associated with the codename. For example, if the spymaster says “Tree”, the field operative may see on the table the codename “Leaves” so they choose that. If they are correct they can guess again, however the spymaster cannot give another clue, so it’s a good idea for the spymaster to think of a word that could apply to more than one codename. If they guess the opposing teams spy then this inadvertently helps them and ends the turn.
Codenames is a very focused game, its mechanics are simple and easy to pick up. Within one game my girlfriend, who doesn’t play board games often, understood how to play. Considering this is a party game this is the game’s greatest triumph, anyone can pick-up and play with ease.
While playing the game there is the possibility that the field operative may pick the assassin card. This card is hidden amongst the codenames and if someone picks it the game is over and the team who picked it loses. The assassin card is there to provide an extra challenge for the spymaster, however after a while we eventually removed the card since it kept interrupting the flow of the game. A few times we would be in the game for just a few rounds and then someone would find the assassin card meaning we’d have to restart and set up the game again with new cards. However, that isn’t at all the games fault, it’s the spymasters for not providing a good enough clue for the field operative, even so I found the assassin card to be more of an annoyance than an enjoyable part of the game.
I was astounded by the amount of reply value in Codenames. I initially thought that there wouldn’t be enough codenames to keep the game going, but man was I wrong. There are 200 cards that have 400 codenames on them, of course they can be shuffled over and over for different games. Not to forget the layout of where the spies are can be changed as well. The amount of combinations there are is fantastic and personally I was quite impressed with it.
With the exception of a rather annoying assassin I very much enjoyed my time with Codenames. I was impressed with a lot of things about the game. I was impressed with its simplicity and ease of learning the rules, its massive replay value and its well thought out mechanics. However, I was most impressed with the designer Vlaada Chvatil who took the age old word association game and made it fun again.
Designer: Vladimír Chvátil
Publisher: Czech Games Edition
Core Mechanic: Word association
Number of Players: 2-8 (Best with 4-8)
Play time: 15 minutes