Review: Codenames

BGG Rating: 8.0

Number of Players: 2-8 (up to 12)      Play Time: 15-25 minutes

Social Interaction: 8.5     Learning Curve: 3.0

Strategy: 7.0                          Value: 9.0

Pros: Easy to learn gateway game / Difficult to master / High replayability / Lots of social interaction and discussion / Great for all ages

Cons: Doesn’t provide a lot of laughs for a social game / Can play if time limits are not established / May be difficult to play with strangers

Summary:

The game starts with 25 cards presenting a single word laid face up on the table. These cards are secretly split and assigned to 2 spymasters who must get their team to guess their cards while not guessing the other teams using single word clues. Be on the team that all associated cards first. Don’t be on the team that chooses the Assassin card. Have the best words.

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Jarrod’s Review 9.0/10.0


I consider Codenames to be a near perfect party game. The ease with which a first timer can pick it up is totally belied by just how strategically dense the game operates in the hands of experienced players who are well acquainted with their teammates; the depth of the games going beyond choosing a spymaster with a capacious vocabulary.

A skilled spymaster knows the predilections, vocabulary, and inside jokes of their teammates and leverages those into the most efficient clues. That means clues that not only elicit the correct responses from your teammates but those clues that actively discourage guessing the opposing team’s cards.  But the subtle genius of Codenames is the way in which the guessers are reciprocally locked into this mind reading dynamic.

Just because “Armadillo” conjures up a long held inside joke between you and other spies doesn’t mean the spymaster is aware of this joke. Or are they? Were they there? Did they hear about it second hand? Did they hear about it secondhand but think that you don’t know they heard about it secondhand? Did they actually hear about it secondhand but it’s been so long they created a false memory of being present at that genesis of this Armadillo inside joke? Did they hear about it secondhand, forgot, and are now presenting a subconsciously infuriating clue, the origin of which will forever be a mystery to them…much like the question of why we’re here at all?

These questions and more can be yours to behold as this family friendly game ushers you deeper in the abyssal prison that is your own mind.

Rachel’s Review 9.0/10.0

Codenames is a simple game that people of all ages can play.  The only thing necessary (besides ~$15 to purchase the game) is simple word association skills. That said, the strategy involved is only as complex as the players  allow it to be.  The strategic fun comes from chaining as many words together as possible without having your team guess the Assassin card (an instant loss) or a card that belongs to the other team.  This sounds easy to do, which it is, but not so easy to master. Spymasters may benefit from being a vocabulist but they may also suffer immensely if their teammates are not on the same reading level. This is where the fun in the strategy begins as your team dives down the rabbit hole of word association that may make you think “have any of these idiots ever picked up a dictionary?”

I play Codenames a lot. Like a lot. It is quick to play making  it a great filler game in my game groups.  It is great to replay with close friends since nonsense connections are made and continue to escalate.  Playing with strangers adds a different level of complexity as spymasters and players try to get to know each other with word limits. Believe me, you’ve never known how truly irritating it is to guess what a stranger is thinking, unless of course you’ve been set up by your friend on Christian Mingle.

Do you know words?  Do you have the best words?

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Dain’s Review 10.0/10.0

Word games have always been popular, and will always be popular, because they are a genre of games that appeal to our intrinsic nature. I’m about to commit a gross oversimplification, but I don’t have time to write a thesis. Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution has selected two relevant traits that make word games so popular. First, evolution compels us to engage in games that will sharpen skills that provide a survival benefit. Second, language has been selected as one of those essential skills, because it helps us survive this pesky socialization and civilization thing we humans like to do. In other words, we play word games for the same reason kittens play by pouncing on anything that moves – to plot the destruction of our enemies.

You’re reading a Codename review; so why am I talking about something your grandmother calls Satanic science? It’s a salient point to defending my bold claim that Codenames is the best word game ever crafted. All previous word games suffered one flaw, they focused on individual vocabulary. Scrabble is about words one player can make with their limited tiles. Boggle is a competition comparing words each player can make with a shared set of letters. Such individual focus is a great way to show off your erudite vocabulary, but fails to address evolution’s fundamental reason we play word games – to sharpen the skills social creatures need.

Codenames fixes this failure, and by doing so, becomes the most delightful word game I’ve ever played. This game requires each player to tap the depths of their vocabulary like word games that came before it, but then it adds new layers that will hone the language skills of everyone involved. Simply being aware of a word’s existence is not enough; the players have to be able to connect those words to multiple ideas, while also being clear enough to avoid insinuating wrong ideas. They also have to be able to understand their teammates and learn how to effectively communicate with them. And the one word limit brings all these elements together by challenging players to think creatively – it’s a limitation that drives language creativity.

Calling Codenames a word game is almost insulting; it is so much more. Communication-game is a better label, because Codenames transcends simple language recall and plays with the very way a group communicates.

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