Theme and What is it?
With so many incredible games available these days, most using flashy miniatures or oodles of content to draw you in - usually accompanied by a hefty price tag as well - it is refreshing when a game with very few components and even less rules is not only widely popular, but wildly entertaining. I’m talking, of course, about Codenames.
Codenames takes all the bedazzlement out of a board game and boils down the necessities for the perfect party game - easy and quick to learn, virtually no setup time, incorporates small and large groups and has endless replayability. In this super fun and super affordable game, players embody the role of spies trying to make contact with their fellow agents.
In the game, players will divide into two groups and try to make contact with their agents before the opposing team can do the same. These agents are represented by their “code names” listed on the cards, which will be randomly dealt out into a 5x5 grid. One member of each team will become the spymaster, giving one word clues trying to tie as many of their teams agents together for their fellow spies to guess. In addition, the spymaster provides one number, signifying how many agents the clue provided refers to, as well as representing how many guesses the team gets. As the game plays out and players make their guesses, agent cards - either belonging to a team or neutral - are placed on top of the cards, reducing the number of words remaining for future rounds. The spymasters are the only ones who know which agents belong to which team, which can be seen on the Key card randomly selected each round. On this Key card, there are four lights around the outside, showing which team goes first and has one extra agent to uncover. Play continues for as many rounds as it takes for one team to correctly uncover all their agents, or the game could end abruptly if either team accidentally uncovers the assassin - resulting in immediate loss.
Codenames, as I said before, checks all the boxes for a great party game. Every time I’ve played (of which there have been many) we usually say we will just start the night off with a couple quick rounds of Codenames. Several very fast hours later we realize game night is over and we ended up playing the whole time. One of my favourite features of the game is its endless replayability. Besides the fact that there are 200 double sided cards, there are 40 Key cards. Because the cards are set up in a 5x5 grid, you could simply rotate the Key card to any of its four sides and even using the same cards in the grid, the game would play differently as new links would be formed to the words based on the new orientation of the Key card.
Another thing I love about the game is that it is easy to learn and teach. While being the spymaster might seem overwhelming at first - and I always put a lot of pressure on myself to connect as many words as possible each round - it is actually easier than you think. Especially for your first time, try to stick with linking two - or three maximum - words with your clue. If you try and link too many things can get vague and lead your team to guess the wrong cards. Whatever you do though, ask yourself if there is any way in which your clue could lead to the assassin before you say it out loud.
When playing the spymaster, you also have to make sure you keep your face blank at all times, giving nothing away. Even if your team gets one wrong, don’t let anything show, as they can still try and use that clue in a future round. You also don’t want to give any hints as the other team instead of your own might pick up on them and make it easier for them to rule out cards.
Quality of Components and Insert
The game comes with very few components, mainly cards and a sand timer. The coloured agent cards are on a thin cardboard instead of cardstock which adds some durability to them. The bulk of the cards are on fairly thin stock, but don’t worry, you can either sleeve them or if a few get damaged it won't impact gameplay in any way.
The insert provided with the game is minimal and has no separation for the components. They compromise with providing bags to place the cards into. However, with this game, I have no issue with the lack of a custom insert to help keep the cost down as it really doesn't require one.
There is extremely minimal art to speak of in the game, as all but a few of the cards have words on them. The few cards that do have images in addition to the box art has a fun, cartoonish style that, while not winning any awards, brings a pleasant and welcomed addition to the game.
Difficulty and age range suggestion
Codenames suggests an age of 14+ and a group size from 2-8+. I find that six or more players is where the game really finds its sweet spot. With this number the teams have three players each, one spymaster with two players who can bounce ideas off each other when muddling through the clues provided. The great thing about the game is that really anyone can play. The rules and gameplay are quite light so the game remains social while also being enjoyable and captivating to keep players wanting more. As such, gamers and non gamers alike will be able to enjoy.
If you’re looking for a great game for your groups next get together, I recommend that you pick up a copy of Codenames today!
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