Codenames: Or, Is a Kangaroo a Mammal?


Codenames is a party game for 4 to 8 players that asks players to identify their team’s “spies” from minimal verbal clues given by their spymaster.  The hidden spies are represented by rectangular  cards with a different word printed on each side (200 cards, so 400 different words in all). 

Play is simple: the cards are dealt out in a five-by-five grid (the words are printed so that they are printed by players seated at opposite sides of a table, which is nice). The two spymasters share a keycard, randomly chosen and not visible to other players, that denotes which words belong to which team — red or blue — and which are Innocent Bystanders. And which lone card in the matrix represents the Assassin.

And so it begins. Spymasters take turns giving clues — only one word, followed by at most one number — that they hope will lead their team-mates to choose one of their agents’ secret identity cards. The word clue refers to an attribute, while the number clue tells players how many of the cards the clue refers to. The spymaster’s team then discusses and decides, but the spymaster can say nothing more (and should try to keep a straight face!)


Having made its choice, the team touches one of the codename cards.  The spymaster will then cover the secret identity card with an appropriately-coloured agent card (red team / blue team) according to the key. If you manage to guess a word of your team’s colour, the team can keep going, up to one more guess than the number given as part of the clue. A wrong guess ends the turn immediately.

Innocent Bystander cards are placed in the same way as the agent cards, if a team member touches a card so designated on the key. And the Assassin? If a team member touches the Assassin in response to a clue, the game is over and the team that touched the Assassin loses. Slow play is solved by starting the included sand timer (you can even use it on yourself, if you are having trouble with a clue). Play passes to the other team when the sand runs out.

codenames pictures.jpg

Codenames: Pictures is this year’s companion release to the original Codenames. It works on the same premise, but because the cards feature pictures instead of words it is not English-language-dependent nor does it require reading skills. Because of this, Codenames: Pictures may be more appropriate for mixed-age groups such as families with younger children.

Both Codenames games promote deductive reasoning, logic, and cooperation. Recommended.

Designed by Vlaada Chávtil and published by Czech Games Edition.

© Karin Belanger 2016