Christmas is one of those times when you get to go home and spend quality time with your family. It seemed like the one game everyone was playing this Christmas was PieFace, which is more of an activity than a game. It's essentially russian roulette for kids. You spin a dial to see how many times to click the game, and it will randomly splat you in the face with whipped cream. Don't get me wrong, it's a very funny game, and I had the opportunity to play it this Christmas with my family. However, there is a lesser known party game that should be hitting the table more often, and is my 2015 Board Game of the Year, Codenames.
Codenames is a "Top Secret Word Game" by Vlaada Chivatil and published by CGE. Codenames currently sits as the #1 Party Game on BoardGameGeek, as well as being the #23 overall ranked game on the entirety of the same site. The game plays 2-8+ players, as the group of players will be split into two teams. You can really play this with as many people as you would like, but 10-12 is probably the max.
In Codenames, everyone is split into two teams, with each team getting a clue giver ("The Spymaster), while the remaining players are the "Field Operatives". The game comes with 200 cards, with a different "codename" on either side of the card, totaling 400 different words. 25 of these cards are arranged in a 5x5 grid on the table. The Spymasters sit on one side of the table, while the field operatives sit on the other side. The Spymasters get a smaller 5x5 key grid of their own, showing which words are their team's colors (red or blue). Once they know this information, their role in the game is to get their team to guess all of their codenames before the other team guesses all of theirs.
Spymasters will go back and forth giving their team one-word clues. A clue may relate to multiple words on the table, so they should try and use clues that allows their team to guess more than word in a round. The field operatives will try to guess what word their spymaster was leading them to, selecting a word by touching it. If that word is correct, they can keep guessing. If it is wrong, that team's turn is over, the card is revealed of what color it actually is, and the other team gets to play.
As the spymaster, when giving your clue, you give your one word clue followed by a number. That number relates to how many words on the table that your clue refers to, leading your team to find the link in your clue. For example: If some of your team words are Astronaut, Mars and Rocket, the spymaster might say "Space - 3", leading the team to know that three of their words on the table refer to space. The team may guess up to that number of times in the round, plus one, as long as they are correctly guessing words. If the team gets the word right, the spymaster covers the word with a spy of their color. If the team guesses the other team's word, it gets covered by the other team's color. There are seven words that don't belong to either team, while one word is the "assassin", instantly losing the game for either team that guesses that word.
Every time that I have played this game, I've been asked what it is called and where they can buy it. My wife and I bought a copy for a couple of our family members, and hope we can share it with some others as well. The game comes with added value when you download the free Codenames companion app. The app is basically a random key generator, so that it picks which words belong to the red and blue team in a much larger format than the cards that come in the game. It helps as, while the key isn't small, it's easier to see if you have older members in your family playing the game.
The gameplay is fun, especially if you know your group well. You can throw out some clues out that only your partner might know, allowing them to quickly get the word you're leading them to. Another great part of the game is that it's a race to clear the board of your color words. The game encourages you to try and really find the connection between two words that might not necessarily go together to help your team win the game. We played a couple of games at a dinner party, and played men vs women. The men won, and I was told the other day that the other men have been holding it over the heads of their spouses ever since. So, I know there is a rematch in order sometime soon. This will be easy to do since the game is so replayable. The game has 400 words, using only 25 at a time, but the odds that you will get the same 25 words is rare. Even if you do, the key may be different, meaning you have to make different words interact with one another. The game comes with 40 key cards, which can be rotated four times, meaning 160 keys. The app will also help with adding keys that aren't actually in the game.
Codenames is quick, plays a game in about 10-15 minutes, but opens itself up to multiple plays in a single night. The other great part, is if you can find the game at retail or Amazon, it only costs $15. At Funkhouser we always recommend that you visit your friendly local gaming store like Legendary Games - Lexington, before you try to buy games online.
Have you played Codenames? Let us know what you think!