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The spymaster says "Hot: 2". Can you find the two words related to hot that win the game?

The two rival spymasters know the identities of 25 agents. Their teammates know the agents only by their Codenames.

Codenames layout
images © Czech Games Edition

The teams compete to see who can make contact with all of their agents first. Spymasters give one-word clues that can point to multiple words on the board. Their teammates try to guess words of the right color while avoiding those that belong to the opposing team. And everyone wants to avoid the assassin.

Codenames: win or lose, it's fun to figure out the clues.

Recommended for 4 or more players.

User Reviews (9)

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Professional Reviewer
I play black
Silver Supporter
14 of 14 gamers found this helpful
“Codenames review: words, spies and infinite possibilities”

Codenames, the current #1 party game, has taken the board game world by storm. A seemingly simple word game it made a home for itself in a ton of collections and was a serious contender for many game of the year awards. What made it so special?

How it works:

The game is played with 2 teams of 2-4 people each (though nothing mechanically prevents larger groups). 25 cards with abstract words are laid out on the table. One player within each team is chosen as the “Spymaster” – the two (one from each team) receive a “cheat sheet”, showing which of the cards belong to your team, which are the opponents’. There are also neutral cards and one “assassin” that makes you lose the game if ever selected. The Spymasters’ goal is to make their teammates (huddled on the other side of the cheat sheet) pick all cards belonging to their team before the opponent picks all theirs. The Spymaster gives clues to help their team guess and coming up with the clues is where the meat of the game is.

A clue has to be a word that would associate with one or more words on the table. (So for example if you’re trying to make your teammates guess “Alien”, “Moon” and “Telescope” you could say “Space”. Don’t worry. It’s never that easy). You are only allowed one word and the number of cards you want your team to guess. The team then picks cards based on the clue – if you got it wrong – your turn is over. If you accidentally picked the “assassin” – you just lost the game. Whichever team picks all of their cards first is the winner.

Ostensibly there is a spy theme to the game but in most cases it is forgotten as quick as it becomes obvious that it’s completely unnecessary to enjoying the game.

How it plays:

It plays amazingly well. Unlike most board games, Codenames does not impose a complex system of rules to master on players. Such systems, while enjoyable once learned, often stand in the way of the initial enjoyment of the game. Codenames doesn’t have such an obstacle. What you get is a simple framework to flex your wit, intelligence and vocabulary. The game is learned in minutes and engages people throughout its short, 10-20 min duration. In fact – most times I put Codenames on the table it would be played 3-4 times in a row as every member of the team gets a chance to be the Spymaster.

While children might very well enjoy this game – it did not strike me as a particularly great option for the younger crowd (perhaps those 12+). It might be good as a developmental exercise but its prime purpose is clearly entertaining adults. The experience it provides is a good mix between being fun and offering a challenge for your brain. There are some quiet pensive moments, some loud arguments, some high-fives or groans of disbelief as your team make the inevitable far-reaching conclusion to pick the assassin card.

How it feels:

The strength of codenames is its versatility. It will find a spot in many a collection because it fits so many roles. It is light enough to not scare off inexperienced players (or even those who just do not play games). It is very thinky (though not in the usual way that board games make you think) that it is enjoyable even if you are a seasoned veteran. You can play it once or twice as part of a larger game night between chunkier options or you can focus in on a tournament or a series of matches (with rapidly escalating tensions).

In fact, the worst thing I have to say about Codenames is that it may cannibalize the table time from other games in your collection. It is so approachable and so easy to play that people might default to it a little bit too often. I know I found myself a little frustrated when game suggestions are met with “can we just play Codenames instead”.

But that’s not to detract from the game. The game comes with a great variety of cards (that are double-sided for convenience) and the replayability is near-infinite. Compare it with something like Dixit, which forms strong associations between a particular game component and a potential word. In Codenames the association that you have to make is not with a single word but rather with a combination of words some of which might be not on the table, some of which you might need to avoid (because they belong to the other team). The web of logical connections behind this approachable exterior is near-infinite. Which is easy to understand once you look at the designer’s name. Vlaada Chvaatil is known for heavy, complex euros with tons of moving parts. In Codenames (which I consider to be a triumph) he managed to maintain all the enjoyable complexity while taking out all the “work” usually involved in getting to the good stuff.


This is a rare game that I consider a “must have” in most collections. Unless your interest lies exclusively in strategic non-party games. Codenames will become a mainstay in your collection, offering hours of fun with different groups in different scenarios.

If you enjoyed this review please visit Altema Games website for more neat board game materials.

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I play red
55 of 64 gamers found this helpful
“Why is it so fun?!”

Codenames is a party word game that seems very basic at first glance. 25 cards with a single word on each of them are arrayed in a 5×5 formation on the table. There are two teams, red and blue, and each team has one Codemaster who sees a card that maps out the 5×5 grid in blue, red, neutral, and one assassin square. The Codemaster gives a one-word clue that applies to as many of the 8 (or 9, if their team went first) colored squares on the grid as possible and gives a number; for example, the clue “cold: 3” could be used for the words “freeze,” “winter,” and “shoulder.” The Codemaster’s team tries to guess as many of the words as possible, but if they guess a neutral square or one of the other color, their turn immediately ends and the other team’s Codemaster gives a clue. If a team guesses the assassin square, they immediately lose the round.

It’s super-easy to learn and fun to play for the first few rounds, but you expect that it will get old pretty quickly. But it doesn’t! Somehow, Codenames is fun to play again and again, for both hardcore and casual gamers, and the only thing that stopped us on our first night playing was that people had to go home because it was too late. If we were all ten years younger, we’d probably be playing into the wee hours of the night, and the sun may well have caught us still shouting and laughing.

Codenames’ presentation is pretty solid, though the theme of the cards being the code names of potential agents doesn’t bring a whole lot to the game. There are PLENTY of word cards (two-sided so you don’t have to bring out a new set every time!) and the agent chits are cool-looking and, in a particularly nice bit of inclusiveness, double-sided with a male agent on one side and a female agent on the other.

Codenames looks like the kind of game that would be fun once or twice and then collect dust on your shelf, but I’m sure we’ll be bringing this little gem out at parties for a long, long time.

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United Kingdom
Professional Reviewer
Crab Clan - Legend of the Five Rings
Book Lover
10 of 11 gamers found this helpful
“Battleships wth Words?”

Codenames is the Spiel des Jahres—or ‘Game of the Year—award winner for 2016 and that is probably enough of a recommendation to try it and add it to your games collection. Published by Czech Games Edition, it is an espionage-themed word game that works as a party game and which can be played by between two and eight players. The players are split into two teams and one person on each team takes the role of their team’s ‘Spymaster’. His mission is to communicate the code names of his spies to his fellow team members; it is their task to understand the clues given by the spymaster and identity the spies. It is designed to be played by players aged fourteen and over and a game should last no more than twenty minutes.

Codenames consists of several decks of cards. These are the Codename cards (double-sided with a word like tube, bugle, Jupiter, palm, and so on); sixteen Agent cards in two colours (red and blue, used to identity Codenames by each side); a red/blue Double-Agent card (used to indicate the starting team); seven Innocent Bystander cards (used to indicate non-Agents); one Assassin card (used to indicate the Assassin who lose a team the game if they identify him); forty Key cards (these determine the location of the Agents, Innocent Bystanders, and Assassin on the grid); plus a rulebook and timer.

To set up the game, twenty-five Codenames are randomly drawn and arranged in a five-by-five grid. A Key card is drawn and shared between the two Spymasters. It shows them where their Agents, Innocent Bystanders, and Assassin are on the grid. On a team’s turn, its Spymaster gives a clue to the rest of his turn. This clue consists of one word and one number. The word must be associated with—but not the same as—one or more of the Codename cards in the grid. The number indicates the number of Codename cards that the clue is associated with. So for example, a Spymaster has the following Codenames that need identifying: ‘America’, ‘Cap’, ‘Disease’, ‘Ham’, ‘Horn’, ‘Mail’, ‘Spring’, and ‘Whip’. So the Spymaster decides to give the clue ‘Supersoldier Two’ to indicate ‘America’ and ‘Cap’, hoping that his team knows its superheroes (or movies).

The team now tries to guess the Codenames from this clue. If the team picks an Innocent Bystander instead of a Codename, its turn ends. If the team picks a Codename belonging to the other team, its turn ends. If the team picks the Assassin instead of a Codename, it has lost and the game is over. A team must make one guess on its turn and can choose to make fewer guesses than the number given by its Spymaster. A team that correctly guesses Codenames equal to the number given by its Spymaster can take an extra guess. This is useful if a team wants to return to a clue given in previous turn.

The first team to identify all of its Codenames wins the game.

At the heart of Codenames are two asymmetrical challenges. For the Spymaster, the challenge is, “Can I give clues to my team members that they will understand?”, whilst for the team members the challenge is, “Can we interpret and understand our Spaymaster’s clues?”. This requires no little thought by both sides, hampered of course, by the timer.

On the downside, the game’s theme is a bit too light and if you do not like word games, then Codenames is not something that you will necessarily enjoy. If you do like word games, crossword puzzles, and so on, then Codenames’ simple design is both a delight and challenge. The game is also simple enough to work as a party game, but still be challenging without being overwhelming in its mechanics or appearance. The fact that it is a word game means that it is approachable and accessible to a non-gaming audience, a la Scrabble (yet better). Of course, it also works as a good filler game. The high number of Codename cards and Key cards (the latter for determining Codename location on the grid) means a wide variety of Codenames and grid layouts and thus a high replay value.

My gaming group described Codenames as being ‘Word Battleships’. The fact that there is a hidden grid involved and the game involves finding things on said grid and it easy to see the comparison. That said, Codenames is a light and clever game that will challenge groups large and small again and again.

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15 of 18 gamers found this helpful
“Best party game out there! Seriously.”

We have played over 20 rounds of Codenames in the last few weeks, no joke. Enough said. =-) We’ve played with family, with friends, with kids, with elderly folk, with single people, with married couples, with liberals, with conservatives, and a bunch of combinations of each. This game is such a blast and engages everyone. Party games often instill varying levels of engagement based on interest, age, type of game, education level, etc. Not so with Codenames. This type of variety actually enhances Codenames and increases the level of fun.

Essentially, you have two teams: red and blue. You have one Spy Master for each team. The goal of the Spy Master is to get her team to guess each of her team’s spies for the victory. There is a grid of random, single-word noun cards on the table, visible to everyone. The Spy Masters then have a secret corresponding “code” grid which tells them which cards are associated with which team’s spies. Then the guessing begins. Without any hints or insinuations (that’s actually really hard!), the Spy Master gives a single word clue with a number (to tell how many word cards she is associating with that clue). One at a time, the team then guesses the words. If they guess right, mark it down and keep guessing. If they guess the other team’s spy, the other team gets the benefit and the turn is over. If they guess an innocent bystander, nothing happens, but the turn is over. If they guess the assassin, game over!

Being Spy Master is actually a lot harder than it seems but is so fun! You need to concoct a single word that would lead your team to guess as many code words as possible. Seems easy, but you need to be very aware of your opponent’s code words and especially aware of the assassin. You’ll find more conservative, risk-averse players will got for only one or two code words per turn (slow and steady). I’m very reward-sensitive, so I say “go big or go home!” But I’ve also been burned by that strategy. =-)

When you’re on the team and not the Spy Master, be sure to listen to everyone’s opinions. So often the loudest or pushiest player would convince the team to go one way when the quiet, 10-year-old kid would be spot on. You also need to be very conscientious of a clue’s intended meaning. Does the clue “duck” refer to ducking one’s head or an actual duck (the animal)? Does “cool” mean chilly or awesome? Or, if the Spy Master is really good, does it refer to both meanings?

I hope Czech Games comes out with an expansion to the first version soon because at our rate, we’re going to hit 50 games in no time at all. =-) I dub this as my highest-rated party game at 9.5. It’s virtually flawless. The only downside plays into how awesome of a game it is: there are a lot of code word cards included (which can, of course, be shuffled and mixed up), but with how much we want to play, we have blown through the cards quickly.

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19 of 29 gamers found this helpful
“Challenging party game”

The game uses simple game mechanics but does provide a challenge for all involved.
you need at least 4 people total to play. Divide into 2 teams(red and Blue). From a large stack of tiles lay out 25 tiles in a 5×5 grid. Each tile has a word on it. Each team has a designated clue giver and the they sit facing the teams. From a second stack you draw a card and place it in a holder so that only the clue givers can see it. The card shows which spaces are for the red team and which for the blue team. It will also show which spaces are innocent bystanders and which is the assassin space. On each team’s turn they are given a 1 word clue with a number such as flight 2. The team then tries to guess which words relate to flight. As they guess a word the tile is covered with a red, blue, bystander or assassin token. If the token is your team’s color you can stop or try to make the next guess(up until the number announced(+) 1 if you want. If it is the other team’s color your turn is over and you have now helped the other team get a word. If it is a bystander your team’s turn is over. If it is the assassin your team loses immediately. Pick a new clue giver and set upa new round. Play to a point total=50 or 100,etc… There are restrictions on what constitute valid clues and you can choose 0 or unlimited for the number values. Good luck.

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6 of 14 gamers found this helpful
“Great party Game for everyone”

Easy to learn, when you Play It once you want to Play more, you want to win, to test yourself.
Best for 6+ players because of The mechanics, two groups, one leader each, and each one leads a team of at least two people to maximice fun.
The game is very reapetable, you can Play time after time, enjoying It The game and everytime is a different game.
With a box you have to Play forever.
You can Play with Kids, adults, old people, at home, in a party, picnic, you dont need a Big space to set The game.

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6 of 17 gamers found this helpful
“Excellent Group Game for Everyone”

The More I play this game , the more i love it.
Its easy, its fun, it brings people together.
Yes it does cause some disputes but overall its a great family, party, team game. Play it with your family, your co-workers, your friends, your meet up groups.
Use it as a team building exercise, whatever you use it for , you will have tons of fun playing this easy to learn game.
There are now two other editions out Codenames Pictures and Codenames after dark which i can’t wait to play.
The guys at Czech games Editions outdid themselves this time around.

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2 of 7 gamers found this helpful
“Codenames - Vidéocritique en français!”

– Spiel des Jahres 2016 –

Un jeu pour 2 à 8 joueurs de Vlaada Chvátil!

Il s’agit d’un jeu d’association d’idées, bref un jeu d’ambiance!
Un jeu publié à l’origine par Czech Games Edition et publié dernièrement en français par l’équipe de IELLO!

Le principe est simple: faire deviner plusieurs mots à son équipe en n’en prononçant qu’un seul! MAIS ATTENTION! Un faux pas va stopper votre tour immédiatement et pourrait même donner une précieuse longueur d’avance à l’équipe adverse ou, pire encore, vous faire tomber nez à nez avec l’assassin sans pitié!

Règles complètes:

Critique personnelle:


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Intermediate Grader
3 of 12 gamers found this helpful
“Favorite on first play!”

My gaming group played this yesterday. At first it seemed complicated but once we dove in, it turns out to be easy to learn and we played three games in a row. We agreed it’s going right into our Favorites list. We liked it because it has a great balance of luck and skill, and it stretches our imaginations to find that single word that can fit more than one tile word. It also helps to know how your players think.


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