Codenames

Number of players
2-10
Recommended age
10+
Competition type
Two teams
Playing time
10
-20 min
Difficulty
Easy
Cost or investment

Brief description of the game

In Codenames we must contact our team’s field agents by finding out what their code names are. We will do this by associating the clues given by our team’s chief spy with the words on the table. Beware of contacting the killer by mistake…
Table of contents
How to play Codenames board game

We’re looking at a game of the highest caliber, awarded as the best game of the year in the Spiel des Jahres in 2016.

If you’re curious, here are the Awarded Games in the recent editions of this prestigious award, often considered the Oscars of the board game industry.

How to play CODENAMES board game

Set up before start playing

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PLAYERS

Entre 2 y 8 jugadores, a partir de 14 años. It is a perfect game for medium and large groups.

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UNDERSTANDING CODENAMES CARDS

The game includes several types of cards. In the following picture you have all of them and below we explain how they are called and what role each of them play in Codenames.

Detail of all the elements of the board game Codenames

"FIELD AGENTS" CARDS

There are 8 per team.

They are used as a scoreboard. Each time a team discovers the position of one of its field agents, it will mark it with one of these cards.

Detail of the Codenames board game Agents Cards

"DOUBLE AGENT" CARD

There is only one It is blue on one side and red on the other.

It plays the same role as the field agent cards, it will simply belong to the team that has the first turn, which instead of having eight agents will have nine. The truth is that its name – double agent – suggests more than it actually is.

Detail of a Codenames double agent card

"CIVILIAN" CARDS

They are cards that symbolize street people who are not secret agents.

Detail of a civilian card of the board game Codenames

THE ASSASSIN

He is the most sinister character in Codenames. We then explain what role it plays.

Detail of the assassin card from the board game Codenames

WORD CARDS

They are cards that have a word.

That word may or may not be the code name of a secret agent.

Detail of a Word card from the board game Codenames

SECRET "KEY CARD"

There are a lot of them in the game, but only one is used in each game.

It tells us who is hiding behind each “word card”.

Detail of a Codenames key card

Blue squares = field agents of the blue team

Red squares = field agents of the red team

Yellow squares = civilians

Black square = the assassin

For example, for that key card we would have in each position:

CREATE THE TEAMS

Codenames is played in teams (except for the variants for 2 and 3 players that we will explain later). Each team has a color associated with it: red or blue.

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DECIDE WHO IS THE SPY CHIEF

Each team must select their CHIEF SPY.

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BOARD SET UP

Twenty-five word cards are chosen at random and a 5×5 grid is created. This is the CODENAMES game board.

Word cards from the board game Secret Codenames
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POSITION OF THE PLAYERS

In Codenames the position of the players at the table is important. The spy bosses are placed on one side of the table and the other players on the opposite side facing them.

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KEY CARD SELECTION

The “chief spies” select a key card and place it on the stand facing them. The other players are on the other side of the table and cannot see it.

The two bosses therefore know which words on the board are associated with their agents – their codenames – but the players on the other side have no idea who is who.

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WHO'S FIRST?

The key card has a color in its frame. Start the team of that color. The double agent will also belong to that team.

You can see that on that key card there are 9 red squares and 8 blue squares. The starting team must discover one more secret agent (the double agent) to compensate for the advantage of having the first turn.

Goal of the game

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HOW DO YOU WIN A CODENAMES GAME?

The objective of Codenames is to contact the agents of your own team by discovering their code names, i.e. the “word cards” behind which the agents of your own team hide: the blue team the blue agents and the red team the red agents.

Playing a Codenames game

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THE BOSS GIVES A CLUE

The spy boss is going to try to get his team mates to say and point at one or more of the words associated – according to the key card – to the field agents of his/her team.

Logically, he cannot directly say the words that are on the table. How do you do it then? He will give them a clue: a word that will be related in some way to one or more of the word cards on the table and behind which are hidden agents of their own.

He will also add a number that tells his partners how many of the cards on the table are related to the word he has just told them.

Examples:

“City, 2”: indicates that there are two cards on the table related to the word “city” behind which are hidden field agents of their team.

“Feliz, 1”: indica que hay una carta sobre la mesa relacionadas con la palabra “feliz” tras las que se esconden un agente propio.

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TIME TO THINK

The team members analyze the words, discuss among themselves and make a decision.

FIELD AGENTS POINT TO...

They say aloud the word and point to the card they have decided on. Several things can now happen:

1 – They have been successful !

The boss puts a card of his team on that card. If he had told them 2 or 3… they can continue to propose words or stand up.

2 – A civilian is singled out

The boss puts a civilian card and the turn ends. If the boss had said 2 or 3… they can no longer propose words

3 – Point to a card from an agent of the opposing team

An agent card of the opposing team is placed and the turn ends.

4 – The killer’s card is pointed to

If you contact the assassin you are dead. The team loses the game.

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NEXT TURNS

The teams will alternate turns, proposing words and respecting the rules indicated below.

Special Coderames Rules

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RULE 1 - VALID WORDS

Clues must refer to the meaning of the word, not just anything can be used:

NO DERIVATIVE WORDS ARE VALID

For the word CHILD it is not valid to say CHILDREN, CHILDHOOD, CHILDISH…

It would be valid, for example: KID or TOY or PEDIATRICIAN

NO TRICKS

Like saying the word backwards, making rhymes with words that have nothing to do with each other, using the number of letters as a clue to the word, winterizing compound words…

OK WORDS

Abbreviations and acronyms – CIA, UN, FBI… – and proper names, as long as they are actually related to the target word.

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RULE 2 - ONLY ONE WORD AND ONE NUMBER

The spy team leader can only say one word and one number, he/she cannot add any other words, phrases or comments of any kind. Otherwise they will lose their turn.

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RULE 3 - POKER FACE

After giving his clue, and while his team debates, the boss cannot make any gesture to help them, he must remain unperturbed with a poker face. Otherwise, they lose their turn.

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RULE 4 - TIME LIMIT

If a team takes too long to decide, the opposing team leader can use the hourglass that comes with the game to force them to make a decision: turn the clock and the countdown begins.

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RULE 5 - MANDATORY TO SAY ONE WORD

The team whose turn it is is obliged to point to a card, even if they have no idea what their boss meant.

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RULE 6 - IT IS NOT MANDATORY TO SAY MORE THAN ONE

If the boss has said that there are 3 related cards, it is not mandatory for the team to point out 3 cards. It is obligatory to signal one, according to Rule 4, but they can then stand up and pass the turn to the other team.

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RULE 7 - SAY MORE WORDS THAN THOSE PROPOSED BY THE BOSS

It is valid to say more words than those proposed by the boss in that turn, perhaps because we have finally understood a clue that was given to us three turns ago. It’s risky, but legal.

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RULE 8 - ZERO

The spymaster can use the number ZERO to indicate that none of the target words on the table are related to the one he just said. It’s like a reverse clue.

For example, if the cards left on the table are DEER, PARROT, EAGLE and ALUMINIUM, and the target word is ALUMINIUM but we can’t think of what word to say related to ALUMINIUM we can say: BIRD, Zero, indicating to our team that the target word has nothing to do with birds.

Game over. Who wins?

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AND THE WINNER IS...

The Codenames game ends when one of the teams manages to reveal the position of all its agents, becoming the winning team.

Tips for playing Codenames

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BALANCED TEAMS

It is more important that the teams are balanced in terms of knowledge or complicity than that the number of players is exactly the same in each team.

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SEVERAL GAMES BY CHANGING THE BOSS

The role of the boss and the rest of the team is different; the game is experienced very differently from one side or the other.. That is why it is interesting to play several games and change the team leader.

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THE ASSASSIN

Chiefs must be very careful not to give as clues words that have to do with the word of the killer card.

Variants of Codenames

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2 PLAYER VARIANT

The two players are from the same team and compete against a fictitious team that will always get a word right in its turn.

The player who plays the role of boss decides which word associated with the opposing team is to be covered by a field agent card of the opposing team.

The objective in this case is to contact all our own agents in as few shifts as possible.

We will lose if the fictitious team finishes first or if we contact the assassin.

The objective in this case is to contact all our own agents in as few shifts as possible.

The fact is that the game in this case loses a lot and that is why a new version of the game has been created called “Secret Code DUO“, designed specifically for two players, which we will explain below along with other variants.

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3 PLAYER VARIANT

You can form a single team and play as in the 2-player variant.

Two players can also compete as both spy chiefs and the third player would be a double field agent for both teams.

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Buying guide and tips

You can find Codenames at specialty board game stores, but the best price and deals are usually on Amazon.

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LOODENS rating

  
It is a perfect game for medium to large groups, even for people who are not familiar with or do not like board games. It is fun and addictive so it is sure to succeed after lunch or dinner or to link several games in a game night.

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