Codenames (board game)

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Codenames board game.jpg
Codenames at the end of play. The game has ended because the assassin (the black card on the left edge) has been found.
DesignersVlaada Chvátil
PublishersCzech Games Edition
PlayersRecommended for at least 4; can be played by 4–8 players
Setup time1–5 minutes
Playing time15–30 minutes
Random chanceLow
Skills requiredLanguage skills, concept identifying

Codenames is a 2015 card game for 4–8 players designed by Vlaada Chvátil and published by Czech Games Edition. Two teams compete by each having a "spymaster" give one-word clues that can point to multiple words on the board. The other players on the team attempt to guess their team's words while avoiding the words of the other team. In a variant with 2–3 players, one spymaster gives clues to the other player or players.

In 2016, Codenames won the Spiel des Jahres award for the best board game of the year.[1]


Codenames is a game of guessing which codenames (i.e., words) in a set are related to a hint-word given by another player.[2]

Players split into two teams: red and blue. One player of each team is selected as the team's spymaster; the others are field operatives.[3]

Twenty-five Codename cards, each bearing a word, are laid out in a 5×5 grid,[4] in random order. A number of these words represent red agents, a number represent blue agents, one represents an assassin, and the others represent innocent bystanders.

The teams' spymasters are given a randomly-dealt key card showing a 5×5 grid of 25 squares of various colors, each corresponding to one of the codename cards on the table. The key card can be rotated at the spymasters' will before being put into a stand. The 'lights' on the edges of the key card indicate which team plays first and has to find nine agents of their own (the other team only has to find eight). On each turn, the appropriate spymaster gives a verbal hint about the words on the respective cards. Each hint may only consist of one single word and a number. The spymaster gives a hint that is related to as many of the words on their own agents' cards as possible, but not to any others – lest they accidentally lead their team to choose a card representing an innocent bystander, an opposing agent, or the assassin.

The hint's word can be chosen freely, as long as it is not (and does not contain, nor is contained in) any of the words on the codename cards still visible at the time. Codename cards are covered as guesses, correct or otherwise, are made. If the spymaster of a team gives an invalid clue, their turn ends immediately, with the opposing team's spymaster randomly covering a codename belonging to an agent of that team before the start of their turn.

The hint's number tells the field operatives how many words in the grid are related to the word of the clue. It also determines the maximum number of guesses the field operatives may make on that turn, which is the hint's number plus one. Field operatives must make at least one guess per turn, risking a wrong guess and its consequences. They may also end their turn voluntarily at any point thereafter. For a faster game, a timer, such as the hourglass included with the game packaging, may be used, so as to force the field operatives to make their guesses as quickly as possible before their turn ends.

After a spymaster gives the hint with its word and number, their field operatives make guesses about which codename cards bear words related to the hint and point them out, one at a time. When a codename card is pointed out, the spymaster covers that card with an appropriate identity card – a blue agent card, a red agent card, an innocent bystander card, or the assassin card – as indicated on the spymasters' map of the grid. If either an opposing team's agent or an innocent bystander is revealed, the guess is considered wrong and the team's turn ends. If the assassin is revealed, the game ends immediately with a loss for the team who identified him.[4]

Besides the aforementioned assassin, the game ends when all of one team's agents are identified (winning the game for that team). Given the nature of the gameplay, it is definitely possible for a team to win the game during the opposing team's turn.[5]

Official variations[edit]

Codenames: Deep Undercover was released in 2016 exclusively at Target Stores. Published by Lark & Clam and marketed as an adult party game, the game's 200 new word cards consists of sexual references and double entendres, earning it a parental advisory label.[6] The game received an update in 2018 under the subtitle [2.0], which intends to achieve better gameplay balance.

Codenames: Pictures was released in September 2016, using images on the cards instead of words.[6] The game uses 20 cards instead of 25, making for a 5x4 grid, but otherwise has the same rules as the original.

Codenames: Disney Family Edition was released in September 2017, and featured characters and locations from Disney and Pixar films. This edition also includes a 4x4 gameplay variation with no 'Assassin' square. Codenames: Marvel Edition was released at the same time, featuring characters from the Marvel Universe, including Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and others.[7]

Codenames: Duet is a cooperative version of the game where two players work towards a common goal.

Codenames: Duet was released in October 2017 as a two-player cooperative version of the original game. The game includes 400 all-new word cards, which can also be used for the original game. The objective of the game is to reveal all 15 agents within the given number of turns wihout contacting too many innocent bystanders or the Assassin.[8]

Codenames: Harry Potter was released in 2018. Themed around the novel series of the same name, it is played similarly to Codenames: Duet, with two or more players working together to reveal all Order of the Phoenix cards before they run out of time, while also trying to avoid the Ministry of Magic and the Death Eaters.

Codenames: XXL was released in June 2018, Codenames: Pictures XXL was released in November 2018, and Codenames: Duet XXL was released in May 2019. They are all the same as their respective original games, except for the fact that they use larger format (double-sized) cards.[9]

Codenames: The Simpsons Family Edition was released in November 2019 and features characters and references from the eponymous television series. Its gameplay is identical to Codenames: Pictures.


CGE has released Codenames Gadget, a mobile app to randomly generate layouts of agents.[10]

CGE has also released an official web version of the game through their website.[11]


The game reached the 17th (out of more than 84000) position in the BoardGameGeek ranking of games of all time, and first position in the BGG party-games ranking.[12]

It won the 2016 Spiel des Jahres (Game of the year), the most prestigious game award worldwide.[13]

Codenames won the Origins Award for Best Family Game, Fan Favorite Family Game, and Game of the Year for 2015.[14]

Codenames Duet won a Golden Geek award for the best two-player game of 2017.[15]

It has been published in 38 languages (Afrikaans, Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Filipino, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian [Bokmål], Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai and Turkish), comprising six different alphabets.[16]


  1. ^ Zimmerman, Aaron (July 7, 2016). "The "Board Game of the Year" winners have been announced". Ars Technica. Retrieved October 7, 2017.
  2. ^ Chvátil, Vlaada (July 2015). Codenames Rules (PDF). Czech Games Edition. Retrieved 27 June 2016.
  3. ^ Perling, Anna; Austin, James (9 December 2019). "The best beginner board games for adults". The Wirecutter. The New York Times. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  4. ^ a b Zimmerman, Aaron; Anderson, Nate; Mendelsohn, Tom (8 December 2017). "Ars Technica's ultimate board game buyer's guide". Ars Technica. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  5. ^ D'Anastasio, Cecilia (December 26, 2017). "Five Family-Friendly Board Games That Aren't Monopoly". kotaku. Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  6. ^ a b Machkovech, Sam (August 3, 2016). "First official Codenames spin-off is Target-exclusive, obsessed with sex". Ars Technica. Retrieved November 24, 2017.
  7. ^ Walker, Alex (February 17, 2017). "Codenames Is Getting The Disney, Pixar And Marvel Treatment This Year". Kotaku. Retrieved November 24, 2017.
  8. ^ East, Oliver (September 12, 2017). "Codenames: Duet – Competitive To Coop Brilliance". Just Push Start. Retrieved November 24, 2017.
  9. ^ "Codenames: Duet XXL is about to hit the shelves!".
  10. ^ "Codenames - Czech Games Edition". Retrieved 2018-05-30.
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Codenames". BoardGameGeek.
  13. ^ de Veyra, Jeeves (December 14, 2016). "Codenames board game gets local edition". ABS-CBN Corporation. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  14. ^ "2016 Origins Award Winners".
  15. ^ Hall, Charlie (March 14, 2018). "The best board games of 2017, as chosen by the Board Game Geek community". Polygon. Retrieved March 17, 2018.
  16. ^ "Codenames Download Area". Czech Games Edition. Retrieved 16 December 2019.

External links[edit]