Codenames (board game)

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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
Players4–8+ (Recommended at least 6)
Setup time1–5 minutes
Playing time15–30 minutes
SkillsLanguage skills, concept identifying

Codenames is a 2015 party card game 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. Codenames received positive reviews and won the 2016 Spiel des Jahres award for the best board game of the year.[1]


Codenames is a game played by 4 or more players in which players are split into two teams, red and blue, and guess words based on clues from their teammates.[2] One player from each team becomes the spymaster, while the others play as field operatives.[3] The end goal is to place all of the team’s agent tiles.

During setup, 25 cards containing words are randomly laid out in a 5x5 grid.[4] Some represent red agents (red squares), some represent blue agents (blue squares), one represents the assassin (black square), and the rest are innocent bystanders (beige squares). The spymasters receive a randomly dealt card with colored squares representing the words. They must help their field operatives guess the words representing their agents while avoiding opposing agents, innocent bystanders, and the assassin. The ‘lights’ on the key card represent which team will go first and have an extra agent that must be found.

Each turn, the spymaster gives a verbal clue containing only a single word and a number. The verbal clue should represent agents of own color in some way. For example, for the word cards ‘beach’, ‘whale’, and ‘water’, one could give the clue ‘ocean’, as these things are all related to the ocean. The number represents how many words match that clue. The single word clue must be related by meaning, so it cannot be purely phonetically related. It also cannot be or contain any uncovered word. If an invalid clue is given – the clue is explicitly invalidated by the opposing spymaster – the turn ends immediately and the opposing team gets to randomly reveal one of their own agents.

After the verbal clue is given, the field operatives must guess which of the words go with the clue. The word cards will subsequently be covered with an agent tile, a bystander tile, or the assassin tile by the spymaster as guesses are made. The field operatives must make at least one guess per turn, with the maximum number of guesses for a turn being the number given in the clue plus one. Once a correct guess is made, the field operatives may continue to make guesses or choose to end their turn voluntarily. If a bystander or an opposing agent is revealed, the turn ends. If the assassin is revealed, the game ends immediately with a loss for the guessing team. For a faster game, or in certain situations such as the opposing team taking too long guessing, a timer, such as the hourglass timer included in the game's packaging, can be used.

Besides the assassin, the game ends when all of one team’s agents are found, winning the game for that team.[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 contain sexual references and double entendres, earning it a parental advisory label.[2] 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, and includes 200 two-sided cards that feature images instead of words.[2] The game uses a 5x4 grid instead of the original's 5x5, resulting in 20 cards being used at a time, but otherwise has the same rules as the original. The image cards themselves can also be combined with the word cards from the original game for a more advanced gameplay variation.

Codenames: Disney Family Edition was released in September 2017, featuring characters and locations from Disney and Pixar films and including an easier 4x4 grid gameplay (with no 'Game Over' square) for younger players. Codenames: Marvel Edition was released around the same time, featuring characters from the Marvel Universe, such as Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Iron Man and Captain America.[3] Both of these editions come with their own clue cards, which can be flipped over to display the picture or the word.

Codenames: Duet is a cooperative version of the game where two players try to find all their agents out of codename cards.

Codenames: Duet was released in October 2017 as a two-player cooperative version of the original game. The game packaging includes 200 new word cards, which can also be used for the original game (provided that the language matches). The objective of the game is to reveal all 15 agents within a given number of turns without contacting too many innocent bystanders or the assassin.[4]

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 members 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 in November 2018, and Codenames: Duet XXL in May 2019. They are all the same as their respective original games, except for the fact that they use a larger format and double-sized cards.[5]

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. One month later, CGE released another licensed spin-off called Codenames: Blizzard Edition, featuring characters and references from the video game franchises by Blizzard Entertainment, such as Warcraft and Diablo. This particular edition is never available for retail, and was gifted exclusively to Blizzard employees around Christmas.


CGE has released Codenames Gadget, a mobile app to randomly generate layouts of agents.[6] The publisher has also released an official web version of the game and Codenames Duet through their website.[7][8]


Codenames received positive reviews upon its release. Nate Anderson from Ars Technica praised the strategy and engagement, but criticised the downtime. He concluded that it was a "terrific choice for a family friendly game".[9] Writing for Kotaku, Alex Walker stated that the game had high replayability, and commended the mechanics.[10] Oliver East also commented on the game's entertainment value and described it as an "instant hit".[11] The game was commercially acclaimed, and 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, [European] Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish, Swedish, Thai and Turkish), comprising six different alphabets.[12]


Year Game Award Result
2015 Codenames Origins Award: Best Family Game, Fan Favorite Family Game, and Game of the Year Won[13]
2016 Codenames Spiel des Jahres (Game of the year) Won[14]
2017 Codenames Duet Golden Geek award: Best Two-player Game Won[15]


  1. ^ Zimmerman, Aaron (July 7, 2016). "The "Board Game of the Year" winners have been announced". Ars Technica. Retrieved October 7, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Machkovech, Sam (August 3, 2016). "First official Codenames spin-off is Target-exclusive, obsessed with sex". Ars Technica. Retrieved November 24, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Walker, Alex (February 17, 2017). "Codenames Is Getting The Disney, Pixar And Marvel Treatment This Year". Kotaku. Retrieved November 24, 2017.
  4. ^ a b East, Oliver (September 12, 2017). "Codenames: Duet – Competitive To Coop Brilliance". Just Push Start. Retrieved November 24, 2017.
  5. ^ a b "Codenames: Duet XXL is about to hit the shelves!".
  6. ^ "Codenames - Czech Games Edition". Retrieved 2018-05-30.
  7. ^ "Codenames – Play with your Friends Online". Retrieved 2022-07-22.
  8. ^ "Codenames' two-player, co-op spin-off Duet is now free to play online". Dicebreaker. 2021-02-11. Retrieved 2022-07-22.
  9. ^ Anderson, Nate (2015-11-14). "Ars Cardboard: Codenames, the secret agent party game you've been seeking". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2022-03-24.
  10. ^ "Everyone Should Own Codenames". Kotaku Australia. 2016-09-13. Retrieved 2022-03-24.
  11. ^ "Codenames Review - Teams Make Word Association Awesome - Just Push Start". 23 April 2017. Retrieved 2022-03-24.
  12. ^ "Codenames Download Area". Czech Games Edition. Retrieved 16 December 2019.
  13. ^ "2016 Origins Award Winners".
  14. ^ de Veyra, Jeeves (December 14, 2016). "Codenames board game gets local edition". ABS-CBN Corporation. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  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.

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