Breaking the Ice with Codenames

My experience with table top gaming and board games over the years has been limited to mass-market games such as Monopoly, Pictionary, Uno and Snakes and Ladders.

However, I have recently found an interest in Dungeons and Dragons through watching The Oxventurer’s Guild campaign and have since then found myself looking into other groups on YouTube that play games such as this.

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Monopoly Edition

Through my BCM 300 Game Making subject, I have been able to experience board games that I had never heard of. In our first week of class, we were split into groups and I found myself in a group with three other people whom I had never met before. Introductions and social interactions can be awkward, but with the premise of playing a game it was made easier. The first game assigned to us, Codenames, helped to break the ice between us without the need for small talk.  

The Box Art of Codenames

Codenames is a 2015 deduction-based card game created by Vlaada Chvátil and published by Czech Games Edition. It has had various sequels and editions since the original game was released, but I’ll be focusing on the original. The premise of the game is that two rivaling spy agencies oppose each other. The spymasters know the secret identities of their agents and must give their teammates one-word clues in order to find all their agents first.

“Mechanics: words association, deduction, team play” – Codenames Official Website

To begin the game, we split into two teams of two; we sat opposite our teammates. We then shuffled the deck of codenames and placed them in a 5×5 grid in the middle of the table. Helpfully, the names were printed so that both sides had a set of words facing them. We then chose which side would go first; myself and the person sitting next to me decided to guess the codenames first. This meant our teammates were to take a card that only they were allowed to see that had different coloured squares in a 5×5 grid.

Game play of Codenames from Session 1

As you can see from the picture above, the coloured squares let the spymasters know which codenames were their agents, which ones were bystanders and which one was the assassin. As the regular agents, my side’s job was to point to the names on the table that we thought related to the one-word clue given to us by our spymaster teammates. For me, it was an intense experience guessing because I wasn’t sure how many names my teammate was referencing with one clue. I found myself holding back so I didn’t pick a bystander card – which would mean the turn is over – or the assassin card – which if picked makes it a game over. The game was immediately immersive and I was careful to only pick cards I was certain belonged to my team. This meant only one or two cards were revealed during a turn, even if the clue may have referenced more cards than that. For a more in-depth explanation of the rules, click here.

Codenames: My Side’s Turn to Guess

In regards to my earlier mention of social interactions, I found that it didn’t matter that I had never talked to my teammate before. We both managed to understand each other when it came to what clues I would understand in relation to which cards. However, when we swapped and my side became the spymasters, I realised I had underestimated how hard it would be to give a one-word clue that would only relate to the cards for our team and not the other words. There were a few stumbles, but it was a small learning curve that added to the entertainment factor of the game. We swapped teams and I found it much easier to work with another player after having time to settle into the mechanics of the game. Overall, the game has a simple concept that manages to tell an interesting story through the physical elements of the cards and be just challenging enough to engage players.

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