Monday, November 28, 2016

Board Game Review: Codenames

Codenames is a party/word game, designed by Vlaada Chvátil and published by Czech Games Edition.

Codenames is a party game with a focus on words. Players are broken up into two teams, Red and Blue. One player from each team is a cluegiver; this never changes throughout the game. 25 words are laid out in a 5x5 grid; a card is then drawn to determine which words belong to the Red team and which words belong to the Blue team.

Each team's Cluegiver is attempting to give a one-word clue, along with the number of words it applies towards, to their team members. However, they need to say a clue that will not cause them to select one of the rival team's words; in addition, one of the words is the "Assassin" which will cause the team who chose it to instantly lose.

For example, here is a sample layout:

The grid at the bottom determines who owns which word; so, for example, the top row has Red owning "Jack" and "Rock" while the Blue team owns "Light" and "Police". Neither team owns "Fence". This applies to the entire grid. The Assassin word is "Kangaroo".

The Cluegivers take turns giving a one-word clue along with a number for how many words the clue applies to, and the first team to get all of their words correctly guessed wins. If a player selects a neutral word, their turn is automatically over. And if they guess the other team's word, they get the credit! So Cluegivers are trying to maximize the number of guesses per clue (since it is, in effect, a race to see who guesses their clues first) while also trying to prevent them from guessing wrong.

For example, the Red team might say "Nature, 3" in an attempt to get them to guess "Stream" and "Rock" and possibly "Green" or "Snow"...but their team may also guess "Forest" which is a neutral word, or, worse, "Scorpion" or "Whale" or even the Assassin word "Kangaroo", which are both Blue words. Likewise, the Blue team may have difficulty having their team guess "Leprechaun" without having them also choose "Green".

Teams generally can't simply do a bunch of one-clue answers, because the moment a team can get two in one guess, they're going to win as long as they keep alternating.

The game continues until one side has all of their clues guessed, or a team chooses the Assassin.

What I Like About The Game:
  • This is almost a perfect word game and a perfect party game. Games are pretty quick, the rules are relatively simple, and teams seem to love discussing what the different options are. Having people argue about minute semantic points can be hilarious, especially since the Cluegiver can't clarify or even indicate anything while the team is guessing.
  • The game is almost infinitely replayable. The deck of words is pretty big and the cards are double-sided, but even if you see the same words you've seen before, the grid of which words belong to which team changes, so it's a completely different situation each time. Heck, even the Grid can be rotated four different ways, each providing a different setup.
  • There's little downtime. Aside from the Cluegiver spending some time thinking about their clue, teams should always be paying attention--what happens on the other turn affects them as well. 
What I Don't Like About The Game:
  • Some of the rules are a little weird--for example, you have to use the words as their meaning and not any meta meaning--you can't use something like "Banana" to try and get your team to guess all words that start with "B". I understand why the rule is there, but it's almost impossible to enforce. 
  • Some people--especially if you are playing with small teams--can get frustrated if they aren't on the same wavelength as the Cluegiver.  If someone thinks conceptually completely different than their counterpart, it get get annoying fast. Likewise, some Cluegivers get paralyzed as they can't construct a clue in their heads, and take forever. There is a timer included to get things moving, but if you get frustrated easily this may not work for you.
This is one of the few games that falls under the "I would play this any time I am asked." Setup is very quick, play is quick, and everyone is engaged the entire time.  It's also got wide distribution in retail stores (namely, Target) so should be easy to pick up.

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