PuzzleNation Product Review: Codenames

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There are all kinds of games where communication is crucial.

In You’ve Got Crabs, you must employ a secret non-verbal signal to inform your partner that you’ve completed a task, but without the other team spotting your signal and intercepting. In Taboo, you have to get a teammate to state a particular word, but without using several words closely associated with the answer.

But other games ratchet up both the creativity necessary to win and the difficulty involved in doing so. Imagine having to communicate volumes with a single word.

In today’s product review, we delve into the world of spycraft and put our communication skills to the test as we try out the card game Codenames.

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In Codenames, two teams (the red team and the blue team) are tasked with identifying all of their secret agents before their opponents can locate their own agents from the same list. But in order to do so, they must pick those agents out of a field of 25 possible individuals.

In each group, there are red agents, blue agents, innocent bystanders, and an assassin. Each possible individual is marked with a codename that is viewable by all of the players.

So, where does the wordplay and communication come in?

Each team selects one player apiece to serve as the spymaster. The spymaster for each team looks at one of the secret patterns determining which cards/codenames represent blue agents and which red agents.

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So it’s up to the spymaster to point the players in the right direction, but it’s up to the players to actually choose a given person in the field of 25 and label them an agent.

Each round, the spymaster comes up with a one-word clue for the other players on their team that points to their secret agents (as well as a number representing the number of agents in the field that the clue applies to). The word must be specific enough to point them in the right direction, but that can be difficult depending on the words in your play area.

For instance, in our example grid, the clue “royalty: 1” could point toward KING, or QUEEN, or HEAD, or even REVOLUTION, depending on what the other players associate with the word “royalty.” But suppose that you want your players to choose KING and not QUEEN. Then “royalty” is no good, because it’s too vague.

The number aspect of the clue is also important, because it offers the opportunity to gain an advantage over your opponents. For instance, if you wanted both KING and QUEEN to be labeled as your agents, the clue “royalty: 2” would be good, because those would probably be the two most likely choices based on that clue.

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In our example grid, the red team went first, and the spymaster said “dishes: 2.” The other player on the red team chose GLASS and WASHER from the grid, and both were correct and marked with red agent cards. This was a smart play, but also a risky one, as PAN could also be associated with “dishes.”

The blue team responded with the clue “rasp: 1,” choosing specificity and a single possible answer for the sake of certainty, rather than risk trying for more than one agent in this turn. The blue player correctly selected FILE, and that card was marked with a blue agent card.

The next turn for the red team didn’t go nearly as well. The spymaster used the clue “big: 1” and instead of choosing SHOT (the intended answer), the player opted for MAMMOTH. The card was revealed to be an innocent bystander, and the red team’s turn was immediately over for failing to ID an agent that turn.

And that is one of the big strategic challenges of Codenames. Do you stick to 1 agent per turn with a greater chance of success, or do you try to get more creative and bold by going for less certain clues that could lead to multiple agent IDs in one fell swoop? Do you risk uncovering the assassin (and immediately losing the game) with a clue that could suggest him as well as a secret agent for your team?

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The field of codenames in the play area can also lead to unexpected challenges. In one game, I was playing the spymaster for my team. The words JUPITER and SATURN were both in the grid, but only JUPITER was one of our agents. So a clue like “planet” was out. Unfortunately, other clues (like “biggest” or “god”) were excluded because they also applied to other codenames in the play area, including the dreaded assassin.

A mix of tactics, efficiency, association, vocabulary, and luck, Codenames is a terrific game that will test your wits, your communication skills, and your ability to make every word count.

The sheer volume of possible codenames (as well as the increased variety offered by each card being double-sided) ensues a huge amount of replay value is built into the game. And not only is it great as a group game, but the two-player version is just as fun!

Codenames, playable for 4 to 8 players (with variant rules for 2 or 3 players) is available at Target, Barnes & Noble, and many online retailers.


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TableTop Day 2019: PuzzleNation Style!

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International TableTop Day is one of our favorite days of the year around here! Whether you play board games, role-playing games, card games, dice games, puzzles, or logic games, this is the holiday for you, family, and friends to come together and play games.

As we discussed in a previous post, there has been some controversy surrounding the date of TableTop Day this year, so we decided to celebrate our own in-house TableTop Day last Tuesday!

For the seventh year in a row, we put aside some time to indulge in some puzzles and games with our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles, and as always, it was a delight. Games were played, snacks were consumed, and fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers were introduced to some terrific games.

For our TableTop Day event, we focus on quick-play games and games for 2 to 4 players, since that allows people the opportunity to try several games without taking too big a bite out of the workday. Not only that, but with smaller groups or 1-on-1 games, it’s easier to introduce someone to a game and really get into the mechanics and gameplay swiftly.

[The spread of games available for the event. Can you name them all?]

As usual, the event started with people picking out their favorites and introducing new players to the game. Quarto was immediately snatched up, and I played several rounds of Tak with a newcomer to the game who really enjoyed the board game’s strategy, simplicity, and elegant design.

At another table, several rounds of the quick-play pattern-matching card game Loonacy marked a fast-paced and chaotic start to the day’s festivities for new players and familiar faces alike.

A few games of the British History edition of Timeline soon followed, as well as new players trying out the labyrinth-building challenge of The Abandons, which quickly proved both difficult and addictive for one particular celebrant. One-player puzzles like Puzzometry and Knot Dice were also popular.

We concluded our celebration of gaming and community in suitably epic fashion with a round of Exploding Kittens. The players bravely tried to avert and avoid the catastrophes induced by various adorable, oblivious, combustible cats, and it made for a fun, silly ending to another terrific event.

People got to blow off some steam, try some new games, and enjoy some snacks. What more can you ask for? All in all, we definitely call that a success!

[Naturally, people waited with baited breath to see who won our raffle AND this terrific bundle of games and goodies!]

So, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, do you celebrate International Tabletop Day? Let us know in the comment section! We’d love to hear from you!


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International Tabletop Day Is Only a Day Away!

Tomorrow is International Tabletop Day, and although we celebrated a bit early around here, there are numerous options for things to do on the day in question.

Saturday, April 28, is the sixth annual International Tabletop Day, and whether you play board games, role-playing games, card games, dice games, puzzles, or logic games, this is the holiday for you, family, and friends to come together and enjoy games.

And there are events happening all over, so if you think you won’t be able in indulge in some tabletop gaming delights, you might be mistaken. There’s a searchable map of Tabletop Day events on the official holiday website, and with even a cursory search, you can find so many awesome, fun events being held tomorrow!

For example, let’s look at my home state, Connecticut. There’s plenty of cool events to check out all over the state.

Gamer’s Gambit in Danbury is hosting all day, including game demos, raffles, a Settlers of Catan tournament, and competitions for games like Codenames and Kingdomino!

In New Haven, our friends at Elm City Games are offering a two-for-one day-pass deal, a potluck meal, and more!

If you don’t have a regular gaming group, Hawkwood Game Cafe in Milford is hosting an open table meetup at 3pm on Saturday! It’s a great way to meet fellow game fans, try out some new games, and socialize! Plus they’re running a contest to see who can build the tallest Jenga tower!

And in Middletown, The Board Room, a board game cafe, is running demos all day, so you’ll have opportunities to sample games as diverse as Codenames, Spyfall, Illimat, and Dungeons & Dragons!

But it’s not just game cafes and local game shops participating! Libraries are also getting in on the fun.

For instance, Stratford Library is showing off their new board game collection at their Tabletop Day event. Learn games like Settlers of Catan, The Resistance, and Tsuro while enjoying snacks with fellow game devotees! And feel free to bring your own favorite games to show off!

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to International Tabletop Day events, my friends. With stores and communities hosting game sessions all over the world — including online! — there has never been a better time to get out there and hang out with fellow board game, card game, and RPG players.

Are you attending an event (or hosting an event) tomorrow? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you!


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!