What’s Codenames about? Well the name gives a tiny bit of a clue. Hopefully, if you give the game a try, the ones you give your fellow spies will be a little easier to grasp.

Twenty five secret agents are split between two spying fraternities. Their codenames are displayed in a matrix on the table. There are two rival spymasters, who know the secret identities of all the agents: but nobody else does. All agents, including those in the field (rather than cosily back at the office with a nice warm cup of tea), can see twenty five codenames. The agents in the field can see nothing more.

Amongst them will be members of their own team of agents, and the opposition’s. The names aren’t outstandingly spy-like. No “Mata”, “Klaus”, or “Kim”. They’re banal, like “string”, or “day”. In truth, the agents don’t go by names at all, but by words-as-names.

The two teams are seeking to be first to make contact with all of their associates, by identifying their name (word) and tapping them on the shoulder (figuratively speaking). To achieve that, they’re obviously going to need the help of the spymasters.

They’re not given very much information, but it should be enough. When it’s their team’s turn, their spymaster will give a singleword clue that’s been chosen from deep within the depths of their massive vocabulary, hoping that it will point the way to agents’ codenames on the table. Like “rope”, in the hope that it’ll lead to “string”.

One word only: nothing more is permitted. The rules of engagement are very strict in that respect. Spymasters are not allowed to raise their eyebrows, point, laugh, or snort in disgust. They’re supposed to be real professionals!

The agents’ in the field must then try to guess which agent-words the clue leads to, whilst avoiding mistakenly choosing those that belong to the opposing team. There are other little features that add to the unpredictability, including a single assassin, whom everybody wants to avoid.

So, the spymasters have to work hard to get a useful word to come to mind as a clue to their fellow agents, and to avoid one that might lead them to tap the wrong person on the shoulder. Like many a clue-creation game, it always seems less easy when it’s your turn to be the creative one. And also, as in so many clue games, spymaster may be jumping up and down in frustration that their so-well conceived clue is going nowhere – such is life!

  • a bit of a ‘party game’
  • no learning
  • easy setting up
  • some deductive thinking needed
  • creating clues

I’d like to crack CodeNames