Here at Kotaku, we love Codenames. It’s one of the most fun board games out there that forces teams to work out ways to communicate with each other in very limited ways.
When it works, it’s exhilarating. It doesn’t always work.
Over the years, I’ve played more than my fair share of Codenames. Vlaada Chvatil’s wonderful word guessing game is just as good with close friends as you work in-jokes into your clues as it is with strangers as you fish to find mutual understanding.
The basics of the game are very easy to understand. Players are split into two teams, with each team lead by a spymaster. There is a five by five grid of words that all players can see and the spymasters have a secret codex telling them which words their team must guess.
Single word clues are given that relate to a specific number of words by the spymasters so that their teams can try and guess the right words. Guess the right word and the turn continues until that team passes. Guess the wrong word and the turn is over. Guess the one in 25 assassin word and it’s all over, red rover.
The spirit of the game is simple enough. That breaks down a little when you play with degenerate gamblers who like to test the odds and guess randomly.
In a series of games of Codenames that I played, my teammates decided that the best way forward was to try and make accurate guesses and then, if the odds were in their favour, blindly guess at other words on the board until things went wrong.
It took about three of these blind guesses for them to hit the assassin. That didn’t stop them.
The beauty of Codenames is that even when things go off of the rails, you can just embrace the madness. Resetting for a new game is quick. Failures are short-lived and hilarious. Just go along with it.
Another thing that is entirely within the spirit of the game is heckling. At least, it is the way I play Codenames. Trying to link words on the boards to the clues opposing spymasters have given can be a challenge. It can be even more of a challenge when someone opposite you is making a ridiculous argument about how whales are nocturnal.
That’s why I have made it a personal goal to try and link every single word on the table to Batman whenever I can. This has only backfired once, in a game several years ago where the opposition team was taking their sweet time playing, so I rattled off loose justifications for how every word related to Batman.
The final word that I had linked to Batman was ‘arrow’. After all, Green Arrow is basically hippy Batman and the two have teamed up countless times. It may have even been the strongest tie on the board to Batman other than ‘calendar’.
My spymaster looks me in the eye and says “Batman, two.” I immediately selected ‘arrow’. That was the assassin.
Ain’t hubris grand?
A more recent example where Codenames went wrong was last week where I was playing with several Americans. There’s a lot of cultural overlap between Australia and America but we did have to be careful not to make references that wouldn’t quite land with each other.
Despite the difficulties, my team had managed to amass a respectable lead with only one word left on the board: ‘kangaroo’.
One of my team mates starts subconsciously making clicking noises with their mouth. There’s only one clue that I could give.
I’d be mad if I didn’t find it hilarious. Failure is always an option and in Codenames, that’s just part of the game. It does a wonderful job of building up tension as teams make their guesses and an even more wonderful job of relieving that tension as teams succeed or fail.