How to Play Codenames

How to Play Codenames


Hi!
It’s Ryan from Nights Around a Table, and
this is Codenames, a competitive word association
game for 2-8 players.
Here’s The Deal.
Hi!
It’s Ryan from Nights Around a Table, and
this is Codenames, a competitive word association
game for 2-8 players.
Let me show you how to play!
You and your friends play teams of spies working
together to recall your creatively codenamed
agents from the field before the opposing
team recalls theirs.
Each game has an array of 25 cards on the
table, with each card representing either
a red spy, a blue spy, or an innocent bystander.
There’s also one assassin in the mix, who’s
essentially a booby-trap card who will lose
the game for whichever team selects him.
Each team has a spymaster who, through the
use of a special key card, knows which cards
are red spies, which are blue, and which card
is the dreaded assassin.
Spymasters take turns giving one-word clues
to their team members, and it’s up to the
team to interpret those clues and select cards
on the table.
The goal for the spymasters is to get their
team to point to all of their agents to recall
them from the field before the enemy team
points to all of their spies.
A savvy spymaster will give clever clues,
enabling his or her team to point to multiple
spies in a single turn.
GAMEPLAY
Once you’ve split into two teams, red and
blue, each team elects a spymaster.
The two spymasters sit next to each other
on one side of the table, and other players
sit together on the other side of the table.
The spymasters are the only players who can
see this key card, which shows them which
cards on the table represent blue spies, which
are red spies, and which are innocent bystanders.
The key card also shows the spymasters which
card is the game-ending assassin.
It doesn’t matter which way the key card is
rotated when you put it into the holder, and
indeed, it changes the game entirely depending
on its rotation.
Of course, once the key card is in place,
it stays like that for the rest of the game.
The two spymasters keep their spymaster roles
for the entire game.
The coloured light on the edge of the key
card indicates which team gets to go first.
So on this card, blue goes first, which means
they have 9 agents out in the field, while
the red team only has 8 agents to guess.
So the blue team’s spymaster goes first.
The blue spymaster wants his team to guess
these nine agents.
To do that, he can give his team a one word
clue, and a number.
The one-word clue is meant to suggest one
or more of the blue spies’ codenames.
The number is a hint as to how many blue spies
he thinks that clue describes.
And the more agents he can get his team to
correctly guess in a single turn, the better.
The blue spymaster scans the table and decides
that he can get his team to guess these two
spies: PIANO and BELL, by giving his team
the clue “Musical, 2.”
This means that he thinks the one-word clue
“musical” connects two blue spies.
This is all the blue spymaster gets to say.
No facial expressions, no hand gestures, no
nervous humming, and no obvious eyeball stab
glances at certain cards on the table.
The rest is up to his team.
Now, after some discussion, the blue team
has to make at least one guess by touching
one of the spy cards on the table.
Depending on which card they touch, different
things can happen.
Let’s say they pick up on their spymaster’s
clue, and they touch the PIANO card.
That’s the codename of a blue spy!
It doesn’t even have to be the particular
spy their spymaster was thinking of, either
– what matters is they found one of their
own.
So the blue team’s spymaster puts a blue card
over the PIANO spy.
This indicates that the spy has been successfully
recalled from the field.
One down, 8 to go.
Since the blue spymaster said “Musical, 2,”
the blue team gets two guesses, plus a bonus
guess.
If they don’t feel confident touching another
card, they can bow out and pass play to the
red team.
But let’s say the blue team feels pretty good
about guessing another spy.
Flutes are musical, so a blue team player
touches the FLUTE card.
Oh no!
The blue spymaster was so focused on supplying
clues linking the blue spies, that he didn’t
notice the clue “Musical, 2” could definitely
apply to FLUTE!
Since the FLUTE card is an innocent bystander,
the blue spymaster puts a beige card on top.
Even though the blue team gets one bonus guess,
because they blew their cover to an innocent
bystander, they immediately forfeit play to
the red team.
The red spymaster gives her team her first
clue.
She thinks she can get them to guess KNIFE,
BOARD, and BUG by giving the clue “CHARCUTERIE,
3″ because she and her brother recently bought
their mom a ladybug shaped charcuterie board
for her birthday.
“3” means her team can point to up to three
spy cards, plus a bonus guess, but they have
to make one guess at a minimum.
Unfortunately, no one on the red team knows
what the word “CHARCUTERIE” means, and the
red spymaster’s brother wouldn’t have remembered
the gift was ladybug shaped anyway, because
he just gave her 20 bucks to go buy something
for Mom, and he signed the birthday card at
the last minute.
The red team has no idea what to point at,
but they have to pick something.
One of the team members thinks CHARCUTERIE
has something to do with meat, like a subway
sandwich, so he points to the SUB card.
Oops!
SUB is a blue agent!
The red spymaster puts a blue card on the
table.
Since the red team didn’t uncover a red spy,
they forfeit play back to the blue team.
The blue spymaster thinks he can get his team
to guess PLASTIC and CALF by giving the clue
“prosthetic leg, 2.”
But before the blue team can guess, the red
team points out that clues can only be one
word.
Caught breaking the rules, the blue team relinquishes
control of the game back to the red team.
The red team’s spymaster can even cover a
red spy as a penalty.
We’ll go over more of these specific clue
rules a little later.
The red spymaster can’t believe her brother
didn’t get her last clue, so she decides to
double down.
She says “BIRTHDAY, 0.”
What she’s trying to do is to add information
to her last clueů the CHARCUTERIE board for
Mom’s BIRTHDAY.
The red team doesn’t know this clue is related
to the last one, but the fact that the number
is zero pushes them towards that conclusion.
The red spymaster is suggesting that there’s
no new information being offered here.
But it could also mean that NONE of the words
on the table are related to Birthday!
Yeesh!
The red spymaster could also have given the
number as “unlimited,” which gives her team
as many guesses as they want, but you can
see how that would be a risky play.
The team knows that their spymaster thought
the mysterious clue “CHARCUTERIE” referred
to 3 cards, and they didn’t correctly guess
any of those intended cards.
Since the team always gets one bonus guess
over and above the number in the clue, the
red team still gets to point to one card if
they want to.
They still have no idea what’s going on, but
one player suggests that birthdays have balloons,
and balloons are tied to strings, so they
should guess STRING.
A red team member points to STRING, and – aw,
man!
That’s the assassin!
Unfortunately for the red team, they immediately
lose the game, and according to a particularly
harsh house rule, the red spymaster’s brother
is summarily executed.
If the red team hadn’t guessed the assassin,
play would have continued until either the
red team or the blue team had recalled all
of their agents to trigger the win.
Of course, it’s possible for one team to accidentally
guess the other team’s final spy, in which
case they lose by goof.
CLUE RULES
Like most word games, the clues have to be
about a word’s meaning instead of its structure.
So no rhyming clues, nothing about the number
of letters or syllables in words, nothing
about the positions of the cards on the table.
The number in the clue can’t refer to one
of the words, so you can’t say “Christmas,
3″ where the “3” is supposed to refer to the
word “BERMUDA.” for Bermuda Triangle, since
a triangle has 3 sides.
Everyone has to play in English.
You can’t use a word on the table as a clue
unless and until that word is covered up by
another card.
So you couldn’t say Bootstrap, Bootlicker
or Jackboot if this BOOT card was on the table.
You also can’t use part of a word on the table
until it’s covered up.
So if SNOWMAN is on the table, you can’t give
the clues Snowball, Snowden, Superman, or
maneater.
It’s against the spirit of the rules to clue
homonyms.
So if the word is PIE, it wouldn’t be kosher
to give the clue Trigonometry, because you’re
talking about Pi.
HomoGRAPHS are fair game.
So if you see the word Bear, you could take
it to mean big furry animal that bites you,
but it also mean Carry or Endure, so you could
clue it that way.
It would be against the rules, though, to
clue it as if it was spelled B-A-R-E, which
means naked.
You can spell your clue for your team’s benefit,
and you can even give the clue WHOLE – W-H-O-L-E,
even if the word HOLE is on the table.
But you couldn’t give the clue S-H-O-P-P-E
if the word SHOP is on the table, because
that’s just an alternate spelling of the same
word.
The rulebook goes on to list various curb
cases that you’re sure to fight about, like
compound and hyphenated words, proper names,
acronyms, and so on.
Really, it’s down to whichever terms the two
teams agree to.
TWO-PLAYER GAME
You can play Codenames with two players, or
a single team.
Take a key card that makes your team go first,
and play as usual, but every time the phantom
enemy team takes a turn, cover one of their
spy cards.
But you get to pick which card you cover up,
which may help you whittle down possibilities
for your team to help them better guess your
clues.
You lose if your team picks the assassin,
or if all the enemy agents get covered before
you recall your team’s agents.
If you win by recalling all your agents, count
up the number of enemy agents that got recalled
and consult the rulebook to see how you did.
THREE-PLAYER GAME
A three-player game can work like a 2-player
game with all three players on the same team,
or you can have two spymasters, and the third
person guesses cards, in good faith, based
on both spymasters’ clues.
That’s it!
And now, you’re ready to play Codenames!
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