For us, CODENAMES is a classic case of “Don’t judge a book (or game) by its cover.” The box art for Vlaada Chvatils’ CODENAMES was actually the reason why we skipped over this game several times before buying it. It became hard to ignore the game as it was nominated for multiple awards around the world. While on vacation, we decided to take the plunge and give this word association card game a fighting chance!

One Word, Many Meanings…

CODENAMES is a pretty simple concept, consisting of a red and blue team, with 25 cards set out in a 5 x 5 grid on the table. Each team has a “Spy Master” with the rest of the players serving as “field operatives”. The Spy Masters have a grid card to reference, which shows them which cards on the table belong to them. They are then able to provide their team with a one word clue to reveal the identity of their agent. The field operative is then able to guess one (or more) of the 25 cards on the table in the hopes of revealing the agents identity.

You want to be careful not to guess the opposing teams card. If you do, they will be able to place their agent on the table and move that much closer to victory! Beware… if you guess the assassin, you automatically lose and the game is over. The most challenging aspect of this game is to try and use only one clue to describe as many of your CODENAMES as possible.

Why It’s Fun

CODENAMES has provided our family with some much needed comic relief. As we were playing one afternoon, or son called out the word “Sci-Fi” as a clue. Naturally, our daughter points to words like “alien” or “galaxy,” only to find that our son was trying to describe the word “witch”. His idea of Sci-Fi was vastly different from what we had in mind!

We have found humor in almost every round of play with CODENAMES. Playing this game allows you to interact with people in a way that draws out similarities and differences in the way we associate words, and sometimes you are left dumbfounded by a teammate’s description.

Spy Masters Grid

How It’s Challenging

We won’t lie to you, even as an adult it’s hard to come up with one word to describe many. Sometimes we have to sit and stare at the board for a minute, but very rarely do we ever flip the hour glass timer. Patience is definitely a requirement for this game.

Warning: make sure that everyone at the table knows the definition for each of the 25 words in play before starting the game. Our 8 year old is still learning some of these words, and this has been a great opportunity to grow her vocabulary skills.

Who It’s For

Play time is usually somewhere around 15 minutes, with the number of players ranging from 2 to 8 (or more!) We like that you can play CODENAMES in a small setting or a large party atmosphere. We have found that playing with 6 people offers a great challenge as the teams have to agree on their answer before sharing with their Spymaster.

The game suggests that players be 14 years or older, but this is probably because of the depth of vocabulary knowledge. We have found that our kids really enjoy it, though, as long as they know the meaning of all the words beforehand.

CODENAMES is great for kids and families, but it’s fun for adults as well! We had a fabulous time playing with another couple this past weekend, and we found that when you play with friends, you can definitely amp up the competition!

You can order CODENAMES on Amazon or find it on the shelves at your local board game shop, Target, Wal-Mart or Toys R’ Us.


  • Great for a large crowd or small setting
  • Family friendly and accessible for a wide age range
  • Broadens your vocabulary


  • Sometimes a Spy Master can take too long to associate words
  • Tough for players with a limited vocabulary

Erin Gutowski

A lover of strategy games and a hater of Monopoly. Board games have been a gateway for meeting new people and building great friendships.

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Maurice Allen

Played Codenames last night! You realize how challenging it is when its your turn to give the clues as you have to make sure that your clues don’t relate to any of your opponent’s words as well. It was a lot of fun.

Ryan Gutowski

That’s so true! Being the SpyMaster looks easy until you’re it. We’ve played some guys vs. girls matches and it’s been really fun.

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