The Secret Agents Of Text

by Vlaada Chvatil  published by Czech Games Edition

Since it was picked as the Spiel des Jahres “Game of the Year” and since we just had a fun time introducing it to two newbies over the weekend, it seemed appropriate to choose Codenames for our latest review.  In this game, two spy masters battle to get their teams to correctly guess the code names of their spies first. The way this transpires is via a simple 5 by 5 grid of cards, each with a word on it. The two spy masters have a ‘decoder’ card that provides them a key of the two teams of spies as well as a set of innocent bystanders and one nasty assassin. Taking turns, the spy masters look over the grid and try to come up with a single word (or a proper noun, as we just discovered!) that encompasses as many of their spies’ code names as possible.  But, care must be taken as it’s easy to also find yourself describing an enemy spy - or worse yet, the assassin! - with your clue.  

The tools of the spy trade.

How we came to play this game:
Susan- this game was getting a lot of buzz over the holiday season and we bought it around then to try out with family.  (?? I can’t remember exactly!! I remember playing it a while back in Rhode island - might have been fall last year though)

Mike- Funny, I don’t have a clear recollection of acquiring this one either! I think we sat on it for a little while after we got it. I don’t remember playing it in RI either. Could you be getting it mixed up with Name Game?

Susan: Well, we have played it in RI recently. We’re getting old, Mike. Maybe we should put notes in our game boxes to record this stuff.

We don't recall!

This reminds us of:
Susan- I was obsessed with Password as a kid - my mom had this old table top version of the TV show where you slid cards into a little plastic holder and then the tinted green window revealed the hidden words for you to say to your partner. So, this brings back those memories for sure!

Mike- It’s Battleship with words with teams!

Game art:
Susan- The art is really minimal, so not much to say. I like how they thought to put the words on the cards facing both directions to make it easier for everyone to see them.

Mike- As Susan points out, there’s not too much “art” to speak of. While the idea of putting the words on both sides is a good one, it’s done in a manner that renders one side virtually impossible to read. It’s kinda weird. I always find myself reading the big bold white side no matter what side I’m sitting on. I’m sure they did play and design testing and concluded that this was beneficial in some way, and I’ve never had any difficulty reading any card, I just can’t figure out why they did it that way.

You feel me on this? It's kinda strange right??

Best part:
Susan- It’s a very easy entry game. The rules are simple, it’s quick, and thus it’s a very forgiving thing to ease tentative gamers into the fold. It’s also flexible for a fair number of people, but I think it’s probably best with 4 people total. We like to swap teams around, too.

Mike- The game is very welcoming. It’s design is familiar and unassuming enough that non-gamers are not scared away from giving it a go and it’s satisfying without being taxing. The “I don’t like games” people in your life will have no problems with this one. It’s the board game equivalent of catching flies with honey!

It's a "gather 'round" game!

Worst part:
Susan- It gets a little tiring after a while, but it’s a fun interlude for any party, I’d say.

Mike- The flip side of it’s seemingly universal appeal is the fact that if you are a moderate to higher level gamer, you can lose interest in a relatively short time. It’s “easy to play” but leaves out the “hard to master” part of that equation. Oh and if your partner sucks, it’s really damned frustrating!

Mistakes we made:
Susan- We didn’t make any profound mistakes - the rules are pretty easy, but it’s also easy to make simple good-ups like not just saying “no” during the free guess when your opponent picks to a degree that they know that they just said another spy or the assassin.  It’s also easy to say a word that contains one of the words - but luckily “Eagle Eye” Mike always catches me.

Mike- We can get lax with the rules regarding preambles. You’re really not supposed to say stuff like “ok, I’m taking a chance here” or “this one’s a hard one”. We gotta crack down on that.

Play again?
Susan- Definitely!

Mike- Yeah but mostly because it gets other people in game mode. I definitely like it but game time is precious time and I'd rather get more out of it when I get to do it.

Susan- Looking forward to the pictures version - and maybe even combining them. Whoa.

Times played: About a dozen, but as we have made clear earlier in this review, our recollections are not exactly on point right now!

On The Grid! (photo courtesy:

In the War of Words
Never underestimate
The power of spies!

Learn to play below, then buy one, it's dope!