The Noob Review – Codenames

As a newcomer to boardgames you can imagine what those first few steps must have been like. So much choice, so much variety, and so many questions as to where best to begin building the collection. I pored over Amazon, discovered BoardGameGeek and watched many episodes of Tabletop and The Dice Tower in my quest to determine which games seemed vital to any collection.

One name kept cropping up as being something of a gem. Codenames. It seemed to be reaping critical acclaim almost across the board and ticked a box in terms of having something on hand as a quick blast filler, that was both easy to learn and a lot of fun to play. So I made the purchase.

And now, after a handful of plays, I’m honestly struggling to see what all the fuss is about.

What Codenames delivers is a simple word association game with the added twist of a win/lose mechanic that’s a little like walking a minefield. The basics see two teams of two or more players battling to find their secret agents hidden within a board of words, trying to avoid finding the other team’s agents or civilians, and trying even harder to avoid hitting the double agent who ends the game.

The idea is that a board of five by five word tiles is laid out on the table. Twenty five tiles in all. One member of each team is the spymaster. The spymasters have a coloured grid layout to look at that tells them what word each spy from each team is hidden under. They then have to offer one word clues as to the whereabouts of said spy’s.

codenames_1

The spymaster may offer a clue that actually leads to potentially more than one word on the board. For example; the spymaster says “boom, two” as the clue, in hopes of leading the guessers to the words explosion and sonic. Boom is the clue, two is the number of spy’s they want the guessers to find. However they must be careful as also on the board may be other words that the guessers might associate with the word boom and that hide enemy agents, civilians or even worse, the double agent.

It makes for some interesting play and offers an insight into how each individual’s mind works. There is a definite benefit to knowing your team mates thought process inside out that’s for sure.

On paper it’s a great little game, but I always find it just falls a little flat in reality. Where there should be some tense gameplay and fun interaction, it actually delivers a game that is, if anything, too easy to get right. In fact it’s so easy generally, and mistakes are so rare, that just one error often decides the end result. It’s a shame as the basics are all in place for some really fun sessions with Codenames.

codenames_2

It’s easy to learn, moves at a good pace and offers mini moments of mild tension. However, so far it simply hasn’t ever felt great. I’ve enjoyed the games, some of the interaction has provided good laughs, but overall it’s just proved too easy to guess the words, find the agents and reach victory. In a matter of minutes you’ll be setting up for another round, or moving on to something a little more substantial.

One for the Kids?

This is where Codenames grabs a few plus points. All my children, ranging from 18 down to 6, have played and enjoyed the game. My six-year-old, who has recently started reading fluently, dreams up his own ideas of what clues might relate to and it’s a lot of fun watching how his mind works.

With the premise and rules being so simple it genuinely is a game that offers something all the family can enjoy with minimal fuss or rule reading slowdown.

The only thing is, when it comes to a quick blast party style game, my kids tend to call for One Night Ultimate Werewolf over Codenames, and therefore the latter gets considerably less time at the table.

Conclusion

In all honesty, Codenames is a good game. It’s fun whilst it lasts and is a cinch to learn. It’s just not the great game I’d kind of expected based upon what I’d read and seen elsewhere prior to playing.

It is often too easy, can be decided on one mistake and rarely provides any tension. But, as a quick fire word game that can be picked up and played at the drop of a hat then it does a good job. The theme is cool, the artwork is simple but the red and blue of the agents is effective against the usual black and white of the word cards, and the rules are well explained and straightforward.

Codenames is a good game, I just wonder if I went in with too lofty expectations that were always going to be unreachable. The game will get plenty of playtime over the coming weeks I’m sure, and I may even return with some further thoughts on it after some more games where my hopes are firmly on the leash.

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