Board @ PAX: Codenames

Board @ PAX: Codenames

Posted February 11, 2020 at 5:34 PM by nole

And then there were three.

That’s right, we did it everyone. We made it to Week 3. No matter what is said, at this point, we’ve gotten more Board (Boarder?) @ PAX this year than we did last year. And that’s an achievement that no one can take from me. Or you, dear reader. If there are even readers out there. I’ve heard that Airycha will sometimes open these and even occasionally read them if she has played the game herself so I figure I should at least do what I can only assume was her favorite game of the year: Codenames!


Codenames is a party game from Vlaada Chvatil who has made some very well-regarded games such as the Through the Ages series, Galaxy Trucker, and Mage Knight Board Game. This was his second foray into the party game-o-sphere after Pictomania which is another well regarded party game in its own right. In this game, two rival spymasters attempt to have their team contact all of their team’s agents first. They attempt to do this while avoiding the other team’s agents, random citizens, and the dreaded assassin. Be the first to contact all of your agents and you win. If your opponent contacts all of their agents first or you hit the assassin, your opponent wins!

In Codenames, the playing area is set up with 25 cards in a 5x5 pattern on the table. One member of each team is designated the spymaster and will give clues to guess the agents while the rest of the team attempts to decipher the clues and find their teams agents. The spymasters look at a card with the color coding on it and use that to know which words to give clues for. Clues can be one word long (or an acronym like NASA if you’d like) and a number. The number tells how many clues on the table are related to the given word. The agents then attempt to guess which code name they believe the clue to be referencing by touching card on the table. If they are correct (and have more guesses remaining), they may continue. Once they get a guess wrong, they run out of guesses, or they choose to pass, play switches to the other team and the process repeats.

I really enjoy Codenames. It’s really fun to give esoteric clues or crazy high numbers and watch your team work through the mental gymnastics of getting to the correct answers. It can also be infuriating to give what you think is a perfect clue only to watch your team work their way to a very wrong answer. But overall, it’s a party game that allows for a lot of critical thinking which isn’t often available in the party game sphere. That being said, it’s not a perfect game. There’s often too much time spent watching the clue giver hem and haw over what clue to give, and that can really bog down the experience for everyone at the table. Personally, I’m OK with this when playing with friends because I can shoot the shit with those around me while the clue giver is thinking. But I understand those that it would bore to the point of sleeping.

I personally would rate this game 2.5 snoozes out of 5. I’ve started to cool on Codenames as time goes on and I’ve played it a bunch, but it is still one of my favorite party games to bring out when you really just want to think a little with the group. And its moments of quiet/thinking/waiting are off-set by the moments of elation when a crazy clue or guess pans out for the team. Those happy moments are what keeps Codenames from becoming Code-lames.