Strategic Depth - Beginner
Setup Time - 5 mins.
Play Time - 15 to 20 mins.
Players - 4 or more
Mechanics - Word Association, Deduction, Team Play
Production Info - 2015 | Czech Games | Vlaada Chvatil


The two rival spymasters know the secret identities of 25 agents. Their teammates know the agents only by their CODENAMES.

The teams compete to see who can make contact with all of their agents first. Spymasters give one-word clues that can point to multiple words on the board. Their teammates try to guess words of the right color while avoiding those that belong to the opposing team. And everyone wants to avoid the assassin.

Codenames Game Components


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- The Good -

Most Anyone Can Play!

This game is an instant hit whenever I bring it out and with whomever I play with. That is because CODENAMES is easy to teach yet has a difficult enough strategy to peak the interest of almost anyone.

Game Scores Stay Close

Every time I have played this game both teams have a path to win up until the very end of the game. The 8 or 9 codenames the teams need to come up with is a definite sweet-spot to provide gameplay that never lasts too long for one team to really get out ahead of the other.


Hundreds of cards combined with a modular grid and a four-way key card, no two games will ever be the same in CODENAMES. This means the game will stretch your mind every single time.

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- The Bad -

Speed of Game Can Be Slow

The only complaint I ever seem to have while playing CODENAMES is when the pace of the game slows down. This typically happens when you have a player who is very indecisive or a spymaster who "has" to give the perfect clue. To combat this, you can always breakout the timer to incorporate a little structure to gameplay.

Not All Rules Are Set

One thing I ran into early on in learning this game, is the rules for clue-giving are left open to interpretation by the players. For example, players are supposed to decide beforehand if abbreviations or proper nouns are allowed as clues. Setting the house rules almost never happens until mid-game where there is a dispute. I wish the game developer would have just bit the bullet and made a decision on what constitutes a valid clue and what doesn't so players don't have to worry about which way to play the game.

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- Overall -

A Must Have!

The general mechanic of this game is stellar and never gets old. Codenames is a game that's easy to learn, nearly anyone can be a competitive player, and the game time is relative quick, allowing you to play multiple games....and trust me, you'll want to play again!. Codenames is definitely a game you will want to have in your collection and a game that will never get overplayed!


The following summaries are meant to be a high-level reminder of how to play this game. If this is your first time playing, we highly recommend that you read your board game's included rule book which will go into much more depth. You can download a digital PDF copy of the official rules by clicking the button below. There are also a few video tutorials near the bottom of this section to help all you visual learners out as well.

- Setup Overview -

  1. Lay 25 codename cards out in a 5x5 grid.
  2. Split into two teams (red team and a blue team).
  3. Pick a Spymaster (clue giver) from each team.
  4. Randomly select 1 key card and place it into the clear plastic key holder (only Spymasters can see the card!).
  5. Starting Team - Whichever color is displayed around the edge of the key card the spymasters are using. The starting team has 9 words to guess vs 8 words.
  6. Flip the Double Agent card (two-sided blue/red card) to match the color of the team going first. This will give them their 9th Agent card.

- Pre-Game Decisions -

The game's creators decided to leave it up to the players concerning aspects of what makes up a valid clue. We recommend you have the conversation before play begins if you will allow the following categories be allowed:

  • Compound Words (Pack Rat or Mother-in-law)
  • Proper Names (The Simpsons or New York City)
  • Abbreviations (FBI or UK)

- Gameplay -


The spymaster starts off a team's turn by providing a one-word clue and a number that corresponds with how many cards that clue applies to on the grid (ie a Spymaster might say, "Politics: 3"). The spymaster must not give anything away during gameplay. This means no winking, laughing, or facial expressions as all!

Invalid Clues

  • One word only! 
  • Cannot lead in by saying "This might be a bit of a stretch, but....."
  • Cannot be part of any of the codename words on the table unless it is covered up (ie "Gland" cannot be a clue for "England")
  • No foreign languages
  • No same-sounding words with different spellings or meanings (ie "Knight" vs "Night"). You may spell out your clue if necessary

Expert Clues
Instead of a specific number to indicate what the clue applies to you may also use one of these words after you clue:

  • Zero -Means none of our words are related to the clue. Field operatives can guess as many words as they want, but MUST at least guess one time.
  • Unlimited - Provides the field operatives with unlimited guesses, but they MUST at least guess one time.

Field Operatives

  • Once the rest of the team has received the clue, they must work together to guess which card(s) the spymaster was leading them towards.
  • The team guesses cards until they are incorrect or have reached their limit (the spymaster's number +1)

Guess Results

After a team has made a guess, their spymaster must share the result by placing either a red/blue agent card, innocent bystander, or Assassin card on top of the guessed word.

Once a team has incorrectly guessed or reached their guess limit, play continues on to the other team.

- End Of Game -

The game ends if one of the following comes true:

  • A team has contacted all their spies
  • The Assassin is revealed

- Winning -

Your team wins if you are the first to make contact to all your spies or if the other team reveals the Assassin.

- Great Instructional Videos -

Here's a few helpful instructional videos you or your group can watch to learn how to play this game visually.


Do your Guesses have to be related to the current clue provided?
Absolutely not! You can use previously unsolved clues to help you guess cards in the future.

What are the maximum amount of guesses you can have in a round?
You may guess +1 more than the number of cards the Spymaster has indicated. For example, if the Spymasters says, "Vehicle 2", you may guess up to three times as long as you don't make an incorrect guess. Incorrect guesses automatically terminate your turn.

Do you need to use the hour glass?
No, it is optional but does move the game along (recommended with larger teams or while playing with indecisive people).

Can you use abbreviations like CIA or USA as your clue?
Technically abbreviations are not one word but the game's creator leave it up to the players to decide if they are allowed during game play.

Can you use proper names like "New York" or "George Washington" as your clue?
Technically proper names are not considered one word but the game's creator leave it up to the players to decide if they are allowed during game play.


You have a variety of options across the web where you can purchase this game. We have an affiliate relationship with Amazon where they will give us a percentage of anything you buy on their site if you click one of our Amazon links on this site. This costs you absolutely nothing and is a free way to support our site so we can keep providing you great content and keep this website ad-free! Thank you for your support!!


Highest Price: $19.95 (Dec 17, 2015)
Lowest Price: $6.99 (Nov 26, 2016)
Average Price: $14.56
*According to CamelCamelCamel.com (12/24/2017)

Expanding The Game

Below are a few variations and theme changes to the base game of CODENAMES that you can purchase. All play very similar to the original CODENAMES board game.

Game Variations:

Game Component Upgrades:

Codenames Foamcore Insert  Click to view on  Top Shelf Gamer

Codenames Foamcore Insert
Click to view on Top Shelf Gamer

Codenames Game Board  Click to view on  Top Shelf Gamer

Codenames Game Board
Click to view on Top Shelf Gamer


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