top of page



Jacob Phillips | Creative Director, Co-Owner

Dec 13, 2023


Earlier this month we released a holiday season gifting list consisting exclusively of board games that we think make for great gifts. This month’s game highlight will focus on Codenames, a game that wasn’t on our list but we think makes for an excellent gift because of how much fun we, and everyone we’ve played it with, has had. In the short time Codenames has been offered in our board game gatherings, it has managed to become a staple for groups looking to have a hilarious and challenging experience. With a duplicitous simplicity, all reasoning goes out the window when it is entirely up to your friends or family to decipher what you could possibly mean when you say, “jingle, four”.


Game setup is quick and simple. The battle of the minds that follows quickly devolves into puzzled looks, teeth gritting suspense, audible sighs of relief, and the torment of hearing your team shout, “what do you mean!?” without being able to answer them and even harder, keeping a straight face while denying them reprieve. Codenames is structured around a call-and-response mechanic, where a chosen spymaster has to give a one-word clue followed by a number that links a handful of the twenty-five code words laid out in the field of play. A key card identifies what code words each team must pick. Each team then must dig deep within the mind of their spymaster and guess which words their spymaster is attempting to highlight. Simple on paper but complex when put into practice, players and spymasters have to deal with misunderstandings that open opportunities for the other team to score or even end the game outright by picking the assassin card, a card that the spymasters have to diligently avoid associations with when giving their clues. Hindsight is twenty-twenty as they say, and spymasters will often find that their “perfect” clue applies to many more cards than they initially thought, leading to hilarious “uh-oh” moments. Even more unpredictable is the lengths your team will go when stretching a clue to find meaning in the cards sprawled out before them.

The original Codenames format can be played with four players or more, but a homebrewed version can be played with as few as two players (Codenames: Duet is an official two player standalone experience.) The game itself is played in quick rounds consisting of a turn for each team. The game ends when one team has guessed all the words in the grid that their spymaster was tasked with getting them to select. Because teams are usually guessing two to three words a turn, games are swift 20-30 minute events, however, due to the addictive nature of the game, sheer volume of possible words and word associations, and the rotating of roles between spymasters and team members, we have easily squeezed in 5-6 games a session without ever losing the thrill of playing.


The Codenames base game comes with a staggering amount of word cards. Coupled with the fact that twenty-five cards are chosen at random for every round, the replay-ability is immense. That goes without even mentioning that every word card has a different word printed on the front and back effectively doubling the cards for your gathering to play with or that the key cards can be rotated to offer an unbelievable amount of randomized color sequences for spymasters to play with. However, if you find yourself playing through Codenames a ridiculous number of times with your friends (much like us) and are itching for more, there is a sizable slew of standalone expansion offerings available to purchase.


One such expansion is Codenames: Pictures, a version of Codenames that utilizes images instead of words. One would think having images would make it easier for your team to guess what you mean with your nonsensical clues, but the illustrations are so odd and well crafted that in our experience makes for an even more challenging play session despite it being played on a smaller grid layout than the base game. Included are instructions on how to incorporate the image cards and the standard word cards in the normal sized grid layout making it even more ridiculous for the spymasters to give a clue that links image and word cards together. In addition to the expansion offerings, the rulebooks also include instructions for alternative game modes. One of those modes somewhat mimics the rules of billiards by “sinking the black card last”. In this mode a team has to guess all their spies and then guess the assassin, a card they have tried to avoid all game, adding another level of complexity to the base experience while also giving the team that is behind more room to catch up.

For many, the holiday season is synonymous with family gatherings, friend hangouts, seasonal food and drink, and of course, board games. Over the past year Codenames has brought many memorable moments of joy, laughter, and most importantly, camaraderie to our gatherings. Do yourself a favor and give it a try– you won’t be disappointed.

bottom of page