Codenames and Codename: Pictures Review


Hey folks, back again. Today, grab a burner phone, trench coat, and briefcase. We’re going on a spy mission. We’ve got to get in contact with our team, but I only know them by their respective Codenames. Careful, the opposing team is trying to rally their spies first. If you haven’t guessed the game I’m reviewing, it’s Codenames and Codenames: Pictures. It’s a 4-8 player word deduction game. It’s also in the party game category. Codenames won the Spiel des Jahres in 2016.


Both come in a medium sized box. Codenames comes with the rules, a sand timer, 40 key cards, 200 double sided codename cards, 7 bystander cards, 8 red agent cards, 8 blue agent cards, and one assassin card. With the 200 double sided codename cards and 40 key cards having 4 orientations to play from, this game has a lot of replay-ability.

Codenames: Pictures comes with the rules, 60 key cards, 140 double sided picture cards, 4 bystander cards, 7 red agent cards, 7 blue agent cards, 1 double agent card, and 1 assassin card. Both games have the same rules, just a couple of differences. I’ll talk about it when it comes along. For both the first team to reveal all their spies wins. However, if any team reveals the assassin, then they lose instantly.

Set up is pretty easy. You’ll take the word or picture cards and make a 5×5 grid if playing Codenames. If you’re playing Codename: Pictures you’ll make a 5×4 grid. Each teams chooses a spy master. Then the spy masters draw one key card. Both spy masters share the same key card. Only the spy masters can look at the key card. That’s because it shows what word or picture cards belong to each team. The key cards have a single color, red or blue, on each of it’s sides. This represents what team goes first. The Codenames key card can be played from any orientation, so each card has 4 different ways to play it. The Codnames: Pictures key cards only have two orientations to play from since it’s not a square grid.

The team that goes first, the spy master will look at the key card. Note what codenames belong to their team and start to give clues. Now, there are rules when giving clues. First, you have to stick with a single word. The word can’t be a part of the codename, the starting letter of the codename, or even rhyming words with the codename. Once you have that in mind, you can give clues to multiple codenames at once. Each clue will start with the clue, then a number. “Clue, number of connected words” The clue is what you’re saying, the number is how many codenames on the board relate to it. It also is how many guesses your team will get. Your team will get to discuss what codenames or pictures they think you’re referring. I like the touch the correct answer method. Your team will decide on their final answer, and touch the codenames or pictures one at a time. This is very important, as their guesses might be stopped early.


Codenames: Pictures allows for the clue to be part of the picture. If there’s an ice cube, water side, or even a glass of water. You clue can contain water. If there’s a picture of a monkey driving a car. You can say monkey. Now, while this might help, it also hinders. Usually the cards won’t share common items that will be linked together, so the odds of getting multiple monkey cards is low. That will also limit the number of agents being revealed. Not the best strategy overall as you want you uncover multiple agents a turn.

If they are correct with their guess, they can guess again. If they reveal a codename or picture that’s not their color, being a bystander or opposing team’s color, their turn ends. If they reveal the assassin, then it’s game over. If they guess correctly the number of codenames or pictures the spy master hinted at, then they can take a bonus guess. This comes in handy if your team guesses wrong the previous turn. As spy master, you can give a different clue, and the last one is still on back burner. So if they guess all the new clue, they can guess the last one as well. Once your team makes all the guesses or reveals a bystander or opposing color spy, then it’s the other teams turn.


Now, being spy master is tough. You’ve got to know your team and think what makes sense to them. You’ve also have the keep an eye on the assassin card and not give any clues that they might guess. Because assassins are bad and all. The other thing to keep in mind are your opponents cards. You don’t want to accidentally reveal their spies. It just gets them that much closer to winning. It’s also best to try and link multiple codenames or pictures together than just single codename clues. “Tree, 3” could mean bark, orange, and apple. It’s not always that easy. Jupiter, Egypt, and Train are hard to link together.

That’s the game or games. Both play the same and set up the same. Just a couple of differences. We like to just keep playing until we’re tired of playing. It’s currently a favorite in my group. It’s a fun word game with a theme that fits it nicely.

Codenames was my first endeavor into this game. I recently picked up Codename: Pictures because I liked the original so much. The original I really like the replay factor with all the components. The 5×5 grids, double sided codenames, and key cards having different orientations meant this game will be different every time! I like that in a party game since that’s a majority of what I play at game nights. Codename: Pictures on the other hand didn’t follow this format as much. The 5×4 grid kills the each key card playing 4 different ways. The cards are bigger, which I don’t mind. I have a feeling that this game will not have the same replay factor as the original game. Lower picture card count and it’s almost like the pictures can predetermine the clues. Since it’s visual now instead of reading, I think people will tend to focus more on the features of the card than creative words to link them together. I do like that I could play Codename: Pictures with a younger audience. Since it uses pictures, reading comprehension isn’t as necessary.

My last gripe with both games are the boxes themselves. There’s not insert included, a lot of cards and components, and baggies. I dislike baggies. You’ve basically got to store this game laying flat, otherwise the components fall to the bottom and push the lid outwards. This might seem like a little gripe, but I am a fan of inserts that make storage and set up easier. Broken Token makes a nice insert that fits both games into one box. If you’re looking for better storage and to make room for more game boxes, then I can see this as a must for you.


For people that really like organization, I found an Etsy shop that sells a game board for Codenames and Codenames: Pictures.  Both boards let you space evenly the corresponding cards and when it’s broken down, it fits inside the box and makes storage easier since the empty space is filled up.  HighbridgeDesign is a Etsy shop that sells these game boards and other game accessories. I really like that the boards breakdown and fit inside the original boxes.  I’m a fan of game boards and mats if it helps the game in place.  This board helps with that, and it looks like it’s designed to allow easy removal of the components at the end of the game. Simply just push down on the card and lift the other end out.  No digging in or bending the corners trying to pull it out.

I like word deduction games, and this one was a nice follow up to Chameleon. My grandma liked playing this and was good at guessing the codenames. I like being the spy master and giving clues as much as guessing the clues. It’s great when you can link together some words that your team guesses. My favorite clues I’ve given was “Soul” linking Train and Dance together. Then another I’m fond of was “Market” linking Fish and Stock together. One I was tempted to use was “Stargate” to link Jupiter and Egypt together, but I wasn’t sure if my team would have gotten that one. It’s not too often I can link three or more words together. It can be done, it just takes a lot of thinking about the words and mentally seeing the connections. I know this game has been out a while, and I’m sure a lot of readers have played it already. If you haven’t played it yet, find someone who owns it and play it with them. Then buy a copy for yourself and teach others. It’s a great party game that isn’t winning by judge determination. It used to be Apples to Apples formats were the go to for party games. Codenames has shown that most popular answers isn’t the only way to make a party game. Both are great games that are quick to teach, fun to play, and both have replay ability.

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