Codenames Card Game

Codenames, A Spy Themed Card Game

Designed by Vlaada Chvatil in 2015 and published by Czech Games Edition, Codenames is a card game that can be played from 2 to 8 players, and one game of Codenames usually takes 15 or more minutes to play. The theme of Codenames is that spies compete against each other to find enough secret identities to win. The skills involved in playing Codenames include word association, deduction and team play. Teams compete to see who can make contact with all of their agents first.


They have the most important role in the game as they will give out 1-word clues that can point to numerous words that are on the board of cards. The teammates of both Spymasters will try to guess the right color while avoiding picking cards that belong to the other team. It is also important to never find the lone Assassin!


The equipment that comes with Codenames are 16 Agent Cards, 2 colors of 8 cards each (red and blue), 1 Double Agent Card, 7 Innocent Bystander Cards, 1 Black Assassin Card, 40 Key Cards, 1 Rulebook, 1 Timer and 1 Card Stand. The game also has 200 cards with 400 codenames.


25 Codename Cards are laid out to form a 5×5 grid of various colors in random order. The words are assigned as codenames to 25 people (agents of either red, blue, the Black Assassin or tan for Innocent Bystanders). Spymaster are given a randomly dealt map card that shows which team will play first in the game. Whichever color has 1 more space on the map card than the other will be the team that goes first. The grid of 25 cards correspond to the map card and the grid positions of the agents, the bystanders and the assassin. Only the Spymasters will know the locations of these people.

How to Play Codenames

Teams take turns guessing, and on a turn the Spymaster will give a hint about their team’s agentss identities, but only verbally. These verbal hints can subtly point toward respective words on the grid, but they can’t sound too similar. Only 1 word and 1 number can be said by a Spymaster on a turn, and they should be related to as many words on his or her agents’ cards as possible, but not to the other team’s agents. If there are any questions about a word being used as a codename word it can come down to a ruling between the 2 Spymasters.

The number of the 1-word hint will tell special operatives (agents) how many words are related to the word of the clue, and also the maximum number of guesses the team has, which is the hint number plus one. The operatives must make at least 1 guess per turn, risking a wrong guess and consequences in the process. One wrong guess leads to the team having their turn automatically end, whether they reveal an opposing team’s agent, an Innocent Bystander or the mysterious Assassin.

Once a codename card is revealed to be the position of an agent, that card is covered with an Identity Card without giving any other clues, whether verbal or non-verbal. This is done to help the operatives achieve success in using any hints correctly. The operatives should only the identities that are uncovered throughout play. They should not know that an uncovered agent of their own color was one that was meant to be hinted at by their Spymaster.

End of the Game

There are 2 ways for the game to end. When all of one team’s agents are identified on the grid, which leads to a win for that team, or if the Black Assassin is revealed, which leads to an automatic loss by the team that draws that card, the game will end. There is no official final turn taken by either team.


Codenames is a fascinating card game to play because it takes some elements from games like Guess Who?, Clue, and Battleship and even parlor games like 20 Questions. One unique part of this game is that the Spymasters can’t visibly give away where the agents of his or her team are located on the card grid, so that means Spymasters can’t use obvious body language tells to help their teammates. If you like mysterious themed card games then you should consider playing Codenames, a recently made gem.

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