Codenames: Parental Review & Developmental Considerations

Josh & Luke from the YouTube channel I'm Game If You're Game play Codenames

Looking for a simple deduction game that’s great for all ages, has won a ton of awards over the years and has many versions due to popularity?  Today, Luke & Josh from I’m Game If You’re Game review Codenames, published by Czech Games Edition. With its simple premise and endless modifications, this can be a fun addition to family game night with kids of all ages. Give your team clever one-word clues to help them spot their agents in the field.

Codenames – Secret Agents Game

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Developmental Considerations

In this game, your kids will learn how to remain quiet between turns, consider how other people think, learn about pushing their luck, improve their memory and develop their vocabulary by playing this popular game.

Age Recommendations:

This game is recommended for ages 10+.  You can play this game with younger kids, but it helps to partner them with a parent. Try to balance your teams, not just with teams of similar size, but also taking into account abilities, vocabulary and reading levels.

IGYG recommends Age 5 to Grandma:

  • 2-8 Players 15 Min
  • Codenames Ages 14+ (IGYG recommends 10+)
  • Disney 8+ (IGYG recommends 6+)
  • Marvel 8+ (IGYG recommends whenever your kids have seen the Marvel movies)

Game Pieces

The game includes:

  • 8 blue agent cards
  • 8 red agent cards
  • 1 double agent card
  • 7 innocent bystander cards
  • 1 assassin card
  • 40 key cards
  • 1 booklet of the official rules
  • 1 card stand
  • 1 sand timer
  • Deck of 200 cards with 400 codenames

Game pieces for Codenames Card Gane

How to Play Codenames

To play, split into two teams - a red team and a blue team. Select one person on each team to be the Spymaster. All other team members are field operatives, whose job it is to find all the secret agents before their opponents. At the beginning of the game, there will be 25 cards on the table with different words listed on them.

Only the two rival Spymasters can see the keycard. Each secret agent card's position is represented by a color square on the keycard, revealing the secret identities of the agents. The keycard grid includes red squares for the red agentsblue squares for the blue teampale squares are neutral and the black square is the Assassin.

Note that which team plays first and gives the first clue of the game is determined by the colors along the edge of the key card. The starting team gives the first clue and has one more guess to make than the other team. So, take the double agent card, flip it to the color of the starting team and add it to that color stack. It will be one of the starting team's agent cards during this round.

Spymasters will then take turns giving single word verbal hints along with a number in hopes that their teammates can correctly choose the related words on the table.

The One-Word Clues should be a something the Spymaster believes to be a good clue that their teammates will associate with that words meaning.

The number represents how many cards the SpyMaster believes relates to that clue. This number +1 is the maximum number of guesses allowed in that team's turn, assuming all guesses are correct.

ie. If two of your words are "Ivory" and "Orange," the SpyMaster could say "Color 2" as the clue. The teammates can guess one of the two words or try for both. And if they get both guesses correct, they can make a third guess, possibly based on an old clue that they haven't solved yet. Your turn ends if you guess wrong.

Both teams are allowed to openly discuss what they think the hint word may mean, including the opposing team, who may attempt to mislead by any means necessary. The Spymasters must keep straight faces and give no other hints during this step.

Once your team is ready to make an official guess, touch the card you think is the correct guess. The spymaster will then reveal the secret agent's color by covering the card with the agent's color. A wrong guess ends your turn and, if you guess the opposing team's card, gives your opponent another agent.

The first team to find all their assigned words Wins! Beware of the Assassin card; if your team guesses that card, you immediately lose.

Modifications

The standard game is played using a 5x5 grid of cards, but some versions -- Disney & Marvel included -- provide an optional 4x4 grid for a simpler game.

You have the option of giving an expert clue with the number 0, this means that none of the words relate to the clue you provided and your teammates can continue to guess which squares are their own until they guess wrong.

Another rule modification allows the Spymaster to say "Unlimited" instead of a number after a clue, which allows their team to make as many guesses as they want, provided they continue to guess correctly.

Players can enforce strict time limits by employing the optional timer. This can be used if you have a consistently slow player or players.

The rule book also includes variants for two or three players.

Marvel & Disney Codenames

The unique thing about the Marvel version is that, instead of just words, you can use pictures. IGYG recommends choosing just images or just words, but not both. The great thing about this version is that the neutral agents become the Infinity Stones. Beware, because if you team uncovers the card with the infinity Gauntlet, your rivals win.

Disney Codenames is similar but with classic Disney characters as the images. Hey, since Disney now owns Marvel, why not mix the two boxes and make a super Disney/Marvel game.

Codenames Duet

Duet is the two-player cooperative version of Codenames. This version maintains the basic elements of Codenames but now you are working together as a team to find all of your agents. Follow the same 5x5 layout, place the keycard so that the two players can only see their side of the key. Each player has a different set of agents that have to be found, but some of the agents will be the same for both players. There are also three assassins now, so be careful. To win, you have to collectively find 15 agents without reveling any assassins before time runs out (which is measured by tiles). This version includes a map with options to modify the basic rules, which will change your clue-giving strategy each time you play, making this version of Codenames very re-playable.

The Codenames Gadget App

There is an official support app for this game. Although completely optional, it provides a random key generator and provides an optional timer function with sound alerts. This could come in handy if your kids lose the key card pieces. Find it in the App Store or Google Play.

Play A Solitaire Version Online:

Bookmark the games official page on your phone for an easy game to play while you wait for an appointment or need to entertain a kid. The site will give you a clue and 9 secret agent cards from which to guess three matching agents. This is a great way to help younger kids practice. Note that there aren't a lot of variations, so bigger kids and adults will tire of this quickly. However, its nice to have quick games like this ready to entertain.

Codenames (+Disney, Marvel, and Duet). IGYG

Watch how to play this game and its variations:

Find our huge list of indoor games to play at home with kids!


Codenames is an amazing game for both those who are really into board games and even those who find the hobby a little odd. Find a version that most excites you because there is not much difference in how the game is played. 

If you have played Duet, have you finished every city on the map?  If so, leave a comment on the IGYG YouTube video.


I'm Game If You're Game (IGYG), is a YouTube channel created by Minnesota dads, Josh and Luke. They have partnered with FamilyFunTwinCities to share family-friendly indoor games to add to our family game nights. If you love new games but don't always know how to choose your next family favorite from the different games available, be sure to like and subscribe to IGYG and recommend it to a friend who loves board games.

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