Codenames Review – Battleship With Words

Whether You Are Playing the Original, Pictures, or are Deep Undercover, Codenames is Surprisingly Tense

Lately, I have been playing a TON of Codenames. Supporting 2-8 players and only taking about 15 minutes (often less), it’s not surprising that any version of the game has an easy time hitting the table. Codenames feels a lot like playing Battleship, except your ships are words and you WANT to hit them.

So how does this espionage game work exactly? Let’s have our friend Rodney at Watch It Played show us how:

Check out Watch It Played for other great board game tutorials and game play videos. Big thanks to them for allowing me to use their videos as well.

From the video, it is obvious that Codenames isn’t a very difficult game to learn how to play. Teaching the game to new people is fairly easy, which means that there isn’t much time wasted by rule explanation when playing this game. I’ve found that the game takes a whole 5 minutes or less to teach and the first game takes about 10-20 minutes to play depending on the group of first-timers.

After that, people tend to grasp the concept of the game fairly rapidly and each game takes closer to 15 minutes in total with little to no downtime between games. The experience varies depending on who is playing with you as well. In one group, our clues are more literary and media focused. While in another group I’ve played with, the clues given centered around historic events and inside jokes. This adds a lot of outside variety on top of the already impressive variety contained within the box.

So far, I’ve played the game at 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 players. I’d say the best experience is at 4 players so that each team has one clue giver and one guesser. This keeps the game’s time shorter and more streamlined. However, this isn’t to say that the game is bad at a larger group count, but I had some instances where the game felt sluggish and somewhat frustrating since people argued about what clues meant.

To combat this, the game does include a sand timer, but we opted against using it since it added too much pressure to such a casual game. The one time I tried it out, the game experience was poor for all involved. It does come in handy for when people are starting to take too long and is a good way to nudge a decision after a few minutes of discussion.

In regards to smaller player counts (3 or less) the game is fine. The 3 player game works well but the two player game is watered down and uninteresting. I would not encourage playing at either count though. As I said, 4 seemed to be pretty optimal.


Codenames also has a Target exclusive version available titled Codenames:  Deep Undercover which is a standalone product “meant for adults.” I bother mentioning it because it is basically an expansion for the base game if you already have it and is definitely worth picking up. There are a few “offensive” cards in the expansion, but they can be removed (if desired) and voilà! more cards (and variety) for your copy of Codenames.

Not into the whole word game part? No worries! Codenames has you covered with Codenames:  Pictures as well. Featuring only minor rule changes, this version has people giving clues pertaining to black and white photos instead of the words used in the previously mentioned versions.


Codenames:  Pictures, is more fun in my opinion and people have an easier time making associations for clues. I haven’t had too much experience here though so unfortunately that’s about as much as I can say for this version. I would recommend it though if the idea of words is a turn off.

Codenames is an excellent little game that has been seeing a lot of play in my groups and that’s surprising. On the surface, the experience would seem to be pretty boring and not that much fun, but it is just the opposite. If given the chance to play Codenames, definitely take it and see for yourself just how much fun this little game can be!

You can purchase Codenames or Codenames:  Pictures online at Coolstuff. Each version will run you $12.99. Unfortunately, Deep Undercover is a Target exclusive, as I mentioned, but if you are able to get your hands on that then head over to your local Target (or order online). I would recommend playing the standard version first for that one though.

Woo! Sorry about not posting recently here. WordPress has been all sorts of wonky and weird but it seems to be working now 😀 Yay! Let me know your thoughts on Codenames in the comments below and what you all have been up to while I was “away.” Leave a like if you enjoyed the article and feel free to share it with anybody who may be interested. Until next time friends, stay awesome!

-Jon Spencer

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