Top positive review
A deceptively awesome game for four or six players
Reviewed in the United States on September 8, 2015
I admit I wasn't particularly excited when I saw the initial reviews and playthroughs of this game. The name/theme make it sound like a hidden role type of game a la The Resistance, but that's really not what it is. The theme is spy-based, sure, but only to make this more interesting than a generic word game. Nothing about it besides the artwork makes you feel like you're playing as or against a spy.
What this game IS, however, is a very solid word game with a little bit of deduction, press your luck, and "party" thrown in.
In short, the game plays like this: two teams, each with a clue-giver (spymaster) and one or more guessers. On the table are 25 random words. Each spymaster is trying to give their team one-word clues that help them relate one or more of the words on the table together (without saying the actual words, of course) so that the guessers can figure out which of the random words are affiliated with their team (only the spymasters know this information). The spymaster hopes their team will pick the words that they intended based on their clue without picking cards affiliated with the enemy team, neutral words, or the "spy" word, which immediately ends the game. Whichever team can identify all their words first wins.
As an example, a clue of "animal" might be great if you're trying to get your team to guess "cat" and "dog", but horrible if the opposing team also controls the "lion" card. On the other hand, maybe the word "pet" gives just enough information about a cat and a dog without also implicating lion. Should you risk it?
A little tricky to explain in one paragraph, maybe, but takes about 2 minutes to teach to a group in person.
Personally, I think this game works best with 4 or 6 players, where each team has a spymaster and 1-2 guessers. We tried playing it with 8 and in my opinion having that many guessers on each team does nothing to enhance the experience of the game. Instead, it felt to me like a lot of people sat and waited around while each of the spymasters tried to come up with good clues, then argued more than was necessary about which cards to guess.
Despite the fact that this game appears "meh" based on the concept, it's a lot of fun to play. Spymasters will agonize over what clue can safely implicate their own cards on the table without overlapping (and therefore helping) those of the opposing team. Teams will struggle to come up with the logic that the spymaster *must* have used, some wrong guesses will be made, hilarity (and frustration) will likely ensue.
There is some downtime when the spymasters take a while to come up with their clues, so be prepared for that. Otherwise this game is a blast and easily one of the best in my collection under the $20 price point. I have no doubt I'll be able to pull this out with any type of group (gaming, friends, family, work, etc.) and have a great time. It is a must buy at retail price ($20) or less.
(***Note: This review is for the original Codenames, and NOT Codenames: Pictures. Amazon combined the listings after I wrote this review***)