How To Play

How To Play Codenames

This article will give a brief introduction and then explain in detail how to play codenames board game.

How to play codenames
Box of Codenames
AuthorVlaada Chvátil
Players2–8+ (competitive: 4–8+)
Playing Time15 min
Themespies, agents, revealing secret identities
Mechanicswords association, deduction, team play

In the team game Codenames of Czech Games, two groups compete against each other. Provided with only a little information by the spymasters, they have to contact their agents and avoid passers-by, agents of the other side, and above all, the assassin. And this is how it works.

The players split into two groups, and each group determines its secret service chief or spymaster. The other players are the field operatives or investigators. Both team heads sit together at one end of the table and have an unrestricted view of the coding card with the agents’ locations. All other players of both groups sit on the other side of the table and see only a 5×5 grid of word cards, each containing only a single word. The code names of the agents!

When it is a team’s turn, the spymaster may say exactly one word and one number. Nothing more. Non-verbal communication is also prohibited. The team head should narrow down one or more terms on the word cards on the playing field with the word. With the number, he determines how many word cards are referring to his keyword. Now the team is allowed to consult but must then make at least one contact with an agent – i.e., select one of the cards on the board. If there is a separate agent underneath, they may guess again or voluntarily stop.

The secret service chief covers each valid card with an agent card. However, if an agent of the other side or an uninvolved passer-by hides underneath, the team’s turn ends, and passer-by cards or enemy agent cards cover the terms used.

The game ends when a team tracked down all its agents or accidentally hit the assassin.

Game accessories from Codenames

200 double-sided printed cards with codenames
40 key cards
8 cards "Blue" Agent
8 cards "Red" Agent
7 innocent bystander cards
1 double agent card
1 assassin card
1 card stand
1 hourglass
1 rulebook

Detailed game rules

Game Preparations

The players split into two investigative teams. Each team appoints its head of intelligence or spymaster.

basic setup for the game

We shuffle the cards with the code names. 400 different code words are in the game.

We draw 25 at will from all codeword cards, and someone puts the cards on the table with one of the two sides facing up to form a 5×5 field grid. These are the code names of the agents that are in the game. Behind them are also passers-by and an assassin.

The spymasters sit together and the opposite of the field operatives. The agent cards, the assassin card, and the passer-by cards are laid out in front of them. The stack of cards with the agent locations is also shuffled, and one card is drawn. This card is placed in the stand (only visible to the team heads!).

Game description

The goal of the game is to be the first team to find all its agents and avoid the assassin.

The game begins with the team whose color is shown on the edge of the code card. This team now receives the card of the double agent. So it has to track down one agent more than the other team. They play the game in alternating order. When it is a team’s turn, the secret service head gives the word and a number to provide clues about the code names and their number. Then it is the investigators’ turn, and they have to try to find the correct code names and thus their agents.

In the role of the head of the secret service

As a spymaster, you know a lot, but you cannot say much! The code card shows the same grid that the investigators see before them in codeword cards. The only difference is that the spymaster can also see who is in which position. The red and blue squares show the agents’ location, the white squares are uninvolved persons, and the black one is the assassin.

The spymaster must use a single term to transmit as many code names of his agents as possible to the field operators without naming them directly.

Here is an example: It is the turn of the blue team’s head to look at the code words. He knows that one of his agents has disguised himself under the name “London” and another agent named “Beijing” can be found. Both are cities. There is no other city name under which a passer-by, the assassin, or a foreign agent can be found. And there is also no card on the table that contains the term “city.” So the head of the secret service says CITY: 2, thus giving (a pretty clear) information about the agents’ names and the number of agents that can be contacted relatively safely with this clue. Now it is the investigators’ turn.

In the role of the investigators

As an investigator or field operative, live with the little information you get from your boss. In return, it allows all team members to consult each other, discuss suggestions, and follow up on old clues from previous game rounds.

However, they must tap at least one codeword card on the table at the end of each round. By touching the card, they establish contact with the person who is hidden underneath.

In the example above, the default was CITY: 2. After a brief consultation, the players contact the agents who operate under the code names “London” and “Beijing.”

If the tip is correct – i.e., if the team contacts its agents, the spymaster covers the codeword card with an agent card. After each contact, a team can decide whether to make another tip or end the round. The team may always guess as many times as the head of the secret service has given it as a number. In the example above, this means precisely twice. Then it is the other team’s turn.

Of course, a guess can also be wrong. If an uninvolved passer-by hides under a code word, we place the innocent bystander card on it, and the team ends their turn. If the current team detects an opposing agent, we put the corresponding agent card on it—the opposing team gets helped—and the team’s turn ends as well. If a group meets the assassin, the game ends immediately.

Game End and Game Winner

The game ends when all agents of a team have been found. This team then also wins the game. The game also ends when one group meets the assassin. Here, the opposing team wins.

How to play codenames online?

Here you can play the board game codenames online:
Codenames – Play with your Friends Online

How to play codenames with 2 players?

In the game for two, you play cooperatively “against the board game.” You play as “one team” according to the above rules. Whenever it was their turn, the imaginary opponent team puts a card with an agent on one of their words. (this is then kindly done by the two-player team’s whistleblower because you would have to wait a long time for imaginary players to do it:-)). The more enemy cards are left at the end, the better the result. If the non-present opponent team finishes before you, you have lost. Likewise, if you name the assassin, you know, Assassin = Bang boom…!

Where can I find the rule book?

You can download the PDF at

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