We've reached that point in our board game collecting life where we actually follow particular game designers through the different games they release. You start to see patterns in terms of the games they publish and the sort of systems they like to tinker with. But then every now and then you'll come across a game that feels so out of character, it's almost hard to believe it;s from the same guy. But the end result can be pleasantly surprising indeed.
Codenames is a deduction game with an espionage feel created by Vlaada Chvátil, the same man behind games like Galaxy Trucker and Space Alert. The game supports 2-8 players and can resolve rather quickly.
The basic premise is that there are two teams of secret agents, these being blue and red. Players are divided between the two teams where the odd man out may play the role of Spymaster, otherwise each team has their own Spymaster. The Spymaster will then give a clue for his team that consists of a single word and a number. The word is a clue to which of the 25 cards that are laid out in a grid. Each card as its own word and it's up to the player to make the connections. The number represents how many cards on the table are related to the clue that has just been provided. The player whose turn it is may then make a number of guesses based on the number provided plus one.
What the Spymasters can see that the players can't is a small color-coded card that will determine which of the cards in the grid belong to which team. Apart from the two team colors, there are also civilians who just get in the way and the dreaded assassin, who immediately kills the spy that finds him and ends the game.
It's a race to gather all the codenames related to your team before the other does and thus one must decide if it's okay to gamble with an all-encompassing clue that may apply to more words but may be harder to guess. Or you play it safe and you give very specific clues and limit your team to 1-2 guesses at a time. Avoiding the assassin card can be pretty difficult since all the words just seem so generic.
Players have documented variants of this game using alternate card sets. A great example is using the rather surreal art cards of Dixit instead of the provided word cards for an extra level of challenge. Games run rather quickly and it has a similar rush that one gets from playing games like Spyfall or something.
Codenames is easy to learn but tricky to master depending on the players that you have at the table. But it does make for a great party game that really stretches the imagination in great ways. Thus the game gets 4 crazy Spymaster clues out of a possible 5.