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    Review: Codenames Pictures

    October 11, 2016

    Codenames: Pictures is a word-association party game in which players take on the roles of spies racing to uncover secret locations and contact fellow agents. But care must be taken when decoding the clues given by your spymaster, as a mistake could lead to a blunder involving innocent bystanders, giving the advantage to a hostile agent, or putting your team at the mercy of an assassin!

    The game is played across a grid of twenty unique picture cards taken from a deck of 140. Each picture card corresponds to a location where agents might lurk – friendly or otherwise. At the beginning of the game, players divide into two teams: red and blue. Each team elects a Spymaster, who gives clues to help their team home in on hidden allies. Victory goes to the team that first makes contact with all the agents of their own color. But the team that goes first must also find one additional person – the shifty Double Agent.

    On your team’s turn, your Spymaster gives a one-word clue, followed by a number that reveals how many cards relate to that clue. If the word is “water” and the number is “three”, then you can deduce that friendly agents are hidden at three locations represented by water-related images. Luckily, your team can make as many guesses as the number given in the clue plus one extra. In this case, your team would have four chances to make contact with covert allies.

    If you stumble upon an Innocent Bystander, however, you’ve guessed wrong and your team’s turn ends immediately. If the chosen card belongs to the other team, your turn also ends – but now the opposition has one less agent to uncover! Your team must make at least one guess per turn, but can opt out of additional guesses if you don’t want to risk a sudden, messy end. And don’t forget that an Assassin skulks somewhere on the grid. Whoever uncovers that card brings their team to instant defeat, which ends the game.

    Although simple in premise, Codenames: Pictures is a real mind-teaser. Each card contains an image that subtly blends multiple concepts. The artwork is dreamlike and whimsical, ranging from witches riding vacuum cleaners to paper sailboats tumbling down M.C. Escher’s waterfall. Finding a correlation between multiple cards is sometimes brain-boggling, but there are ways for a sly Spymaster to take advantage of the clue-giving system. Giving the number “zero” with your clue, for instance, can alert your team to avoid all cards relating to the word you’ve just uttered!

    Codenames: Pictures allows a variety of team compositions, and can be enjoyed casually with two players, or with more than eight. Matches take an average of fifteen minutes so it’s tempting and easy to play multiple rounds in a sitting. For quick replay, the twenty cards on the table can be flipped over to show completely new imagery. The game comes with a deck of sixty “key cards” that offers new configurations for setting up the hidden agents, so it will never play the same way twice.

    Players can expand the arena of gameplay by borrowing the deck of cards from the original Codenames game, which uses printed words instead of pictures. Cards from both games can be shuffled together to create an exciting mix of words and images. Links and QR codes in the rulebook provide additional resources and variants on gameplay. Players are encouraged to tweak the rules to suit them – you may choose to relax the one-word limit for clues, or to amp up the difficulty by incorporating a timer. No matter how you play it, you’re in for a nail-biting spy hunt!

    – Darcy

    If you like: Concept, Dixit, Codenames (the Original Edition)
    You’d definitely enjoy: Codenames: Pictures
    MRP: $19.95
    Designer: Vlaada Chvátil
    Produced by: Czech Games Edition
    (This week’s game review was written and provided by one of our fabulous regulars, Darcy Calhoun. She enthusiastically offered to share her thoughts and words about Codenames: Pictures, and we’re really thankful for her contribution. In the same vein, we’re totally open to other customer reviews, so feel free to contact us if you’re interested in getting something published on our website and social media pages. We’d be more than happy to chat with you about formatting and reviewing guidelines.)