Last Year Codenames took the gaming world by storm. Its simple design, easy to learn rules and high replayability ensured it would be a hit with both board game geeks and people new to the hobby. I’ve often described it as a gamer’s party game. Accessible enough that it has mass appeal, but with enough room for creative, complex decisions that it would challenge seasoned veterans. That is a tough combination to pull off. It was respected enough to win the coveted Spiel des Jahres as the German Game of the Year for designer, Vlaada Chvatil and CGE Games.
At this year’s Gathering of Friends, I was treated to a sneak preview of the sequel, Codenames: Pictures and at Gen Con I was able to pick up a copy.
The rules of Pictures will be familiar to fans of the original game. Cards are layed out in a grid and a ‘Spymaster’ from either team gets to see a key card that identifies which cards in the grid belong to each team, which cards are neutral, and which card is the ever dangerous ‘Assassin’. Using one word clues, the Spymasters will try to get the rest of their team to identify the words in their colour before their opponents find theirs. The first team to find all of their cards wins the round.
As you might expect, the word from the original have been replaced with illustrated pictures. Each one is delightfully bizarre and beautiful. The images are black and white to avoid any colour related clues. Coming up with a single word to tie some of the images together can be quite tricky. In my experience, there is a lot more flexibility in the ways that people interpret the images. The words from Codenames seemed a bit more cut and dry, where with the images I think people will see different things or focus on different elements like a sort of rorschach test.
The only other real difference in the game is the fact that the grid is 4×5. Otherwise, Pictures feels very similar to the original.
So, it’s pretty easy to identify the people this game will appeal to. If you were a fan of the original, then Codenames: Pictures will definitely work for you. If you didn’t love the first game, this might not be a hit for you. However, it’s worth a shot if you consider yourself a more visual or artistic person. There may be some elements here that you enjoy more that the simplicity of single words.
I’ve been asked by a few people which I think is harder and which is better. To both of those I think it’s a toss up. Pictures didn’t strike me as particularly harder and while I really enjoyed it, Pictures is so similar to the original that some of the impact of what a great game it is, is lost due to its familiarity. The one thing I will say is that CGE was wise to release the word version first. I think consumers will be much more willing to add a picture version of their favourite game than they would be to have added a word version.
As a side note, I did also get a chance to try out Codenames: Deep Undercover at Gen Con this year. I didn’t have any idea that this one was coming out and when it did hit my radar I was pretty skeptical. Could the Cards Against Humanity type of adult humour work in this context? Well, I must say that I was wrong. It’s actually very fun to come up with single word clues to tie together the…um….adult words that make up the grid. I’ll spare the details for our younger readers, but suffice to say, this was one of the funnest games I played over the weekend.
Do you need to own all three of these titles? Probably not, unless you’re a completist, but each one offers something a little different and you’ll have a lot of fun finding the right one for your group.