One play: Codenames – Pictures

codenames-picturesWhen I received Codenames: Pictures* I was faced with something of a (teeny tiny) dilemma – how do I go about reviewing this?

In reality it’s a standalone game in its own right – but mechanically it is almost identical to the original Codenames (reviewed here last October), just with pictures instead of words. Not really full review material unless you love repetition.

The next option was to review it as an expansion, but again it’s problematic. You don’t need the original game, it doesn’t really change anything up (except for the aforementioned) and it wouldn’t fit my format. So here it is: the ‘One Play’ review.

In truth, the One Play format ended up fitting the bill perfectly because – you guessed it – I’ve only played it the once. But as a big fan of the original I think I’m on pretty safe ground giving you the full picture (ho ho) on this almost inevitable variation on a theme. And I promise you right now, I won’t be doing a review of the ‘adult’ word version (although, if you do want to seek it out, it’s called ‘Deep Undercover’ – just don’t tell mum I sent you).

Codenames basics: A quick recap

codenames-pictures-tilesCodenames is a party game that can be (realistically) played with anything from four players to eight or more, with you all being split into two teams (no matter how many players participate).

Each team chooses a spymaster, with each team’s representative sitting together in front of a single card only they can see. In front of this is a grid of other cards that everyone can see – in this case picture cards. The trick is that the card only the spymasters can see tells them whose pictures are whose, which others are innocent bystanders, and which single card is the assassin (if a team guesses this word by accident, its instant defeat).

Taking it in turns, the spymasters then try to think up a one-word clue that their teammates can use to guess multiple of their team’s words correctly – but at the same time not any of the other words on display.

This is where the genius in the game lies. Sure, you can say “music, 2” because you’ve seen images of a record player and some headphones – but don’t rule out some crazy person guessing at a ‘tortoise’ picture because it’s the name of a band they like… Find more on the rules in my original Codenames review (linked above).

So what’s new here?

codenames-pictures-cardsThe most obvious change is, of course, the pictures. They’re black and white, relatively simply drawn, but they do have that slightly bizarre/surreal feel of Dixit cards: you’ll find a dinosaur riding a bike, a bed riding a wave, a dragon attacking a satellite dish…

But these multiple references mean the game has the same depth as the original word version: where before you relied on the multiple meanings of many English words, here you have that extra dimension visually too. The cards are still double sided, clearly marked so you know which way up they go, and printed on high quality linen finish stock.

There has also been a change in the size of the grid of cards you choose from, which is now 5×4 rather than 5×5 – so 20 rather than 25 cards. This means there are less ‘innocent bystanders’ (4, from 7) and one less clue to guess for each team. In one way this feels like a sensible change, as it makes it more tense but also a shorter game length (in theory). In reality, it has had a mixed reaction – but works fine either way.

So why bother with this one?

Codenames: Pictures feels different, while familiar, which can only be a good thing. Some will find it harder, some easier, depending on how you parse words and pictures. But whatever your decision, it’s great to have the choice.

It’s still a great for non-gamers, and this opens up to even more players as not everyone likes a word game – as well as being language independent, making it great for including those not so familiar with English. For game evangelists such as me it’s another weapon for our tabletop gaming arsenal. And even better, both games fit into the same box.

Why stop with what’s in the box?

Because the game’s rules are so simple, there’s no reason you can’t go hog wild and add in your own images. Have Dixit or Mysterium? Throw them in for a few rounds. Got lots of family photos? Make a special version for Christmas play. Or why not print out pics from friends from Facebook? The world’s your codenamey oyster.

Overall then, Codenames: Pictures will not be for everyone but it’s a delightful take on the original idea. It will appeal to both fans of the original concept and those who prefer to interpret images over puzzling over word games, and is sure to bring even more new people to the hobby.

* I would like to thank Czech Games Edition for providing a copy of the game for review

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