When I was growing up, my family loved to play Password. First published in 1962, this classic word association game remains in print today. What my family enjoyed about Password was the challenge of finding a one word clue in order to get others to guess the (pass)word. This is not only a clever minimalist word game, but forces the clue givers to think creatively about word association. After one team gives a clue and guesses an answer, the next team has their own (pass)word to give clues for. With each turn, the clue giver can build off their previous clue or abandon it all together given the thought process of their team mates. The first team to get a certain number of words correctly is the winner! I personally still think Password is a solid game and would play it every now and then if someone suggested it.
Word games generally have a stigma when mentioned and often the word game that comes to mind is Scrabble. I will do another episode about Scrabble; however, most folks wither love or hate Scrabble. My recommendation for you if you enjoy Password or similar word games is the Spiel de Jahres winner from 2016, Codenames!
Codenames was published from Czech Games Edition designed by Vlaada Chvátil in 2015 and was a MASSIVE hit at all of the conventions. This game takes the simple mechanics in Password and ramps up the complexity and thinky-ness factors. At it’s core, Codenames is a word association game. The game is set up by putting twenty-five words in a 5×5 grid in the middle of the table. There are two teams and each team will select a clue giver. The clue givers will look at a secret car revealing what words are for the Red Team, what words are for the Blue Team, what words are neutral, and which word is the assassin. The goal is to be the first team to guess all of their team’s words correctly!
On a team’s turn, the clue giver will give a one word clue and a number. The number indicates how many words the clue is associated with. In the example below, the Red Team clue giver has given the clue “Fly, 2” hoping that their team will guess both Jet and Robin. Both of those words were determined to be a part of the Red Team according to the secret card on the bottom left corner of the image. After looking at the entire grid, the clue giver may have overlooked the word Phoenix and possibly Missile, both which could pertain to the clue “Fly” and both are neutral words. Now the clue giver must sit there and let their team puzzle out the clue and determine their guesses. Of course, a clue giver could give a clue pertaining to only one word, but this game encourages creativity and the stretching of clues in order to get the most words in one turn.
A team receives guesses equal to the number the clue giver says plus one. In this case, the Red Team would have 3 total guesses one at a time. When a team guesses correctly, the word is covered by their team’s color and they get to guess again. Once a team guesses incorrectly, their turn ends immediately and the clue giver still covers the word guessed with the appropriate covering card – the other team’s color, the neutral card, or the assassin. There is no negative effect when a team guesses a neutral word besides their turn ending but… If the assassin if ever selected (indicated by the black X on the clue givers card), the team who guessed it automatically loses, so be careful! Once one team guesses their last clue correctly they win the round. The first team to win three rounds is the winner of the game! Although, most of the time when I play, we play round after round until we feel like moving on.
I think Codenames is a brilliant word association that plays well with a wide range of players (4-8 players). It is relatively easy to get folks into the game, even if they do not play board games on a regular basis. Codenames has a flavor of classic word games like Password and Taboo with enough twists where players are fully engaged throughout each round.
Find out more about Codenames here: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/178900/codenames