Why are spy games, like Codenames, so popular?
As the board game industry grows stronger and bigger, one type of game just isn't letting up. Every year, there's a new version of the spy / traitor / not-quite-telling-the-truth board game. From Mafia de Cuba to Specter Ops to Spyfall - spy games always come out on top.
Perfectly mastering your own blank poker face, while learning the subtle giveaways of someone else's, brings a certain kind of cinematic excitement.
Getting better at lying as the game progresses, and using your own earlier mistakes to double bluff and fool the people you're gaming with - it seems that outright dishonesty feels real good.
Designed by Vlaada Chvátil, the guy responsible for heavier, meatier games like Galaxy Trucker and Mage Knight, it's a definite curveball into the world of alcohol-infused party games. Codenames is one of the most popular board games at our Monday night Board Game Bar.
If you've played it, you'll know why. Teams have to guess the whereabouts of their secret agents at a party (represented by a grid of face-down cards on the table).
Each card features random words. Think turkey, golf, helicopter, fire. The designated Spymaster on each team gives one-word clues that will hopefully lead the team to guess the right word, and therefore the right card.
There's a special kind of magic that comes with watching your totally useless team grab at guesses in the air and never get close to the answer.
It's unbelievably frustrating, but amazing when they get it right. However, if they do choose the wrong card, they run the risk of turning over a member of the opposing team (which ends their turn and just helps the opponents win).
What you definitely want to avoid is turning over the assassin. This ends everything, your team loses, and the other team wins.
Of course, to make sure you avoid him completely, you have to give accurate hints and clues. Your team has to be focused. You can't - absolutely cannot - dissolve into giggles when someone offers a rude hint.
Enter: Codenames Deep Undercover.
Made with the sole purpose of being 'the rude version of Codenames', Deep Undercover is a standalone version for adults only, with blank cards so you can add your own horrendous words and phrases.
As far as the watershed goes, the cards shown on the back of the game box aren't actually that rude. 'Horse', 'video', 'couple', 'pillows'. They're only rude in our own heads, because we're all terribly British and innuendo is our primary form of language.
However, the cards inside the box are a totally different matter...
The cruder your friend group is, the worse you can make the game. The fun and creativity comes from your clues. You can choose what hints to say, and in Codenames: Deep Undercover, you can say pretty much anything at all.
After something a little more abstract?
That's where Codenames: Pictures comes in.
Gone are the words to guess at. In their place are pictures - featuring a flying piggy bank, perhaps, or a snowboarding Santa Claus. Your job is to give clues that lead the team to turn over the right image cards.
As you might have guessed, clue-giving becomes a lot harder when you're not just trying to make someone think 'milk'. The pictures are much more open to interpretation. You might say 'airborne', thinking it's an obvious hint. But which one is it? The Santa, three feet in the air on his snowboard? Or the piggy bank with wings who's clearly flying?
You have to be extra careful to make sure your friends can't guess the wrong thing. Are you up for the challenge?
It's the newest and most ingenious instalment in the Codenames series; different enough from its predecessors to be interesting in its own right, but similar enough to retain the exact same gameplay and fun.
The original Codenames won the Spiel des Jahres award this year (the biggest award in board gaming) and its follow-up buddies look set to be just as popular.