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House Rules for Codenames – Enter the Spy

Vlaada Chvatil truly is a genius of gaming. From Mage Knight to Tash Kalar: Arena of Legends to Space Alert, Vlaada has come up with one hit game after another. No more so than the hit party game Codenames.

There are so many different versions of Codenames now that there really is a version for everyone.

  • Want a challenge? Try Codenames.
  • Don’t want to use words? Try Codenames: Pictures.
  • Want to play co-op? Try Codenames: Duet.
  • Want to be a bit naughty? Try Codenames: Deep Undercover.
  • Want to play a game that uses a franchise that already exists? Try Codenames: Disney or Codenames: Marvel.

We, my gaming group and I, absolutely adore Codenames and we play it a lot. We play the regular game often, however, we play Codenames: Pictures the most. There is something about the trippy pictures that really make the game fun to play. They seem to add an extra dimension.

That being said, we play it, some may say, too often. It is one of our go-to games whenever we have six players or over, and that means we find ourselves wanting to jog the rules every now and then. This has led to us discussing a rather interesting rule that I wanted to explore today on this blog. Yes, this is playing Codenames, not just sorting spies, but also playing as them!

IMG_20180331_190126-1664x1248.jpg

Midway through a game of Codenames Pictures with eight players.

Codenames House Rules – Enter The Spy

For this house rule you will need either:

  1. Blank cards that you can write on. You can use paper but you need to use thick enough paper you can’t see through it.
  2. Or a copy of Spyfall or similar Social Deduction game. Something like Secret Hitler or Deception: Murder in Hong Kong could also work.

Obviously, you will also need a copy of Codenames. This should work with any version apart from Codenames Duet.

How To Play Codenames with the House Rules “Enter The Spy”

“Enter the Spy” as I am now calling this (a decision made on the fly, but hey, why not?) is an optional house rule for Codenames when played with eight players (or more).

Once the game has been laid out, and the player who is spymaster has been chosen, the rest of the players gather on each team. There should be three players either side.

Now, each side takes four cards. Three of which say their team colour, and one of which says the other team’s colour on it. Deal one out to each of the three guessing players facedown, discarding one card at random. The players each look at their cards, keeping them secret.

Alternatives include using Spyfall cards if you so wish, using three location cards and one spy. Alternatively, you can use Deception: Murder in Hong Kong cards, with three detectives and one murderer. Any game cards can be used where there are three cards of one time and one of another.

The spy is an active spy for the opposing team. For instance, the spy on the red team is working for the blue team, and the spy on the blue team is working for the red team.

Of course, only three of the cards would have been dealt out of four, meaning that it is perfectly possible no one is the spy.

The players then play Codenames as they are meant to, in accordance with the rules. The only difference is that the spy is subtly trying to put the players off succeeding in identifying all the correct codenames/pictures etc.

Of course, they themselves don’t know what the codenames are, so they are just trying to put the other players off what they think could be the right answers.

If the red team wins, and the spy is in play on the blue team, then that spy also wins because they have effectively been playing with the red team. If the blue team wins, and the spy is in play on the red team, then that spy also wins.

Why Not Be Overt About It?

Of course, the question then arises as to why not be overt about who is the spy or not. Why not deliberately try to misdirect on every occasion? Well, the answer is simple.

Firstly, the other teammates will probably guess who the spy is. They will then proceed to not trust the opinion of the person they think is the spy.

Secondly, at the end of the game, the then losing team gets one chance to redeem themselves. If they can successfully guess who the spy is within their ranks then they win the game. This comes down to a two to one vote.

The spy was too obvious. The game is over. The losers can hang their heads in shame.

Codenames Pictures Box

Codenames Pictures Box

Order of Play for the House Rules “Enter The Spy” – Variant 1:

For 8 Players:

  1. Select the Spymasters.
  2. Give the remain team members four cards – three blank (or saying their team colour) and one saying spy (or the other team colour).
  3. Deal them facedown, one to each of the remaining teammates, and discard one.
  4. All teammates look at their cards but do not disclose if they are the spy or not.
  5. The game is played as normal, with any Spy players trying to throw the other players off.
  6. When the game is over, the losing team get to guess their spy. If they successfully guess then they still win.

Order of Play for the House Rules “Enter The Spy” – Variant 2 (More Meta):

For 8 Players – using coloured cards. These are cards must have blue or red written on them. The blue team are handed three blue and a red, the red team are handed three red and a blue:

  1. Select the Spymasters.
  2. Give the remain team members four cards – three of that team’s colour and one of the opposing.
  3. Deal them facedown, one to each of the remaining teammates, and discard one.
  4. All teammates look at their cards but do not disclose if they are the spy or not.
  5. Tell everyone to close their eyes.
  6. Ask the Blue Team and both spies to open their eyes. Let them take in if there is anyone who is a spy for them on the opposing team. By getting both spies to open their eyes then the Blue team will not know who the spy is on their own team (if there is one).
  7. Ask the Blue Team and both spies to close their eyes.
  8. Ask the Red Team and both spies to open their eyes. This is for the same reason as before.
  9. Ask the Red Team and both spies to close their eyes.
  10. Ask everyone to open their eyes.
  11. The game is played as normal, with any Spy players trying to throw the other players off.
  12. When the game is over, the losing team get to guess their spy. If they successfully guess then they still win.

So, in essence, this is a mixture of Codenames with a Social Deduction game. If you do play it then please let me know what you think.

So what do think of the rules? Do you like them? Do you think they’re rubbish? Do you have any suggestions on how they can improve? Let me know in the comments below.

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7 Comments »

  1. This sounds like a great house rule, I really like Codenames, although don’t play it all that often – mostly because we don’t normally get more than 4. But I might try this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice variant! How has it gone for your group so far? Do people seem to like it? Any issues that have come up?

    I think instead of ‘Guess the Spy’ at the end, I would do it a little differently. As, if you’re the losing team, you’re going to try and guess the spy anyways, and then there is a good probability that you might get it right. 1 out of 3 chance.

    Not sure if this works any better, but you could have an ‘Oust the Spy’ midgame round. After any team finds half their tiles, both teams get a chance to name the spy. They can decline, if they want to. If they incorrectly guess the spy, they lose the game.

    Liked by 2 people

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