Codenames is awesome.
I’m so happy that Codenames is as popular as it is. I think it’s a really important game for the hobby, up there with the modern classics like Catan, Carcassone, and Ticket to Ride. Lucky for us, there are many great examples of games with similar aspects of Codenames that I get excited to pull out on game night.
If you like making clever associations, try: Concept
Codenames shines when you, as the clue giver, agonize over the perfect clue, tell it to your team, they begin discussing and suggesting the exact things you were going for, only for them to change last-second to a different, ridiculous tile instead.
Concept—and many other games on this list—capture this feeling. In Concept, clue givers try to get their team to guess a word or phrase. They have pawns to place on a wide array of icons—a picture of a smiley face, a log, money, basic shapes, and so on. When you take all words out, it’s interesting to see just how radically different associations can be between different players. A clue of green + water drop + food might cause one player to think of green tea while the other thinks it’s industrial farming.
If you like giving vague clues, try: Just One
You and your teammates are trying to get the main player to guess a word. All you have to do is give them a one-word clue. Easy!
The problem is, you can’t give the same clue as anyone else, and all clues are written down secretly. If the word is “Trumpet”, instrument might be a good clue? Is that too obvious? Is everyone else thinking that, so should I take the responsibility of going with it? Gah, what if someone else is thinking that! Maybe brass? Maybe Satchmo? Maybe horn?
That’s Just One.
If you like guessing how your friends think, try: Wavelength
Wavelength is a beautifully designed game where the clue-giver has to get the other players to spin a dial to match a spot on a spectrum. A little hard to explain in words—refer to the picture below.
Here’s an example of Wavelength. The spectrum for the round is ßSmall – Big à. The clue giver says “The Sun”. “Oh, that sounds pretty big.” So, you begin to turn the dial to 95%. But then you think, “But wait, in comparison to the entire universe, the Sun takes up a miniscule amount of space”. So you begin to turn the dial to 5%. You reveal, and the right answer is 50%. You laugh at each other after realizing how out of sync you are.
If you want a more difficult Codenames experience, try: Decrypto
Decrypto shares the loose spy-vs-spy theme of Codenames, where teams of spies must figure out what their active player is trying to communicate, while trying to figure out the secret words of the opposing team.
Quite a bit more involved than Codenames, what Decrypto loses in accessibility it gains in extra strategic depth that can be really welcome for people who have played tons of Codenames already.
If you want a longer clue-giving game with larger table presence, try: Mysterium
You’re a ghost trying to communicate with mediums (the other players) how you were MURDERED! The problem is, interdimensional communication is a little fuzzy, so all you can send are abstract images. These come in the form of beautiful tarot-sized cards, like the ones in the wildly popular Dixit.
To get an idea of how difficult this can be, look below:
(gif showing the cards)
You might be trying to tell the mediums that they need to choose the soldier, so you choose the card with the knight in armor holding a sword. Rather than picking up on that, they notice that there’s a seamstress, and the sword looks like the needle in her portrait.
It’s one of those games where “obvious” isn’t so obvious, and gritting your teeth while the rest of your group argues whether or not something is write is so frustratingly good.