Quick and Easy Online Guide on Codenames Board Game Rules

2 -8  players

15 mins

Age: 14 +

Check out the essential Codenames Board Game Rules, making it easy for you to learn how to play

Codenames is a:

  • 2 -8 players party word game – standard game is made up of 2 teams of at least 2 players
  • Recommended fo ages 10 and up
  • Game time is approximately 15 minutes

Table of Contents

What is the goal?

  • Players split into 2 teams, with each team assigning a Spymaster
  • There are 25 codenames (words) on the table
  • The Spymasters of each team know the identity of the agents hiding behind the codenames
  • Spymasters must guide each team to guess the codenames of their team’s agents by providing a clue to them
  • Teams use the clue to guess the right codenames related to their team’s agents
  • Be careful, choose the Assasin agent and you lose
  • Winning team is the team that uncovers the identities of all their agents

Game setup 

Team and Card setup

    • Choose Spymasters
      • Each team chooses a person to be the Spymaster
      • Spymasters sit on the same side of the table
    • Choose Field Operatives
      • Rest of the team are Field Operatives
      • They sit across Spymasters
    • Choose Codenames (words) to place on table
      • Randomly choose 25 codenames
      • Place on table in 5 by 5 grid
Learn Codenames Game Rules - Team and Card Setup

The Key

  • Each game has one key revealing secret identities of cards on the table
  • Spymasters choose key card randomly and slide into stand between them. Operatives must not see it.
  • Key corresponds to the grid
    • Blue Squares: Words that Blue team must guess
    • Red Squares: Words that Red team must guess
    • Pale Squares: Innocent bystanders
    • Black Square: Assassin that must never be contacted
Learn Codenames rules - Game Setup - The Key

Who Starts?

  • 4 lights around the edge of the key card indicate which team starts
  • Starting team has 9 words to guess. Team’s spymaster gives the first clue
  • Other team has 8 words to guess
Codenames - Who starts?

Agent Cards

  • Red Agent Cards go in a stack in front of Red Spymaster. Blue in front of Blue spymaster
  • Double agent belongs to whichever team that starts. Flip to team’s colour
  • Innocent bystanders and assassin kept in between the 2 spymasters
Codenames Card Game Rules - Agent Cards


Teams take turns to do the following:

  1. The team’s Spymaster gives clues
  2. Team’s field operatives guess the codenames to uncover

Spymaster Gives a Clue

Team’s Spymaster gives a clue about the identities of the agents associated with the codenames (words) on the table

  • Spymaster selects the codenames he/she would like the field operatives to uncover
  • Spymaster gives a one-word clue and shouts out the number of codenames it relates to. This number will indicate the number of correct guesses the team can make for the turn. If the team makes a correct guess form previous clue, they are allowed 1 extra guess
Codenames 1

Field operatives guess the codenames to uncover

  • Teammates discuss the clue and make a guess by touching one of the codenames on the table
  • If it uncovers an agent belonging to the team, they continue guessing until they uncover all codenames related to the clue
  • The turn is passed to the next team, if any of the guesses are wrong

Team loses if they uncover an Assassin card.

Check above image to get more details on the game play

Rules and things to note about Clues

Clues can sometimes affect the way the game is played.

Here are some information about how you use Clues in the game. They cover the following:

Invalid Clues, Keeping a straight face and Sand Timer

Penalty for invalid clues

  • Team’s turn ends immediately if Spymaster gives invalid clues
  • Spymaster of other team covers also one of their codenames (words) with their agent card before giving next clue
  • If no one notices an invalid clue, clue is considered valid

Spymasters must keep a straight face

  • Spymaster must keep a straight face
  • Do not reach for any card while teammates are considering the words
  • When teammate touches a word, consult key card and cover word with card of corresponding colour
  • If teammate chooses correct word, Spymaster must act as though it is exactly the word he/she meant even if it wasn’t

Field operatives (non Spymaster teammates) must focs on the table when making guesses.

They must not make eye contact with the Spymaster.


  • If a player is thinking too long, any player can flip the sand timer and ask the slow player to make a decision before time runs out

How do you win?

Game ends when one team has all their codenames/words covered with their agents. That team wins.

If other team chooses your last word, your team also wins.

If other team chooses a word related to an Assasin, that team loses and your team wins.

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