How to Play Codenames Pictures in Simple Steps

Learn how to play Codenames Pictures.  The official rules and instructions are summarised into simple steps to help you get your game started quickly. 

Players: 2 to 8 | Game duration from: 10 mins | Game Complexity: EASY How to play Codenames: Pictures rules in simple steps Codenames: Pictures rules pdf / rulebook

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What is the goal?

Codenames Pictures is played with two teams – red and blue. Each team has a “spymaster” who knows the secret identities of all their agents. The map has strange symbols. Spies must contact secret agents at these locations!  The spymasters give one-word clues to help their team guess the location of their own agents while avoiding those of the opposing team. 

Game setup

Team and Card Setup

Split into two teams of similar size and skill. For a standard game, you need two teams of two. Each team chooses a spymaster. Both spymasters are seated at the same side of the table. Everyone else is a field operative and sits across. Put 20 random pictures on the table in a grid of 5 by 4. These are locations where agents can meet field operatives. Card orientation is indicated in the upper left corner.

Setting up Codenames Pictures

The Key
  • A key card shows who can be found at each location in each game.
  • Randomly select one and place it on the stand between the spymasters, oriented similar to the 5×4 grid of pictures.
  • Decide between the two possible orientations. Do not reveal the key to the field operatives.
  • Grid on the table corresponds to key. Images with blue agents correspond to blue squares. A red square represents a location with a red agent (picture). Innocent bystanders are in pale squares, assassins are dark squares!

Gameplay in Simple Steps

Teams take turns. The lights on the sides of the key card show the starting team.

Codenames Pictures Key

On your team’s turn

  • Your spymaster gives a one-word clue that refers to one or more pictures.
  • Your field operatives guess the pictures.
  • Your spymaster reveals who is in a location when a field operative touches a picture.

Ending the Turn

  • Each team’s turn always has one clue and one or more guesses.
  • Operatives may make a second guess if their first guess is one of their team’s pictures. Make another guess if correct and so on.
  • The turn ends if the guess is an incorrect picture. or you choose not to guess anymore, or you have already made as many guesses as the clue specifies plus one.



Rules for giving clues

Codename Pictures - spymaster gives the clue

The spymaster’s job is to give a clue related to the pictures your team tries to guess. Each clue has a word and a number that shows how many pictures relate to the word.

Rules for Making Guesses

Once the clue is given, the team operatives can discuss but the spymaster must keep a straight face. An official guess is made by touching one of the pictures. Spymasters place cards over pictures to reveal who is in each location:

  • If the team touches the team’s picture, the spymaster covers the picture with an agent card in that color. Operatives may continue guessing (but no further clues are given).
  • An innocent bystander card is applied to a location if the field operative touches it. This ends the turn.
  • Touching a picture belonging to the other team covers it with one of the other team’s agent cards. The turn ends

The assassin card covers the picture if the field operative touches the location with the assassin. This ends the game! The team that contacted the assassin loses.


How do you win?

Ending the Game

The game ends when one team uncovers all their pictures and wins. If they guess your last picture, you win on the other team’s turn. The game can end early if a field operative touches the location with the assassin. That operative’s team loses.

Codenames Pictures - End of Game
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