Codenames Board Game Rules

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

Players: 2 to 8 | Game duration from: 10 mins | Game Complexity:

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Czech Games Codenames Czech Games Codenames 27,599 Reviews $19.95 $15.79

What is the goal?

  • 2 teams and each team assigns a Spymaster
  • There are 25 codenames (words) on the table
  • Each team’s Spymaster knows their team’s agents behind the codenames
  • Spymasters give clues to their teams to guess the codenames of their team’s agents
  • Teams attempt to guess the right codenames related to their team’s agents
  • Winning team is the team that uncovers the identities of all their agents or if the other team uncovers the assassin card

Game setup

Team and Card setup

  • Teams choose their Spymasters
  • Spymasters sit on same side of the table and rest of the team sit on opposite side
  • Choose Codenames (words) to place on table
    • Randomly choose 25 codenames
    • Place on table in 5 by 5 grid

The Key

Codenames 1
Codenames 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.
  • 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

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

Agent Cards

  • Red Agent Cards go 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 are 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. Rest of the team guess the codenames to uncover

Spymaster Gives a Clue

  • Spymaster selects the codenames for their team to uncover
  • Spymaster gives a one-word clue and announces the number of related codenames
  • This indicates 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 2
Spymaster Codenames Rules

Guessing codenames

  • Teammates discuss and make a guess by touching one of the codenames
  • If team’s agent is uncovered, the Spymaster covers the codename with team’s agent card and they continue guessing until they uncover all codenames related to the clue
  • Team’s turn ends if any of the guesses are wrong
  • Team loses if they uncover an Assassin card.

Rules for clues

  • The clue must be about the meaning of the words
  • Letters and numbers are valid clues as long as they refer to the meaning
  • Must be played in English
  • Can’t say any form of the visible word on the table
  • Can’t say part of a compound word

Homonyms and Spelling

  • Same sounding words with different meanings/spelling are treated as different words
    • You can only use the meaning for that word for your clue
      (e.g. clue for knight cannot be used for word night)
  • Words spelt the same are considered the same even if they have different meanings/pronunciations
  • You can use the different meanings as clues for the same word

Optional Flexible Rules

  • Decide if you allow compound words (e.g. mother-in-law)
  • Allow proper names as one word (e.g. George Washington)
  • Allow Common Abbreviation (e.g. CIA, PhD)
  • Allow different meanings for Homonyms (same sounding words) e.g clues for knight for the word night
  • Allow a rhyming clue even if it is not related to the meaning of the word

Expert Rules: Clue number 0

  • Spymaster is allowed to call 0 to indicate none of the words are related to the clue
  • The team continues to make at least one guess
  • Limit of guesses no longer applies

Expert Rules: Unlimited

  • If you have multiple unguessed words from previous clues
  • Spymaster may call unlimited instead of number
  • Limit of guesses no longer applies

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 guesses


  • Player taking too long to guess? 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.
  • If other team chooses your last word, your team also wins.
  • If other team chooses a word related to an Assassin, they lose and you win

How to Play Codenames and Review Videos

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