Game Night: Codenames Pictures

June 5, 2017 - Board Games

It’s hard to pick one word to describe the work of game designer Vlaada Chvatil, whose output runs from drawing game Pictomania to four-hour epic Through The Ages: A Story of Civilization. At some point while he was updating the latter game for its 2015 rerelease, Chvatil took the time to put together a clever little party game with vast replayability. This is not that game.

This is, however, the better version of that game.

If there was one limitation to the original Codenames, it’s that it was played using words alone. Codenames: Pictures updates the original game’s formula by using pictures instead, which as we all know are worth some much larger number of words. Twenty surreal pictures are laid out in a 5×4 grid, and players divide into two teams, each led by a code master.

Using an index card, the two code masters give single-word clues to their teams to direct their guesses toward whichever pictures belong to them. Selecting a neutral picture ends the turn, while picking one belonging to the other team does likewise and scores them a point. With the game being a race to uncover all of your words, the code masters give out not just a clue but how many pictures they believe it pertains to; I might see a snowman hummingbird drinking nectar from a flower and a banana encased in an ice cube and give the clue “Ice 2.” However, my team might be looking at that hockey player holding a boomerang and decide to guess he fits for “ice.” costing us progress.

Yes, those are all real images from the game.

Codenames: Pictures is a very simple game to pick up and plays quickly, allowing for multiple rounds and giving more people the chance to try their hand at being code masters. Oddly, while it does demand creativity from the code masters in terms of trying to devise a safe clue that will lead to two or more correct guesses, it’s nowhere near as taxing as other games in this vein. The images provide a lot to work with, their eclectic designs only increasing the number of ways one can approach them. The element of looking for relations bears some tangential resemblance to Tribond, and it feels rewarding to make that logical leap – but will your teammates follow you?

Codenames: Pictures is one of the best games to come out of 2016. It perfectly encapsulates the sweet spot for games of its kind and length and manages to ask for creativity without taxing it. If there’s one word I can use to describe how Vlaada Chvatil’s game relates to his other ones, here it is: “great.”

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