11 board games like Codenames

by | Guides

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Codenames is a superb board game pitting two teams against each other. The objective is to find all your agents before the other team. At its heart it is a deduction game where you have to guess the codename for the agents from the word given by your spymaster.  

If you love Codenames and are looking for something that is equally enjoyable then take a look at these 11 board games like Codenames below. All these games are based on deduction. My recommendation would be Decrypto but all these games will be a great addition to your collection. If you are looking for something with more than 8 players then The Resistance will be an excellent choice as it is conveniently sized and lots of fun.

Here’s the TLDR; for those who don’t want to read the whole article. There is a table of content as well, so you can jump to any interesting board games like Codenames.

At a glance: 11 board games like Codenames

Recomended
Game
Decrypto
Players
3-8
Age
12+
Playtime
15-45
Game
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
Players
1-8
Age
13+
Playtime
60-120
Game
Deception:
Murder in Hong Kong
Players
4-12
Age
14+
Playtime
20
Game
Mysterium
Players
2-7
Age
10+
Playtime
42
Game
The Resistance
Players
5-10
Age
13+
Playtime
30
Game
A fake artist goes to New York
Players
5-10
Age
8+
Playtime
20
Game
Hanabi
Players
2-5
Age
8+
Playtime
25
Game
Insider
Players
4-8
Age
9+
Playtime
15
Game
Crosstalk
Players
4-8
Age
10+
Playtime
20-30
Game
Spyfall
Players
3-8
Age
13+
Playtime
15
Game
The Chameleon
Players
3-8
Age
14+
Playtime
15

Decrypto

Decrypto is similar to Codenames in that it is a word game and in the spy genre. It also pits two teams against each other attempting to crack their code whilst intercepting the opposing teams.

The game is best played with two teams sitting opposite each other. Each team has a decrypting keyword screen with 4 columns marked 1, 2, 3, and 4 respectively. Four random keyword cards are placed in each screen’s columns to reveal the words on them. 

This is now the basis on which the designated encryptor in the team will attempt to transmit their code without revealing it to the opposing team.

The Encryptor then chooses a code card with three numbers on it in the range of 1-4 representing one of the numbers on the screen. This is the code they must transmit and they do this by describing the word above the number they want their team to guess.

Players

3-8

Age

12+

Playtime (m)

15-45

The encryptor cannot use the word in their description but must give clues. For example if the first word they want the team to guess is ‘egg’ then the encryptor may say, “hard boiled.’

The team will then guess the word and add the number that is below that word.

The encryptor needs to get their team to guess the code in the right order too so they will give the clues in a way that the team will interpret those numbers in that way.

It sounds like a very easy game until you realise that the opposing team is listening in to your transmissions and has an opportunity to intercept them. The game is played with the same words over 8 rounds.

With the opposing team listening in, the encryptor must make the clues abstract and dissimilar to previous rounds so they don’t guess the word and crack your code.

If your opponents make two interceptions or you get two miscommunications then you lose (and vice versa they lose). If you finish round 8 then you score each intercept as +1 and each miscommunication as -1. The team with the highest score wins.

This is a great game and a really good alternative to Codenames. It is a great game for parties with the ability to play 4-8 players. Whilst there is a 3 player variant this is not quite as flexible as Codenames where you can play with only 2 players.

If you are often having a game night with 4-8 players and like the spy genre then this is a great game to add to your collection.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is an amazing deduction game. It puts you in the shoes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s epic detective, Sherlock Holmes.

This game is great to play solo or with friends but do not be deceived. You will need all your deductive powers and wits to be able to beat Holmes!

As with all games that are hard to play it is the journey that is more important than the winning. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective does not disappoint with some engrossing crimes to solve.

These are superbly written, following the traditional Holmes that I remember as a kid. The stories will lead you on a journey where you will be completely stumped. Half the time you’ll be unsure of what is going on but that is part of the fun.

Players

1-8

Age

13+

Playtime (m)

60-120

That is the beauty of this game though. When you get it right or manage to find a clue it will be very gratifying.

The base game comes with 10 crimes, each with their own case booklet to lead you through the streets of London. You’ll need to decide which clue to follow and where to go to ultimately track down the killer. When you go to a location there will be a section in your case booklet that will give you the lowdown.

If the decision was a good one then you will be one step closer to solving the crime.

Once you have completed the story and written down your solution to the crime. You’ll then turn the page and read Holmes’ solution. If you got there then amazing, but you also have to get there faster than Holmes. Every step longer than him will deduct points.  

With 10 crimes to solve it does make the game finite in the number of times you will want to play. Once you have read Holmes’ solution all will be revealed and so it is unlikely you will want to play that one again. At least for quite a while anyway.

10 stories will keep you occupied for many hours though. You will find yourself lost in the streets of London tracking down the next clue. Spending time pondering over suspects, locations and clues. Trying to solve the case faster than Sherlock Holmes.

If you get to the end of the 10 stories then there are three other expansions. The games are listed below:

  • The Thames Murders & other mysteries
  • Carlton House & Queens Park
  • Jack the Ripper & West End Stories
  • The Baker Street Irregulars

All the games are standalone. They come with their own case booklet, a map, 10 newspapers for the date of each crime and a directory. The directory will have all the characters listed that you can speak to.

This game has a great narrative and you will find yourself looking forward to the next piece to read. It may reveal a little more story and new character or even a suspect.

If you like a challenge and love deduction games. Then Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is a must have.

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong differs from Codenames in that it is not a spy genre but a murder mystery. Whereas Codenames has two teams duking it out this is a cooperative game with a betrayal element.

It is a great game for parties and large groups. It’s simple to pick up and depending on who you play you will either be trying to solve the murder or frame someone else for your despicable crime.

The game is for 4 to 12 players and is a betrayal style game. There has been a murder in the classic whodunit style. There will be a means of committing the murder and a clue to point to the murderer. The Investigators must find the Murderer.

Players

4-12

Age

14+

Playtime (m)

20

There is also a Witness that has seen these players run from the scene of the crime. If the Witness is identified by the Murderer or Accomplice then they will be assassinated before the trial and the culprits will get off. 

Finally there is a Forensic Scientist who knows everything but cannot tell anyone. Instead they are there to provide hints using Scene tiles to try and get the Investigators to identify the Clue and Means.

A quick recap:

  • The Forensic Scientist knows everything. Who the Murder, Accomplice and Witness are and the Clue and Means.
  • The Murderer and the Accomplice know the Clue and Means but don’t know who the Witness is.
  • The Witness knows who the Murderer and Accomplice are but do not know the Clue or Means. So they do not know which is the Murderer and which is the Accomplice.

The objectives of each players are:

  • The Forensic Scientist gives clues through marking Cause of Death, Location or Scene Tiles that will give hints towards the Clue and Cause.
  • This is a betrayal game so the Murderer and Accomplice must work together and stop the Investigators from guessing the Clue and Means and thus revealing the Murderer.
  • The Witness must help the Investigators to identify the Murderer without identifying they are the Witness to the Murderer and Accomplice. If they guess who the Witness is then they will kill them and get away with a double murder!
  • Investigators must work out the Clue and Means using the Forensic Scientists clues.

This game is played over three rounds. During each round there is:

  1. Evidence Collection where the Forensic Scientist places bullets over the Scene tiles to give clues.
  2. Presentation where there is a brief group discussion about the clues then each player (except the Forensic Scientist) gives their opinions about the key evidence.

At any point an Investigator (including the Murderer, Accomplice and Witness) can guess at the Clue and Means in order to reveal the Murderer and thus win the game for the Forensic Scientist, Investigators and Witness. 

They must get both Clue and Means right and the Forensic Scientist can only give a “Correct” or “Incorrect” to this accusation. If the accuser only guesses one of either the Clue or Means then the accusation will be incorrect. If they guess both correctly then the murderer is revealed.

If you are using the Witness then the Murderer and Accomplice have one guess at who the Witness is. If they are correct then they have killed the Witness and so gotten away with the murder. The Forensic Scientist and Investigators will still lose.

This is a brilliant game, especially for larger groups of 6 or more. This game will test all your deductive powers and you will learn who is the sneakiest of your friends. 

If you like Mysterium then this is a must have game to add to your collection. The quality of the game is really good even down to the oriental feel with Chinese on the cards as well as English.

If you often have 6 or more playing together and you love Codenames, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong could be your next go to party game.

Mysterium

Mysterium is similar to Deception: Murder in Hong Kong in that it is also a murder mystery game. Mysterium is also a collaborative game like Deception and so differs from Codenames in that respect.

Whilst Deception has everyone living and uses the Forensic Scientist to help investigators solve the murder. In Mysterium one of the players is the victim’s ghost and whilst the others are psychic investigators. 

The ghost does not speak through the game and helps the psychics through their dreams. If you have ever tried to interpret your dreams you’ll know what that is like! This is very much like Dixit as the ghost gives the psychics surreal cards that will hint at the suspect, location and murder weapon in an abstract way.

Players

2-7

Age

10+

Playtime (m)

42
The game is for 2-7 players so not quite as many players as Deception or Codenames. To understand what the game is about you can read my article on How to play Mysterium with 2 players. The article goes through the gameplay and explains it in depth for two players but it will also give you a good overview of the gameplay.

Mysterium is a fantastic game with its mix of whodunit and Dixit like gameplay will always be fun to play. If I had to choose between Mysterium and Deception then it would be Deception.

The Resistance

The Resistance is similar to Codenames in that it is a deductive spy game where you have to discover spies in your midst. The Resistance is a fantastic game for up to 10 players. You have enlisted with the resistance in order to overthrow the government. The government is far reaching and has infiltrated your group with spies so beware!

The game can be played with 5 to 10 players and depending on how many players decides how many of them are spies.

Players

5-10

Age

13+

Playtime (m)

30

Players

Resistance
Spies

5

3
2

6

4
2

7

4
3

8

5
3

9

6
3

10

6
4

Table: Number of spies for total number of players

The game lasts for 5 missions and the resistance must complete 3 of these missions successfully to overthrow the government. Whilst the spies secretly work together to foil the missions and thwart the resistance plans.

The Resistance members and Spies are picked randomly by shuffling a deck of cards with the right ratio of Resistance and Spy cards. Then deal them out to each player. Once everyone has looked at their card everyone closes their eyes. The spies then open their eyes so they know who each of them are and then close them again.

Each mission has a team leader who chooses a number of players to team up and go on the mission. The number of players per mission depends on the round and how many are playing.

Players

1st Mission Team
2nd Mission Team
3rd Mission Team
4th Mission Team
5th Mission Team

5

2
3
2
3
3

6

2
3
4
3
4

7

2
3
3
4
4

8

3
4
4
5
5

8

3
4
4
5
5

10

3
4
4
5
5

Table: How many players go on each mission.

Once the team has been picked each player then gets to vote on if they think this is a good team for the mission. If the yeses are more than the noes then the mission is a go. However, if the mission fails to get enough votes then the team leader is passed to the next player and they pick a new mission.

If you get 5 missions rejected in a row then the game automatically forfeits to the spies as the group has broken down into chaos and is no threat to the government. So make sure this doesn’t happen.

Once the team has been accepted they each get a ‘Success’ and a ‘Fail’ card. Resistance members can only use the ‘Success’ card but the spies can use either. Each player secretly places their card (Success or Failure) down in the middle. The cards are then shuffled so the mission results are hidden.

Each card is then turned over and if one of them is a ‘Fail’ then the mission fails. But who is the spy who failed the mission? That’s for the team to discover.

This game is very easy to learn and pick up. It is also very easily transported as it comes in compact packaging. That makes it perfect for sticking in your pocket and taking round friends’ houses.

This game is not for the paranoid as it will have you suspecting your own mother as the spy! It is huge amounts of fun and with a game play of around 30 minutes it is likely you will want to play more than once.

The Resistance is one of the more affordable games too. So it won’t cost you an arm and a leg for some serious fun. Get this game and give it a whirl at your next group meet.

A fake artist goes to New York

Another game that travels well and is for 5-10 players is A fake artist goes to New York. This game is a drawing game and consists of a question master and the rest of the players are artists. One player will randomly be the fake artist.

The objective of the game is for the fake artist to pass himself off as an artist. The question master and fake artist will win or lose depending on if the other artists fail to identify the fake artist or not.

The game is very simple and the question master starts off choosing a word and writing it down on the special title cards using a dry marker. They do this for all the cards except one on which they draw an X. This identifies the fake artist.

Players

5-10

Age

8+

Playtime (m)

20

Now all the artists know the word but the fake artist doesn’t. Each artist, including the fake one, takes turns in drawing one line. They must do this without lifting their marker off the pad.

The players are encouraged to discuss the drawing openly and accuse other players of being fake. The fake artist’s job is to pass themselves off as the others and as they discuss and add their lines.

This continues for two rounds so that all players have added two lines to the drawing. Once complete the game moves onto the voting phase of the game. 

The question master counts down from 3 and then each artist points to the player they believe to be the fake one. Whoever is being pointed to the most will be accused of being fake.

If the players have guessed correctly then they win. However, if the fake artist is not the one accused then the question master and the fake artist win.

Playtime is around 20 minutes and you will likely want to play a few of these as you’ll discover this easy to play game will be hilarious.

Hanabi

Hanabi is designed by Antoine Bauza who is responsible for games such as 7 Wonders, Takenoko and Tokaido. This is a cooperative card game that is unusual in that each player can see everyone else’s hand but not their own.

It is similar to Codenames in that you need to work together in order to discover what is in your hand by giving clues.

You are firework manufacturers about to put on a display but you have mixed up all the components. You need to make 5 fireworks lickety-split and can only do this by working together.

Players

2-5

Age

8+

Playtime (m)

25

This is a card game for 2 to 5 players where each card has a number, color or shape on it. Depending on how many people you shuffle the cards and deal the required number face down to each player.

Each player now picks up their cards and holds them face out to the other players. They should not look at their own cards.

Players

2-3 players
4-5 players

No. of cards

5
4

Table: Number of cards to play

The objective of the game is to set the cards down in order with 1 being the first card and 5 the last to make a set (or one firework). There are 6 sets in the pack and you need to get 5 completed before running out of cards.

Each player can do three things for their turn.

  1. Give information about another player’s hand.
  2. Discard a card.
  3. Play a card.

Give Information

To give information about another player’s cards they point to one or more cards and give the clue. For example, “You have 2 blue cards,” or, “This card is a 1.” Each time a player gives a hint they must turn over a clock token. There are 8 of these and once they are turned over no guesses can be made.

Discard a card

A player can discard a card from their hand. This card is effectively out of the game. Every time a player discards a card one of the clock tokens can be turned face down and be used for a guess again.

Play a card

A player can attempt to play a card. It must either be a 1 to start a new set or the next number in a sequence of an existing set. If the player correctly plays a card that finishes a set then one of the clock tokens is turned face down to make another guess available as a bonus.

If the player guesses incorrectly and cannot put the card on any sets or start a new one then they get a strike. This is marked by turning over one of the black fuse tokens. If you get three strikes between you then there is an explosion and you all lose.

You can win by either completing all 5 sets or by drawing all the cards from the draw pile and not getting three strikes.

When the last card is drawn from the draw pile this triggers the last round. Each player gets one more turn. Once completed you can then add up your score. You add each set’s highest card value together to get your final score.

Overall Impression

Horrible, booed by the crowd…
Mediocre, just a hint of scattered applause…
Honorable attempt, but quickly forgotten…
Excellent, crowd pleasing…
Amazing, they will be talking about it for weeks…
Legendary, everyone left speechless, stars in their eyes!
This is not a party game but much more relaxed. The game is small and compact and as with The Resistance and A fake artist goes to New York is very easy to travel with. It is really easy to pick up and delightfully cooperative. It will have you thinking carefully about the hints you give and the cards you discard or play. 

If you are looking for something to play on a train or whilst travelling then Hanabi will be a really good choice. As you can play this with 2 players up to 5 players I have made this my travel game of choice.

Insider

This is another very travel friendly game from Oink games. Insider is quick and easy to play and you will want to play more than one game. The game is for 4 to 8 players and is similar to 20 questions. Each game lasts about 15 minutes per game so if you are short on time you can usually get a few games in.

There is a deck of cards with 6 words on each card and number on the other side. The deck is shuffled and placed on the table.

In this game there will be a Master player who knows the word and will answer questions from the other players. There is also one Insider whose task is to lead the group to the correct answer without giving themselves away. The other players are normal players known as Commons.

Players

4-8

Age

9+

Playtime (m)

15

Who is the Master, Insider and Commons is decided randomly using tiles. Take the Master, Insider and enough Commons tiles to make up the number of players. Then shuffle these and deal out face down. 

Each player checks their tile and the Master reveals themselves to the other players. Now everyone closes their eyes except the Master. They now turn over the top card of the deck and look at the back of the card underneath to see the number. This number will represent the number on the turned over card to identify the word.

Now the Master closes their eyes and tells the Insider to open theirs. The Insider does this and also sees the word. This way the Commons and the Master have no idea who the Insider is.

After a minute the Master asks the Insider to close their eyes and then asks everyone to open them.

Now a timer is turned over and each player asks a question to which the Master can answer, “Yes,” “No,” or “I don’t know.” The Insider must lead the group to the correct answer without being detected. 

If the timer runs out and the word is not guessed then everyone loses. If the word is guessed correctly then it triggers a voting stage.

All the players including the Master will try and discover the Insider. If they guess correctly then the Insider loses and the others win. If they guess incorrectly then the Insider wins.

This is a fun game to play and similar to A fake artist in New York it is very transportable. However, if you look at many of the reviews you will find that the game could easily be played with a pen and paper.

The general consensus is that it is quite highly priced for what you get. Saying that though, Insider is enormous fun and for the price you will get many happy hours of play.

Crosstalk

Crosstalk is a word deduction game from Nauvoo games for 4 to 8 players. Players split up into two teams and attempt to guess a keyword. The game is sold as  the Party Game of Subtle Conversation. 

This is due to the fact you are trying to give your team the answer without letting on to the opposing team who see all the clues too. It is similar to Codenames in that you are trying to guess words from one word clues.

The game consists of rounds where each round a new word is guessed. The first team to win 5 rounds wins.

This game is two-way in that both teams pick a clue giver per round. Both clue givers pick a card from the deck which will have 6 words on it. They can either agree on a word from that list or roll a dice to have the word picked for them.

Players

4-8

Age

10+

Playtime (m)

20-30

Now each clue giver has an opportunity to write down a private clue for their team that the other team will not know. The clue should be something that hints at the keyword that they will leave out of the following clues that will help their team guess the correct word. This is then passed to their team to look at.

One team goes first and this is picked by choice or you could roll a dice to see who goes first. The clue giver of that team then writes a clue on the board. The trick here though is that the other team then get to guess first. Then that team’s clue giver writes a word and the first team gets to guess. Hence the crosstalk name.

So the objective is to give just enough information in your one word clue that will move it along but not enough the opposing team will guess it. The round ends when a team successfully guesses the word and gains 1 point. First team to 5 points wins.

There are 4 public clues for each team and then a 5th final guess to the word. If neither team guesses the word it is revealed and no team gets a point.

This game is definitely subtle in the word play where the clue giver is working to lead their team to the word without giving it away to the opposing team.

Crosstalk is fun if you like the back and forth of clues, the subtlety of word play and trying to add it all together to guess correctly. If not then this game may not be for you.

Spyfall

Spyfall is similar to Codenames in that you are trying to guess who the spies are. It is a great party game that is easy to play for 3 to 8 players.

The game also has some mechanics similar to The Resistance and A fake artist goes to New York. You need to discover the spy like in The Resistance and the spy must bluff their way through like A fake artist in New York. 

In Spyfall there are many decks of cards. Each deck is in its own location and has one spy. Taking the Spy card you then take enough cards to make up the number of players. Shuffle the deck and deal it out.

All the players except the spy have a character and know the location. The spy only knows they are a spy. By asking questions of each player the team are trying to weedle out who the spy is.

Players

3-8

Age

13+

Playtime (m)

15

So if the location is The School one player might ask what they write with. However, at any point the spy can reveal themselves and announce they know the location. If they guess right they win.

Also, each player has one attempt at guessing who the spy is. The rest of the players must be unanimous and if correct then the spy loses and the team wins.

This is a very simple game to play but hilariously fun and you will be wanting to play Spyfall a lot. Whilst it is a 3-8 player game it is better with 4-8 as more numbers makes it harder to discover the spy.

The Chameleon

The Chameleon is similar to Codenames in that you must use one word clues about a known word. It is also similar to A fake artist in New York in that one player is the Chameleon. They are trying to blend in as they do not know the word. They must also give clues that will not give away the fact they are the Chameleon.

The game comes with a number of boards that have a 4 x 4 grid of words about a topic and one of these is chosen to play the game. There are also two decks of cards, one blue and one green. Choose one color deck and remove enough to make sure there is one for each player. In the deck there is a Chameleon card that must not be removed. The deck is now shuffled and dealt out.

Players

3-8

Age

14+

Playtime (m)

15

Do not show your card to the other players. The player with the Chameleon card is now the chameleon. Two dice are thrown to indicate the cell on the 6 x 8 board which then shows which word on the word card to play.

All the non chameleon players will have the same card and so know the same word. The game starts and each player will give one clue to the word without giving away too much.

At the end of the clues the players get to debate for a while who the Chameleon is. Then each player will point to who they think is the Chameleon.

The player with the most fingers pointed at them is the accused Chameleon. They now reveal their board and if correct the Chameleon has one more chance at winning. If they can guess the word everyone else has then they win. 

If incorrect then the players all reveal their boards and the real Chameleon wins.The players now reveal their boards and who the Chameleon is. 

This is a fun party game for 3 to 8 players and will brighten up any board game collection. It has the subtlety of not giving too much away that The Chameleon might guess the word.

Conclusion

Codenames is a great party game and if you are looking for a game like it. Then the 11 games listed above are all great choices to add to your collection. My recommendation would be Decrypto as this is most like Codenames and is the top rated game in this list. However, if you are looking for a game for large groups then the 4 to 12 player Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is for you.

For parties The Resistance is my choice as it is easy to pick up and has the spy genre and trying to discover who are the spies.

Finally the choice for younger players and also as a great travel game is Hanabi. This cooperative game is perfect to drop in your pocket and play whilst on the move.

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