It's no secret that (most of the boardgaming world and) I love the party card game Codenames. A well worded review by ShutUpandSitDown on how to play and why it's amazing can be found here. And while I love the game to death, seeing it convert so many of my non-gaming friends into board gamers for a night, the game designer and me likes to tinker away at how to modify the game for different contexts.
On multiple occasions, including a recent weekend retreat with some of my colleagues, Codenames was a classic crowd favorite. However, once more than eight people want to play, the teams start to feel a little bulky. That is probably why on the box it says "2-8+" players and not "2-infinite". And so a problem presents itself: sometimes more than eight people want to play Codenames, but the recommended player range doesn't fit the group size. Thus we can
1. Play with a suboptimal player range and have bulky teams
2. Have players rotate in on different teams
3. Try Codenames with THREE teams.
I am sure there are other possible solutions to rectifying the above problem, but I have found playing Codenames with three teams to be a fairly successful strategy. The three team strategy is easily implemented into a standard game of Codenames. Set up is exactly the same, except that now there is a red team, a blue team, and a beige team, each with a codemaster and field agents. The beige team should either go last and/or have their first turn skipped as they have the fewest clues (7) as opposed to the normal 8 or 9. The first team to identify all of their cards wins.
There are a number of reasons I like to use the three team strategy for groups of nine players or more:
1. Three Codemasters. While I certainly enjoy being a field agent guessing the cards, no game of Codenames that I play feels complete until I have had a chance to be the Codemaster. If I stick to a two team format with nine players, the opportunity to be Codemaster can be rather slim depending on how many games we end up playing. In a three team format with nine players, the odds to be codemaster improve substantially.
2. Quicker Games. While I like the normal length of a Codenames game, some of less passionate board gaming friends comment that the length of a Codenames game can run a bit long. The three team format leads to faster games as everyone incorrect guess pushes another team closer to victory instead of just hitting an innocent bystander. Ultimately, faster games means the other players are happier with the game, which usually leads to playing more Codenames.
3. Epic Finishes. This past weekend we had a three team format of Codenames go down to the wire. Every team had one card left to guess and the assassin. This meant that whatever card the current team guessed would basically decide the game. Everyone was on pins and needles-a crazy mixture of glee, excitement, fear, and anticipation, all rolled into one. These same emotions exist in the two team format as well, but the outcome is binary. In this particular instance, adding a third team/dimension to the game provided a very unique experience.