codenames game rules, codenames rules

OBJECTIVE OF CODENAMES: To be the team to guess all their clue first.


MATERIALS: 8 Blue and 8 red agent cards, one double agent card that is blue and red, 1 assassin card that is black, 7 civilian cards that are white, double-sided codename cards and key cards.

TYPE OF GAME: Card game

AUDIENCE: For adults and children 14+


This post contains some partner links for various products.

CGE Czech Games Edition Codenames Boardgame
  • Work together to contact all of your agents before the other team
  • A perfect party game experience for game nights
  • 2-8+ player (in two teams)

Codenames is a fun card game you can play with up to 8 players. If you love word games and want to feel like a secret agent then this is the perfect game for you. Codenames will test your communication skills to the max. Let’s learn the rules of this thrilling game together!


As we mentioned, you can play Codenames with up to eight players. Gather your friends and get ready to play. You also need a codenames game set which comes with over 400 Codename cards. Otherwise, you can play on an app or online, which generates cards for you.


Your group will need to split up into teams: the red team and the blue team. If you have an odd number of players, try to split the teams into teams matching skill and size. For example, if there are five players, have one team of three and one team of two. Put players with more experience in the smaller team to make it more balanced.

Each team should then appoint a spymaster. They will be the clue giver for the game. The two spymasters will sit next to each other on one side of a table, with their teammates sitting together across from them. 

The spymasters then should shuffle and deal out 25 codename cards and arrange them in a 5X5 grid. 



The spymasters can now shuffle the key cards deck and choose one randomly to place on their key card stand. Only the spymasters can look at this key card. This will be the key to which clues belong to which team. 

  • Blue squares are the words the blue team needs to guess.
  • Red squares are the words the red team needs to guess.
  • White squares are civilians.
  • Black square is the Assassin.

Nobody should try to guess the Assassin!


You can now deal out the rest of the cards. There are 8 red agent cards, 8 blue agent cards, 7 civilian cards, one double agent card, and one assassin card. 

Place the stack of agent cards in front of their respective spymasters. Then, set the civilian cards and the assassin card in the middle of those stacks, where both spymasters can reach them. The double agent card goes to whichever team goes first.


Once you have everything set up, you are ready to get started! The Key card will have a red or blue border, which indicates which team will go first. The team who goes first will have nine words to guess, while the other will have eight. This is why the double agent card goes to the team who goes first. The first spymaster will start the game by giving their team the first one-word clue.

Giving Clues

In Codenames, only spymasters can give clues, and those clues are the only time during the game that a spymaster should talk. A spymaster can only say one word for the clue. For example, They cannot say anything additional like, “Well, this clue is sort of…, or this is related to…” The spymaster should make a point not to give away any additional information, even nonverbal information. It is best not to make eye contact and keep your facial expressions to a minimum

Clues consist of one word and one number. The word is what the clue is and should focus on the cards that belong to your team, while the number is for how many cards this clue alludes to. The number is used only for the spymaster to tell the guessers how many code words his clue refers to and can not also be a part of the clue.

Codenames, clue, word, number, gameplay

For example, if two of your clues are sea animals like whale and dolphin, a spymaster might say “sea, 2”, but you can not use the number as part of your clue, so if trying to get your teammates to guess lemon and octopus you can not say “sour, eight.” You can use numbers as the clue, but the second number should still be the number of cards. So you could say “eight, two” to get your teammates to guess octopus and figure.

The words your spymaster uses for clues cannot be any of the words visible in the grid either. For example, you could not say “key” for “turkey.”

Making a Guess

The next part of Codenames is guessing the cards that go along with your spymaster’s clues. All other teammates may discuss what they think the clue could mean. Once they have their guesses, they may start locking them in, and this happens when a teammate touches a card. You can’t change your guess once you’ve touched a card. There are four possible outcomes when making a guess.

  • If your teammate touches a correct word, you place one of your agent cards on the word. They may guess again.
  • If your teammate touches a civilian word, place a civilian card on that word, and the turn is over.
  • If your teammate touches a word belonging to the other team, their spymaster covers the word with their agent card, and your turn ends. This helps out your opponents.
  • If your teammate touches the assassin card, place the assassin card on that word, and the game is over. Your team loses.

You are allowed to guess one more than the number your spymaster gave you. So if they said “sea,2,” you are allowed to guess up to three times. Remember that you have to guess at least once, but you are allowed to stop guessing and pass after your first guess if you are unsure.

Codenames, grid, card choice, picking, red team,

Additional Rules

There are a few official rules about words you can use for clues, but any other words not falling into these categories are up for the spymasters’ decisions.

The official rules include: 

  • A clue must be about the meaning of the words and not allude to letters in the word or the position on the table. 
  • Letters and numbers are valid clues, but only if they refer to the meaning of the words; the number after the clue cannot be part of the clue. 
  • You must play in English.
  • You can’t say words visible on the table. 
  • You can’t say parts of compound words on the table.


The game ends when one team has covered all of their words correctly. They are the winners. 

Remember that the other team can guess your last word. This still counts as a win for your team.

The game also ends if one team guesses the assassin. The opposing team is the winner. If you love Codenames, try out Codename Pictures!


There are quite a few different versions of codenames out there. Here are a few of the top choices:


How do you set up the Codenames board game?

First, you need to choose teams and spymasters, after this, you can set up the board. Setup 25 cards in a 5×5 grid.

What happens when you choose an innocent bystander?

If your teammates point to a word that is an innocent bystander, your team’s turn to guess ends immediately.

Are you allowed to talk during Codenames?

The spymaster can only say one word as a clue. The spymasters teammates can discuss the word among themselves.

Is Codenames a Two-Player Game?

For a standard game, you need at least four players (two teams of two). Some variations allow for fewer players, where one person is the spymaster.

Alan Lemus
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16 thoughts on “CODENAMES RULES”

  1. Just a couple of questions to verify a situation because we couldn’t get a clear understanding of a couple of issues on the instructions. (Maybe it’s in there but we couldn’t find it.)

    Re double agent (DA)
    1) does the DA card have to be played “after” all other cards have been placed on the board/grid or can it be utilized at any time during play of that particular game?
    ie: the blue team (who happens to possess the DA card, and their field operative selects a “red” spyname in error, can they place the “double agent” card on that incorrect color spy and unload that card? To me that would make sense, hence being a “double agent, right?

    • Hi Marjie, So the double agent card is just an additional agent for the team and doesn’t have any special abilities. If you count the number of tiles each team has to guess for each card then you’ll find the starting team always has an additional space they must guess, hence the extra agent that can be either color. when your team has the extra agent, it is always of your color and used only to cover your correct guesses. I hope this helps.

  2. Great explanation!
    I am still confused about a couple of things:
    1) How is a team able to guess 1 more time than the number the spymaster gives?

    [Copied and pasted from above]
    When guessing you must guess at least once, but after one guess you may decide to stop guessing at any time. You may only guess the number of times equal to one more than the number your spymaster gave you. Guessing ends for your team when you guess all your clues and win the game, guess the max number you are allowed this turn, make a wrong guess, or when every team member decides to pass. Does incorrectly guessing your teams own clue not end your turn?

    2) When an operative makes an incorrect guess, that clue card then covered … If it is covered by the other teams card, does it give them another “point or word” if it was the opposing teams clue OR if it’s an innocent bystander card, get covered, now making this clue card out of play?
    Thanks for your input! 😎

    • Hi Wendy, when guessing the captain will give a clue, for example, let’s say the clue was “food, 2”. This means the captain sees at least two clues that reflect food in some way. When a team guesses they may guess up to three times in this case, as long s they do not guess incorrectly. If they correctly guess two of their cards then they may either blindly guess on the last one or try to guess a card based on a previous clue maybe they had not completed. This is not required though and players may choose to pass at any time. I hope this helps!

    • Hi Ray, you would use 0 to indicate that none of your words relate to the clue. It’s a great way to assure your team won’t pick the assassin if you fear they might because of a previous clue.

  3. someone mentioned to me that you can use two words together if they are a proper name (digital version) such as “StephenKing” is this true or must it be one word only in all cases.
    thank you

    • Hi Rena, Per the rules, this is not allowed. You may use proper nouns, but they must still only be one word. So, you could say Stephen, or King but not both. I hope this helps.

  4. If there are 3 cards that can refer to “fruit” (2 belonging to your team and 1 innocent bystander) can you say fruit 3 or are you limited to only referencing the 2 cards that belong to your team?

    • Hi Davina, you could say fruit 3 but you would not want to do this as it would signify to your team that you want them to pick all three fruits even though one of the cards would not be yours. This may leave players confused going forward as well. I hope this helps.

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