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: Verbal cooperative party game

AUDIENCE: For adults and children 14+



  • Players: 4 to 8
  • Objective: Work together to contact all of your agents before the other team
  • Age range: 14+

The objective of codenames is to correctly guess all of your teams’ code words on the board before the other team does and without guessing the assassin. This is possible because your Spymaster will give you a one-word clue and a number.

Using this information and similar clues throughout the game your team will try to interpret the spymaster’s clue and guess each code word.


The game needs the players to split into two even teams and each team will sit on one side of the table. One team claiming the blue agent cards and one team claiming the red agent cards.

codenames, teams, spymasters

Each team should then appoint a spymaster, they will be the clue giver for the game.

The spymasters then should shuffle and deal out 25 codename cards and arrange them in a 5X5 square. Then shuffle and draw a key card that needs to be kept secret from everyone but the spymasters.

Codenames, card layout, grid

This will be the key to which clues belong to which team, with the blue squares belonging to the blue team, red squares belonging to the red team, white squares being civilians, and the black square being the assassin.

Codenames, team red, team blue, assassin, civilian, card types


The game begins once the cards are laid out and the spymasters are ready with their first clues. The starting team is indicated on the keycard by the color that runs along the border.

This team will also take the double agent tile because they will have one more card to guess. The first spymaster will start the game by giving their team the first one-word clue.

Giving Clues

Clues are only given by the spymasters and these clues are the only time during the game that a spymaster should talk. The spymaster should make a point to not give away any additional information, even nonverbal information. It is best to not make eye contact and keep your facial expressions to a minimum.

Clues consist of one word and a 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.” The words your spymaster uses for clues cannot be any of the words visible in the grid either.

Making a Guess

The next part of the game is guessing the cards that go along with your spymaster’s clues. All other teammates may discuss on 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. No changes can be made once a card has been touched.

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.

If your team incorrectly guesses a clue a few things can happen. If a civilian is guessed the spymaster will cover that card with a civilian tile.

When your team guesses one of the other team’s clues then their spymaster will cover that clue with one of their clues, but if your team guesses the assassin then the game is automatically over, and your team loses.

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

Additional Rules

There 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 must 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 can end a couple of ways. Either team can win by having all of their team’s clues covered before the other team, or the opposing team wins if your team ever guesses the assassin.

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?

After teams are slipt and spymasters are decided, the board is set up. It consists of 25 cards in a 5×5 grid.

What happens when you choose an innocent bystander?

If your field operatives choose a word that is an innocent bystander your team’s turn to guess ends immediately.

Are you allowed to talk during Codenames?

The team members guessing may discuss among themselves but the spymaster is not allowed to talk.

Are proper nouns allowed in Codenames?

Proper nouns are allowed, but it is up to the group to decide if proper nouns containing multiple words are allowed. Like the name, Daniel is allowed, but it is up to your group if you would allow Daniel Radcliffe to count as a single clue.

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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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