Codenames: Pictures is better than the original

Codenames: Pictures card game

A new and improved Codenames is among us.

When I first heard a new version of Codenames was being published using pictures, I thought it sounded ridiculous.

After all, how could Czech Games Edition improve upon the original Codenames?

Codenames became an almost instant hit with our family when we got it. It quickly achieved a place among our Family Favorite Board Games.

There’s a reason we included it in our 2015 Board Game Gift Guide.

We love the challenge of giving, as well as understanding, one-word clues to guess multiple cards on the table.

One of the best parts of the game is not being able to use any of the words on the cards as a clue.

So when we heard that in Codenames: Pictures players could use direct word clues of what’s in the picture, we thought that sounded crazy – like it defeated the purpose and challenge of the game.

Boy, am I glad we were wrong!

Because we’ve found that we actually like Codenames: Pictures more than the original!


How to play Codenames: Pictures

Codenames: Pictures card game

There are a ton of double-sided picture cards in Codenames: Pictures for plenty of fun.

If you’re already familiar with Codenames, you can easily jump straight into Codenames: Pictures. There are only a couple differences that you’ll pick up rather quickly.

If you’re not yet familiar with the original Codenames, you can take a look at Brooke’s video review as well as our written review of Codenames.

The objective in Codenames: Pictures is to be the team who finds all their agents first.

Players divide into 2 teams and select one of their team members to be the spymaster. Both spymasters sit on one side of the table and the rest of their team members sit on the other.

Picture cards are placed on the table in a 5 x 4 grid and the spymasters draw 1 code card that will show where their agents are located in relation to the grid.

On the sides of the code card is a color indicator – either red or blue. This determines which team will play first. The team who goes first will have 8 agents to find and the team who goes second will have 7 agents.

Codenames: Pictures card game

The grid is set. The spymasters know their agents. It’s time to play.

On a team’s turn, their spymaster can only give a 1-word clue to help their teammates find one or more of their agents. After giving the 1-word clue, they will state a number. The number refers to how many picture cards relate to the clue.

For example, if a spymaster says “Construction, 3” it means that there are 3 cards that relate to the clue “Construction”.

The spymaster can’t give any other clues, sounds, or visual motions to assist their team.

The team members then discuss which cards the spymaster might be referring to. Once they think they know a picture card of their agent, they touch the card.

The spymaster, without speaking, places a blue agent, red agent, innocent bystander, or assassin board over the selected card.

If the card is one of their own team’s agents, they may select another card. As long as they keep guessing correctly, they can select up to 1 more than the number specified by the spymaster in the clue.

If the picture card was the opponent’s agent or an innocent bystander, their turn is over and play goes to the other team.

If the picture card is the assassin, the team who touched that card loses.

A team can also choose to stop guessing even after getting a card correct.

Play continues back and forth between teams until one team has either found all their agents (win) or has mistakenly uncovered the assassin (lose).

Codenames: Pictures card game

The blue team takes the lead (so far).


The differences between Codenames and Codenames: Pictures

The most obvious difference is right in the title of the game – Pictures.

In the original game, the cards are all words. Players try to get their team to guess different words from the 1-word clues.

Codenames: Pictures replaces the words with pictures.

But these aren’t just any pictures. These are wacky, crazy pictures!

And to use a Shrek reference, that means they also have multiple layers.

Each picture stirs up many different thoughts. And because of that, the possibilities are endless!

With the original game, there are only so many things you can conjure up when you see the word “leaf” for example. But a picture of a leaf in Codenames: Pictures is anything but simple. Mostly because there will be something combined with the leaf. So immediately minds will wander to other possible uses of the image.

When playing Codenames: Pictures, we’re able to be more creative in our clue giving as well as finding more combinations of cards that tie to our clues. And we love that!

The other difference is that the gird of cards is one row less. Instead of the 5 x 5 grid in the original, Codenames: Pictures uses a 5 x 4 grid.

This reduction also helps the game play faster because there are less cards to focus on when both giving and receiving clues. Which in turn means we can play more games in the same amount of time.

Codenames: Pictures card game

A bottle as a cannon? Chess pieces with a mallet?


Can the whole family enjoy playing Codenames: Pictures?


No longer are players limited by having to be able to read the cards. Now everyone in the family can play!

Not only does this make the game great for younger players (who have creative imaginations already), but it also makes the game mostly language-independent so you can play with a wide range of players.

Everyone we’ve played Codenames: Pictures with has loved it – young and old alike.

(We know the box says ages 10+, but you can ignore that.)

And no one wants to stop with just one play.

Everyone wants to take their turn as the spymaster.

We’ve found this to be another reason why we’ve enjoyed Codenames: Pictures more than the original. When playing with word cards, some players have been reluctant to be the spymaster. They find it particularly challenging to come up with 1-word clues that tie multiple cards together. So much so that they always opt out of being the spymaster.

But no one holds back being the spymaster with Codenames: Pictures.

Everyone wants a shot at it (repeatedly).

Perhaps it’s because Codenames: Pictures triggers different parts of the brain. Not everyone is comfortable with word games. But put a picture in front of them and ideas will flow.

We still love the original Codenames and will play it with certain groups of friends and family.

Codenames: Pictures we’ll pull out and play with everyone.

Codenames: Pictures card game

Even with the same pictures, a different agent layout will create a different outcome.


How does Codenames: Pictures score on our “Let’s Play Again” game meter?

Codenames: Pictures card gameIf you haven’t guess yet, Codenames: Pictures scores very high on our “let’s play again” game meter.

There’s simply no stopping after just one play.

For starters, since the pictures cards are double-sided, setting up the next game is as simple as flipping over the cards, selecting the new spymasters, and secretly drawing a new code card.

Plus, the double-sided nature of the cards means there are a ton of pictures!

With a random bunch of 20 cards in the grid each game, the combinations are endless.

Games also move along quickly. They don’t take long to play at all.

But the biggest reason it scores so high, is simply because it’s a blast to play!

The first time we played Codenames: Pictures we played 6 games straight!

And there’s plenty more to come.

We definitely recommend picking up a copy of Codenames: Pictures for your family!

We’d like to thank Czech Games Edition for a copy of Codenames: Pictures for review. 



Comments: 1

Leave a reply »


We played this game for the first time this Christmas. It was a good game that the whole family could understand and play together easily. Thanks for the review!




Leave a Reply

(will not be published)