Codenames: Marvel and Disney Family Edition (Boardgame)

The party deduction game, Codenames, continues to be wildly popular: spinning off a Pictures version, a two-player Duet version, and now USAopoly has licensed to to create a Marvel and a Disney Family edition. Rather than giving clues and guessing words, the new editions come with cards containing full color art of the two different themes. While Marvel serves as a fun version for fans of the comics and movies, the Disney Family Edition makes the game even more accessible to the younger set and is worth a look for families of even younger grade school children.


Codenames: Disney Family and Codenames: Marvel
Designer: Vlaada Chvátil
Publisher: USAopoly
Players: 2-8
Ages: 8+
Time: 15 minutes
(review copy provided by publisher)

In standard Codenames, a 5×5 grid of word cards are placed out on the table. Two teams are created, and each team designates one spymaster who will be the clue giver. Each team has ownership of some of the cards on the table and only the two spymasters know which are which. A spymaster must communicate with their team using one word clues to help them identify their team’s cards while avoiding their opponents. The two spymasters take turns giving clues of one word, followed by a number representing the number of cards that the spymaster thinks match that clue. The team then points out the card or cards on the table they think match that clue. Each card selected reveals who owns that card (it could be theirs, the opponents, or neither.) If a team guesses correctly, they get to take another turn. However, there is also a hidden assassin card on the table. Any team picking that card will lose the game instantly. This means it is important to give good clues about one’s own cards but also make sure you aren’t giving clues for the opponents’ cards.

The basic Codenames using one-word cards won many awards and was soon followed up with Codenames: Pictures, a version using only black and white, slightly oddball pictures. Recently, Codenames: Duet was released. It is a two-player cooperative version where each player plays the role of clue giver and guesser. Now, USAopoly has taken the Codenames: Pictures idea and created two new versions with brightly colored art based on the Disney franchise (or Marvel universe) on one side of the cards, and words describing the picture on the other. Some examples: “Cogsworth” on one side and his picture on the other. “Love” on one side and an image of Snow White and Prince Charming on the other. A picture of a white bridge over a pond on one side and “Bridge” on the other. This lets players choose which style game they want to play (words or images) depending on mood and/or player ages.


Codenames: Marvel caters to fans primarily through the images on the cards. They have your typical assortment of heroes and villains, but also include images like Thor’s Hammer and close-ups of things like Iron Man’s repulsor ray hands or Hulk’s hand crushing together some iron arrows. In addition to the standard color themes (red and blue) the two teams are represented by icons for Hydra and SHIELD and the “assassin” card is represented by a picture of Thanos. While knowledge of the Marvel universe is helpful, players should be able to get by without it when playing with the picture side up. However, having at least some knowledge is helpful when playing using the word sides up. One clue is “Chitauri” for example – not an easy one to guess (if you didn’t already know they were a race of shapeshifters.)

Codenames: Disney Family is similar, having pictures on one side and words on the other. What makes this version unique is the addition of a set of “simpler” setup cards that use a grid of 4×4 cards instead of 5×5. The “assassin” card is also removed. While it does make it a little harder to give multiple-card clues, it greatly reduces errors and eliminating the assassin avoids any strife caused by a single missed guess. While I’m a bit ambivalent to the theme, the opportunity to play with words or pictures and the option of a “smaller, friendlier” game makes Disney my favorite one of the series (behind Codenames: Duet – only because I like to play two-player games.)


Codenames is a fun deduction game with easy to learn rules. A lot depends on the quality of the spymaster, but it is fun even in defeat. I highly recommend it to just about anyone. While the original demands a bit of knowledge (best with kids 11+), the two new editions: Marvel and Disney Family make it more accessible to the younger set. Marvel is best left to players who really have an interest in the theme while Disney Family is accessible to anyone. Gamers unfamiliar with the Disney movies (and books) can still perform reasonably well using the picture sides (good luck getting “Cogsworth” if all you have to go on is the word.) So, Codenames for adults (or Codenames: Duet for two players) with Codenames: Disney a great choice for kids or a mix of grown-ups and kids.


Kid Factor
All versions of Codenames (well, except for one called “Deep Undercover”) are family-friendly. Playing with the picture side up even avoids the need to be able to read. While the clues and guesses might be simpler when playing with young kids, the game remains just as fun. The Disney version is pretty much harmless (aside from possibly encouraging your kids to demand to see any of the movies they have not yet seen.) The Marvel edition has lots of action shots of superheroes jumping around and punching things, but it stays very much on the kid-friendly side of the comic book asile. Bonus points for Codenames: Disney and the set of “easier” clue cards. Playing in a 4×4 grid with no “assassin” card makes a much easier (and shorter) game suitable for the youngest ages. The games also include ways to modify the game to play with two players (try to guess the cards using a minimum of clues) or as a cooperative team if one wants to avoid direct competition entirely.

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