Codenames: Pictures is an offshoot of the original Codenames. In fact, it serves as the basis for as many Codenames spin-offs as the original (the Disney and Marvel versions).
But is it as good?
You can find my review of the original here; the core gameplay is unchanged. There’s still two teams, each with a codemaster who associates as many things of their color as possible with a clue and hopes their team makes the same connection. The main difference, as the title should give away, is that now it’s done with pictures rather than words.
Before playing, there may be a trap of thinking that this is a dumbed-down version of the game. After all, picture books are considered to be at a lower level than purely text books (though numerous comic series put the lie to that idea, but that’s a story for another time). Figuring out what associations your team will make, however, is the name of the game, and the pictures here do not make that easy. Each tile has multiple elements that could be drawn on for clues. Thus, the codemaster has to work around misunderstandings that could lead their team to the wrong tiles, and also ones that could lead them to disregard the correct tiles because they’re focused on the wrong parts of those tiles.
In short, the pictures work out very well as association devices. The game is about equally challenging for both codemasters and players, but in a different way that refreshes the experience.
If there’s a problem with the game, it’s the way the board is set up. Instead of a 5×5 grid like the original, Pictures uses a 4×5. This does not come with a commensurate reduction in spies per team; instead, there are far fewer neutral tiles. The result is a slightly quicker, but swingier game. If you get something wrong, you’re much more likely to hand your opponents a freebie. Combined with the slightly fewer spies per team needed to win, and any error is now far more likely to push your opponents ahead. Codemasters are thus incentivized to be a little more conservative with how many clues they tell their team, which… it’s not bad, per se, but the threat of losing your turn (and potentially hitting the assassin) already leads teams to not go crazy with the number of clues they go for on a given turn.
Given the quality of Codenames in general, I’m assuming they started with a 5×5 grid and determined 4×5 made more sense for some reason. Maybe their playtesters liked the potential swings. Maybe players disliked neutrals in general—they’d rather the game move towards a conclusion with each guess more often. I don’t know. The change probably won’t matter to most people. This is a purely personal gripe with the game, but this is my space, so I’m going to make it
Even with that, though, it’s still good. Go play it.
Score: 8/10 (wouldn’t make sense to have an extra gripe and score it higher, would it?)