Codenames: Disney Family Edition is as the name suggests a branded version of the smash hit word linking and deduction game Codenames. Designed by Vlaada Chvátil, this version brings the wonderful characters of iconic Disney and Pixar films into play. Seeing the likes of Donald Duck and Dumbo popping up, 2 – 8 players can play as part of two teams. However, while players will have to push their luck when guessing, has publisher USAopoly pushed too far to make Disney work? Let’s find out!
As with the other versions of Codenames, by default players start by making a 5×5 grid of cards. In Codenames: Disney Family Edition players get to choose which side to use – as on one side there are words, while there are pictures on the reverse. This grid is made up of 9 cards for that starting team, 8 for the opposing team, 7 neutral cards and one game over card which will instantly lose the team the game if guess.
After teams are formed each nominates a cluemaster whom will be allowed to see the key card. This lets the cluemaster know which of the cards in front of them they need to get their team to guess, and almost more importantly which card to avoid at all costs! Starting with the team with more cards to guess, on a turn the team’s cluemaster gives a single word clue with a single number. For example, “Andy: 2” could be the perfect clue for Woody and Hamm from Toy Story, unless Buzz is one of the other team’s words.
From the clue the team guesses individual cards, one at a time, up to the number given from the cluemaster plus one, interpreting the clue as they wish. This plus one is extremely important to allow teams to guess words from old clues, as if during guesses you choose a neutral card or an opponent’s the turn is over no matter what. As a reminder to all players, no matter if it is a team or neutral card, when guessed a card cover of associated colour is placed over the card. Hopefully it is one of your team’s colour – as that’ll mean you successfully guessed a word, and can continue guessing up to the number plus one limit.
Teams take it in turns, though the cluemaster must stay the same player throughout the game – so it is best to make sure the clue giver is comfortable with the role. The cluemaster can choose to give as obvious or vague clues as they wish, with minor restrictions such as not being able to say root words. Numbers-wise it is also up to the cluemaster, they can choose to give clues for individual cards, though a team that can link multiple cards together correctly will often triumph. The first team to have all of their cards covered wins, regardless of if they guessed the final card or the other team helped them out.
The majority of players have found the picture side easier than the words to link, as it is within the rules to give clues based on the images not just the characters, places or objects in them. Featuring images from Disney and Pixar films there is a great range for the game to draw from. There just aren’t many games where you’d find Hopper from Bug’s Life, Aladdin, the Cheshire Cat, Cruella De Vil and Tinker Bell all in a row next to each other! While some players may not have seen all the films, most characters are iconic enough to at least be guessable by all levels of fans.
As well as being able to choose between words and pictures, there is also the option for a more family friendly version of the game. This features a 4×4 grid, reducing the total card pool by 9 and this version does not have a game over card – though this does reduce the tension of the game. This can be used either with younger players or for shortening the game length. While it’s rare for a game to go longer than 10 – 15 minutes with the full 5×5 grid, so shortening isn’t normally necessary, it can be good for a learning game – to get everyone in the right mindset for the types of clues made.
While the rulebook suggests that you can combine Codenames: Disney Family Edition with other versions of the franchise it isn’t an exact fit – at least with the original word version or Codenames Duet. While these versions use rectangular cards the Disney edition uses square cards. Thus, making a 5×5 grid out of a combination of cards sets becomes an awkward mixture to look at on the table. Technically it works and with the other branded version (Marvel & Harry Potter) or with Codenames Pictures combining may work perfectly, though I am unable to test this.
This is the sort of game that some non-gamers will see on a shelf and be actively drawn to, due entirely to the Disney logo on the box. This isn’t a bad thing as it could allow more people to get involved and feel comfortable playing the game, whom otherwise wouldn’t have been encouraged to join in. This and the fact the core gameplay of the series is there as strong as ever is enough for me to keep playing the game. This is without the brilliant decision to include both words and pictures – something the original could have benefited from. While I lose nigh on every game I’d still recommend the fun experience – the sign of a great party game where fun isn’t simply tied to winning.
[Editor’s Note: Codenames: Disney Family Edition was provided to us by USAopoly for the review.]