Codenames, released in 2015 by publisher Czech Games Edition, is a card game that involves guessing which codenames (words or pictures) are related to a hint given by another player on your team. In our case, two teams of two competed against each other by each having a ‘spymaster’ give one word clues to their ‘field operative’ that can point to multiple words on the board. Codenames has a mystery themed element involved as well as a role playing theme as one team member from both teams assumes the role of spymaster. This spymaster has more information and knowledge of how to win the game than their teammate who takes the role of ‘field operative’. The field operative is required to make guesses as to which codename (word/picture card) the spymaster is referring to. This is the process of direct asymmetry in which different players take different roles throughout the game experience.
When learning to play the game, our group of four initially struggled to understand the mechanics of the game. The instructions didn’t offer much as to how the game was intended to be played and how to eventually win. We felt overwhelmed with the amount of different cards in the game. There was over 200 different word cards, 15 red or blue agent cards and one assassin card and around 100 different key cards. Eventually the game was set up to look like a picture used in the instruction booklet and the spymasters and field operatives sat opposed to each other on the table.
We decided to begin the game without fully understanding the mechanics, while still referring to the instruction booklet when required to do so. This proved to be effective as the role of the spymaster and field operatives became clear and the function of the game’s many different cards became clear. Throughout our first play through, while we were still getting our head’s around the gameplay, the spymaster for both teams were typically only giving clues to one codename at a time, tentatively trying to work through the game and not taking many risks with their clues. However, as we completed more and more rounds of the game, the spymaster’s became adept at issuing clues to their field operatives which could potentially be related to 3 or more codenames. The design of the game intended for this to happen and many of the codenames could be construed and interpreted in such ways so that they could relate to each other. Field operatives also became more risky with their choices of codenames and a certain element of guessing began to rise. This high risk element was effective and made the game more enjoyable the longer each round went on. The game also had a wide variety of keys and different codenames so that each round felt different than the last, effectively maintaining a unique game every single round.
Sheriff of Nottingham
Sheriff of Nottingham published in 2014 by Arcane Wonders, is a card game in which players, in the role of merchants, have the opportunity to sell goods such as bread, chickens and apples at a market from their merchant stand. However, merchants are also able to take contraband items to their merchant stands, provided they are able to get it past the watchful eyes of the sheriff. Like codenames, Sheriff of Nottingham is a card game that involves direct asymmetry as each round, one player assumes the role of sheriff and has the ability to inspect, be bribed or confiscate illegal goods for themselves. Sheriff of Nottingham has a historical theme which transports the players back to medieval time where Merchants sell goods, but also contraband such as silk, mead and weaponry under the noses of the law. Sheriff of Nottingham can also be considered economically themed as players acquire goods and contraband cards with certain gold amounts embedded on the cards. Players are also given 50 gold to begin the game with and the winner of the game is decided by how much gold they have acquired as well as the value of the cards in their merchant stand.
To begin Sheriff of Nottingham, each of the four players on our table received a merchant stand, merchant mag and 50 gold. These game pieces helped to immerse us into the experience of being a merchant and helped us in understanding the mechanics. When learning the game, the instruction booklet organised the game into five different phases. Breaking the game down into these different sections allowed us first time players to fully understand each phase before moving on to the next.
Sheriff of Nottingham does a successful job of allowing the player to act as a merchant and by putting the goods cards locked away in the merchant bag, effectively adds an element of mystery to the overall experience. Adding in the ability for each player to become Sheriff twice throughout the game, also added variety for the players as they assume a different role for that particular round. Sheriff of Nottingham also contains an element of bluffing and bribing. As we played through, we were able to strategise much better than we first started and began to pick up clues about the contents of opposing player’s merchant bags. For example, I began to learn that if someone was willing to bribe the sheriff with gold as well as illegal contraband, they would be likely to have contraband in their merchant bags. However, as a notoriously bad bluffer, this game didn’t appeal to that side of me. It seemed that by the end of the game, the sheriff was searching every bag and there was no thoughtful strategy behind any move.