Welcome to the Order of the Phoenix. Dark and difficult times lie ahead and with Codenames: Harry Potter, from USAopoly, it’s your job to complete a mission for the Order without getting caught by Death Eaters.
The co-op game is for two or more players, ages 11 and up. The rules are a little confusing at first so it may be difficult for younger kids to play, but it’s the type of game that gets easier to understand as you’re physically playing it. Don’t get discouraged with the 13 pages of instructions — push through to the mischief you’re about to manage. Besides, it does not do well to dwell on instructions and forget to live.
The cards are so specific to Harry Potter that you really have to know your stuff to play properly, which is perfect for hardcore Potterheads. You and your teammates are members of the Order of the Phoenix and Death Eaters are hunting you down as you try to inform your teammates where the other members of the Order are. Just like in the books, you need to be discreet in order to contact your fellow Order members, which means that you can only give clues using one word and one number to get your teammates to choose the correct cards.
To play, you and your partner (or teams of partners) sit on opposite sides of a table, but even though you are taking turns, you are all working together to complete the mission. Arrange 25 code cards at random into a five-by-five grid. Each code card is double-sided, with a Harry Potter-related word on one side and a corresponding image from the movies on the other side. For example, one card says “Animagus” on one side and shows a photo of Peter Pettigrew on the other. You can play with only words facing upwards, only photos facing upwards, or a mixture of both photos and words (recommended).
Each game uses a double-sided key card, which shows a grid with spaces marked gray, red, or black. The red spaces represent members of the Order of the Phoenix that you are trying to contact and the black spaces represent Death Eaters. You want to give clues to make your teammates guess all of the red cards (members of the Order) while avoiding the black cards (Death Eaters) at all costs. As Dumbledore taught us, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities,” so take your time to consider the whole board both when giving and guessing the clues, and choose wisely.
The clue word you give is supposed to tie as many red cards together as possible because you only have a limited number of turns (you receive a time turner token with each turn, and there are only 12 tokens total, which means you must guess all the red spaces in only 12 turns). You cannot use any of the words that are on the board/grid as clues. For example, if it is your turn and you have red cards that say “Animagus,” “Marauder’s Map,” and “Sirius Black,” you can say the clue: “Padfoot three.” The other players have to find three cards that relate to the word, “Padfoot,” and if they know their stuff, they will choose the correct cards. But since there is an entire grid of 25 cards on the table, there may be other cards that interfere with the clues or throw them off.
That’s also where the black spaces/Death Eaters on the key card comes in, because if the other player chooses a card that corresponds to a Death Eater on your key card, it means that your partner went down Knockturn Alley looking for a member of the Order, but got caught by the Death Eaters instead and the game is over. You probably got Avada Kedavra-ed by that snake Lucius Malfoy or Cruciatus-ed by that biotch Bellatrix. So, you must make sure that any of the clues you are giving cannot be misinterpreted as one of those cards. For example, if one of your red spaces is a card that says “Kreacher” but one of your black spaces is a card that says “House Elf,” you can see how this complicates things.
Codenames is basically a guessing game, but with a lot of strategy involved because it requires players to get very creative with their one-word clues. And it’s all very in tune with the Harry Potter universe, with cards that feature characters, locations, objects, and even obscure spell names from the books and movies. The rules are very involved and it may take a few tries before everyone understands, but there are also ways to make it a little easier, like using the photo side of the card instead of the word because then you can interpret the images in more ways. For example, the “transfigure” card has an image of Harry and Ron in their transfiguration class on the other side. If you were to use the clue “Harry,” your partner might guess the card since Our Boy Who Lived is pictured on it, but they probably wouldn’t guess the “transfigure” word side of the card from the same clue.
I was a little apprehensive about the game at first because of how confusing the instructions are, but I started to really enjoy it after playing a few times. Gameplay lasts about 15 to 20 minutes, so the game is fairly fast paced. It’s fun to play multiple rounds in a row so that you can try your hand at a fresh round of cards. Since the 25 cards are dealt at random, some rounds will work more in your favor than others but that’s part of the fun. There are 200 code cards and 100 key cards, giving the game tons of replay value. All in all, once you get the hang of it, it really sucks you into the magical world of Harry Potter and there’s no where else I’d rather be.