CrossTalk vs. Codenames

CrossTalk vs Codenames

When I first played Codenames, I wasn’t that keen.  I played it with a bunch of hard-core gamers and the downtime was excruciating.  I liked the idea of it, but there didn’t seem to be enough of the interesting clue-giving and guessing for the amount of time invested.

Despite this rather lacklustre first play, all kinds of groups kept suggesting we play it.  It was new and played a large number of people in a relatively short span of time so I can see why it kept getting played.

The more I played it, the more I liked it though.  It also seemed to work much better with some groups than others.  I started playing it with my family and they loved it!  It rapidly became my go-to party game for those times when you want something more calm and thoughtful.  At least it was… until CrossTalk arrived.


I backed CrossTalk on Kickstarter and it arrived earlier this week.  People can’t get enough of it.  It feels quite similar to Codenames, with one significant difference: it drastically reduces the downtime.

In case you’re not familiar with either of these games, let me briefly explain how they work and, crucially, how they differ.

Both games have players competing against each other in two teams.  Both games have a clue-giver on each team who has to communicate an idea to the other members of their team using only a single word.

In Codenames though, the code-giver is trying to link their clue word to a limited number of words within a much larger grid of words visible to all players.  Teams take it in turns to guess which words on the table link correctly to the clue word being given each time.

The first team to correctly guess all the required words wins.  However, the clue-giver has to be very careful.  Not only can their team accidentally guess one of the other team’s words (thus helping them), they can also inadvertently guess an ‘assassin’ word, which causes them to immediately lose the game.

Codenames is the number 1 party game on BoardGameGeek.

Trying to think of good clues and trying to puzzle out what the clue-giver is trying to say are both really interesting activities.  Codenames has been very successful – it is the number 1 party game on BoardGameGeek – and for good reason.  People enjoy it.

That downtime still exists though.  When one of the clue-givers is trying to think of a clue (particularly the one for the other team), there’s very little that you can do.  Having a group that aren’t trying to maximise every single clue helps (don’t play it with serious gamers!), but the downtime is still there.

In CrossTalk, there is only one word or phrase that the clue-givers have to communicate, and both teams are trying to guess exactly the same one.  It’s a race to see which team can guess it first.  However, teams can’t just call out guesses whenever they want; there’s a strict order to it.

First of all, each clue-giver gives their team a private clue (all the clues are written on mini-whiteboards).  Then the two clue-givers take it in turns to write a public clue on the board in the middle.

Clever linking of the public clues with the private clue is critical.

The twist is that after your clue-giver has written a clue, the other team gets to make a guess.  So the clue-givers have to be very cagey with their public clues.  If it’s too obvious, the other team will win immediately.  Clever linking of the public clues with the private clue is critical.

There’s one more aspect of CrossTalk that really elevates it though.  At one point during the game, the clue-givers can choose to make use of the ‘hint board’.  Using a fixed set of symbols, it allows the clue-giver to indicate (privately to their team) all kinds of things about the clues that have been given or the guesses that either team has made – or even clues that they are planning to make in the future.

You can emphasise one clue, tell your team to ignore one of the clues (which might be misleading them), tell them that your next clue will actually be the opposite of what it should be, tell them to combine their second guess with the other team’s first clue – there are so many strategic options here.

It drastically reduces any potential downtime.

The big advantage it seems to have over Codenames though, is that when the clue-givers are trying to think of their next clue, you can still be discussing with your team (again, by writing on private mini-whiteboards) what the answer might be.  You can do this because all the clues and all the guesses from either team, potentially relate to the same word or phrase.  It drastically reduces any potential downtime.

It also allows for bluffing and misleading your opposing team.  You could intentionally guess something that you know is wrong in an effort to lead the other team down a certain road.  If you’re not sure what the answer is, this can be a good use of a guess.

It means you can’t always rely on the other team’s guesses having anything to do with the answer.  They might do, of course – you just don’t know!  It adds layers of communication that just don’t exist in Codenames, but it fills exactly the same gaming niche.

I’m sure Codenames will still see plenty of play.  However, for me personally, I’d rather play CrossTalk.  And judging by the number of requests I’ve had for it this week alone, so would everyone else in my gaming group.

I’m not sure when CrossTalk will hit retail, but if you like Codenames, you definitely need to watch out for it.  I think it’s fantastic!


Does the downtime in Codenames bother you?  Does CrossTalk sound appealing at all?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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