Trying to Resist the Ludology of Codenames

Codenames & Codenames Pictures

Game Developer: Vlaada Chvátil

Publisher: Czech Games

Designer: Vlaada Chvátil

Illustrators/Artists: David CochardJana KilianováTomáš KučerovskýFilip NedukMichal Suchánek.

Rulebook can be found, here.

Rules and Mechanics:

Two rival spymasters know the secret identities of 25 agents. Their teammates know the agents only by their CODENAMES.

In Codenames, two teams compete to see who can make contact with all of their agents first. Spymasters give one-word clues that can point to multiple words on the board. Their teammates try to guess words of the right color while avoiding those that belong to the opposing team. And everyone wants to avoid the assassin.”- boardgamegeek.com

Awards:

  • Codenames – 2016 Spiel des Jahres (Game of the year), the most prestigious game award worldwide.
  • Codenames Duet won a Golden Geek award for the best two player game of 2017.

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The Resistance

Game Developer: Don Eskridge

Publisher: Indie Boards & Cards

Designer: Don Eskridge

Illustrators/Artists: Luis Francisco, Luis Franco, Piotr Haraszczak, Jihoon Jang, Maryam Khatoon, Jordy Knoop, Vinh Mac, Alex Murur, Jarek Nocoń, George Patsouras, Michael Rasmussen, Jordan Saia, and Luis Thomas.

Rules and Mechanics:

“The Resistance is a party game of social deduction. It is designed for five to ten players, lasts about 30 minutes, and has no player elimination. The Resistance is inspired by Mafia/Werewolf, yet it is unique in its core mechanics, which increase the resources for informed decisions, intensify player interaction, and eliminate player elimination.

Players are either Resistance Operatives or Imperial Spies. For three to five rounds, they must depend on each other to carry out missions against the Empire. At the same time, they must try to deduce the other players’ identities and gain their trust. Each round begins with discussion. When ready, the Leader entrusts sets of Plans to a certain number of players (possibly including himself/herself). Everyone votes on whether or not to approve the assignment. Once an assignment passes, the chosen players secretly decide to Support or Sabotage the mission. Based on the results, the mission succeeds (Resistance win) or fails (Empire win). When a team wins three missions, they have won the game.” – boardgamegeek.com

 

 

 


Analysis

Codenames is a board game which transcends the idea of strategy and forces you to work in multiple dimensions of your own mind, perspective, personality and frame but also your teammates thinking process and making sure you do not allude or give too much away to the opposing team.

The core algorithm of this game is to pit two teams against each other, give one-word clues that can point to multiple words/pictures on a board, scoring points for your team’s colour while avoiding blank spots and the assassin which ends the game instantly. There is an example of how this game would work below:

 

 

 

 

Codenames has a ludic play style with a clear set of rules to abide by, but there weren’t any rules about combining two versions of the game. We played both versions, Codenames and Codenames: Pictures, separately but found that when combined a whole new experience was born. There is an interesting aspect to this game which allows users to dynamically change the system and in which people can play in, a mod of sorts or change in the core algorithm which we found to be more complex, challenging, aggravating, but fun. In board games or card games, each person has house rules and I feel like my group and I made up our own house rules with these games.

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The fact that we humans, as the hardware, were able to manipulate the system we used and mod it to become a completely new experience, from a clear cut game of a ludology and little narratology (Egenfeldt-Nielson et al., 2012), was an edifying discovery. It is reminiscent of Haraway‘s (1985) cyborg manifesto, whereby this game becomes a technological system and therefore an extension of ourselves through its technological bounds of narrative, mechanics and storytelling where we are the hardware or Frankensteins to be feared in this case.

By not relying solely on mechanics but having a vague narrative, Codenames utilises a compelling social interaction between players. It relies on clever use of words and physical communication between players along with verbal communication of which I am intrigued by. It is extremely reminiscent of The Resistance which employs players skills in deceit and manipulation through their communication styles and actions. In The Resistance, social politics become extremely important with determining who the saboteur/traitor or spy’s are which is very similar to how Secret Hitler and Mafia are played. The rules can be picked up quite quickly from this tutorial below:

 

These kinds of social deception, spy games are fun because they are in a roleplaying spectrum and a new narrative was created every time we started a new iteration without relying too heavily on the game’s world. “These games need their players to get on board, to put aside their strict morals and remember that it is just a game. The lies you tell in these games hold no power in the real world.” (Halford, 2019). This interactivity where we were forced to do immoral and unethical actions to each other breeds a type of dissent for some and euphoria from others as society has no bounds in the rules of this game. It creates an environment of interactivity where lying and cheating is a sort of commodity (Jordan, 2007 p.g 709) and the players are the catalyst responsible for creating the dialogue and narrative.

The interactivity between players is also intriguing, with the players both the resistance and spies having an element of competition but the mystery of not knowing exactly who you are competing against, with a qualitative focus. As we took control of this game, we could identify a high complexity of meta-game with this social “interactivity taking control away from the author and places it in the hands of the audience,” (Jenkins, 2006) cementing a public sphere which is unique to each set of players social politics.

This social interaction, which is derived from board games, influences players to act out and give voices to their characters in-game (Barbara, 2017), we as the players then had to act on our roles in front of our peers, which increased our behavioural involvement in the game (Ravaja et al., 2006). This deep investment into the mechanics of the game created a sublayer of mechanics where figuring out who is lying is indicative of the body language, actions and words that players use to navigate themselves. This meta-communication means you don’t only have to worry about your poker face but everything you do and say, referring to Gregory Bateson’s research on metacommunication (Moore, 2019).

However, there is a unique juxtaposition to Codenames whereby we don’t have to forcefully change the system but can learn and adapt to how the game is played using deception, changing the flow of the game completely with a ubiquitous string of physical and social interactions. The Resistance has a ludology that does not jeopardise the narratology of its system as the story evolves around unique players with varying personalities and meta-communication.

 

 

The meta in The Resistance with my friends quickly became that I wasn’t trustworthy as the majority of the time I was given the traitor role, ruling me out of most team missions. Trusting others became hard with the first few votes being used to attempt to weed out spies for who they truly were. Deception and deceit were afoot and I absolutely loved lying through my teeth and throwing my friends under the bus with a kick to the gut for good measure, but we were not fighting, we were play fighting (Egenfeldt-Nielson et al. 2012, p.g 41). It was exhilarating playing a game where the rules of society and being the bad guy were more fun than being a good, honest and innocent man alluding to Ravaja et al (2006) and (Sutton-Smith, 1997) as dishonesty and deceit are not actions we make morally. It elicited a new culture of brooding mistrust, dishonesty and strategy as social behaviour, interactions, cues, body language and use of words became an elaborate game in itself where we were bound within a physical space of temporality (‘the magic circle‘) where the demands of honesty and morality were not present (Huizinga, 1955).

It is also interesting to mention the digital divide where digital and board games sit, I found an online version of Codenames and The Resistance (Town of Salem) which will be linked below. As a form of transmedia, it changes the meaning of each experience, there are no human interactions available. I attempted to play it with my friends but enjoyed the banter, body language and experience more when I was playing intimately and physically.

I had such a great time with these games, I just want to play them more! Codenames online can be found via this link, here.

~ krisesandchrosses ~


References:

Jenkins, H 2006, ‘Convergence Culture: Where old and new media collide’, New York, NY: NYU Press.

Ravaja N., Saari T., Turpeinen M., Laarni J., Salminen M., Kivikangas M. (2006). Spatial presence and emotions during video game playing: Does it matter with whom you play? Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 15, 381–392.

Simon Egenfeldt-Nielson, Jonas Heide Smith, and Susana Pajares Tosca, 2012. ‘What is a Game?’, Understanding Video Games: The Essential Introduction. Routledge, New York.

Brian Sutton-Smith, (1997), The Ambiguity of Play. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Halford, N 2019, ‘LIES AND DECEPTION IN BOARD GAMES’, Zatu Games, January 31, viewed 21 March 2019, <https://www.board-game.co.uk/lies-and-deception-in-board-games/&gt;

Jordan, W 2007, ‘From Rule-Breaking to ROM-Hacking: Theorizing the Computer Game-as-Commodity’, University of California, Irvine, CA.

Haraway, D 1985, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”. Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature.

Barbara, J 2017, “Measuring User Experience in Multiplayer Board Games”, Games and Culture, Vol 12 Chapter (7–8), p.g 623–649.

Moore, C 2019, Game Making, ‘Game Definitions, Genre and Industries’, prezi lecture, BCM300, University of Wollongong, 15th March 2019, viewed March 15 2019.

Sutton-Smith, B 1997, The ambiguity of play, Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press.

Huizinga, J 1955, Homo ludens: a study of the play-element in culture. Boston, Beacon Press.

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