Full disclosure: A review copy of Decrypto was provided by IELLO.
Like I said in my NewSpeak review, I’m trying games that have something in common when I can (unless the thing in common is that they have the same publisher or are the same game / expansion; I prefer to split those up over separate weeks), and given that Decrypto is also a team-based game about cracking another team’s code, it seems like a perfect matchup.
In Decrypto, well, both teams are passing coded messages between them with only some keywords to help decrypt them. Try to figure out the ordering, but be careful! There are others eavesdropping on your messages, and if they can decrypt your clues, well, you’re going to be in an extremely bad way. That’s a two-way street, however, so you can try and counter-hack them. Just make sure you, you know, don’t forget to decrypt your own clues. Will you be able to crack the codes? Or will they remain an unsolvable enigma?
Not a ton of setup, here. Split into two teams; white and black. Take your screens and your Keyword Cards (the red side is a bit “easier”, whereas the blue side is “harder”):
Slide four Keyword Cards into the screens, as shown above. Give each team their Code Cards:
Set aside the white Interception Tokens and the black Miscommunication Tokens, as well:
Put the sand timer somewhere, and give each team a score / note sheet:
You should be ready to go!
A game of Decrypto is played over 10 rounds, maximum, where each team attempts to decrypt both their team’s code and their opponents’ code. If you successfully decrypt your opponents, you gain an Interception token; fail to decrypt your own, and you gain a Miscommunication token. If you ever have two of either, the game ends. Two Interceptions is a victory; two Miscommunications is a loss. Let’s dig in a bit deeper to how the game plays to see how that all works.
So, each round, white team will go first (the ordering doesn’t really matter; you could change it up, if you wanted). The process is the same, so I’ll describe it generically. Both teams will draw a Code Card and the current codegiver for the active team will look at it and show nobody else. The inactive team will do nothing, right now. The active codegiver then looks at their four Keywords. Let’s say they’re:
MERCURY | WHALE | FOOT | CLOUD
The codegiver has to give three clues (of any length, unlike Codenames) in the order corresponding to the ordering on their card (which is three unique numbers between 1 and 4, inclusive). So, for instance, if their Code Card said 2.3.1, they might give the clues:
“KILLER”, “YARD”, “LIQUID”
Both teams now need to try and figure out the ordering. Write down the clues, and then write down what you think the ordering must be based on the clues given. Note that, as with all games of this form, there are rules for clues:
- Don’t use inside jokes or whatever. This isn’t Taboo, but it’s also explicitly forbidden by the rules. If you want to reference Baroque-period architects, fine, but don’t reference what you got your partner for Christmas last year.
- You may only use a Clue once per game. There’s … no really good reason to do this anyways, but it’s disallowed.
- No using translations of the Keywords as clues. Just not allowed. Also, as you might guess, you cannot just read the ordering of the clues off the card. That’s both not a real clue and also a bad idea???
- Your clue has to refer to the meaning of the Keyword. No referencing letters in the Keyword, rhymes with the Keyword, position of the Keyword, etc. Standard stuff, really.
Once both teams are ready, the inactive team reads their guess, followed by the active team. The codegiver then reveals the card, and the inactive team gains an Interception if they are correct and the active team gains a Miscommunication if they were not correct. Both teams then should record the clues on the bottom of the sheet. This allows the inactive team to begin deducing what the words might be. The clues given are pretty difficult, sure, but if you already know that the clues “PLANET” and “HOT” have been given for 1, it might be easier to assume that 1 is Mercury and act from there.
The teams then switch roles, and go through it again, this time with the active team as the inactive team and vice-versa. Note that teams cannot Intercept each other during the first round. Even then, I find it fun to guess, so, whatever. You don’t have any information, so it would just be rewarding a team for being lucky, which isn’t terribly interesting.
If the game ends with a tie (a team can simultaneously win and lose, for instance), you can technically count Miscommunications as -1 and Interceptions as +1 and the team with the most points wins, but that’s kind of … boring. Instead, skip that and go for the final tiebreaker — whichever team can guess more of the other team’s Keywords wins! It’s … tough.
Player Count Differences
This is one of those games that, like Codenames, I prefer at lower player counts. At higher player counts, you just kind of have more … noise, and there’s less for an individual player to do. That said, there’s a specific variant for three players:
At three, you play with only one team. The third player is trying to intercept that team twice within 5 rounds. Instead of the team getting Miscommunication tokens, they just give an Interception token to the third player. That’s it.
Either way, I kind of most like this game at four, but I’d be interested in trying it at three players.
- Remember context. You’re not just giving or receiving clues; you’re getting pieces of a mosaic and you need to make sure you’re spending some time trying to see the forest for the trees. Look at all the clues and how they relate to each other; even if you can’t necessarily figure out the Keyword, you might be able to figure out “it’s some kind of holiday” or “it’s a part of the body”, which will help you better contextualize subsequent clues so that you can get closer to guessing it. Besides, guessing it correctly only matters for tiebreakers; you don’t necessarily need to know what it is as much as you need to know how to use it. That mindset got me through a lot of math classes, and I’m pretty sure it’s also applicable to games of Decrypto.
- Building an intentionally misleading narrative is fun, too. If your team can hop onto it, you can totally bamboozle your opponents if you can string together the right set of clues (or a seemingly random set). One time I tried to make every clue I gave be a color; that makes it kind of hard to guess.
- Just, make sure, your first priority is to get your ordering guessed by your team. There’s such a thing as too obscure, and Decrypto is definitely a game that will penalize you for those kinds of shenanigans. Make sure your clues aren’t so off-the-wall that your own team misses them; remember, two misses and you lose the game.
- If it sounds like the other team knows your keyword, you have to figure out a way to throw them off. Doing that without throwing off your own team is nigh impossible, but, I mean, it’s either that or lose, so … have fun figuring out that strategy?
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Oh, it’s Hard Codenames. This is great for the people who play Codenames at a party but want something that feels a bit more directed, involved, or competitive (since the base Codenames is kind of “well whoever scores more points wins but we can’t super directly affect each other beyond affecting the board we share”). Personally, I see Codenames as more of a “game to play at a party” than “game to play at game night” (just, personally), so this game is right up my alley, and I appreciate that.
- Seems pretty expandable. One nice thing about this is that there can just be a plethora more Keywords; I’d love to see themed packs, and, similar to Codenames, it doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to make themed packs. I have a feeling Decrypto Pictures probably wouldn’t work out, though. Alas, the comparison has to fall apart somewhere.
- The components are cute. It reminds me of that old-timey sort of thing you’d see in Fallout, which I’ve always appreciated.
- Fast setup. I will say that’s one thing it’s definitely got over Codenames; I don’t have to lay out a 25-card grid to get it started up. The only thing I really need to do is put the feet on the screens.
- It would be nice if both of the score / note sheets were on the same side of the piece of paper. Having to flip all the time is a bit obnoxious. There’s a file on BGG that has that, albeit with a bit less graphic design; the one that comes with the game is similar to the Ganz Schon Clever scoresheet in that it’s double-sided, but both sides are different. In this, however, you’re flipping the sheet over a LOT, so you can’t use your downtime to study what your opponents’ clues are. It’s a minor complaint, but still is one.
- Oh, it’s Hard Codenames. Like I said, there are good and bad things about that. I don’t think this has the same pick-up-and-play quality that makes Codenames so … ubiquitous, even though I think they’re very similar conceits. For one, I think the strategy of this game is a lot more intense, which means that, sure, strategy gamers are going to love this, but I’m not sure that it’s going to be able to achieve that same mass appeal that Codenames has. That’s fine for me, personally; I’m not as big of a fan of Codenames as I used to be (except for Duet, which I love). Note that this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring Decrypto to a family event and try to play it; I just think that compared to Codenames it’s got a bit more strategic and gameplay complexity, which may be more than some players are looking for. And that’s totally fine.
- Major language dependence, and consequences. One issue I ran into in a game was that a player didn’t quite understand the rules, so they gave a pretty spot-on description of what their keyword was (literally), which meant that we basically knew what that keyword was (the fix for this in the future is just to give them a new keyword and double-check that they’ve got the rules down pat). Either way, there’s a heavy dependence on players all understanding idioms if they’re used (and the other team is incentivized to make their clues idiomatically inaccessible, if possible), which means that if players are learning the language that the other players are native speakers of, it may be hard for them to contribute to the same depth as the native speakers. This isn’t the right game for that kind of mixed crowd, in my opinion; you’d be better off with something like A Fake Artist Goes to New York that lacks that language dependency.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I’m quite fond of Decrypto! I think it’s the exact thing I was looking for: a game that, when I’m hosting a game night and someone suggests Codenames, I can use as a slightly-weightier game that holds my interest a bit better. I think my issue with Codenames is that it’s often used as a blunt instrument for 6 – 10 people, and that means that there are a lot of people without a clear purpose in that game. I generally don’t like that kind of paradigm, as it usually means that someone is sitting around waiting for something more interesting than what’s currently happening to happen. With Decrypto, I think there are more things you can be doing with those extra cycles, and more interesting ways to contribute to the group’s goals. That said, I think that comes with some complexity cost, and I think you’ll see more people with Codenames in their home than Decrypto for that exact reason; Codenames is kind of timelessly simple, whereas Decrypto is just complicated enough that I think it risks not penetrating the mass market veil fully. That said, it makes a great gift, and I think it’s a hoot to play, so if you’re looking for another team deduction game that’s a solid fit for a board game night, I’d highly recommend checking out Decrypto!