27 September 2018
A cracking game of inevitable miscommunication
The first thing you’ll need to decode in Decrypto are the rules. In essence, it’s a word-guessing game no more complicated than Codenames, but with an ingenious interactive hook that makes it far, far more than an imitator – unfortunately, this has the side effect of making it harder to explain than play. It’s worth the little bit of effort, though, because it’s a truly outstanding party game once you’re speaking its language.
Here we go: one person on each team describes a code relating to four words that only their team can see. This numbered code (eg. 1.4.3) is described with words or phrases related to those words. So if your words are oven, hospital, scarecrow and robot, the clues might be “bake, android, straw”. But your team doesn’t get a point for getting it right – they just avoid losing a life and pass the round over to the other team, who do the same. So, how do you go about winning? Well, by intercepting your opponents’ code, of course! You see, you’re writing down your opponents’ clues and the numbers to which they relate. Eventually, you have enough connected words to try and predict their code before they do. Two correct interceptions and you’ve won.
This means that you never actually have to guess the words on the rival team’s screen – you only have to keep track of the words they’re saying. This results in increasingly desperate attempts to get your own team to read between the widening lines as you hope they remember that Worzel Gummidge was the first book published by Puffin, in the hope of throwing your listeners-in off the scent. Not only is this hilarious and frustrating – but in that really good, entertaining way – it also feels like real, honest-to-goodness code cracking, the kind of grey matter-busting puzzle you’ll want to stay up into the early hours solving with friends.
Clues have never mattered so much in a word game; not just the current clue, but everything that came before, too. The constant awareness that your opponents will be trying to join the dots forces consistently inventive hinting – and the feeling that you’ve worked out the opposing side’s code is a genuine rush. The best parts of Codenames are where you manage to guess a handful of words linked to a single clue, yet those moments tend to be spread among a dozen small successes of identifying one or two answers. Decrypto tunes out the noise and allows a longer build-up for just a couple of moments where it all pays off, but when they come around they land with such an unbelievable burst of joy and satisfaction. When it comes to feeling that sense of reward for nailing the answer, Decrypto may even have Codenames beat.
Helping Decrypto’s feel-good mood is an art style that embraces the switch-flicking, retro nostalgia of scan-lined screens and twiddly knobs. Revealing the scrambled word cards by slotting them behind each panel’s red-filmed windows verges on the edge of gimmicky, but the clean, technophile look pushes so many of our buttons it’s impossible not to fall in love with it.
The last few years have brought a bountiful harvest of excellent word games. Decrypto sits right near the very top of them. It is an ingenious, inventive spin on word puzzles on a technical level, but – despite how it might sound at first – the most impressive thing is how much fun it makes a idea that never feels too clever for its own good. Honestly, we’re lost for words.
Decrypto takes a brilliantly clever spin on word-guessing and makes it a hugely fun and rewarding party game. It’s too unique to be a direct Codenames-killer, but it absolutely deserves a spot right alongside it.
Designer: Thomas Dagenais-Lespérance
Artist: Fabien Fulchiron, Nicolas ‘Nils’ Rivet, Manuel Sanchez
Time: 30 minutes
This review originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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