The Red-Tinted Wonderment of Decrypto
“Which word game will finally kill Codenames?” they asked. Then Decrypto descended from the clouds and they hollered, “The king is dead! Long live the king!” while the rest of us stared in wild wonderment, curious where all these rando word game fanatics came from.
To be fair, though, Decrypto is pretty dang cool.
Plenty of games are propped up by a gimmick. In Decrypto’s case, the gimmick is found in its splotchy red cards that can only* be decoded when slipped into a player screen. Then, by some feat of magic that would make fourteenth-century peasants burn you for witchcraft, the splotches disappear as they’re morphed into words. Both teams have one of these screens, complete with four words that they alone know.
* unless you look at them closely.
That’s the setup. From there, an encryptor from both teams draws a card revealing a sequence — 4, 1, 3, perhaps — and begins writing down some clues. The goal should be familiar for anyone who’s played Dixit: make clues that will tip off your teammates as to the sequence on your code card, while hopefully providing as little information as possible to the enemy team.
It’s immensely gratifying, especially when you’re able to come up with a clue that not only homes your squadmates into the right word, but also gets your opponents reeling. It’s one thing to give a clue like sleazy or ’80s for MUSTACHE, but another thing entirely to say queen. Need your friends to guess SCREAM? Jot down Geoff naked and you’re set.
But that’s just the first portion of the game. In the meantime, every clue — every snicker, every knowing glance — is something the opposing team can use to cobble together what your words are. Not exactly their identity, though if the game comes down to a tiebreaker then it doesn’t hurt to know one or two. But close enough that when you hear a new clue (Salzburg), you can deduce that maybe, just maybe, it goes along with obese and valkyrie.**
** the word was OPERA.
This is because victory in Decrypto is all about interception. After the rival encryptor announces their clues, you’re given the opportunity to crack their code, using the information they leaked over previous rounds to piece together their sequence. “Four one three!” somebody shouts. If you were right, you pick up an interception token. If you were wrong, no harm done. Two interceptions and you’ve won.
But the opposite is also true. Flub guessing the sequence underlying your own encryptor’s clues and you’ll pick up a miscommunication token. Get two of those stinkers and it’s game over. Which means, of course, that your encryptor’s clues can’t be too cryptic. Three-problem and Vesalius make wonderful clues for BODY. Law, on the other hand? Meh.
If this sounds a tad convoluted, that’s mainly because Decrypto is the sort of game that doesn’t click until you’re in the thick of it. Its turn order must be strictly followed at all times, lest you accidentally blurt out a guess too early and help your rivals. In that sense, fans of Codenames might prefer that game’s ease of use, sans phases and sequences and all that.
Decrypto’s other downside is that it’s entirely possible to luck into a victory, either through some light deduction eliminating one of the opposing team’s words or, well, just by sheer chance. Four options isn’t that many, after all.
But despite a few quibbles, I’m totally smitten with Decrypto. It’s the sort of game that gets people laughing, whether at an opposing team that can’t decode the world’s most obvious clue or as the words are revealed at the end of the game. Gorbie for SECRETARY? Byproduct for PEARL? The revelation that your friends and family have weird brains is as delightful as the game itself. And when the game lets you flex your cleverness at the same time that it’s getting everyone chuckling, it’s a winner.
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