Le Scorpion Masqué, $19.99
The idea of being a spy and cracking codes is exciting. It’s always nice to feel like you can outsmart the competition. And Decrypto, a board game for three to eight people, gives the chance to do just that.
The game is fairly simple—though it can sound complicated when you explain it. You divide into two teams, and each team gets four secret keywords that only they can see. The keywords are just random words, like insect or horror. Each keyword is also labeled with a number, one through four.
Each round, one person from each team is chosen as the Encryptor. That person draws a card that has a three digit code consisting of the numbers one through four (like, 314). Only the Encryptor can see the code.
The Encryptor must make up clues—which can be single words, sentences, humming, or something else—to get their team to guess their code. So if you are trying to get your team to guess the number 1, and you have the keyword insect labeled number 1, you might give the clue bug.
But here’s the tricky part: you have to give your clues out loud, and the other team has a chance to intercept your code. They don’t get to see your keywords, but with each round, they gain more and more information.
For instance, if your team guesses your code correctly with the example above, and then the next round you give the clue cockroach, the other team might be able to figure out that cockroach is relating to the same number as bug, allowing them to figure out that your code has a 1 in it.
The game continues until one team successfully cracks the other team’s code twice or a team fails to guess their own code twice. (Usually, it takes between four and six rounds.)
That means that you have to give clues that are clear enough that your team can guess the code with the help of the keywords, but obscure enough that the other team can’t piece together your keywords to intercept. It’s a challenge of creativity and deduction.
We spent a morning playing Decrypto. Here’s what we had to say.
Evan, Social Media Specialist: This one was probably one of my favorites that we’ve reviewed thus far.
A couple first impressions: the rules were relatively easy to learn. The most challenging, and in my opinion, enjoyable, part of the game is the balancing act one must perform when picking clues. You want to make sure they are clear enough so your teammates can match them with the corresponding phrase, but also obscure enough so that the opposing players don’t pick up on your pattern and figure out your phrase.
This brings up a deeper challenge: how well do you know the people you’re playing with? Having an idea of the references each player is familiar with goes a long way in devising a strategy for picking clues.
Ivan, Media Coordinator: I agree with Evan about knowing who you’re playing with—both your partners and your opponents. I found myself going immediately for obscure cultural references. It turned out that almost all of them were too obscure for my partner to decipher. Sorry Matt!
It’s a very fun game all the same. This is just one in what seems like a long, long line of games based on the premise that getting people to guess a word without actually using that word is fun. $10,000 Pyramid. Charades. Taboo. The list goes on.
One thing that sets Decrypto apart is that you don’t actually have to guess the actual word. You just have to be able to associate a clue with the idea of the word. That gives you so much more leeway to go nuts when you’re coming up with your clues, which was the most fun part of the game for me.
Katy, Director of Marketing: You were nutty alright, Ivan… 🙂
I think this would be a fun family game to play because parents might end up learning a lot about the cultural references their kids use. It offers some great opportunities for discussion and laughter.
I also think it’s one of those games that sounds more complicated than it really is when you try to describe it. The best way to learn it is to go a few rounds. Soon the rules and some possible strategies will become clear.
Decrypto gives you the chance to practice deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning, much like the mystery game Clue, but Decrypto is a whole lot faster and more contemporary. You arrive at your conclusion by a process of both elimination and association.
What do you guys think about the age range this game would accommodate? Definitely little brothers and sisters could participate, but if they’re under seven or eight years old, I’d think even the smartest would need a “tour guide” to understand the connection between the verbal clues and guessing the code.
Hannah, Staff Specialist: I think you’re probably right about the age range, Katy. Younger than seven might find it very challenging. I also agree that the challenge and fun of this game was coming up with clues that were just obscure enough but not too obscure.
I had fun thinking up clues that could apply to two or more words, but that would fit only one word really well and therefore be easy for one on my team to guess.
I did find myself wishing the game lasted longer. It seemed the game would end just as we were getting to the point of being able to possibly guess the other team’s words from the clues we’d gathered. Even though that’s not officially part of the game, I might add it as bonus points at the end of each game.
[Editor’s note: Upon reading the rules again and more closely, it turns out this is actually an official tiebreaker!]
This is my favorite of the games we’ve reviewed thus far.
Elizabeth, Webmaster: It’s a good family game. Players can grasp all concepts of the game just by playing it through once, a game can be completed in thirty minutes, and playing in teams allows a variety of ages to play together. It’s very similar to Codenames.
Ivan: I wouldn’t have minded having more time to come up with my clues. The sand in that timer was gone in a flash! I think we all enjoyed coming up with clues that were the perfect combination of obscure, funny, and tactical, but the timer really made it tough.
Matt: I think it would still work for younger TIPsters—both because it’s very logical, and because the difficulty sort of scales up with the people you’re playing with, which adds to the fun. If your opponent is particularly clever or knows you particularly well, coming up with good clues is that much harder.
And you could just give everybody more time to come up with clues—though keeping the timer speeds things up and keeps play moving.
I really like how the game changes the longer it goes on. Once you’ve given a few clues, your opponents have a lot of information they can use to deduce your code, which means you have to get more and more obscure. That opens up a bunch of interesting strategic questions. It ends up forcing you to play little logic games with yourself about how different words and concepts can be associated.
Ivan: That’s a really good point, Matt. You have to kind of wager in your head how big a risk you’re willing to take with your clues.
Hannah: I agree the timer helps keep the game moving. I could definitely spend some time coming up with clues, but I think maybe I’d grab a minute timer instead. [Note: The timer that comes with the game is thirty seconds.] On another note, I wonder how many kids could identify a floppy disk if asked. [Note, again: The code cards are in the shape of floppy disks. For those of you younger than us, you might recognize it as the standard save icon.]
Have you played a good board game or video game, read a good book, or seen a good movie? Submit a review to Insights by the time the next issue comes out, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Decrypto. Find details on the submission page.