Monday, July 22, 2024

Cross Clues: ‘Codenames’ Meets Co-op in a Lightning-Fast Word Game

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Cross Clues takes about five minutes to learn, and it literally takes five minutes to play. One look at the box – or the rulebook – and you might wonder, is that all there is to a game? With both simple games and co-op games, there are a number of pitfalls you can run into; simple games can get stale fast, whereas co-op games can lose their sense of urgency when they lack a human opponent. To anyone familiar with board games, however, the name Blue Orange should be more than enough to signal that Cross Clues is not a throwaway project. In fact, it’s the sort of game that’s likely to leave an impression every time you play it.

What’s in the Box?

  • 10 Axis Tiles
  • 50 Code Word Cards
  • 25 Clue Cards
  • 1 Five-Minute Sand Timer
  • Illustrated Rulebook
Cross Clues contents

Cross Clues comes in an elegant, simple box with a vintage cartoon feel – its blue-and-pink art would fit right in at a vintage American diner. On the inside, the box almost entirely blue, and the cards and tiles are simple with little cartoon-star flourishes. Everything’s simple yet well made.

There are a few very nice design touches as well. First, while the tiles and cards are the same size, the color and thickness make them very easy to sort out. Second, the sand in the timer is blue! It’s the sort of thing I’ve never seen in a board game before – matching sand color to the game’s color scheme – and it’s the sort of touch that makes the game just that much more pleasant to play without drawing too much attention to itself.

Now, let’s talk about the one tiny downside to the otherwise great rule book. There’s no diagram labelling which types of cards are clue cards and which are code word cards, and it’s hard to understand the rules until you’re certain which cards are which. It’s the sort of thing that becomes clear quite quickly once you’ve figured it out, but I imagine that, given the age range is seven and up, it might be a stumbling block for younger players just picking up the game.

How’s It Play?

Cross Clues is a very simple game, and once you start playing, you begin to appreciate the straightforward aesthetics of the materials. You set up the game by placing the Axis Tiles; as implied, one set (the numbers) will create an X-axis and another will create a Y-axis. You’ll then place randomly-selected Code Word Cards underneath each Axis tile so that only one word on the card is showing per Axis tile. This process creates an imaginary grid on your table where each space on the grid corresponds to the combination of an X-axis word and a Y-axis word. Your goal in the game is to give single word clues that will allow other players to guess which space – and corresponding pair of X and Y axis words – you are trying to give a clue for. For example, if the space you were giving a clue for was at the intersection of Costume and Autumn, Halloween would be a relatively safe clue to give. The key is to give clues that couldn’t be mistaken as clues for other two-word combinations on the table.

However, there are multiple complicating factors that make Cross Clues very replayable. First of all, you can only give a clue for a space if you hold the corresponding clue card in your hand. Clue cards – cards that designate spaces like A1 or C4 – are shuffled, placed in a stack, and drawn one at a time by each player on the board. If the other players guess the correct space after you’ve given your one-word clue, your clue card goes on the table, and you all score a point. However, if they guess incorrectly, that clue gets discarded and can’t be used for the rest of the game. In either situation, you draw another clue card and the game goes on. This element makes creativity and adaptability key – you can’t just bypass difficult combinations.

Second – there’s that pesky timer. The time crunch element really lights up the gameplay, as holding onto a difficult clue card costs time for the rest of the team. As the board fills up, clues become easier to give as there are less opportunities for guessers to get any one clue wrong, but that also corresponds to the group having less and less time to complete the game.

Finally, because the boards themselves are randomized – each axis tile being assigned one of the game’s 200 words – board difficulty varies from game to game. In one playthrough, the players and I had the misfortune of having Motorcycle and Bicycle on the same axis, meaning whenever we linked those words to a word on the opposite axis, we had to give a clue that pointed clearly toward one two-wheeled vehicle or the other.

Ultimately, either the timer runs out or you run out of clue cards, all of them being either discarded or placed on the table. The rulebook involves a scoring system that varies based on the size of the grid you choose to play with, which can range from three tiles by three tiles to five tiles by five tiles.

The Verdict?

Most board game lovers will adore Cross Clues. Its simple gameplay, combined with the many many possibilities offered by its randomly-generated board and grid size variants, offer fresh excitement every round you play. The truly genius thing about cross clues is that the pressure ramps up alongside the supposed ease of giving good clues; you might finally be able to give a good clue when enough spaces are eliminated only to find yourself running against the clock.

The only person I can imagine disliking this game is someone who really hates word games; Cross Clues absolutely demands creativity and effective communication. However, even if you’re not into the genre, this game is so quick and straightforward that you’re likely to be pulled in regardless. I can recommend Cross Clues without hesitation. Give it a play – it’s likely to be the best five minutes of your day.

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You can grab a copy of Cross Clues at the Blue Orange shop or on Amazon.

Images via Blue Orange Games

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