Ben Anderson looked up from his key card, folded his hands and said “Tree two.”
Anderson’s teammate, Curtis Carlson, cocked his head in feigned confusion and pursed his lips as if he were about to ask a question before remembering he was not allowed any other communication with the code master.
Instead, he scanned the 25 cards laid out on the table. A single word was printed on each card, and Carlson needed to find two words that could be associated with tree.
Carlson’s eyebrows shot up as if he just experienced a revelation, and he reached out to touch a card before quickly withdrawing his hand and reexamining the words. He repeated the process two more times, and then committed to a card with “shadow” printed on it.
“That was one of theirs,” Anderson said, a defeated look crossing his face as opposing code master Shawn Mc Geath smiled and placed his team’s agent card over “shadow.” “Our turn is over now.”
The game was Codenames, and the object was to correctly identify your team’s agents without revealing the opponent’s agents, bystanders or the assassin, who ends the game altogether.
The game’s two teams each consist of a code master and an agent, with variations allowing for anywhere between 2-6 players.
Anderson, who co-owns Games Gauntlet, 2133 Garfield St., set up the game in his shop Monday to introduce his friends and customers to one of the hottest selling games at his store this holiday season.
“If I’m the red team code master, I’m trying to get my team to guess all the red squares (on the code master key card),” Anderson said, pointing to a small color-coded card. “The blue squares are the other team, the tan squares are neutral and if anyone guesses the black square, their team loses.”
The agents, however, don’t get to see the key card — only the cards laid out on the table in a five-by-five square.
To accomplish the goal, each code master is allowed to say one word loosely associated to any number of word cards viewable by all players. The code master can also accompany his word with a number to indicate the number of cards that could be related to his clue word.
“You’re racing the other team to guess all your words before they guess theirs,” Anderson explained.
The games lasted about 10 minutes, and as the players became more involved, the store was quickly dominated by hooting and hollering as two teams guessed correctly or tried to fool each other in guessing incorrectly.
A small crowd gathered around the two teams, and in a room filled with hand painted miniatures, brightly colored dice and life-size paintings of make believe space battles, everyone was soon focused on 25 plain cards with nothing more than a simple word printed on each.
“Codenames doesn’t have the length of history that some board games do, but I think it’s a good game that stands on its own,” Anderson said.
Outside of Scrabble, the history of board games is relatively devoid of word games, but with the rise of games like Cards against Humanity and Superfight, Anderson said words have become a new frontier for game developers.
“Until recently, traditional board game design hasn’t been applied to word games,” Anderson said. “Now, designers recognize it as more design space.”
He said it was part of the board game industry gaining popularity in recent years, a trend he and his brother, Donald, cashed in on about six years ago, when they opened the first Games Gauntlet on Grand Avenue.
Since then, the brothers have outgrown two locations and filled their current space.
“Before opening the store, I did a bunch of research online, because I knew this was a big risk, and I didn’t know anything about owning a small business,” the 26-year-old said. “With the college here, there’s always been a gaming community in town, and there will be as long as the college is here. So, I knew as long as we pleased those customers, we would be in business.”
Anderson contributed much of the store’s success to playing games with customers and getting to know their tastes, but owning a business isn’t all fun and games.
“My brother and I aren’t afraid of hard work,” he said. “And we’ve certainly put in some long days here at the store.”
Back at the gaming table, Anderson’s team got skunked, losing five games in a row. But he smiled, laughed and heaped praise on the winners while consoling his teammates with promises of evening out the score at the next game.