How was your New Years? Mine was lovely, in no small part because I went to a hut with my old hiking buddies and watched one of them involuntarily spray champagne out of their nose. It was with impeccable comedic timing, too, right into our bonfire and right after we'd finished singing Auld Lang Syne.
It was also lovely because we spent more time playing games than hiking, and one of those games was Decrypto. Buckle up now. You're never going to see words in the same way again.
Two teams. Two sets of keywords. Each set of words is visible to everyone on that team, but their three digit code is not. Only the 'encryptor' gets to peek at that, indicating which three keywords they've got to guide their team towards that round. Your clues must be clear: if your team gets your own code wrong twice, you lose. Your clues must be obscure: if the other team spots a pattern and guesses your code twice, they win.
I'm fond of any game with rules you can explain in four sentences and change, but that's only the start of why I like Decrypto. That simple setup is a gateway to fiendishly clever wordplay, to a contest that has you milking language for every drop of meaning.
If you come at your keywords from the same angle each time, your opponents are going to know what's up. Maybe they don't know that 'winter' is your keyword, but they sure as hell know that the clues 'freeze' and 'cold' refer to the same thing.
Or do they? Maybe another of your keywords is 'water', and that first clue guides your team to safety while leading your opponents into an icy trap. Maybe you approach 'winter' from a completely different angle, and drop a clue like 'discontent'. But surely that makes your keyword too obvious. Unsatisfied? Too elliptical. Ahhh.
It's a wonderful puzzle, threading that needle between obscurity and clarity. You're not just thinking about words: you're thinking about concepts, and about people. Do your friends have minds that wander down the same paths as yours? Can they look past the red herrings, and dig down into the same layer of abstraction? Will they get that Wolf of Wall Street reference?
You might have heard of another game that trades in words and spies - a game that gets you asking many of the same questions. That game's called Codenames, and I'm yet to introduce it to a group that didn't want to immediately play another round. It's a spectre lurking in the background of every game of Decrypto, making comparisons unavoidable. That's fine, because this is even better.
Where Codenames plunges players into a word-swamp, Decrypto is more like a lovely shower. Codenames starts you off with this intimidating grid, 25 words that the clue-giver has to parse before they can start playing. It's intimidating. Decrypto starts off easy, no pressure, with not all that much to think about. Then the shower starts to boil you alive.
Look, I know what you're thinking. I was in the same boat. You hear stuff like "this is better than Codenames", and you go "pff, as if it’s gonna be better than Codenames". I was there, man. I didn't believe it either.
Do let me know when you find out you were wrong.