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DECRYPTO

Reviewed by Chris Wray

DECRYPTO (Iello Games, 3 to 8 players, ages 12 and up, 15-45 minutes; $19.99)

 

Decrypto made a prototype debut at the Gathering of Friends 2017, where it quickly became popular, earning repeated plays late into the night. More polished prototypes made appearances at Gen Con and Essen last year, building further anticipation for Thomas Dagenais-Lespérance’s word game.  Publisher Le Scorpion Masqué recently began shipping the finished product and it has been rolling onto shelves under the Iello label for the rest of the spring. I’ve played Decrypto more than a dozen times in recent weeks, and I’m falling in love with this clever, codemaster-themed partnership game.  

Decrypto accommodates three to eight players and plays in 15 to 45 minutes but I suspect the game will rapidly become known as a four-player game.  This review focuses on the four-or-more player version. This is a word game in the same vein as Codenames, (featured in the Fall 2015 Gamers Alliance Report) using not only a similar mechanic, but also a vaguely similar theme. Decrypto’s tagline is “Communicate Safely,” which is actually an apt two-word summary of the game, because not only do you need your partner to decipher your clues, you need to hide them from your opponents.  You can’t afford for your team’s clues to form a pattern so creativity is required.

Each team has four secret keywords visible only to them plus a deck of 24 “code cards” showing all possible 3-digit permutations of the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4.  In each round, one of the teammates on each team (called the “encryptor”) draws a code card and then gives three clues hinting at the ordering of keywords shown on the card.  The encryptor is trying to make their teammate guess the three digits shown on the card, in the order shown. Though players have wide latitude in the clues they give, the clue must reference public information, refer to the meaning of the keywords and not refer to the word’s spelling, order on the screen, or pronunciation. 

For example, let’s say that a team had the four keywords “apple,” “boardgame,” “cat,” and “dinosaur.”  Let’s further say that the team’s encryptor drew the code card showing 3-1-4. He or she could give the following clues: “mouse,” “orange,” and “meteor.”  Hopefully their teammate (who can see their keywords but not their code card) would guess the answer as 3-1-4 since the clues hinted back to cat, apple, and dinosaur.   If the partner is right, nothing special happens but, if they’re wrong, they take a “miscommunication token.”

The trick is that, after the first round, the other team gets a chance to intercept.  After the clues are read aloud, the other team can guess the three digits first and, if they successfully do so, they earn an “intercept token.”  After the attempt, the encryptor’s partner guesses, as discussed above.

The first team to earn two interception tokens wins; alternatively, the first team to earn two miscommunication tokens loses.  If both happen in the same round, or if the round ties, the players first calculate scores, with intercept tokens counting as +1 and miscommunication tokens counting as -1.  If there’s still a tie, each team attempts to guess the other’s precise words, and the team with more of them correct wins. If the game is still tied, all players win. 

I love so much about Decrypto: how tense it is, how approachable it is, and how it appeals to both gamers and non-gamers alike.  The game mechanics here are exceptionally clever and well-developed. I played the game at The Gathering last year, greatly enjoying the concept, but many of the changes implemented in the past year (such as the tiebreaker) are brilliant.  

The production value is stunning, especially for a word game at the $20 MSRP price point.  There’s a lot of game in this box. Decrypto comes with a thick stack of word cards, each with four different words (two on each side).  The game uses “red lens technology” so the words on the cards are obscured until they are put into the player screen. Each team also receives an exceptionally well-designed sheet to track their clues and, more importantly, the past clues of the opposing team.  I wish the game came with a thicker pad of those sheets – it won’t take long to burn through them – but that’s a minor quibble.

Decrptyo will inevitably be compared to Codenames.  It’s a fair comparison – both are word-based deduction games – but they are substantially different and I believe there’s room in a game collection for both.  Decrypto is a bit more cerebral than Codenames because you’re trying to obfuscate your clues from the other team and I love that element of this game. Codenames plays faster and is probably a bit easier to play but Decrypto is better produced and slightly deeper.  

Overall, I’m highly impressed and I enthusiastically recommend Decrypto.  This has been a big hit with me and my game group and I think this game will work with a wide variety of different audiences, most notably family gamers, provided they can get four or more people to the table.  I’ve grown to love word games and Decrypto is one of the best ones I’ve played. – – – – – – – Chris Wray


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