Decrypto Review
Decrypto Review

Decrypto Review

👈🏻 Back to Reviewed Games

Designed by Thomas Dagenais-Lespérance

Release Year: 2018 Complexity: Low-Medium

  👥  3-8 Players   ⏰  15-60 min   💸 ~$20   🔗  Buy


In Decrypto, two teams are competing to give clever clues that allow their own team to guess a code while not giving away too much information to the opposing team. Each team has four secret words that will remain the same through the entire game, and each round, clue-givers from each team will simultaneously come up with clues for a randomly drawn 3-digit code, where each of the digits corresponds to one of their team’s words. It is important that the clues are clear enough for your own team to guess correctly, but obscure enough to prevent your opponents from intercepting the code.

Once the clue-givers are finished, the clues are revealed to both teams. The clue-giver’s team needs to guess the code, but, starting in round 2, the opposing team will also have the opportunity to try to intercept the code. If the clue-giver’s team is wrong, they take a miscommunication token, and if the opposing team’s guess is correct, they take an intercept token. Rounds are repeated until either a team loses due to miscommunicating twice, or wins due to intercepting twice.


Game Feel

The heart of Decrypto lies in the fact that your team is always cluing off of the same four words. Since the opposing team knows all of your past clues, you need to come at your words from different angles to obscure the associations with clues from earlier rounds. For example, if you used the clue “gold” for the word “ring,” you may not want to use the clue “jewelry,” as the other team may see the association between “gold” and “jewelry.” Perhaps a better clue would be “boxing” which does not seem to be related to “gold.”

This dynamic only escalates as the game continues because you have accumulated more and more clues for your words. It becomes much harder to keep your opponents off your trail when you have already given four clues for a word and need to come up with another that they won’t associate with that grouping of clues. However, since your teammates can see the four words, you have a lot of room to be vague. A clue doesn’t need to be strongly related to the target word; the connection just has to make slightly more sense than the other three options.

On the flip-side, whenever you hear your opponent’s clues for the round, your team will start discussing how those might be associated with the clues they’ve used thus far. Sometimes you will think you’ve made a connection, just to find that your guess is way off. But there are also huge “Aha!” moments when you suddenly realize the connection between a group of seemingly unrelated clues and become confident that you know one of the other team’s words.



Player Counts - We have played Decrypto almost exclusively with 6 players, which feels like the perfect player count because it ensures there are always two teammates that can discuss their team’s clues each round without the group getting too big. Playing with 7 and 8 players shares this trait and also works well — having uneven teams isn’t really a problem. Fewer than 6 really loses some of the dynamic we enjoy with teammates discussing, because any team with only two players will never have that discussion among teammates for their own team’s clues.

Abstract vs. Thematic - The retro codebreaking aesthetic of Decrypto is really nice, but it still is almost entirely an abstract experience.

Luck vs. Skill - Other than the four random words, everything about the outcome of Decrypto is in the hands of the players, rewarding skillful misdirection and word association.

Multiplayer Solitaire vs. Highly Interactive - As with most party games, the interaction here is high. The team vs. team dynamic adds a nice feel of “us vs. them” that comes alive with the codebreaking mechanisms.

Short Setup vs. Long Setup - Setup is trivial, as you just deal each team four random cards to slot in their display.

Easy to Teach vs. Hard to Teach - Decrypto has gained a reputation for being hard to teach, and we generally agree with that sentiment, at least compared to other party games. Part of that is due to a slightly confusing round sequence, but another thing that is hard for new players to understand is that it doesn’t matter as much if the other team would guess the real word from your clue. It matters more if they will associate your clue with the clues already given for that word. And given that slight missteps can quickly end the game since only two miscommunications or intercepts are needed, there is the risk that new players cause the game to end prematurely. It isn’t a bad idea to be ready to play more than once in a row, just to give new players the opportunity for the mechanisms to “click” for them.

Low Setup Variability vs. High Setup Variability - And while each game of Decrypto is going to have a similar flow, it is amazing how much four random words paired with unique players injects a lot of variability into the experience. Decrypto is yet another word game that benefits greatly from the nuances and complexities of the English language.

Things to Like

✅  Escalating Tension as Clues Accumulate - One of our absolute favorite things about Decrypto is how every round escalates the tension from the previous round. The more clues that have been given for words, the more challenging it is to come up with new clues that strike that balance between helping your teammates and keeping the other team off your trail. With a good group that can keep the game going for five or more rounds, there is such a palpable excitement in the late rounds, often with players in disbelief that we managed to escape another round without the game ending. This also means that, if the game doesn’t end prematurely, it is pretty much guaranteed to end on a high, and games that go many rounds can provide some of the most memorable sessions of all.

✅  Balance Between Clear and Vague Clues - The core system of continually cluing the same words works so brilliantly within the context of the codebreaking mechanism. When giving the clues, you know exactly what information the other team has, which gives you a lot of room to be really clever. It isn’t uncommon that a clue-giver's clues are revealed and their teammates make comments like, “Wow, that was such a good clue!” And it is music to your team’s ears to hear the other team throw out comments like, “What!? I thought for sure that clue fit here!” And on the intercepting side, you really feel like you are slowly tracking down these never-changing words as you gather more and more information, all while the intelligence on the other team is trying to thwart your efforts.

✅  Playing Both Codemaker and Codebreaker - Another great aspect of Decrypto is how you are essentially playing two games at once. Where other games might assign one team as the clue-givers and the other team as the “codebreakers,” Decrypto lets you play both roles simultaneously. It is fun to try to ensure your team guesses the right code with as vague clues as possible, and trying to identify the code based on the very limited pool of four words is a fun little puzzle. But then you get to shift your discussion into “intercept” mode and try to find any leads in the lists of clues the other team has given thus far. And unlike picking from your own team’s four known words, your opponent’s words could be anything and it is up to you to try to narrow it down.

✅  Fun Post-Game Discussion - If a game ends in a tie, as it is possible for both teams to lose or win in the same round, you enter a fun final round where you actually try to guess the exact words of the opposing team. However, while this tie-breaking procedure doesn’t happen very often, we have found that it is very fun to try to guess the words at the end of the game anyway. Even though one team has already won, having each team talk through their guesses always leads to laughter and fun discussion. The entire game has had a wall of secrecy up between teams, so it is fun to finally let it down and discuss what everyone was thinking and which clues had the biggest impact.


Things to Dislike

❌  Very Group Dependent - We talked about how the best games of Decrypto are the ones that keep going another round, against all odds, and that is also what makes it so group-dependent. The game has you on a razor’s edge between miscommunicating and getting your code intercepted. If the group can walk that line effectively, the experience can be amazing. But it is also fragile because, if there are players that can’t balance that well, or simply make a mistake, the game can quickly come crashing down. We’ve had games of Decrypto that end in the second round and have us apologetically saying, “That really wasn’t a representative game, you’d really have to play again to get a feel for what can make the game so fun.”

❌  Hard to Estimate Game Length - And while Decrypto’s feeling of escalating rounds is our favorite feature, it also comes with the side effect that it is really hard to predict how long the game will take to play. Game length can vary from 10 minutes for a quick dud, to 30 minutes for an average session, to an hour or more when players manage to force round after round. Fortunately, it is the longest games that are best, so players usually won’t lament the playing time, but the unpredictability isn’t helpful when you are trying to decide if you have enough time to play.


Our Ratings

Ryan (12 Plays) - 8 Daniel (13 Plays) - 8.5

🎬 Watch Extended Final Thoughts

Is It For You?

If you don’t enjoy word games, find it stressful to come up with clever clues, or won’t be able to gather a group of at least 6 players that will enjoy this style of game, then Decrypto might not be a good pick. 👎

But if you enjoy clever wordplay, like the feeling of working as a team to figure out clues, and want a game that can provide memorable sessions for a group that learns to play it well, we highly recommend checking out Decrypto. 👍

🛒  Check Out Decrypto on Amazon