Dale Yu: Review of Crack the Code

Crack the Code

  • Designes: John Shulters and Sarah Graybill
  • Publisher: Indie Boards & Cards
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Played 5 times with review copy provided by publisher

crack the code

In Crack the Code, your team acts as a group of hackers working to secure your network in a collaborative fashion.  Each player will have a goal card and a tray with colored marbles on it – the goal card obscures the marbles so that the player can’t see the marbles..  Using the available command cards, the players must work together to get the marbles in each tray to match the goal card for that player.  Of course, to make things more complicated, players can only communicate with each other in a limited fashion.

To start the game, place all four trays on the table so that one is in front of each player.  If there are fewer than 4 players, still put out the extra trays.  Shuffle the goal cards and then place one in the slot of each tray so that all other players can see the card.  Choose a scenario to play, and then consult the rules to see which marbles you should put into the bag.  Then draw the required number of marbles per tray – the rules suggest doing this with your eyes closed so that you cannot mistakenly learn the identity or placement of any of the marbles.  The scenario rules will also tell you which command cards are used in this game; collect the necessary cards, shuffle them to form a deck.  Finally give each player a set of colored memo tokens which can be used to help the players remember the deductions they are making.


In each round of the game, some command cards will be dealt from the deck (To give you a selection of one card more than the number of players).  Then, each player will execute one of the command cards – but the players can take their actions in any order.  The group can discuss their strategy before taking actions, but they may never disclose the position or location of any of the marbles.

Once a player is ready to take their turn, they choose a command card and take it from the table.  Then, they can execute the command on the card or choose to discard it without taking any action.  Some of the possible actions are:

Send – pick a marble from anywhere in your tray and place it at either end of any other tray

Route – Pick a marble from anywhere in another terminal tray and place it at either end of any other tray that isn’t your own

Receive – Pick a marble from anywhere in another terminal tray and place it at either end of your terminal tray

Wild – Use this to execute any command that is being used in the current scenario


After the card is used (or discarded), place it off to the side of the play area.  Your group may want to organize the discarded cards in order to count how many are left of each type (remember that the deck manifest is in the rules for each scenario).  This can be important information as you try to predict which cards may come up in the next round or for knowing whether or not you have a particular action available to you at all!

When all players have taken a turn, there will be one card left on the table which will be part of the tableau for the next round.  Flip over a number of cards equal to the number of players for the next round.  The team loses if the last command card is used and the goal cards haven’t been met.  The group wins if the four terminal trays exactly match the color and order shown on the goal cards.


As you play the game, you’ll be instructed to open certain boxes and envelopes to gain new information to make future scenarios more complex. The initial campaign has eighteen different missions – and while there are other details I could tell you, I’ll leave those out of this review so you can discover them on your own!

My thoughts on the game

I generally like deduction games, so I thought that Crack the Code might be a good fit for me.  On the other hand, I’m not a huge fan of limited communication games as I find myself easily frustrated by the constant debate over what is an acceptable question to ask or statement to make.  In the end, this one does pretty good in the limited communication front as the restrictions are pretty clear cut – you can’t talk about the color of the marbles you can see or the position of those marbles. 

The initial missions are pretty easy, and when we started the game we thought that we would just breeze through the game.  However, as we progressed through the scenario book, the later missions were quite difficult and challenging. 

Teamwork and discussion is key to this game.  In each mission, you only have a limited number of command cards at your disposal, so you’d really like to make positive progress with each card.  Given the nature of the different cards – some which allow you to manipulate your own marbles while others only let you use marbles you can see – the team will likely need to discuss how to use the cards available each round in order to give each player something to do.  Also, it may be important to figure out the timing of actions so that a particular marble can be moved (or seen) for a later command card.

The big catch here is the limited information restriction.  It’s really hard to plan out a sequence of moves when you can’t discuss the color or specific location of a marble.  There are plenty of times I want to tell someone that they need to wait to use a specific command card when you can’t tell them what marble they’ll need that command card for…  It is helpful to remember that everyone is able to see a marble when it moves (and where it moves to) – and this can be a useful way to communicate your intended plan without breaking any rules.

The games seem to move along fairly quickly, we found that most missions took 15-20 minutes to play through.  We had a fairly decent success rate, even with the missions near the end of the booklet, though the later ones were more challenging and therefore more enjoyable for us.


The components are nicely done, and I like the way that the combo of the plastic tray and the goal card nicely inhibits you from seeing the marbles in your tray.  The green marbles are two-toned which is supposed to help colorblind gamers distinguish them from the red marbles.  The game does include some envelopes and boxes which are only to be opened when you are instructed – this is possibly to advantage of the rise in legacy games – but there really wasn’t anything legacy involved with the contents, and it was also a bit frustrating that you had to keep going back to the same envelope to get different material out of it.  I suppose that it was as good as any other system to keep components hidden for a newbie, but in the end, it feels like more work than it’s worth to try to hide the stuff.

Crack the Code is a nice light cooperative deduction game, and we enjoyed our plays of it – but now that we’ve seen most of the missions, I’m not sure that we’re going to go back to it again. That being said, I’ve played over three-fourths of the missions in the box, so that’s a pretty decent amount of entertainment from any game.

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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