Codenames Duet Board Game Review
Stats at a glance
You and your spy partner are on an undercover mission. You both need to get in contact with nine secret agents to share a special message but it can only be delivered in code. To make matters worse, there are assassins on your tail. So, stay stealthy, keep vigilant and, above all, rock those synonyms.
Brief Overview of Codenames Duet
Codenames Duet is a two-player co-operative version of the popular Codenames. Using a series of one-word clues, you and your partner have to guess a selection of words they have on a card. But watch out, there are words you have to avoid, too. If you stumble upon one by accident, it’s game over.
An easy-to-learn game that the whole family can enjoy, Codenames Duet can be as challenging as you want it to be, with the only real limit to this being your own creativity.
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Unboxing Codenames Duet
For those familiar with the original Codenames, there won’t be many surprises in the box. It comes with:
- 200+ Word Cards
- 15 Agent Cards
- 1 assassin Card
- 100 Key Cards
- 1 plastic Key Card stand
- 11 innocent bystander tokens
- 1 rule book
- 1 mission maps pad
On the box artwork, I wasn’t very impressed. The theme in Codenames isn’t overly strong, and this comes across. The design is very simplistic and minimalist, but not necessarily in a good way. More bland than evocative. It’s not so distant from the original though.
Once opened up, there’s not a great deal to look through. The cards make up the bulk of the game, which did feel like they’ll likely become a bit worn over time. But maybe that will help add to the idea that these are secret documents.
One addition to the game that wasn’t in the original is the Key Card stand. This is one opportunity where perhaps the makers could have put something a little extra into the game, however, they opted instead to just make it a small piece of transparent plastic.
All in all, not the most impressive game in terms of components, but this doesn’t detract at all from the game itself. And it’s likely one of the reasons it’s so affordable.
How to Play Codenames Duet
The aim of Codenames Duet is for you to guess the words on your partner’s card, and vice versa. You’re playing as part of a spy duo on the same team, in which the words on the cards represent secret agents that you’re trying to contact. This isn’t a competitive game, you’re playing together as part of an undercover co-operative.
But be careful, some assassins have been hired to try and stop you. These are represented by words that your partner must avoid guessing, for, if not, you’ll lose the game. (I’m not sure if this means you’ve been assassinated. For the kids’ sake, let’s just say you’ve been taken hostage… and then mercilessly tortured).
Time’s also not on your side. You and your partner both only have nine chances to guess the words on your partner’s card.
You and your partner sit on opposite sides of the table. Place the Key Card stand to one side between you. Take a Key Card at random from the pack and put it in the stand, making sure you can only see one side, and your partner can only see the other. This is very important!
Next, deal out 25 upturned Word Cards onto the table in a 5×5 formation and lay out nine Timer Tokens on the table. These measure your turns, as you only have so many before you lose the game. After a turn has been taken, you remove one from the game.
The Key Card
Each side of the Key Card shows a visual representation of the Word Cards laid out on the table. Nine of them are highlighted in green. These are the words your partner has to guess. There’s also three colored black. These are the assassins! If your partner guesses these, the game’s up.
Your partner will also see a diagram of cards on their side of the card, however, different words will be highlighted (although some of them will be the same).
Any word that’s not highlighted at all is an ‘innocent bystander’. If you guess one of these words then it’s just a wrong guess.
To win, you and your partner must have collectively guessed all 15 green highlighted words before you run out of turns.
Giving Clues and Making Guesses
Each turn, you’re allowed to give one clue to your partner. A clue contains one word that describes one or more green words on the table and a number, which indicates how many cards that clue is relevant to.
Your partner then makes a guess by touching a Word Card on the table. If they’ve successfully chosen a green word, nice work! You cover it with a green Agent Card and can make another guess. You’re able to make unlimited correct guesses. If they don’t want to make another guess, they take a Timer Token and place it in front of them.
If they select a word that is black, then you’ve chosen an assassin and lose straightaway.
If they pick one that is neither green nor black, they’ve chosen an innocent bystander. In this instance, cover the card with one of your Timer Tokens, with the arrow pointing towards your partner (this could still be a word they have on their Key Card, remember). Their turn is then over.
Once your partner has had a go, it’s their turn to give a clue and your turn to make guesses.
Winning the Game
If your partner has guessed all nine words on your Key Card, then they stop making guesses. Your partner will then be the only person to give clues on the remaining turns. Should you be successful in guessing all their nine words, then you win!
Your First Game of Codenames Duet
Codenames Duet is a great game for the family, however, it can be quite tough. There’s only so much room for one-word clues before you run out of time. As such, if you’re playing with some younger ones, they do include two extra Timer Tokens in the box to make things a little easier. They’re a different color to the normal blue ones to make sure you don’t accidentally play with them as part of the regular game.
Also, as with all word games (from Scattergories to Scrabble), there are bound to be different interpretations of what is and isn’t a valid clue. Handily, Czech Games Edition provides a comprehensive guide in the rulebook. I strongly recommend making sure everyone playing is aware of them, as there’s nothing worse than someone giving an invalid clue and undermining the game part-way through.
For example, you can’t say a word that’s part of a word on a Word Card, such as using ‘Rain’ as a clue for ‘Rainbow’. You also can’t give a clue that includes a word on the table, like using ‘Earthquake’ as a clue for ‘Earth’.
In terms of gameplay, you’ll be at a big advantage if you remember the previous clues that have been given, rather than taking each clue one at a time. Often, when torn between two words as a possible option, these can help you narrow it down and avoid making a wrong guess. As a clue-giver, it’s also helpful when taking a more strategic approach to clues if you know your partner is thinking of the bigger picture.
Pros & Cons
- Great for the family
- Great for two players
- A little trickier with more than two players
Codenames Duet is one of those great games that’s incredibly simple to learn, so is perfect for a family game, but also provides the opportunity to really test your mind. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is devising a clue that links to five or six cards (whether your partner can guess them right or not is another matter…). However, not everyone is going to be able to do that, and that’s not a problem.
I like Codenames Duet a lot, too, because, even though you’re only allowed to say one word per clue, it’s still very co-operative. If you’re playing with someone you know well then you can get really niche with some of the clues you’re giving based on your past experiences together. But, similarly, when I played with a group of people I’d not met before it was a great test of empathy.
One of the best things about this game is that it is built for two players. It’s often hard to find a truly enjoyable two-player game that doesn’t lose its novelty after a few rounds, but this doesn’t struggle with that one bit.
It can also be played as a group, making this game even more versatile. It is a little trickier being played this way, though, as you need to avoid giving the other team any extra tips as to what the words are. Discussion will have to either take place in another room or in writing – not all that convenient.
Perhaps one other drawback is that once you’ve played the game a lot (and it’s likely you will, as it’s so fun) the cards become familiar and clues can sometimes find themselves recycled. It’s not common, but maybe releasing an expansion pack would be pertinent sometime in the future. As cons go, though, enjoying it so much that you play it over and over isn’t the worst of them.
Codenames Duet has to be one of the best two-player games out there. I love solving puzzles and using lateral thinking to get to an answer, and this game has that in spades.
A two-player, co-operative word game, it’s one that all members of the family will be able to enjoy.
Codenames Duet isn’t just a game for the puzzle-solvers or logophiles (someone who loves words) out there. It works fantastically as a game for all ages, which is what makes it so impressive as a concept. The words are very simple – it’s just how you choose to get there that matters.
Similarly, I really enjoyed the player interaction and co-operation in the game. Working together and putting yourself in the shoes of your partner makes this a very different experience to other two-player games, most of which are competitive.
If I had to give you a one-word clue to describe Codenames Duet, I think I’d go with: awesome.
Find more word games to play in our video below: