Codenames Duet Review

 Codenames Duet Set-Up - word cards in a 5x5 grid

In Codenames Duet, two spymasters work cooperatively to identify their fellow agents by using one-word clues. They must find all 15 secret agents hidden within a crowd of bystanders before time runs out - but with five assassins lurking in their midst, one false move means game over.

Words are terrific.. things. Especially in the English language, the nuance and flexibility of words mean we often have a hard time understanding one another, despite our best intentions. Words (and wordplay) have entertained and amused humans for centuries, from early poems and writings through to Shakespeare and the advent of radio. Games like Just a Minute, Taboo and Scrabble have been popular for decades. Even now, social media promotes a certain outlet for creative writing in ways not really seen before.

Enter the two-player version of the hugely popular Codenames brand. 

 Codenames Duet - a correct guess

In Codenames Duet the set-up is simple – in the middle of the table you lay out a 5x5 grid of word cards. A reference card is set between the players, that shows each player what each word in the grid is. If a word is marked green, it’s one of the 9 codenames you’ll need to get your partner to guess. If they’re black, they are assassins, and if your partner guesses one of those words it’s game over. The beige are the civilians, which don’t affect the game state but do take up one of your valuable turns if guessed.

A typical turn may look like this: you’ve spotted a combination of words (such as ‘Water’, ‘Spade’ and ‘Pier’) among the 25 on the table, of which are marked green on your reference card. Your job is to get the other player to point to each of these 3 cards with just a one-word clue. So you might say, ‘Beach; 3’ - Beach being your one-word clue, and 3 being the number of cards on the table you are hinting at. Your fellow spy then silently points to the word/s they think you are attempting to lead them to, and these will either be correct, incorrect, or they have pointed to one of the 3 ‘assassin’ words.

The concept is simple but the game becomes amazingly tense and ‘thinky’, and rewards repeated plays with the same partner. Because you are often trying to draw lines between disparate ideas or objects, you end up mining all of the common – and uncommon – ground you can between the two of you. Once the rules are understood, the best games play out in almost tense silence with the only words being spoken being the clues given – at times it almost feels like you are a pair of spies in arms.

To give another example of where you might go for clues, I once spent a good while working out how I could get Charlotte to guess ‘Anthem’ and ‘Hair’ in the same turn. With our backs against the wall, all I could come up with was ‘Lavigne’, in the hope that somewhere the image of the Canadian singer-songwriter might inspire Charlotte to hazard a guess at those words. Despite her initial annoyance at what appeared to be a random clue, both codenames were guessed perfectly. It really brought out what makes this game great between two people that know each other well, and, subsequently, the mini-campaign included in the box is also a great joy to chip away at over time.

 Codenames Duet - campaign mode

There’s little more to say about Codenames: Duet apart from that it’s a fantastic game, with great production quality, depth and replayability for aeons. There’s 200 double-sided word cards in the box and the random set up means you’re never trying to piece together the same puzzle twice. Duet is simply a must buy for any serious gaming couple, and one you’ll keep coming back to again and again to fill in those 15-20 minutes when the pizza is in the oven or you need a break from the latest Netflix binge.


Want to hear more about codenames duet?

Codenames Duet made the cut in our list of our top five strictly two-player games in our third podcast episode, A Gullible Gamer, but what other games made the grade? You can listen below, or find us in your podcast player of choice by searching 'A Competitive Couple!'