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Codenames Duet Review

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All board game reviews and ratings from “A Pair of Meeples” are entirely based on the game at two players. You can learn more about our rating system by clicking below.


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Codenames Duet is probably the closest thing to what most would consider a party game for two players.  If you like word games and seeing if you and your gaming partner think on the same wavelengths Codenames Duet might be the next game for your collection.

Codenames Duet Board Game Review

7.5 out of 10

Is it Good For Two Players? : Yes!

There are a lot of word guessing and clue-giving games out there already but there are very few that are as well designed as Codenames Duet and even fewer that work great with two players. No matter whether you’re new to board games or not Codenames Duet provides an enjoyable and challenging puzzle.

Theme: 7/10
Replayability: 7/10
Components: 7/10

Conflict: 0/10
Fun: 7/10

Husband’s Rating
8 out of 10
Wife’s Rating
7 out of 10

Pros

Great for a wide variety of players

Highly replayable due to a lot of word and key cards

Makes you and your partner really feel like a team

Very enjoyable puzzle

Cons

A bit luck-dependent, some games will be a lot harder than others due to the combinations of cards and keycards.

Gameplay Experience:

Codenames Duet is one of the most popular two-player board games available so it quickly made its way onto our shelves.  Having never played the original Codenames it was time to train for our top-secret mission, i.e. read the rules.  

Codenames Duet is a fairly simple game so it didn’t take us that long to make it through the rulebook and learn how to play.  We decided to call our first round of the game “training mode”. We set up the word cards, got our agents and assassin tiles stacked on the table, and picked a key card.  For the first game, we decided we would not be super strict in our communication as we were learning it together.

Codenames Duet Setup
Initial Setup of Codenames Duet

We clumsily made it through our first game, giving some very limited clues to each other and re-referencing the rulebook every once in a while.  We definitely didn’t succeed in our trial mission but we understood how to play now and we’re ready for our first real attempt.

We reset up the word cards, key card, and gathered our agents.  We stared at each other with dead serious expressions and nodded that we were ready to complete our mission this time, for real (James Bond theme music playing in the background in our heads).  We were very much underdressed for the occasion but we were just taking a more modern athleisure approach to blend in and be covert.

Anyway, we both analyzed the words available to us in total silence.  I said I had a clue for 2 words, my wife said she had one for three.  It was understood without talking that she should give hers first, which she did.  I guessed one word right, she placed our first secret agent contact over that word. 

I guessed a second word and the tension became a bit higher, but she placed another secret agent contact over the word card.  The choices for the clue were getting slimmer and I was starting to sweat in my black tuxedo, I mean my jogging pants and t-shirt.  Should I go for another word and risk running into an assassin or an innocent bystander?  Or should I call it and keep that clue in the back of my mind for later.

I guess I’m a loose cannon type of secret agent because I went for it.  After pointing to the third and final word I was going to guess, my wife didn’t have to say anything, her look said it all.  I messed up.  Did we fail our mission and run into an assassin or did we just mistake a bystander for one of our contacts?  Luckily, it was just a bystander.  

We kept giving our clues back and forth but ultimately we didn’t accomplish our mission in time, but at least we didn’t run into any assassins.  I don’t know if my wife or I could live with ourselves if we gave a clue that sent the other right into the hands of a trained killer.  Since neither of us ended up with a bullet in us, we played again, and again but not once did we succeed. 

In some games we ended up running out of time and in other games we ran into an assassin before we even made progress.  In other words, Codenames Duet is quite a difficult game but you just want to keep playing and playing until you succeed at your mission.  Unfortunately, we soon realized we weren’t going to succeed that night and decided to call it quits.  

We’ve played many games of Codenames Duet since adding it to our collection and have succeeded a few times, but more often the luck isn’t in our favor or we just aren’t on the same wavelength that day.  Success or failure, every game is fun and it fills a unique spot in our collection

Rules Summary:

Codenames Duet Components
Codenames Duet Components

Codenames Duet is easy to set up and play. First, a 5 x 5 grid of word cards is placed on the table between the two players.  A stack of green agent tiles, one black assassin tile, and nine timer tokens are placed next to the grid of words.   Lastly, a key card is selected and placed in its respective holder between the players.  It is important to not see both sides of the keycard and place it in a way so each player can only see their side of the card.  

Codenames Duet Key Card
The key cards are double sided and there are a lot of them

After setup players must look at the key card and determine which words their partner must guess (spaces marked in green), which words lead to assassins if they are guessed (spaces marked in black), and which words lead to bystanders (tan spaces).  Each side of the key card is slightly different, but some of the spaces are marked the same on both sides.

Players must come up with a clue that relates to one or multiple green spaces in order to get their partner to guess those words, while trying to also ensure they don’t guess a word related to a space with an assassin on it.  The clues used have to be single words, not phrases, and cannot be a word or part of a word that is on the table.  Players will also specify how many cards the clue corresponds with by saying a number.

Players can decide who goes first based on who can come up with the better clue initially.  If a player guesses a word correctly the player who gave the clue will place a green agent tile over that word.   The guesser can select as many words as they want until they either choose to stop guessing, choose a bystander word, or choose an assassin word.  

Codenames Game Start

If only correct words are guessed, the guesser takes a timer token to indicate they are done with their turn.  If a bystander is guessed the clue giver will place a timer token on that word (flipped to the bystander side).  If an assassin spot is guessed, the clue giver will place the black assassin tile over that word and the game is over and the players have lost.

Codenames Duet Assassin End Game
Example of a game loss because of an assassin

If players can place all green agent tiles before running out of timer tokens they have succeeded at their mission.  If you run out of tokens though, there is one more chance to succeed.  After all, tokens are gone the game is now in sudden death.  Both players will get another chance to guess words but no more clues will be given.  This means players will have to think of all previous clues to figure out what words still need to be picked.

Sudden death guesses don’t have to be made in a particular order but if any guess is wrong, the game is over and both players lose.  If after this sudden death round you still have green agent tiles left, the players have not succeeded at their mission, and is also considered a loss.

That’s all you really need to know about Codenames Duet to play yourself.  One last thing though just in case we weren’t clear enough.  The most important rule is to limit your communication with your partner. You cannot give hints or make remarks about your clues, guesses or anything else.  It’s up to you how strictly you limit your communication but the more you let slip or say the easier the game will be.

 

Conclusion:

Codenames Duet provides quite a unique board game experience especially when you consider it as a two-player game.  There are a lot of word guessing games and a lot of deduction and clue giving games out there already but many of them aren’t nearly as well designed, satisfying to play, or work well with two players. 

The quick playtime and how easy it is to learn, make it a great game for beginner boardgamers.  Just because it is easy to play doesn’t mean the game is easy though, so there is still a lot to be enjoyed by players of all experiences.  No matter whether you’re new to board games or not, Codenames Duet provides an enjoyable and challenging puzzle.

The game is great, there’s no denying that but it still does have its weaknesses.  First, the game might be a bit more luck dependent than some people might like.  Luck is not a huge factor like in other games, but it still has an impact on how easy or hard a round of Codenames Duet is.  

This leads us to our next negative about the game, the game can be too tough at times.  Depending on your tastes and your mood that day this can lead to two more negatives.  First, certain games can require too much thinking, which as we know sometimes we just don’t have the capacity or the want to think that hard.  Secondly, this high requirement for thinking can lead to a bit too much downtime in the game. 

Some players can sometimes struggle to come up with good clues, especially towards the end of the game and this can occasionally make the game drag on, but as you play and get better at the game this is usually diminished, but not always, again due to the luck involved in the setup of the cards.

These are the only negatives that we can see with Codenames Duet, and for us, they don’t affect our enjoyment of the game significantly at all.  For others though, these factors might have a bigger impact so take these things into consideration when deciding if it’s a good game for you.

Is Codenames Duet Good For Two Players?:

Codenames Duet is a two-player game and that’s really the reason why it is such a great game.  There are a lot of word guessing and clue-giving games out there already but there are very few that are so well designed and even fewer that work great with two players.  Codenames Duet plays very well and has reigned supreme in this category of games for these reasons.

It fills a very unique spot in board game collections and will likely remain one of the top two player games for the foreseeable future because it does what it does best and doesn’t have much competition, at least yet.  We don’t see it leaving our shelves ever and it’s hard to imagine another game that could take its place.

Pros

  • Great for a wide variety of players
  • Highly replayable due to a lot of word and key cards
  • Makes you and your partner really feel like a team
  • Very enjoyable puzzle

Cons

  • A bit luck-dependent, some games will be a lot harder than others due to the combinations of cards and keycards.

Codenames: Duet - The Two Player Word Deduction Game by CGE Czech Games Edition
Codenames: Duet - The Two Player Word Deduction Game by CGE Czech Games Edition
Codenames: Duet - The Two Player Word Deduction Game by CGE Czech Games Edition

We hope this Codenames Duet two player review has helped you.

Our reviews are not paid reviews, but some games are given to us, we do not let this affect our opinions in any way. This post may contain affiliate links so we might receive compensation if you sign up for or purchase products linked to. As an Amazon Associate, we can earn from qualifying purchases. This helps cover our site's costs and allows us to continue reviewing games.


How to play Codenames Duet Online

Codenames Duet actually has an official online free to play game.  To play Codenames Duet online make your way to https://codenames.game/ and create a room.  You can even play with video chat if you wish.  Once you click create a room you will be asked to type in a nickname.  

After that it might look like you can’t play codenames duet online but if you click the “full settings” button you will be able to select duet as the version you want to play.  After creating the room just send the game link to any friend you want to play with.  
We think it’s pretty awesome that Czech Games Edition created this online version of Codenames Duet and made it completely free to play.  You don’t even have to enter your email address to play which is just extra awesome.  So what are you waiting for, go try it out now.

Codenames Duet Mission Map

Codenames Duet also comes with an added mission map that adds a sort of campaign mode to the game.  Since Codenames is more of a fun quick game for us we have had no urge to use this, but it does add some extra replayability if we ever want it.  

The map basically changes the number of time tokens you have for various locations, and also specifies how many mistakes players can make (guessing a bystander).  This really is just adding another loss condition to the game, so it does make it a bit harder.  Having this extra content might be a plus for some people, but for us we didn’t feel it was necessary just because of the type of game Codenames Duet is.  


Board Games Czech Games Edition Codenames: Duet XXL
Board Games Czech Games Edition Codenames: Duet XXL
Board Games Czech Games Edition Codenames: Duet XXL

Codenames Duet XXL

If you want the cards to be a bit easier to read and have the table space for it, there is an XXL version of Codenames Duet which keeps everything the same it just has larger cards to make playing easier on the eyes.


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