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How to Play Codenames with Two Players

How to play codenames with two players

First, we have to say it, there’s no better way to play Codenames with two players than using a copy of Codenames Duet.  It’s a great version of the game that works extremely well for this player count.  You can find our full review of the game here, and if you’re reading this post then you should probably consider adding it to your collection.

Ok, but since you’ve made it to this specific page you are probably looking to see if you can play the original version of Codenames with two players.

The answer is yes and there is even an official two player variant included in the rule book.  

In this variant, one player acts as the spymaster while the other player or team acts as field operative(s). The goal is to uncover all the agent cards without revealing the assassin or all of the opposing team’s agents.

How to Play Codenames with Two Players official variant

The key elements of the game remain the same:

  • The grid of word cards is laid out, with each word card corresponding to a specific agent, bystander, or the assassin.
  • The spymaster (you, in this case) provides a clue that relates to some of the word cards on the table. The clue usually consists of a single word and a number, indicating how many cards relate to that clue.
  • As the operative, you try to guess the words related to the clue given by the spymaster. Each correct guess allows you to uncover those word cards, and you continue until you decide to stop or guess wrong.

The main changes in this variant are:

  • There’s no direct opponent playing against you; instead, you’re simulating their turns by covering one of their word cards. It’s up to you which word to cover so there is a new strategic element introduced to the game.
  • The game continues until either you uncover the assassin (lose), you contact all the opposing team’s agents (lose), or you successfully reveal all your own team’s agents (win).

The scoring at the end is based on the number of turns it took you to win and the number of enemy agents you placed. In simpler terms though, your score is just how many unplaced enemy agents are left.  The scale below can be used to let you know how well you did.

  • 8: That is … difficult to believe. 
  • 7: Mission impossible. 
  • 6: Wow! 
  • 5: MI6 will be giving you a call. 
  • 4: Top secret clearance. 
  • 3: Your watches are synchronized. 
  • 2: Okay. But you can do better. 
  • 1: Well, a win is a win, right?
Codenames with Two Players Scoring Guide and system

That’s all there is to play Codenames with two players.  It’s the best option if you are trying to play the original with two players. In our opinion there aren’t any unofficial variants that work better, so it’s best to stick to this official variant that’s included in the game’s rulebook.

Again, though if you enjoy Codenames and can see yourself playing the game at this player count more often, don’t hesitate to get yourself a copy of Codenames Duet, it’s a great game to have on your shelf. You can find an overview of the game below!


Codenames Duet

Codenames 
Duet picture

Game Details

  • Players: 2
  • Playtime: 15-30 Minutes
  • Complexity: Low
  • Co-op: Yes

The Good

  • 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

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

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.

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