Codenames Duet Game Review: A solid, two-player version of a favorite party game

Best Moment

My wife and I were on our third mission with a single timer token and two secret agents left to guess. I made the rookie mistake of not assessing the other guesswords before blurting out a clue. I quickly realized my mistake, but it was too late! My clue could easily lead her to the correct word or to the assassin. She touched the first word…got it! My heartrate was sky high as she vacillated between the assassin and the game-winning word. She finally touched down…for the win!

Gameplay Overview

You’re paired up with a partner agent trying to give each other clues to uncover friendly secret agents in a city packed with bystanders…and a couple of malevolent assassins. You only have so many chances to find all the agents before time runs out!

Quick Thoughts

Codenames is an all-time top five party game for me. I loved it from the very first time I played. I was admittedly quite skeptical when I heard about a two-player version of one of my favorites. What about the banter, the laughing, the collective groans? How would the mechanics work when Codenames is built for group play? I was pleasantly surprised with Codenames Duet. While there are some dynamics missing without playing as a group, the mechanics are very clever and provide for seamless, co-op gameplay.

Codenames Duet is hard! It is surprisingly challenging. I started our first few games thinking, “Yeah, my wife and I are way in sync; we’re going to rock this.” Yeah, not so much. =-) It turns out those outlandish strings of thought you scoffed at when teammates would share their ideas actually helped! When left to your own devices, you will very quickly miss the collaboration and communication that comes with the original Codenames. If you’re up for a challenge with your spouse, sibling, significant other, friend, or random dude at the park (I may not recommend that), you’ll love pulling this out for a quick

While it took a minute to grasp the concept, I really like how both sides have their own unique grid of secret agents, innocent bystanders, and assassins. To put it plainly, a single word on the grid of cards laid out in front of you could be a secret agent for one player and an assassin for the other. You both need to discover all of the other player’s secret agents in order to win the game. Again, adding to the challenge of the game itself, this makes for 15 secret agent words between the two players that you need to guess. So fun!

There are three, yes three, assassins! Think of how a single assassin word can infiltrate your well thought-out plans…then multiply that by three. Always, always make sure you are well aware of those assassin words…and stay far away from clues that could expose one.

Tips & Tricks

  • While it’s okay to quickly rule out certain words from the clue given, come back to them before you give the final answers. I find myself sometimes ruling out the right words too quickly because I thought of it in a different way.
  • Don’t forget about the “Zero Clue Rule” where you can lead the guesser away from a card in order to knock it out of the park with a clever clue for big gains.

Scoring & Wrap-up

Overall, as a medium-weight two-player game, I give Codenames Duet a 7 out of 10 (“Good – usually willing to play” on BGG’s scale) for the following reasons:

Promoters

  • Classic Codenames gameplay with great two-player tweaks
  • High challenge level
  • Co-op, progressive missions

Detractors

  • I do miss the consulting, banter, and collaboration that comes with the original Codenames. Before, during, and after the game. For me, that’s a decently sized fun factor that is missing with Codenames Duet. The solution? Play with more players! It works very well (the rulebook even gives this option!) and brings back those fun, collaborative elements.

If you enjoy the Codenames series, you will absolutely enjoy Codenames Duet. They did a masterful job of turning Oh, did I mention there’s a gigantic XXL version of Duet? Yeah, there is…and it’s awesome.


Disclaimer: I received this game for free in exchange for my review, but believe me, I post authentic reviews every time and will be brazenly blunt if needs be.

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