Board Game Review: Codenames Duet

We like Codenames. In fact, having already played both games in the Codenames series, it’s sitting right up near the top of our favourite games thanks to its brilliantly simple rules, but deviously challenging gameplay. But it was always better with a group, and while there was an optional two-player set of rules if you fancied it, the game never really had the same buzz with two.

Until now.

Codenames Duet is, as the name suggests, a game designed for two players. Much of the gameplay is the same as before; there’s the grid of 25 words you need to guess, the danger of stumbling across an assassin and instantly ending the game as losers and the mindless panic when you just can’t think of a clue that joins “biscuit” and “shirt” together on your final turn. But instead of competing against other team, this time round you and a friend will be trying to work together to find all of the codenames on the table, and it leads to a very different feel of game.

In Duet you’ll need to be sitting across the table from the other player, given that the map card that tells you where your spies are is double sided and each side needs to be seen by only a single player. Each player will have a different collection of words to try and guess, and while there is some overlap where both players are aiming for the same words, there are also some which differ between the players. To make it even more stressful, one of the three assassin cards for each player is actually a spy card for the other, so as you’re looking at your map and seeing where the assassins are, you’re trying to decide if your partner is hoping you’ll guess it or if it’s one of their assassin’s too. Tricky.

With this being a co-op game, there’s also the question of how you know the game is up. This is done with the bystanders, those innocent folk who get caught up in your game when you guess a card which is neither a spy or an assassin. Picking out one of these ends your turn straight away, with a bystander token being placed on the word called out. Meanwhile, at the end of every turn another bystander token is turned over (where you’ll find a handy tick mark) and placed by the player to keep track of the turns taken. This diminishes your supply of bystanders even further, and when you realise that running out of them also means you lose it’s a pretty powerful deterrent against getting things wrong.

But sometimes you’ll win. And it feels great. So then what? Well, in addition to the hundreds of different words and map cards (which offer a bewilderingly large number of combinations) there’s the world map, which lets you set up your game in a different location with slightly different rules of winning and losing. Essentially each location has a number of allowed bystanders, and a limit to how many you can place on the board. As such, you can not only tweak the difficulty of the game using the random selection of words, but also change its challenge level by using one of the other locations on the world map. It’s a fairly tenuous way to change things up a bit, but it serves a purpose and means you don’t need to worry about making your own rules up to make the game different.

So as with the Codenames game before it, Codenames Duet is another game which shows just how amazing a relatively simple game can be. The original game and Codenames Pictures are still awesome party games, but for a quieter night with just you and one other, Duet will fill your evening without even trying. Brilliant fun.

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