Shhh it's top secret... will you help us decipher Codenames Duet?

Updated: Sep 28, 2021


Players: 2(+) Ages: 11+ Game Time: 15 mins

In Codenames Duet, a co-operative word game designed by Vlaada Chvátil and Scot Eaton, and published by Czech Games Edition, you play as two covert operatives on a secret mission to bring in all 15 agents hidden in a crowded city.

Your mission: work together to identify each agent by their codename. The catch is that some agents will only respond to a certain handler and there are assassins who you must avoid.

You each know the identities of nine agents that you need to communicate to your fellow operative to make contact with. Figure out all 15 before you run out of time by speaking in coded messages, but make sure not to accuse too many innocent bystanders... or get assassinated.

Whilst officially it is designed for two players, Codenames Duet can also be a lot of fun played in larger groups, dividing into teams.


Gameplay

To start, sit on opposite sides of your favourite gaming table, create a 5x5 grid of codewords selected at random, and draw a code key making sure not to reveal your side to your partner (we found it's best to hold the deck vertically and draw from the middle). This key will show you the codewords for nine agents (green) and three assassins (black). Some of these will be common to both of you but one of the assassin locations will appear as a agent on the other side of the key.

Each turn you will give your partner a clue word with the same standard rules as the original Codenames (can't be a full or partial word in the grid etc...) and a number representing the number of agents associated with the clue. Your partner will then make contact by selecting a codeword to reveal, at which point your indicate if they are an agent, bystander or assassin (an assassin is game over, buddy!) using the green agent cards, the black assassin card or the bystander token. If your partner is unsure or just ready to pass, then they take one of the bystander tokens and flip it to the turn marker side.

An assassin is game over, buddy!

If collectively you run out of turn tokens, then no more clues can be given and you must keep guessing. At that stage, if you don't find all the agents it's too late and you lose. However, if you locate all 15 agents without coming foul of an assassin then you win!

Hopefully, with a good clue, your partner will guess every agent you hinted at, but they can always choose to end their turn early to wait for more information or keep pushing to guess from previous clues or even take a risky stab in the dark.

Whilst it's not an illegal move to hint at only one agent, it's not recommended as you risk running out of turns. So try to be clever with your clues by thinking of a word that links as many as possible, but be careful in giving your clues, you may inadvertently lead them to an assassin. There's no going back from that - you lose the game and fail the mission!

You could even use more advanced techniques like the zero clue, which will indicate an association you don't want your partner to make and might rule out certain codewords. However, your partner must still guess at least one word during that turn. Great if the grid has loads of words you can link together but there's a sneaky assassin or innocent bystander that's getting in the way.

How many of the branches will you be able to complete before being discovered?

If you want to up your game, there's also a campaign mode using the mission map pad. You will travel around the world completing different missions. Each stage takes place in a separate city and has two parameters - the first is the total number of turns and the second is the number of acceptable mistakes.

How many of the branches will you be able to complete before being discovered?


Production

The component quality is pretty good, and the box is quite compact, making it easily transportable.

I have a slight niggle that, similar to many games, there are no dedicated inserts to be able to pack it neatly and securely. So you either accept everything might get a bit jumbled up, or use your solution of choice... for us it's usually either ziplock bags or elastic bands.

Also, there aren't many pages included on the mission map pad so if you play with this a lot you may run out, but you can print more from the Czech Games Edition website.

As per usual I love that it colour blind friendly with its use of symbols, and I love that it's compatible with other games in the Codenames series.

Conclusion

I do love Codenames Duet. It's a great two-player version of the popular party game Codenames. As the resident Word-nerd, I do thoroughly enjoy word-related games, and this one is no exception.

It plays quite quickly, and has a lot of replayability because the decks for both the key cards and the word cards are quite vast. It's highly unlikely you'll have the same setup more than once.

Other than the perpetual niggle of a lack of storage solution for components, I can't really fault it. The hubby and I play it often and always have fun (even if it can be frustrating at times). It's just not always my top choice when deciding what to play, but I don't think that alone should bring it down.

This is one I can thoroughly recommend adding to your collection.


Sueyzanne

Your resident Word-nerd

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