Codenames is a modern classic that seems much older than its original release date of 2015 and its nine different versions. It’s graced many top ten lists for best board games and won Origins Awards in 2015 for Best Family Game, Fan Favourite Family Game, and Game of the Year. A week rarely goes by at Funny Bones where Codenames isn’t taken off the shelf and enjoyed by families and friends. Safe to say, it’s made its mark on the board game scene.
With warmer weather and loosened restrictions upon us, it’s easier to gather more people to play games together, meaning classics such as Codenames (which is designed for four to eight players) can be enjoyed easier. But what if you’re more of an introvert? Maybe two is company and four to eight is a major crowd? Or perhaps you’d just like to keep your game night cozy and intimate? Luckily, there’s a special version of Codenames for all of those purposes, fittingly named Codenames: Duet. This is a unique edition of the game that is made for two players, though it can also be played with larger groups, making it an excellent edition to any board gamer’s shelf.
This game is a staple of our exclusive two-player section at Funny Bones, which can be played in-store or rented and taken home. Let’s learn how to play and live the life of undercover spies known only by their special codenames.
Codename: Game Next Door
In a game of traditional Codenames, players would form teams with one another, creating team red and team blue. One player acts as the spymaster (AKA the player who knows all the codenames of the spies in the field) while others are spies working undercover in the field. 25 random codename cards will be laid out on the playing space in a 5x5 grid. Some of these cards represent red or blue agents in the field, while others are innocent bystanders. One card is an assassin, meaning players who accidentally choose this card immediately lose the game.
The spymaster receives a key card that highlights which cards are red agents, which are blue, and which are bystanders and the assassin. Now given the information, they must convey which cards are their teams’ agents by giving hints to their teammates. A hint is one single word plus a number, which indicates how many cards it applies to. The red and blue team will then go back and forth doling out hints and guessing the cards until one team uncovers all of their agents (or mistakenly reveals an assassin.)
Two Is Company
In Codenames: Duet, the basic gameplay remains the same, but several tweaks are made to allow a seamless two-player experience. Now, the game is a co-operative experience: Both players act as both spymaster and field operatives, with the identifying key card being double-sided. The agents you’ll guess are all green, rather than red or blue, and each side of the key card has nine agents and three assassins. The agents that one player has to guess will be different than the ones they want their partner to guess, though it will all occur in the same 5x5 grid. The assassin spots are also different, so exercise caution when making a guess. For simply incorrect guesses, players will put one of nine bystander tokens on the card, as it could potentially be a correct word for the other player. Some agents may overlap, however, making your job much easier, but there are guaranteed to be 15 unique words to guess. Get all of them in nine turns or less, and you win the game!
On The Grid
Let’s go over how a turn would work in the game. The image above shows a standard 5x5 grid of words for Codenames: Duet. If one player had both Wood and Garden as secret words, then a possible hint they could give would be “Nature: 2.” However, the other player could mistakenly choose Monkey or Elephant, being creatures found in nature. They could even choose Country, interpreting it as the countryside rather than a country of the world such as Canada. The key is to give a hint that encompasses as many secret words as possible, but not one that is too general or easy to confuse for another word.
Once a player guesses a word correctly, it gets covered with one of the green secret agent tiles. The player can then continue to guess until they get something incorrect, or choose to end their turn and create a hint for their partner. You’ll place a timer token down to represent a turn passing, which is the other side of the innocent bystander tokens. When you’ve used all nine timer tokens, Sudden Death Mode is activated, where players must guess the remaining words without any extra hints. All you’ve got is the hints you’ve already been given throughout the game. Any mistake here leads to a game over, so proceed with extreme caution.
Mission Possible (But Tough)
If you’re looking for more of an immersive gameplay experience with increasing difficulty, you and your partner can try out missions. These are maps printed out that have your agents completing missions in various cities around the world. Essentially, each city has a different amount of turns allowed within the game, as well as a certain number of mistakes allotted. In Berlin, 11 turns can be taken, while two mistakes are permitted before it’s game over. Other cities like Hong Kong are potentially more challenging, allowing six turns and four mistakes total. Missions don’t have to be followed, but it’s a great addition for those wanting to flex their expertise in Codenames.
Overall, Codenames: Duet is an addictive two-player game that can be adapted for play with a larger group. It’s accommodating, engaging, intellectual, and will give you a glimpse into how your partner’s mind works, which is always a fascinating aspect of board gaming. Why did they choose this word over the much more obvious option? How did they associate two concepts you’ve never even considered together? It’s a learning game, and like real spies, you have to use every brain cell you’ve got to make it out alive.
Come play or buy Codenames: Duet or our other versions of the game such as Codenames: Pictures, Disney Family Edition, Marvel, and The Simpsons!