A Dance for Two: A Codenames Duet Review
The original Codenames, published back in 2015, took the board gaming industry by storm. Designer Vlaada Chvatil once again designed a uniquely clever game cable of captivating hobbyists. However, unlike most of Vlaada’s classics (such as Mage Knight and Through the Ages), Codenames possessed the necessary simplicity and mainstream appeal to lure in people completely unaware of the current board gaming renaissance. It’s popularity boomed over the course of the following year as it became widely available. Copies could be found in plethora at Barnes and Noble, Target, and other big box retailers. Target even eventually scored the rights to exclusively publish Sexy Codenames (AKA Codenames Undercover); a game where you get under the covers and… oh wait, I don’t think that’s right… You know that a party game has made the big times if there is an edgy erotic (or immaturely inappropriate) version on the market, just look at the adult counterparts of the mind numbingly bad Apples to Apples or the delightful Telestrations.
In case you are in the dark about the original Codenames, I’ll bring you to the know real quick. Players split into two teams, and each team designates a member to become the spymaster. In the middle of the table is a grid of words displayed in a 5x5 pattern. The spymasters are given a 5x5 square grid that reveals the locations of all red agents, blue agents, bystanders, and the assassin. It is their job to provide one word clues followed by a number that indicates how many words in the field relate to the said clue with their player color. For example “tree two” could clue a team into guessing wood and bark. The joy of this game comes from the fun puzzle of linking multiple words together in a clever way and remaining silent as the rest of your team argues back and forth on whether you meant for them to guess England or powder from your “wig” clue. You bite your lip and hide your face to avoid giving anything away while your team puts their finger down on England revealing the assassin and costing you the game. Followed is lots of shouting and laughter and then everyone requests to play another round.
However, the board gaming community has also been overloaded with Codenames and its multiple versions on the market (I’m looking at you Codenames Pictures and Codenames Disney), so it is a fair assumption that hobbyists may be inclined to disregard Codenames Duet as yet another throwaway rehash of what was originally a solid word game. However, I urge you to keep reading this review, because my group has found it refreshingly different from the other party focused versions of Codenames. In fact, Duet is not a party game at all and it definitely doesn’t feel like one either.
Duet, as the name implies, is a purely cooperative two player version of Codenames. In Duet, each player gets to play as the spymaster (clue giver) and the guesser! On your turn you will provide clues in the exact manner as the original game with one exception: there is never the need to say unlimited to give your teammate unlimited guessing because your teammate always has unlimited guessing no matter how many words relate to your clue. However, once your teammate guesses one word wrong she will have to end her turn immediately. Anytime a clue is guessed incorrectly you or your partner will have to take a bystander token and place it on the incorrect word in the field, unless the assassin was guessed at which point the game would end immediately. If a player decides to stop guessing and pass while she is ahead, then she must take another token. Once all 9 tokens have been taken from the supply, the game ends. The players will have one last ditch effort to guess each others remaining words without talking. Once one guess is incorrect the game ends and the players lose. Alternatively, if all fifteen agents are discovered before game end, the players win. Simple enough.
With the rules out of the way, let me explain why Duet feels refreshingly different from its predecessor. Unlike Codenames, Duet is a purely cooperative experience with nine tense rounds where a couple bad clues can cost you the game. It requires you to dig into the mind of your sole teammate sitting across from you and encourages you to play off of how that person thinks and interprets the multi-definition words splayed out on the table. It is this unique way in which you are required to see the words through your partner’s eyes that makes this the perfect couples game. When playing this with my fiancee, I am usually able to key into her mind and determine how she might interpret certain words on the table and clues I might deliver. However, inevitably sometimes one of us will fail to understand the clue the other person gave, which usually always ends in lots of laughter.
Duet is also a challenging experience. I found no matter who I played the game with, I lost far more often than I won, which is always a good sign for a cooperative games’ longevity. Duet also offers the ability to add more tokens or remove tokens to fine tune the difficulty per your preference and skill level.
Cardboard Reality unanimously concurs that Duet is one of the best if not the best game in the Codenames series. If you’re looking for a short two player word game that will kill during date night, your lunch break, etc. look no further than this. I’m certain Duet will continue to see table time for a long while due to its unique cooperative experience. In most cooperative games, the luck factor and quaterbacking (which occurs when an alpha player tells other people how to complete their turns) can take away from the overall experience; however, in Duet neither of these issues exist. Everyone I have introduced Duet to has given it high praise. If you like Codenames and are interested in a cooperative or two player version do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.
Median Score - 6 out of 7
Dylan - 6
Nick - 6
Joel - 6
Scott - 6