FTW Staff Picks - Codenames Duet

For The Win Board Game Cafe's Staff Picks is a weekly series where we take a quick look at some of the staff's favourite games, old and new.

Codenames Duet

Genre: Cooperative Deduction

Designer: Vlaada Chvatil & Scot Eaton

Player Size: 2 Players

Game Length: 20 minutes

For fans of: Taboo, Dixit, Agent Hunter

There has been no shortage of Codenames products since it shot its way up to the #1 spot in the Party genre on BoardGameGeek. It won countless awards, including the acclaimed Spiel des Jahres in 2016. And considering Codenames is more of an engine than a singular game, it set itself up for ample opportunity to expand. Within the last year or so, we've already gotten Codenames Pictures, Codenames Marvel, Codenames Disney and Codenames Duet. The first three are virtually the same game as the original. But Duet is where they actually made some intriguing design choices to further add value to an already solid foundation.


In Codenames Duet, two players are working together to find their 15 Agents collectively before time runs out. There is a 5x5 grid of words laid out and a double-sided key card faces each player. Both key cards are unique, sharing just two similarities: 3 of the Agents and 1 of the Assassins are the same on both sides. Additionally, on one side one of the Agents is an Assassin on the reverse side and vice versa. The two players take turns giving one-word clues, followed by a number representing how many Agents are related to the clue. If a player guesses incorrectly on a Bystander, their turn is done and they take a Timer Token. If a player guesses incorrectly on an Assassin, the game is over and the players lose. If they run out of Timer Tokens, the game enters Sudden Death. In Sudden Death the players collectively select words until either all Agents are found or if they guess 1 incorrectly before then. If all Agents are found, the players win! 

Knowing how each key card is designed, gives a bit of room for players to deduce the likelihood of hitting an Assassin, Agent or Bystander. It's still the same Codenames that you know and love, but the strategy is a little different. Additionally, the game comes with a set of Mission Maps. These different missions have different parameters for players to succeed. The missions adjust the amount of mistakes that can be made, and how much time is allotted. The player's can then choose which path to take. Each path has different challenges and should be approached with different strategies. It's a welcome addition to incentivize variant gameplay.


I've always felt that the included 2-player variant in the original Codenames rulebook was a good implementation. It wasn't the most creative solution, but I enjoyed playing it as more of a "high score" arcade-style game. So when they announced Codenames Duet, I wasn't initially sold on the necessity of having an entire game dedicated to that idea. Lucky for us, they changed enough for it to stand on its own. And if you own the original, you can always mix in the words to add even more variety to both games. It's a win-win for all lovers of the franchise.

Earl OliverosComment