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Review: Codenames Duet – Spy Themed Deduction for Two Players

Codenames is a great game. It has such a simple concept, and such an enjoyable premise, that is often seen amongst gamers’ shelves as a brilliant little party game. Its only problem is that it requires four players or more, meaning that it could only be broken out into larger gaming sessions, and not played by pairings of friends or partners. This is where Codenames Duet comes in.


Codenames Duet is a social deduction word game based around the idea of picking spies out from a crowd of people, based on their (yes, you guessed it) codenames. It was developed by Vlaada Chvátil and Scot Eaton, with Chvátil being the brains behind the original game, and is a version of Codenames which can accommodate 2 players and up, giving it a lot of versatility. With this in mind, it has some similarities and some differences to the original game.


Like with the original version of Codenames, Codenames Duet revolves around a base of 25 core words that are laid out on a table. The game is split into two teams, with different sets of words each. The goal is to guide the right person to the right word through the use of simple clues. Those clues can only be one thing – a related word and a number.

The related word cannot comprise of the word you are trying to guess, and it cannot be a phrase. The number is related to the number of cards it belongs to. For instance, out of the twenty-five words, I may be trying to get you to guess the following words:


So, I may say something along the lines of “Edible, 3”.

You may guess Biscuit, Sausage, and Tea. Or, you may guess other words. These can be considered citizens, or they can be considered assassins. If an assassin gets picked – it is game over.

How the words are picked is through the use of maps, highlighting spaces within a five by five grid. These correlate with the 25 words on the table so each team can see what they need to pick.

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End Game – But it gives an idea as to set up.


As you can see, the similarities mean the games are familiar enough that it is not a huge jump between Codenames and Codenames Duet. The core concept of the game is the same – guide your team to the words on the board that correlate with your agents. Avoid the assassin.

That being said, that is where the similarities end. The biggest difference between Codenames and Codenames Duet is that in Duet there is only one team.

Codenames Duet takes the concepts of the standard party game and makes it possible to play as a two player game. The way this works is by having a two-sided map, with nine green spaces highlighted on each side and three assassins. The goal is to get 15 between you, meaning there are some that cross over each side, as well as some which are an assassin on one side and a non-assassin on the other. This gives for an interesting dynamic, meaning that when you are guessing you have to completely ignore your map as you may need to guess something which is an assassin for your side and a spy for the other. It actually creates tension in a game where tension doesn’t tend to usually exist.

The two-sided map is placed in such a way that each side can see only their side, next to the main playing area.

The other big difference is the timer. For Codenames Duet there is a timer mechanic, which lays out 9 (or more/less, depending on if you choose the story/mission mode or not). Every question removes a timer token, flipping it to a tick. If a turn ends because a civilian was chosen instead, then the civilian token (which has an arrow on it) is placed on the word, pointing to whoever’s civilian it is. It may be a spy or an assassin for the other side. This again adds tension to the game as it limits the number of turns you have to get all 15 spies.

Finally, there is a story or mission mode. This presents a world map, with different difficulties, allowing for fewer or more guesses, in each location. This starts off with 9-9, which means there are 9 guesses of which it is acceptable for 9 to end as civilians. These range, however, changing the difficulty of the game.

CN 3

An example of the new map.


Codenames Duet doesn’t have a huge amount of components. Like with the original game, there are a series of codename/word cards. These are fairly standard, with the words both printed clearly on it and written with calligraphic writing (so that players at both sides of the table are able to read each of the words).

Aside from that, there are a series of cardboard tokens, which are also standard, and a map. The map pad is nicely drawn, with plenty of paper provided to ensure there are enough sheets for a decent number of games.

The box has no insert, and instead everything is stored in plastic baggies. This is a bit disappointing, but since the game only costs around £12 on Amazon, this can probably be forgiven.

What is a really nice touch, however, is that I am fairly sure the spies on the spy tokens are based on real people – so we have passed a happy ten minutes trying to guess who they all are. So far we can list around half of them, but it’s always fun trying to get all the references in a Star Fluxx kind of way.


The first couple of times we played Codenames Duet we couldn’t get into it. We struggled with getting along with the first couple of games due to needing to read the rules a few times to ensure we fully understood it – however, we persevered, and because of that we had a really good time playing Codenames Duet.

As mentioned a few times throughout this article, Codenames Duet does a great job of building up tension from start to finish. The turn restriction is one such way of doing this to ensure players are as productive and encompassing within their questions as possible. The other is by ensuring that some of the assassins need to be chosen in order to win the game. This goes against everything seasoned Codenames players know, and really helps generate those “fingers crossed” moments.

As a concept, Codenames Duet works well; however, it can be fairly difficult to get into. The rules aren’t all that clear; but, once you get past that it is an incredibly rewarding game. It plays in around 20 minutes, meaning several games can be injected into an evening, with room for team play as well as one-on-one.

Another shift in dynamic is Codenames becoming a fully cooperative game as opposed to being team based. This means everyone wins or everyone loses, and thus gives way to a great team spirit throughout. Yes, it can be a small game; however, it could also be twenty people, with ten on a team. I probably wouldn’t recommend a game that large; however, it’s nice to know it is possible.


All in all, Codenames Duet is a superb sorbet game. It offers a rest between heavier games; however, it can also stand up on its own as a quick gaming session. Due to the reduction on the limitation of the number of players, Codenames Duet is ideal for couples and small groups of friends who want something a little bit different. It is because of this it has a space on our shelves and I would recommend you get it as well.

What do you think of Codenames? Are you a fan of it or are you happy to leave it alone? Let me know in the comments below.

SIMILAR ARTICLE: What Are the Best Questions To Ask in Spyfall?


    • No problem at all. It’s a good alternative to the classic game. We weren’t sure at first, but then we realised we had been playing it for three and a half hours. It is a really good version.


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