While the original Codenames is meant for 4 players, Duet is specifically designed for 2 with variant rules to allow for 4 to play using the same game setup. The game is set up by randomly drawing out 25 cards with one word on them and laying them out in a 5×5 pattern. A key card is then chosen at random and placed in the provided stand so that each player can only see the side facing them. The key card designates which cards on the table are Agents, Assassins, and Bystanders.
The idea is to give the player facing you single-word clues relating to the cards you want them to select, and the number of cards your clue applies to. The trick is avoiding the 3 Assassin cards — picking any of them immediately ends the game. Bystanders picked simply end that turn and begin a new one. Scenarios dictate how many turns you get to complete a mission, which is one game. The mission is accomplished if you contact (pick) all 15 Agents before an Assassin is picked or you run out of turns.
I read through the instruction booklet, laid out a randomly selected group of cards in a 5×5 grid and placed a key card with only one side visible to each of us and then the game began. Well, sort of. I suppose I’m not used to word games, so many rounds were played with only one or two words being successfully picked with our one-word clues. This was harder than I expected!
We ran out of turns without finding all the agents in the first game and just barely finished the second game with one spare bystander. The third time was the charm and we seemed to be getting the hang of it by now. One how-to-play video later and we were cruising, attempting a couple of the “missions” which meant we had fewer bystanders, and the challenge was met. Our excitement waned somewhat when we looked over the box more carefully and saw that this was a game developed for the 11+ age range. Ah well, sometimes you forget your place in the grand scheme of things and as the great Han Solo once said “Great kid, don’t get cocky.”
Overall this is a pretty solid game, challenging, and your mileage will vary depending on how well you and your partner can read into the clues and between the lines. Although it will accommodate 4 players, I’d go with one of the other Codenames games for that and leave this one for the 2 player evenings. Would buy. Wait, did buy.
The game comes with 100 double-sided key cards and 200 double-sided word cards for use with Duets, or you can add them to the original Codenames game as an expansion. Game time is estimated at 15 minutes, but that depends on familiarity with the game rules and of course your ability to communicate and guess.
There are some helpful videos out there on YouTube to explain the game visually and show some examples of play, and I definitely recommend them to clarify the rules and to learn some neat tips about clue giving. Here is a how to play video that I recommend.
The Codenames game debuted in 2015 and the family of games has grown to include Duets, and several other variants:
Codenames Pictures was released in 2016, using pictures on the cards instead of words and using a grid of 20 cards instead of 25, but otherwise having the same clue-giving and guessing rules as the original. It can be combined with the base game by having both pictures and words in the layout, or using 4×5 grids with the word cards or the 5×5 grids with the pictures, or using any of the new variants with the base game.
Codenames Deep Undercover was released in 2016 exclusively at Target Stores. The game’s 200 new cards consisted of sexual references and double entendres, earning it a parental advisory sticker.
Codenames Duet was released in 2017 as a two-player, cooperative version of the base game with 400 all new word cards.
Codenames Marvel Edition was released in 2017, featuring characters including Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, and others in the Marvel Universe.
Codenames Disney Family Edition was released in 2017, and featured characters and locations from Disney and Pixar films.