We’ve talked about Codenames before, as well as some of the other versions of the game. Mostly, these alternates replace the words with pictures, or new words surrounding a specific idea or intellectual property. But, the newest release is CGE’s Codenames Duet. Not only does it now work for as few as two players, but it is hands down the best version to be released.
Total Cooperation Works for Big and Small Groups
The first big change is that Duet takes the basic wordplay of Codenames and packages it in a totally cooperative experience. Rather than two teams competing to be the most clever, everyone must now work together to contact all of the agents.
As before, you have a grid of word cards and a key card that tells you which words you’re looking for, which are neutral, and which are deadly assassins. But now the key card is double sided. So each side of the table is trying to get the other side to guess words. Of course, you only have nine clues to guess 15 words. So you still have to strive for cleverness.
But that cooperative element means that the game works well with as few as two players. In other versions of the game, you really need at least four to get a good experience. But now, you can play as a couple. And it still works for larger groups. In fact, with half the table able to see each side of the clue card, you get lots of whispers and multiple suggestions about what the next clue should be.
Being Both the Guesser and Cluegiver Keeps you Engaged
And that brings us to another way in which Duet improves the experience: engagement. In the original Codenames, it was sometimes easy to slink back in the crowd. Especially in a larger group if you were part of the gaggle of guessers. The cluegivers might take a long time to think of a clue, and you suddenly remember that youtube video you wanted to show everyone…
Duet ameliorates this issue nicely. You aren’t just one of a horde of guessers. Instead, you are responsible for both guessing and giving clues. That means that even while the other side is thinking of a clue to give, you will be, too. Duet keeps you focused on the task by providing everyone a much more active role. And this holds true even in larger games. You’ll look over the cards and whisper to your neighbor, “What about saying, ‘Hero’ for our next clue?” Your partner will reply with their thoughts and the experience rarely lulls.
Another nice thing about Duet is that, so far, it has avoided the label as a “party game.” While Duet can certainly be played with large groups, sometimes people think of a “party game” as one with raucous laughter and silly events. That’s not Codenames. So by avoiding that label, Duet also sets the right expectations and avoids disappointment.
Duet Provides Granular Difficulty
If you were just giving clues cooperatively, it would be trivially easy to give single word clues until you found them all. To create an appropriate challenge, Duet uses a timer system. But it’s not a real-time game. Instead, you can give only nine clues. If you can’t get all 15 words in nine clues, you’ll lose.
But the timer also is easy to adjust depending on your skill level. It actually comes with up to 11 clues if you want to make things a little easier. Or you can split the clues between normal turns and wrong guesses. So maybe of your nine, you allow four wrong guesses. If you don’t mess anything up, you take a normal token. But if you pick a neutral card, you have to take one of the wrong guess tokens. If you’ve already used them all up, then you take two normal tokens – draining your time that much more quickly.
Duet thus allows you to tailor the experience to that most befitting your group. Some groups have a bunch of wordsmiths who easily come up with clues referencing three or more words. Other players might struggle to find a clue for two words. But with the granular difficulty, you can keep the challenge at the level you prefer – and even challenge yourself to improve from game to game.
Put it all together, and this is a strong evolution in Codenames play. Duet takes the basic idea and improves nearly every aspect of the ruleset and gaming experience.
Have you given Duet a try? Tell us about it in the comments! And don’t forget to check out Game the Game on Geek & Sundry Live every Wednesday at 4PM PT to stay in the loop of the coolest games on the tabletop!
All image credits: GeekInsight