Sometimes, a board game doesn’t have to consist of tons of small pieces and complicated rules. Like The Resistance, a game can be equally fun and challenging with minimalist pieces. Such is the case with Codenames.
Does anybody remember the gameshow called Password? Password was a game where two teams would compete against one another to try and guess a word with minimal clues. In the case of the show, one person from each team would be given a single word. They would then give a single word clue to their teammate, and the teammate would try to guess the word from the one clue.
Codenames follows that same premise, but instead of being given a single word, each team has 25 words laid out in front of them. It’s a simple game of wordplay and using knowledge of the English language along with abstract thought.
In the case of this blog post, I will be speaking about Codenames Duet, the cooperation version of the game. The core of Codenames Duet is the same as the original game, but some of the rules and playstyle differ.
Codenames Duet is a game for 2-8 players, takes approximately 15 minutes to play, and is for ages 11 and older.
Setup for Codenames is one of the easiest out there. Sit opposite your partner and randomly deal out 25 words cards on the table. It should sit in a 5×5 square like the picture above. Grab 9 timer tokens and set them within reach of both players. Set the agent cards and assassin cards where both players can reach them. Take one of the grid cards (the ones with blue/red squares seen on the left side of the picture above (they’ll just be green/black in Duet)) and put it in the plastic holder so that only you can see one side and your partner can see the other. Decide who goes first, and the game begins!
Two covert operatives are on a secret mission in a crowded city. Each knows 9 secret agents that the other must contact. Communicating in coded messages, they sneak past enemy assassins in an attempt to complete their mission before time runs out.Codenames Duet Rulebook
The object of Codenames is to work together to discover all of the locations of the secret agents in some public place by guessing all of the correct words on the board. There are 25 words, and 15 of them are secret agents.
The card that we set up on the plastic piece during setup shows the location of the secret agents that we are trying to guess. All of the squares on the card correlate to the positions of the cards on the table. The double sided card shows three different colors.
Green marks the location of a secret agent. Black marks the location of an assassin. Gray/white marks the location of an innocent bystander. Your job is to get your partner to guess the location of all the green squares by the end of nine turns. On your side of the card, nine of the squares are marked green. Your partner also has 9 green squares. Three of those squares will overlap with your partner’s, as you only need to get 15 total by the end of the game.
Three of those squares will be black. The black squares are assassins. If your partner guesses a word that correlates to a black spot on your card, the entire game is over, as you gave up your identity to an assassin and are now dead.
The gray/white squares are innocent bystanders. If your partner guesses one of those, their turn ends as it is an incorrect guess. One important thing to note is that a gray/white square on your side of the card does not necessarily mean it is gray/white on their side of the card. If your partner guesses a gray/white spot, make sure to put one of the timer markers on the card with the arrow pointing to your partner to indicate that they guessed that card and not you. It could still be green for you on their side.
Using the picture above, here is how a turn plays out:
I go first. Let’s say my card shows green squares where vampire and cave are on the board. I give my clue to my partner. “Bats. 2.” I say bats because vampires can turn into bats and bats live in caves. I say 2 because I’m letting my partner know that bats correlates to 2 cards on the board. My partner can now guess. If he/she guesses the correct two words, I put a green agent card over that word. If he/she guesses a different word, I look to see what it is on my side of the key card. If it’s black, the game is over. If it is gray/white, I put a marker on it, and now it is his/her turn to give me a clue.
A few side rules that people often forget include what words are okay with the clues and the number of guesses afforded each player after a clue.
You cannot use a word that is on a card on the table OR part of a word on the table. For example, the picture above has the word makeup on the board. You cannot say makeshift as it includes the word make. The word craft is on the board, so you cannot say witchcraft. Also, if your partner says a number after their clue, it doesn’t mean that you only have that many guesses. Using the example from above, “Bats. 2,” does not mean you only get two guesses. After you guess vampire and cave, you are more than welcome to keep guessing. Perhaps you’re guessing a wild guess to try and get one more. Maybe you remember a clue from an earlier turn and you got it wrong, so this is the perfect time to redeem that incorrect guess and guess it here.
If you get to the end of the 9th and final round and still haven’t guessed all of the correct words, you now enter sudden death. You and your partner go back and forth guessing one word at a time until you either get all of the words or hit an assassin. Neither player can give clues during this turn. Instead, it’s just blind guessing or using previous clues to help you.
Your information should be limited to what you can deduce from each other’s clues. If you comment on your guess, don’t give away any information about your side of the key card. If you guess a word that your partner marks as a green agent, do not tell you partner what the word looks like on your side. Do not give your partner advice on when to stop guessing, and do not tell your partner how many words are left to guess unless all the words you see as green have been covered by green agent cards.Codenames Duet Rulebook
As a last comment on the game, here are a few rule clarifications that are often overlooked:
The number you say after your clue cannot be used as a clue
Your clue must be about the meaning of the word and not a letter or spelling of the word
Changing your inflection, accents, singing, or changing your tone are not allowed
Proper words are okay, such as Michelangelo or Adele, but only as long as they are one word
Foreign language words are not okay unless it’s a common foreign word used in English conversation (i.e. crepe, escargot, etc)
I know this all makes it sound like a lot of information, but once you have the pieces in front of you, it’s actually a very simple game to play. The original Codenames is equally simple and made more so for teams rather than two individuals to play together. You can definitely play the original with only two people and treat it like Duet, but the game will feel slightly different.
Codenames is a good bit of fun, but to be honest, it does wear off after a while. It’s not one of those games that you can play for several hours. I’ve found that a few rounds is enough to satiate the need to play a game that’s more about the things you say than the actions in the game.
As a sidenote, we also own a specific version of the game catered towards a theme. We own Codenames Harry Potter where the cards have pictures from the movies and the opposite side of the cards have words on them. You can play with either side. Other themes like Marvel and Disney are also available, but we haven’t played them yet.
Enjoy your time searching the inner sanctums of your mind for your hidden knowledge of the English language!