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How To Play Codenames Duet

Codenames Duet Top Image

Life as a spy is hard. Going about your day, trying to find the right people to hand off your top-secret information to, avoiding those pesky assassins. I could go on, but I won’t. Official Secrets Act and all that. Sometimes it’s better not working alone, having a partner who you can confide in… but not too much. That’s where today’s game comes in. Codenames Duet is the cooperative two player version of Codenames, the word association game where you are trying to find the spies working for you and avoid the assassin and innocent bystanders. Let’s see if you have what it takes to slip information in secret. 

Set Up

Shuffle the word cards and lie them in a five-by-five grid, so you have 25-word cards on the table. Orientate the cards so that both players can read the words. Next, randomly select one of the key cards and insert it into the standee base, making sure you only see one side of it. This card will hold a pattern of green, black and beige rectangles. Green are your agents, black are the assassins and beige are the innocent bystanders who have no idea what’s happening. Place the fifteen agent tiles, single assassin tile and nine bystander/timer tokens within reach of both players and you’re ready to begin. If you want to play an easier game, you can add one or two more timer tokens to the pile. 


Exactly like in Codenames, players will take it in turns to give a clue, consisting of a single word followed by a number. An example of a clue would be “wood, three”. The word links the cards together and the number indicates how many the active player thinks is associated with that word. Words cannot be present in the word cards, either as their own word or as part of a word. In the above example, “wood” would be an invalid clue if “woodlouse” or “wood” appeared on the table. 

Once a clue has been given, the other player will then attempt to guess the words their partner has as their agents. When they guess a word correctly, they may continue with guessing or choose to stop. If they guess wrongly, the active player then will place either a time/bystander token on the card, with the bystander face up pointing towards their partner to indicate that this is a bystander for them, or the assassin tile. If it is the assassin tile, the game is over, and you have lost. 

On future turns, you can return to previous clues and guess them, but would still have to stop if you guess wrongly and can keep going if you’re right. Each player has nine agents and three assassins on their side of the key card. However, some of those agents will be assassins to their partner and some will be agents for both players, meaning you don’t have to guess them twice. Once a card has been covered, it cannot be guessed again. 

At the end of the turn, return one of the time tokens back to the box. This shows how many clues and therefore rounds remain. If all nine of your clues have been covered, tell your partner so that they are aware that you have no clues left to give so they will be providing the remaining clues. The game ends in one of three ways:

  1. The assassin is guessed by either player and you lose. 
  2. All of the players agents have been guessed in nine turns or fewer and you win. 
  3. All the time tokens have been used and you enter sudden death. 

In a sudden death turn, there are no clues remaining because there’s no time left. If both players have words remaining to be found, both players will make guesses. If only one player has words remaining, they are the only one to make guesses. Players will keep making guesses until a guess is incorrect, revealing either a bystander or an assassin, or until all fifteen agents have been found. 

That is pretty much everything you need to know to play Codenames Duet. Once you’ve mastered the regular game, you can attempt the campaign mode, using the mission map included in the box. This gives you a bunch of challenges to play to change things up. Remember, communication is limited in this game, so try not to give anything away when clues are guessed or missed. Good luck agents. This page will self-destruct in five… four… three…