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Subject: The Best Version of the Game thus Far rss

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GeekInsight
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Codenames is an intriguing game and one that has spawned numerous versions and spin-offs. Most are variations on a theme. But Duet is different. Here, the game has been made cooperative and playable with as few as two. And, frankly, it provides the best Codenames experience of them all.

The Basics. The central idea is the same. You put 25 word cards on the table in a 5 by 5 grid. You’re trying to get the other person to guess certain words, but you can only say one related word and a number indicating how many cards that word pertains to. While hewing to that core mechanism, Duet otherwise really changes things up.

Ordinarily, each team selects a clue giver and they get special access to a key card that shows which words they want their team to guess and which are mere distractors. In Duet, that key card is double sided. So each person (sitting across from one another) sees the key. The twist: those keys are different.

On each side, nine of the 25 words are correct. Of the remaining, three are assassin words that will end in an immediate loss if selected. But there is little overlap between the two keys. In fact, only three correct words overlap, meaning the players have to guess 15 total words between them. And a word that is an assassin on my side, might be green on your side.

Because there is no opposing team, Duet introduces a timer system. You get nine tokens. After a player stops guessing (either voluntarily or because they hit a wrong word) they take one of the tokens. If you use all nine up, there is a sort of “sudden death” round of constant guessing. Any bad guesses at that point lose you the game.

If the players can discover all 15 words between the two of them before time runs out, then they win.

The Feel. This is the best way to play Codenames. For sure. At the outset, it ameliorates just about all of the complaints from the original game. In vanilla Codenames, there can be long pauses where the clue giver is trying to think of clues. This isn’t so fun for the guessers – let alone the guessers on the other team. At least the other clue giver gets time to think of their next clue.

And that’s the beauty. In Duet, both players are the clue giver. So you are almost never just sitting there waiting for something to happen. Instead, if your partner is having a difficult time, you try your best to think up something clever. Hmm… a clue for both Drum and Gangster … how about, “Racket.”

One of the highlights about the original game was that it could support just about any number of players. But, from a practical standpoint, it wasn’t always super fun to be in a big group. Sometimes the other players could override you. And it was sometimes easy to get distracted by other non-game activities. Once again, though, Duet’s setup corrects this issue. Even if you go beyond just two players, everyone is a clue giver. That encourages everyone to keep an eye on the cards and focus on clever wordplay.

Plus, Codenames required at least four players to fully function. With Duet, you can have a blast with as few as two.

But Duet isn’t merely a simple upgrade. Instead, the cooperative aspect really heightens the experience. In the original, you were trying to give good clues so that you could beat your opponents and guess your cards first. Now, you’re doing that same thing so that you can race the timer. Plus, you really get the opportunity to cheer on the other person as you work together.

The timer also works as a great difficulty modifier. The game comes with a series of challenges where you might get more or fewer time tokens. Or they might be broken up where only some of the tokens can be used for wrong guesses. Exceed your guess limit, and you'll use two time tokens instead of one - running the clock down rapidly. The result is a very granular approach to the difficulty, and one that grows with you if you start to feel especially clever.

The final change, which should not go unmentioned, is psychological. Sometimes, when Codenames is described as a “party game,” the expectation is that it will be raucus and silly. Perhaps something along the lines of Bunny Bunny Moose Moose. But it isn’t. It’s very thinky and the nature of the game requires a level of silence to it. Duet evades that designation, and I think that makes the experience more palatable. It feels a little bit more like Hanabi where you are still constrained in what you can say, but the cooperative nature makes up for it.

In the end, though, it’s still a word game. If wordplay is not your thing, then Duet isn’t going to suddenly bring you around. But if you liked the idea of Codenames and were just put off by a negative experience, then this is a reason to take a second look.

Components: 4 of 5. Everything is solid here. The word cards are the same as the original game, allowing you to mix and match. The spy cards are the same quality and come in a pleasing green with the same style artwork.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4 of 5. There’s certainly some luck in how the cards come out. Maybe “Profession” would be a good clue for your words (Dentist, Actor, and Doctor), but “Blacksmith” is an assassin word. While randomization can cause consternation, working around these issues is the crux of the game.

Mechanics: 5 of 5. Duet succeeds on every level. It takes the best aspects of the original and improves the experience at all ends. Having two cooperative sides really opens the game up and ensures better focus.

Replayability: 5 of 5. Tons of words and numerous key cards, Duet will have a new experience in every box. And because downtime is so much lower, it is very easy to take off the shelf. It works with gamers as much as it does with couples, making it an easy title to replay.

Spite: 0 of 5. As a cooperative game, there is no spite.

Overall 5 of 5. This is the perfected version of Codenames. I tend to reserve a "5" for truly epic experiences. And, while this may not have the epic feel of a three-hour saga, it delivers tense moments. And its versatility - working with large or small groups, gamers or casuals - really elevates the title to one that can be recommended for nearly all players. If you only get one version of Codenames, make it this one.

(A special thanks to CGE for providing a review copy of Codenames: Duet)
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Sam Hillier
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Thanks for this thorough review! I'm looking forward to trying out this version when I get some time for it. We've loved the original Codenames and it has given us some really great gaming moments. "How could you not guess that?!?" and "What kind of clue is that?!?"

It'll be interesting to see how these situations play out in a co-op version.
 
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Susan
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On the to buy list!

Love your write up. I can now see how/why this game is different end can't wait to play it.
 
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M. B. Downey
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Great review! One rules correction:

MyParadox wrote:
The timer also works as a great difficulty modifier. The game comes with a series of challenges where you might get more or fewer time tokens. Or they might be broken up where only some of the tokens can be used for wrong guesses. Exceed your guess limit, even if you have other time tokens, and you’ll fail.


If you exceed your guess limit, you don't fail, you just lose two tokens instead of one. So the timer runs faster.
 
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GeekInsight
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downeymb wrote:
Great review! One rules correction:

MyParadox wrote:
The timer also works as a great difficulty modifier. The game comes with a series of challenges where you might get more or fewer time tokens. Or they might be broken up where only some of the tokens can be used for wrong guesses. Exceed your guess limit, even if you have other time tokens, and you’ll fail.


If you exceed your guess limit, you don't fail, you just lose two tokens instead of one. So the timer runs faster.


Thanks for the catch! I fixed it in the review above. Guess I made my plays a little harder than necessary.
 
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Nick Bentley
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Quote:
In Duet, both players are the clue giver. So you are almost never just sitting there waiting for something to happen. Instead, if your partner is having a difficult time, you try your best to think up something clever. Hmm… a clue for both Drum and Gangster … how about, “Racket.”


This is the key for me. It allows us to take our time without getting anxious about other players' impatience, which in turn allows us to fully enjoy the very cerebral pleasure the game affords. I didn't like original Codenames, but I like Codenames duet, and it's because of this (and that it's for two players)
 
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Paul Marshall
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Played this for the first time today and I totally agree that this is the best version of Codenames.
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Bill Eldard
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My wife and I have enjoyed playing this very challenging game; it's more difficult to win than in Codenames. We've won once out of ten tries.
 
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Chad Ackerman
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This completely replaces Codenames for me whistle

Thanks for the review!
 
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Dandylion Thirteen
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Eldard wrote:
My wife and I have enjoyed playing this very challenging game; it's more difficult to win than in Codenames. We've won once out of ten tries.


This was exactly my experience too!
In fact, I've found it (almost ?) unplayably difficult.
What has made the game much easier, and much more fun, for me has been substituting the words the Codenames Picture cards.
The Picture cards tend to give you a wider range of associable concepts - although even so, this is a really tough game!
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Justus
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d13d13 wrote:
Eldard wrote:
My wife and I have enjoyed playing this very challenging game; it's more difficult to win than in Codenames. We've won once out of ten tries.


This was exactly my experience too!
In fact, I've found it (almost ?) unplayably difficult.
What has made the game much easier, and much more fun, for me has been substituting the words the Codenames Picture cards.
The Picture cards tend to give you a wider range of associable concepts - although even so, this is a really tough game!


Good to know, I just picked up Duet and Pictures at Target on Clearance, for a total of $24.
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Stefan Antonius
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I got the game on sale for only 14 euro. I loved codenames and bought duet to play with my wife.
We haven't lost a game yet (in the Netherlands it is easier. for instance: in English when you mean a rule book it consists of two words so you cant say that. In the Netherlands it is one word "rulebook". Even boardgamerulebook is one word, because it is one thing. That's how grammar works in the Netherlands).

SPOILER ALERT:
After two games my wife noticed a pattern we didn't like. Don't read ahead if you don't want to know and you enjoy the game as it is.

The front and back of the key card always has the same pattern. one side has 3 green spaces which are the same as the opposite side, one black space from one side is a green space on the other, one black space is a black space on the opposite side and one black space is a neutral space on the opposite side.
If you quested a correct space (green on your partners side) and this one is black on your card, you know that the other two black spaces on your card will be black and neutral and not green on your partners side.
I should have been a bit more random.
 
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Kirk Roberts
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stefantonius wrote:
I got the game on sale for only 14 euro. I loved codenames and bought duet to play with my wife.
We haven't lost a game yet (in the Netherlands it is easier. for instance: in English when you mean a rule book it consists of two words so you cant say that. In the Netherlands it is one word "rulebook". Even boardgamerulebook is one word, because it is one thing. That's how grammar works in the Netherlands).

SPOILER ALERT:
After two games my wife noticed a pattern we didn't like. Don't read ahead if you don't want to know and you enjoy the game as it is.

The front and back of the key card always has the same pattern. one side has 3 green spaces which are the same as the opposite side, one black space from one side is a green space on the other, one black space is a black space on the opposite side and one black space is a neutral space on the opposite side.
If you quested a correct space (green on your partners side) and this one is black on your card, you know that the other two black spaces on your card will be black and neutral and not green on your partners side.
I should have been a bit more random.

The English rules specifically show you that "spoiler". They call it "secrets of the key card" on the back of the rulebook. You can use this to make some deductions while you play (or is it inductions?).

My wife and I won our first four games. Our games since then have been about 50/50. Love the game.
 
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Robin Moss
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stefantonius wrote:
I got the game on sale for only 14 euro. I loved codenames and bought duet to play with my wife.
We haven't lost a game yet (in the Netherlands it is easier. for instance: in English when you mean a rule book it consists of two words so you cant say that. In the Netherlands it is one word "rulebook". Even boardgamerulebook is one word, because it is one thing. That's how grammar works in the Netherlands).

SPOILER ALERT:
After two games my wife noticed a pattern we didn't like. Don't read ahead if you don't want to know and you enjoy the game as it is.

The front and back of the key card always has the same pattern. one side has 3 green spaces which are the same as the opposite side, one black space from one side is a green space on the other, one black space is a black space on the opposite side and one black space is a neutral space on the opposite side.
If you quested a correct space (green on your partners side) and this one is black on your card, you know that the other two black spaces on your card will be black and neutral and not green on your partners side.
I should have been a bit more random.


You lose the game if you guess a tile that's known as an assassin to EITHER player, surely. The tiles that are either green on both sides or green/blank (bystander) add up to 15, the total needed to win. That kind of deductive info is less useful to you after you've already lost.
 
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