Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Thursday 7 September 2017

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Codenames Duet

GameCodenames Duet

Publisher: Czech Games Edition

DesignerVlaada Cvatil & Scot Eaton

Codenames is the massive hit party game that won last years Spiel des Jahres award and is being brought out in multiple different versions following it's broad appeal and popularity. The most recent addition to the line is Codenames Duet, which is a two player implementation of the original game. Codenames has been really popular within our friendship groups, with my work gaming groups and even with my non-gamer parents, but it's always been about having a fun experience with a larger group of people, so how successfully has this been transferred to a 2-player experience?

It's hard to review Codenames Duet without first briefly comparing it to the original game. The basic premise of both is that you have a grid of 5x5 words laid out on the table, some of which are the codenames of different agents in the field, some of which just refer to innocent bystanders and in the original game there is one assassin. However, in Codenames Duet you are working together to identify all of your common agents and avoid the 5(!) assassins on the board. The only way you can give clues is by a type of word association where you give a one word clue and say the number of words you think have a connection with that clue eg. "Animal, 3". Identifying your agents is good, identifying bystanders wastes time, whilst identifying the an assassin will lose you the game.

In Codenames Duet, the two players take turns as the clue giver. The grid card is double-sided so you each have different 'answers' but you're working together to guess all of the correct words and avoid the assassins and bystanders. Small tokens are used to mark the incorrectly guessed bystanders, and on the reverse side they're used to mark a turn where you voluntarily decided to stop guessing. In this way the number of tokens you are given during set-up is the number of turns you'll get in the game. These get used up very quickly and in Codenames Duet you need to be giving 2 or 3 word clues most of the time to avoid the time running out.
A game in progress. This game was for one of the locations on the map where the rules allow a maximum of 5 mistakes and 9 turns in total.
I admire the clever design of Codenames Duet and I'm actually still trying to figure out how the cross-over assassin and the cross-over agent words can be used as information for you to deduce some correct answers. Even before I figure this out there's definitely some interesting and helpful situations that can arise when one of the assassins on your side of the card becomes covered with an agent card and then an opportunity opens up for you to use a good clue.
As the game gets more challenging, the "Secrets of the Key Card" can be used to your advantage, but so far I'm finding it really hard to figure out how. When it comes to the last turn you each get a final guess so if you have no additional knowledge or clues to work with, this can come in useful.
I still think that playing Codenames with a big group is the superior experience. There's a lot more interaction, a higher level of energy around the tables and it's a much more accessible experience. That said, if you do want to play with two players, then Codenames Duet is a much better experience than playing the  two player variant that came in the original Codenames box. The game provides a massive cooperative challenge for players straight out of the box, but also offers you a way of incrementally increasing your difficulty by moving through different challenges which make you think differently about how to play the game. Some challenges allow more bystanders so you can afford to take bigger risks on high value clues, but others just stretch the game length but allow you to make no wrong guesses at all, rewarding a slower and more precise style of clue-giving.

For me, Codenames Duet doesn't quite hit the mark as a two player game. It's a bit too slow paced and I'm not sure where it fits into our collection. In Codenames you could easily think on the other teams turn whereas with the two-player game there's a lot of downtime, because you're thinking during each others turns, as well as there being no point coming up with a clue because of the answers which are common to both cards. It's definitely a couple's game though and it is interesting to try and get inside each others heads and hope that you're going to be thinking on the same wavelength.

I think we might keep Codenames Duet. Even though it's a simple touch, the world map really adds an element of addiction for me and I might want to try and complete it before we let the game leave our collection. It's definitely a unique two-player experience in our collection, but I probably get to play enough Codenames with friends that we don't need to have a second way to play at home. For the Yellow Meeple, Codenames Duet is a 6/10.

Codenames Duet was a review copy provided by Esdevium Games Ltd. It is available for an RRP of £16.99 at your friendly local game store or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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