Codenames vs. Codenames Duet: Read Before Buying

Over the years, the popular board game Codenames has released various versions and editions. There are even editions with Disney and the Simpsons. With every new edition, new mechanics or themes make the game feel brand new. 

Codenames is a classic competitive game where players guess words using clues. Codenames Duet adds challenges that make players approach the game differently while having a cooperative element. Both versions test players to see how well they work with their teams.

In this article, let’s discuss the main differences between both variants of the games and which one you should get a hold of first. Codenames is a great family game and an excellent choice for players into challenges and working with a partner.

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What are the Differences Between Codenames and Codenames Duet?

The main difference between Codenames and Codenames Duet is that the latter is a cooperative game. In the original game, two teams compete against each other, but in Duet, all players must work together to beat the board.

A confusing part of the game may throw players off in Duet, and the code card can only be shown to the player who throws the clues. But in this game, both players get to see the codes since they throw hints and guesses.

The player codes are slightly different. The double-sided code card gives three words that are successful in both directions. However, there are places where the Assassin on one side may be an innocent bystander on the other.

This is what makes the Duet version slightly trickier than the classic Codenames.

Unlike the original Codenames, there are fewer turns and clues. Clues now come at a greater cost in Codenames Duet, requiring a time token. So, in a sense, the game is slightly more difficult than the usual round of Codenames, even if players are familiar with how the first one plays.

Meanwhile, in the original Codenames, besides avoiding the Assassins, players also want to avoid scoring points for the other team by guessing their words instead of their own team’s. So, Spymasters must think of the word they use as a hint.

Similarities Between Codenames and Codenames Duet

Both Codenames follow the same fundamental concept where players are made to work together to guess certain words while avoiding other words. Clues also need to be a single word and number.

Both games are party games that require some form of strategy between teammates to win. The games also have players avoid a character called the “Assassin,” who is hidden among the many words of the game.

Codenames and Codenames Duet also have great replayability. With the number of words used, players can play repeatedly. If they own both board games, they can even combine the words with playing either version of the game because no two words are the same, adding to its replayability value.

Who Should Play the Different Versions of Codenames?

With all the different versions of Codenames, it takes time to pick which one to get first. We recommend getting both versions since players can combine elements to the base Codenames game and the Duet version.

If someone is a highly competitive player who likes to play against other people, then the original Codenames game is for them. It’s also a good choice if friends prefer that type of playing style.

Meanwhile, if players prefer co-op board games like Pandemic or Escape Room board games, Duet is a fun, simple party game they can enjoy. 

Other versions of Codenames include Deep Undercover, The Simpsons, Pictures, Deep Undercover, and more. Players who love this game can build an entire shelf with all the variants.

When to Play Codenames Vs. Codenames Duet

The best thing about both games is that people can play them at almost any gathering or at home with their family or roommates. It all depends on the type of players there are. If players prefer a player vs. player setup, they should play Codenames.

If players prefer a fully cooperative experience, the best bet is to try beating the board with Codenames Duet. If only two people are playing, I highly suggest playing Codenames Duet. It’s good to know how many players there will be, so we can determine which game to buy.

How Many Players for Codenames Vs. Codenames Duet

Codenames is played with at least two teams of two people. The minimum number of players is four, while the maximum is eight. If many people want to join the game, buying the generic Codenames game set is a good idea.

Meanwhile, Codenames Duet plays with two players, but people have modified the rules to add more players. However, Duet is preferable as a game meant for two.

Codenames Duet was a perfect game during the pandemic since you were usually only with family or one other person during the lockdown. I suggest getting Duet if only two of you live in the house or if it’s something you and your partner want to play during a couple of game nights instead of a group game. 

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What Strategies Work Well for Each Game?

It is helpful to listen to the opponent’s hints. If an opponent already used a clue that works for a player’s words, it is a good plan to either avoid using that word as a clue or use it again if the word on the opponent’s side is already guessed. It depends on how the board looks at this point.

If someone wants an answer to winning this game, they have come to the right place. I always find it helpful to know who my partner is. This way, we know what words or hints work well for a round.

But besides knowing our partners, here are some helpful tips I learned while playing the game.

Strategies for a Spymaster in Codenames

Aside from thinking of our clues, listening to an opponent’s hints is helpful. If the opponent already used a clue that works for our words, it’s a good plan to either avoid using that word as a clue or use it again if the word on the opponent’s side is already guessed.

If our team has the same word as the opposing team, we can try to clue in that word towards the end of the game instead of at the beginning. This lessens the probability of our operative guessing the opponents’ words.

Use clues that hint at many words, even if it hits a bystander. Just make sure it will not hit any of the opponent’s words.

Strategies for operatives

Listen to the Spymaster and try to say words closest to the “clue” first and the more vague ones later.

Remember that talking and discussing are allowed in this game, but not too much. A player’s Spymaster is limited to a clue and a number, but they can freely voice their thoughts. This is a good tactic for a Spymaster to develop clues the player will understand.

Lastly, always pay attention to the board and the opponent. This way, we know when to play more seriously or if we can afford to be extra cautious. It’s also a good idea to know what clues and words were used by an opponent.

Strategies for Codenames Duet

Like any good co-op game, the most important thing is communication. If players do not know each other very well, they can always chat before the game to get a good idea of how both interpret clues.

Since this game is about teamwork, don’t focus solely on your side of the board. Remember to look at your partner and see how they are fairing. If they struggle to guess words, try a different approach with clues.

Which to Buy: Codenames or Codenames Duet?

Try out the first Codename first, especially if people are always around the house. It can be a family game if no one is part of regular board game groups. The game is also highly versatile, and people can check online to see how to adjust the rules to fit two players.

I recommend getting Codename Duet if only two people will play most of the time instead of an entire group.

However, I suggest getting the Duet version at some point if you buy the original Codenames because you can use elements in the game to add to the replayability of the first Codenames and vice versa.


Learning from your own experience is important, but learning from others is also smart. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as gamers.

  • How to get better at Codenames | Codenames. (n.d.). BoardGameGeek.
  • r/boardgames – Codenames vs. Codenames Duet. (n.d.). Reddit.
  • Round, P. (2023, March 10). Mastering Codenames Duet: Tips and Strategies for Winning.
  • Vickers, L. (2021, June 7). I’ve had this board game for years, and it’s still as fun as ever. Reviewed.

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