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10 best 2-player board games

Having a friend over? Staying in with your partner? You don’t always have to hang out with big groups on your days off, and if you’re looking for entertainment for two, board games are always a good call. Here are ten great games to play with one other person. Important to note that not all of the games on this list are exclusively two-player, but they were included because, unlike a lot of other games, enjoying them with the minimum number of players required does not detract from the experience.

 

Jaipur

No of players – 2

Difficulty – very easy

Age – 12+

Playing time – 30 mins

Set-up – You and another player are the two most successful merchants in the city of Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan, disputing for the title of absolute champion of commerce. Barter goods like leather, silk, gold, and camels to increase your riches and curry the favour of the Maharaja.

Gameplay – Players are given a hand of seven cards each. Cards represent goods that can be sold or bought (leather, gold, camels, diamonds, etc.). On a turn, players can either sell items for money tokens or buy from the open market of five cards, but there are special rules for certain items: if you want to buy more than one item, you have to trade with items from your hand, or camels; silver, gold, and diamonds can only be sold two or more at a time; if you sell three or more items, you get special tokens that grant you extra money, etc. When all cards from the deck are dealt, or when three resources are depleted from the market, the round is over and the player with the most money wins. The player who wins two rounds out of three wins the game.

Our impressions – A round of Jaipur is very dynamic. The limited amount of actions you can do reduces thinking time, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to plan and strategise. The special conditions that involve the trade of certain items make it so that you have to give special consideration to each action, in order to ensure that you are doing the most profitable move. This is many a gamer’s favourite two-player card game, and once you played it, you will see there is a good reason why.

Get Jaipur here.

 

Hive

No of players – 2

Difficulty – easy

Age – 9+

Playing time – 20 mins

Set-up: this is what’s called an “abstract” game, which means there isn’t a lot of set-up, except you and a friend play as insects (and spiders) trying to surround each other’s hive queens.

Gameplay: each player has eleven game pieces representing five different invertebrates – ants, grasshoppers, beetles, spiders, and a queen bee. Each piece moves differently, but there is no board. Players take turns setting down or moving pieces. Pieces must always touch, but when you first set a piece down, it can only be touching other pieces of yours. The conjunction of pieces is called a “hive”. When a piece is set, you can move it according to what type of piece it is: ants move anywhere skirting the hive, grasshoppers skip over other pieces, beetles move one space at a time but can hop on top of other pieces, spiders can only move three spaces at a time, and queen bees only move one space at a time. Pieces can move freely so long as they don’t break the hive - i.e. leave an open space between two pieces. The player who successfully surrounds the opponent’s queen bee is the winner.

Our impressions: Hive is perhaps the closest a modern tabletop game has come to replicating the tactical gameplay of chess. Mensa, the high-IQ society, has awarded it with its Mensa Select seal, which is granted to games that present elegance in design and the type of challenge that is satisfying even to the most genius minds, without alienating more casual players. Each game of Hive is a new learning experience, and applying that experience with each new game can be very rewarding. Many things need to be accounted for when deciding your play: should you move a piece, place a new piece, try to trap an opponent’s piece? You have to know when is the right moment for all of those things, but even without the expertise required to make those decisions, it still is a lot of fun.

Get Hive here.

 

Seven Wonders Duel

No of players – 2

Difficulty – medium

Age – 10+

Playing time – 30 min

Set-up: two players assume the role of leaders of ancient societies as they strive to develop the most impressive civilisation, with the Seven Wonders of The World as backdrop. 

Gameplay: there are four distinct decks of cards in Seven Wonders Duel - three representing different ages, and one representing guilds. Set up one deck at a time in a pyramid shape, with a row of six cards face-up on the bottom, five face-down above the first row, four face-up above the second, etc. Players take turns buying cards from whichever row is available - meaning, face-up and not obscured by another row - to gain the benefits represented by the cards (resources, military might, scientific advancement, etc.) Some cards grant permanent benefits, while others offer only temporary boosts. There are many ways to win the game - through military, scientific, or infrastructural achievements - and each category of cards offers its own advantages.

Our impressions: though it may seem otherwise, Seven Wonders Duel is not merely an expansion of Seven Wonders, but its own game, albeit with some similar mechanics. There's a lot to consider when deciding on your play, and a lot to learn with each new playthrough. Don't be discouraged by its seeming expansiveness, though: when you get into it, it can be a delightful gaming experience.

Get 7 Wonders duel here.

 

Sushi Go!

 No of players – 2-5

Difficulty – very easy

Age – 8+Playing time – 15 min

Set-up: players assume the role of diners in a “conveyor-belt-style” sushi restaurant. Select from different offerings – such as maki rolls, nigiri, dumplings, tempura, etc. - to ascertain which player will have the most delicious meal.

Gameplay: Sushi Go is what’s called a “card-drafting” game, meaning players are given a hand of cards from which they select one card to play. They then have to pass the remainder of the cards to the next player, who will do the same thing, etc. Each card depicts a different food item, and each food item scores differently: for example, tempura gives you no points by itself, but you get five points if you have a pair. Nigiri gives you points straight away. Pudding also gives you no points, but the player with the most puddings at the end of the game gets 6 points, whereas the player with the least puddings gets 6 points negative. 

Our impressions: this is one of those devilishly charming games that you can’t help but adore. The rules are very simple and easy to learn, and the card-drafting is a great way to emulate a sushi restaurant, as the cards rotate around the table just like sushi on a conveyor belt. At fifteen minutes per match, it is a perfect snack for when you don’t want to spend too much time on a game, and the adorable artwork and presentation guarantee that kids will love it.

Get Sushi Go! Here.

 

Patchwork

No of players – 2

Difficulty – easy

Age – 8+

Playing time – 15-30 mins

Set-up: Players are tailors competing to see who can craft the most attractive patchwork quilt within the limited time afforded them.

Gameplay: each player is given a separate board with a 9x9 grid, plus a special “time track” board is set up between players, upon which each player places a piece representing their progress in the game. On a turn, players purchase tiles from a common pool using button tokens. Each different tile has a cost in buttons and a “time” variable. The “time” is the number of spaces you move on the main board after buying that tile. After moving your piece, you then place the tile you bought on your 9x9 grid. If you can’t or don’t want to buy a tile, you can move your piece, retrieving one button for each space you move. The game ends when both player pieces reach the end of the time track, whereupon each unspent button is counted as a point. Players who successfully fill a 7x7 grid on their boards gain 7 points, and each empty space on your board subtracts one point from the final score. The player with the most points wins.

Our impressions: even with very simple rules, there are several layers of strategy to Patchwork. Finishing a game too soon won’t afford you too many points, so buying tiles that move you a lot is not a good idea if your grid is still a little bare. Accumulating buttons is important, but if you’re too stingy, you will be left with a lot of empty space on your patchwork that will cost you points. Yet it’s not a game so cerebral that it’s inaccessible to players who are interested in more laid back fun. Matches tend to be very short, but it’s a guaranteed 15-30 minutes of entertainment.

Get Patchwork here.

Playing time – 15 min

 

Castles of Burgundy

No of players  - 2-4

Difficulty – Medium-hard

Age – 12+

Playing time – 30-90 mins

Set-up: Castles of Burgundy sees players assume the role of 15th century French aristocrats competing to determine who can develop the most impressive estate in the land.

Gameplay: At the outset of the game each player is given an individual board, in addition to the common board that is placed at the center of the table. After setting up all the pieces according to the game’s specifications, all the players roll two dice each at the same time, and use the number on those dice to perform different actions. They can perform one action per die, and that can entail acquiring a property tile, or a development tile, or any variety of other tiles available for the players. For each action, players may earn victory points, and subsequently move their respective pieces on the main board. At the end of the game, the player with the most victory points wins.

Our impressions: the rules for Castles of Burgundy can be quite intricate, which may turn off certain players that are looking for a more relaxed experience, but if you are ready for a more demanding game, you are sure to have fun developing your medieval property.

Get Castles of Burgundy here.

 

Race for the Galaxy

No of players  - 2-4

Difficulty – Medium

Age – 12+

Playing time – 30-60 mins

Set-up: Players compete to build the most extensive and powerful civilization in the galaxy, annexing planets, building resources, and creating developments to rise their empire above all others.

Gameplay: At the start of a round, players decide on the action they want to take that round by secretly picking a “phase card”. Each phase card describes a possible action in the game: explore, develop, settle, consume, or produce. All players then present their decision simultaneously, and every player gets to do all of the actions that were selected. The person who selects the action, however, gets a special perk. These actions allow the players to either draw cards, acquire victory points, play “development cards” that make them more powerful, or produce resources that can be used to buy victory points or other cards. All of those actions are performed simultaneously by all players. 

One major twist is that cards are the only currency in the game, so you have to constantly decide on whether you want to keep a card, or use it to attain another card that would be possibly more advantageous to you. When a player has played twelve cards, or when they have taken the last victory point available, the game ends, the victory points are tallied up, and the player with the most points wins.

Our impressions: Race for the Galaxy is not initially welcoming to new players. The complicated rules, the unconventional order of play, and the unfriendly nature of the rulebook can certainly prove to be a wall if you are just getting into the game, but if you manage to get past those inconveniences, you’ll find it is an exciting and enjoyable game with a unique twist that invites a lot of strategical thinking.

Get Race for the Galaxy here.

 

Star Realms

No of players  - 2

Difficulty – Easy

Age – 12+

Playing time – 20 mins

Set-up: Yet another space-opera-inspired game. In the distant future, players take the role of different interstellar factions vying for supremacy over the others. Engage in spaceship combat to destroy your enemy’s resources in order to diminish their influence and power until you come out the victor.

Gameplay: each player has their own deck and fifty points of “authority”. When players are attacked, their authority is reduced. Players draw a number of cards (three for the player who goes first, five for the other player) to their hand, and from then draw back up to five cards per turn. Each card has a different effect: some cards give you money, some cards do damage to your opponent, some cards restore damage inflicted upon you. If you play cards from the same space faction, you may get special bonus effects unique to that faction. Players can deal as many cards as they want from their hands, and buy as many cards as they can afford from the common pool of face-up cards that are available for purchase. Whenever a player reduces the opponent’s authority to zero, that player wins.

Our impressions: The authors of this game, Magic The Gathering alumni, betray its lineage - yet unlike MtG, you get all the cards you need from the get-go, eliminating the need to spend money on booster packs and individual cards to improve your deck. The gameplay is straightforward: reduce your opponent’s authority to zero while protecting your own, and the cards available provide a myriad of cool effects that can help you toward that goal.

Get Star Realms here.

 

Fox in the Forest

No of players  - 2

Difficulty – Easy

Age – 10+

Playing time – 30 mins

Set-up: Players compete in a trick-taking game of cards inspired by European fables and fairy tales.

Gameplay: The deck consists of 33 cards numbered 1 to 11 in three suits: Moons, Bells, and Keys. Each player is dealt 13 cards from the deck and the remaining cards are set aside as a draw pile. Draw the top card on the draw pile and set it on the table face-up. The suit on that card is the trump suit for the hand. The game consists of rounds and “tricks”. For every trick, one player plays a card, and the next player must play a card of the same suit on top of it. Whoever has the card with the highest number wins the trick. Players can also play a card that follows the previously established trump suit in order to take the trick, or they can play a card from another suit in order to lose. Odd cards of each suit also apply special conditions that can change these dynamics. Proceed until all of each player’s 13 cards have been played. The number of tricks you win determines the score you get. If you win zero to three tricks, you’ve played a “humble” round and win the maximum six points for that round. If you win four to six tricks you get 1 to 3 points. If you win seven to nine tricks, again you win six points, but if you win ten or more tricks you get zero points for being deemed “greedy”.

Our impressions: the scoring system is really what makes this game. Striving to win every trick is not the best strategy to follow, as it may result in a loss even if your opponent took less tricks than you. Shifts in strategy are necessary, as you may be stuck with a number of tricks that is disadvantageous to you (4, for example), and it is then imperative to seek to increase that number past seven. The opponent may take notice of that, however, and intentionally lose every round so you win too many tricks and get no points, whereas your opponent gets six. The rounds are quick and engaging and, even though the rules are as simple as can be, a lot of thought may be required to pursue the best course of action. That, plus the variables provided by the odd cards and the stunning artwork add up to a game with great replayability value.

Get The Fox in the Forest here.


War of the Ring

No of players  - 2-4

Difficulty – Hard

Age – 13+

Playing time – 150-180 mins

Set-up: Middle-Earth has come under the baleful influence of Sauron and his malignant army of wretches and creatures of corruption. A band of intrepid adventurers is convened by Elrond’s elf counsel to thwart the Dark Lord’s designs, an endeavor only achievable by bearing the Ring of Power to Mount Doom and casting it into the fires that bore it into existence.

Gameplay: Players can take the role of either the Free People, i.e. ringbearers, or the Shadow, i.e. Sauron’s forces. Each side has different win conditions and therefore the game can be played very differently depending on which role you are taking. The Shadow wins if it manages to corrupt the ringbearer, and the Free People win if they manage to reach mordor and destroy the ring. Additionally, it is also possible to achieve victory simply by overwhelming the other side with military might. Players progress through the game with a combination of die rolls and card draws. Each die roll or card allows for different actions that can bring the player closer to victory.

Our impressions: This is by far the most complex game on this list. The variables are byzantine and, therefore, strategising requires great focus on the part of the players. Needless to say, it may take a while to fully grasp all the subtleties of the game, but if you are into strategy games and, especially, J R R Tolkien’s body of work, you are sure to get a kick out of it, as its dedicated fanbase will surely avow.

Get War of the Ring here.

So, what do you think? Did we get it right? Are there any games that we missed? What is your favorite 2 player board game? Sound off in the comments!

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