There’s quite a few games that aren’t specifically designed for 2-players but are great played that way – Carcassonne, Through the Ages, Alien Frontiers etc.. But I wanted to look at what games are only for 2 players that I love getting to the table. These are all readily available except my honourable mention, I believe! (Images below sourced from the game’s pages on BoardGameGeek.com!)
Jaipur is an outstanding game that makes a trading theme for 2 players super fun. You have to play the market (i.e. take cards from the spread) to collect sets and trade them in for chips for those goods. The more and earlier you trade, the better return you get for those goods. There’s some tactics, a little risk and pushing your luck, and it’s so fun trying to beat your opponent to the better rewards! I guarantee you’ll be playing back to back games of Jaipur.
I have just recently tried Morels, and after a couple of plays I’m convinced that it’ll stay in my go-to 2 player game list. Thematically, it’s a delight – you’re strolling through the forest trying to collect different sorts of mushrooms. You can sell these to gain the game’s currency (sticks) or cook them up (plain, with vinegar or butter) to collect end-game points. The “strolling through the forest” part is actually you just taking cards from a constantly refreshing line of them – some are discarded along the way too, so you need to think strategically about how to best select cards to aid in your set collection while avoiding poison mushrooms and picking up benefits along the way (bonus night deck cards, baskets to add to your hand size, pans for cooking). It’s a simple game with light strategy and I find it a lot of fun despite the slight luck aspect of how the cards come out. The only downside? It makes me SO HUNGRY for fried mushrooms every time I play.
I get so frustrated by chess – having to remember how everything moves, the level of strategy involved.. plus, I just find it boring to play! Hive is a great alternative to chess for me – excellent abstract strategy with the added bonus of awesome insect theme to help me remember how each piece moves (it seriously helps!). I can only assume it would appeal to casual chess players also due to the strategy involved. The aim of the game is to play your insect tiles strategically in order to trap your opponents queen bee by having them totally surrounded by tiles (either player’s). It seems so simple, but there’s depth to it that can make you flail as you release that damn it all, your bee’s about to be trapped and there’s nothing you can do. Highly recommend this for terrific player interaction, also. Plus, the bakelite pieces are a joy to handle. Mmm, tactile.
Let’s put aside for a moment that the picture I found above isn’t the English version – it just best represents how this game looks when it’s all laid out. Targi intersects board and card game in the best way possible. You’re playing on a card-created board that shifts throughout the game, and determines the strategy in which you place your pawns. Strategic placement of your pawns means you will collect resources and points, as well as tribal cards. You’ll need to play those tribal cards down in front of you and meet their requirements (have x amount of these types of cards, etc) for points to win the game. There’s a lot more to it than that, but I wanted to give a general gist (this is a far better actual review) – I think this is the most strategic and complex 2-player game I’ve tried, and it’s worth the investment of time to learn – gameplay itself is around 45 – 60 minutes, so it’s nice to have something that isn’t just filler for 2 players. If you wanted to learn more, this walkthrough video might help!
Plus, it’s definitely one of those games that looks great with googly eyes. It’s important stuff.
Okay, it’s about to come into print so not currently super available first-hand. But keep an eye out for the reprint. If you wanted something fantasy-based for theme, this is the 2-player for you! (Unless you want something really dungeon-crawly and then I’d say give Claustrophobia a whirl – it’s asymmetric too). This is a wonderful asymmetric 2-player game where one of you is the good guys (hobbits, elves et al) and the other player takes on the baddies (ringwraiths, trolls, Shelob et al) – you can’t see the opponent’s pieces until direct combat occurs between the two of you. Every character has a unique ability (you can defeat another character automatically, you can move/retreat in certain ways, you can mess with how combat cards are played, etc) so you need to try and move your characters around the board to best make use of these to defeat the other side. As the good side, if you can get Frodo to Mount Doom, you win! As the baddies, if you defeat Frodo or 3 of the good guys, you win! Trying to deduce what pieces your opponent is moving around, and how best to defeat them/get past them with yours is challenging and fun. It’s nice to play a 2 player game where you’re each running at the strategy a little differently, working with different tactics rather than playing the same ground. Also: hobbits!
While there is a theme to Lost Cities – you’re adventuring archaeologists, mounting expeditions and hoping they’re profitable – its not ever really apparent while you’re playing this game (as much as, say, Morels or LOTR: the Confrontation). That’s not to say it’s not a solid 2-player game though. Every expedition you commit yourself to starts at -20, so to make a profit at all you need to get at least 21 points. Drawing through a pile of cards, you need to decide what to keep to aim for sets to gain points – or what to discard instead (hoping this doesn’t aid your opponent in their expeditions). ‘Handshake’ cards can make your expedition more profitable (doubling, quadrupling, etc), and make the point goal much more important to reach (you’ll lose far more points if you don’t succeed at these important expeditions!). It’s fun, light, and with a little player interaction so you’re not just each sitting there playing your own game at the same time.
Honourable mention to Rosenkönig
I think I have played this more on the iOS version against the AI than I have actually played the cardboard version, but it’s still worth a go if you can find it! Beautifully simple to learn, the basics are – play cards to move your pawns, use those pawns to claim your opponents’ as your own by controlling areas. This is roughly themed as the Lancaster and York factions going up against each other, but this could have “one versus another” theme laid on it and still be a delight to play. Simple gameplay with an interesting strategy to delve into.