For most of us, analog gaming is a hobby, simple as that. This means that while we love gaming and we do it as often as we can, other things in life, such as work and family, take precedence.
As such, gathering a consistent group of 3 or more people for a game night can be difficult but why should that stop you from playing? So long as you can get one other person to the table with you, there are great games dedicated specifically for that very situation. Without further ado, here are my top ten 2-player games:
10. Battle Line (Schotten Totten)
- Time: 20-30 Minutes
- Designer: Reiner Knizia
- Publisher: GMT Games, Iello
- Mechanic: Set Collection
- For 2 players
- 20 minute playing time
- Ages 8 and up
- Item Package Dimension: 4.0" L x 1.5" W x 6.0" H
- English (Publication Language)
- For 2 players
- Takes 20-30 minutes to play
- 60 Troop cards, 10 Tactics cards, 9 red Plastic pawns, Rulebook
There are two versions of this game. One is Battle Line which is about claiming flags in ancient roman warfare and the second is Schotten Totten which is about trying to claim ownership of stones in the Scottish landscape. The games are nearly identical with exception to the theme and art.
The gameplay is simple, you are making 3 card poker hands on your side of the flag/stone. These hands represent the formations that will battle for said flag or stone. The best formation (poker hand) wins that battle. The person to win 5 out of 9 wins the game.
This game is very strategic and similar to Lost Cities, also by Reiner Knizia, the timing of your moves makes all the difference in the world.
9. The Blood of An Englishman
- Time: 20-30 Minutes
- Designer: Dan Cassar
- Publisher: Renegade Games
- Mechanic: Pattern Building
- Test your wits in this asymmetrical two player game!
- As Jack, you will need to collect three unique treasures to win!
- As The Giant, you must capture Jack by connecting the Fee Fi Fo Fum cards!
- Simple and balanced rules will lead the sharpest player to victory!
- Number of Players: 2
The Blood of an Englishman is a nicely themed game in which one player takes on the role of Jack and the other takes on the role of the Giant in the fabled Jack and the Beanstalk story.
As Jack, you are attempting to use the beanstalks to steal a bag of gold, a golden goose, and a singing harp meanwhile the Giant is attempting to arrange the Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum cards in order.
Each player has different actions available to manipulate the cards in the beanstalks and the gameplay is highly asymmetric. The tension comes and goes with the ever-changing board state, but the game is definitely a struggle for both sides.
8. Hanamikoji (and Jixia Academy)
- Time: 15 Minutes
- Designer: Kota Nakayama
- Publisher: EmperorS4
- Mechanic: Split and Choose, Area Control
- Hanamikoji with a brand new Cast of characters
- 2 minutes to learn, 10 minutes to play
- Unique card play makes every game a thrilling battle of wits
- 2 players
- Win the favor of the scholars by studying their theory and outwitting your opponent in this unique dueling card game!
Note: It might be hard to get your hands on Hanamikoji, but the link above is a reskinned version called Jixia Academy that has the same gameplay with different art.
You may have noticed me using words related to tension quite a lot in this article, well Hanamikoji is heads and shoulders the tensest game on this list.
The theme and the artwork are calm and relaxing, but the gameplay is dread-inducing.
The two players are competing to earn the favor of 7 different Geishas by presenting them with their favorite gifts.
Each round the cards are shuffled and each players is dealt a hand of 6 cards and on their turn players draw 1 more card and then perform 1 of 4 actions in any order of their choice.
The actions are simple:
- Discard two cards
- Play one card in secret (facedown).
- Show your opponent three cards and they choose 1 and you keep the other two.
- Show your opponent four cards and they choose 2 and you keep the other two.
All cards that you choose are played to the Geisha’s based off their preferred gift and then each player reveals their secret card and the round ends.
If you have given more gifts to a Geisha, you have won their favor. The person to win 4 out of 7 Geisha’s favor wins.
Your actions are so limited in this game and timing is everything so your decisions always feel meaningful, and one more time, for posterity, tense.
7. Lost Cities
- Time: 30 Minutes
- Designer: Reiner Knizia
- Publisher: Kosmos
- Mechanic: Set Collection
- Two-Sided Game Board
- 6 Expeditions
- New Version
- English (Publication Language)
This is a very simple strategy card game in which players are archaeologists attempting to put together profitable expeditions to a number of lost cities.
Your turns are simple, you play a card to an expedition OR discard a card to the appropriate pile and then you pick-up a card from either the top of the deck or an expedition’s discard pile. Simple, right?
Well, what the game lacks in mechanical depth, it makes up for with droves of intense decision making.
You see, the catch with this game is all in the scoring. Every expedition you play a card into, you start with a whopping negative 20 points for that expedition. You need to play enough cards to that expedition to mitigate those points and even more to make it worth your while.
However, each expedition has only one copy of each card numbered 2 through 10 (points) and you must play them in ascending order. You might think you are sitting pretty with numbers 2 through 6 of an expedition.
Meanwhile, your opponent has been holding onto numbers 7 through 10, just waiting for you to slip up and play your cards into that expedition. You went ahead and got yourself 0 points, while your opponent netted 14.
Every discard, every play, and every pickup will feel like it could make or break your game and that tension is what makes this game so great.
- Time: 20 Minutes
- Designer: Gordon Hamilton
- Publisher: Roxley, Spinmaster
- Mechanic: Tile Placement, Grid Movement
- FUN FOR KIDS AND ADULTS: Santorini is a strategy-based board game that’s exhilarating and intellectually challenging! Play together and make family game night even more fun. This game is for 2-4 players, ages 8 and up.
- DEVELOP STRATEGY SKILLS: Play against an opponent or team up and play two against two. Race to build your way to the top of a stack of blocks! Use builder pieces and move one space in any direction.
- BUILD LIKE A MORTAL, WIN LIKE A GOD: Each player is dealt a God Card to be used strategically. When you find yourself in a tight spot, break or bend the rules! If you enjoy board games and Greek mythology, this is a must-have gift.
- SPIN MASTER PUZZLES, TOYS & GAMES: A world of jigsaw puzzles and the best family board games for kids, teens, and adults. Plus strategy games, card games, and classic board games like dominoes, mahjong, chess, or a backgammon set.
- ENTERTAINMENT FOR EVERYONE: Next time you get together with friends, bring along Spin Master board games, toys, or playing cards. We have activities for family game nights, birthdays, dinner parties, travel, holiday gifts, and whenever you just want to have a fun time.
Santorini is a simple abstract strategy game about building up the island of Santorini. It has a minimalist and beautiful design and it takes a mere minute to learn but is much more difficult to master.
The gameflow is simple. First, you move one of your workers to any adjacent spot, then you build a layer of a building on any spot adjacent to that worker. The workers can only move up one level when moving and the object of the game is to get one of your to workers on to a level 3 building.
Like Chess, you often need to look many turns ahead if you want to outwit your opponent, and with a plethora of variable player powers to play with, it is possible to have a different playing experience even if the two players know each other’s logic inside and out.
5. 7 Wonders Duel
- Time: 30 Minutes
- Designer: Antoine Bauza, Bruno Cathala
- Publisher: Repos Productions
- Mechanic: Drafting
- STRATEGY GAME: Experience an intense two-player struggle for supremacy in the ancient world! Challenge your opponent and bring your civilization to victory with Prestigious Buildings, Military Supremacy or Scientific Supremacy.
- TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR CIVILIZATION: Decide to invest in science, military or prestige. If you fail to build defenses, your capital city may be destroyed, but ignore technology and your people may be left in the dark ages. Will your city achieve greatness, or will your opponent prevent you from completing all your Wonders?
- CIVILIZATION WAS BORN FROM EVOLUTION: One game of 7 Wonders Duel plays over the course of three rounds, called Ages, during which you will choose cards with increasingly powerful effects. Each card you choose will influence your general strategy.
- VICTORY CAN BE ACHIEVE IN THREE WAYS: By invading your opponent’s capital, by achieving a monopoly on scientific advancement, or simply by crafting the city that will earn the most victory points in the end. But be warned: only seven of the eight Wonders in play can be built.
- 7 Wonders Duel allows multiple strategy opportunities which makes each game thrilling from beggining to end. Average Playtime: 30 minutes. LOOKING FOR NEW ADVENTURES? Try our 2 expansions: Pantheon and Agora (Note: Expansions require 7 Wonders Duel Base Game to play).
One of the most popular games in the industry is 7 Wonders, which is a drafting civilization game that plays lighting fast and up to 7 players. Younger brother 7 Wonders Duel brings the same theme and mechanics to a two-player only version that is just wonderful (no pun intended).
During each round, a number of cards are placed face-down and face-up in the center of the table overlapping one another. Players take turns drafting these cards and activating their effects but only the cards which are completely visible (not overlapped) can be drafted. You will need to draft wisely and manage your capital as efficiently as possible to win, but be careful, there are a couple of alternative win states that can sneak up on you.
There is your standard victory state in which the player with the most points wins. There is a military track which acts as a reverse tug-of-war and if either player pushes their military to the other player’s city, they win the game automatically. Lastly, there is a scientific set-collection mechanic where if you collect a full set of scientific advancement tokens, you win automatically as well. The game somehow always feels like it is in your control, and yet, in a blink of an eye, you can lose.
- Time: 15-30 Minutes
- Designer: Uwe Rosenberg
- Publisher: Lookout Games
- Mechanic: Drafting, Tile Placement
- QUILT MAKING PUZZLE GAME: Patchwork is a wonderful two-player game that captures the magic of needlework and sewing fabric together into designs. Each player works to create a beautiful patchwork quilt out of the available patches.
- STRATEGY GAME: Players compete to build the most aesthetic quilt possible on their 9x9 game board. You never know what patch you’ll be able to claim, so lay your board out carefully. Creating a beautiful quilt requires effort and time, but some patches just don't fit together.
- CHALLENGING TWO-PLAYER GAME: Choose your patches carefully and keep a healthy supply of buttons to not only finish your quilt but to make it better and more beautiful than your opponent's.
- FAMILY FUN: Parents and kids will love competing to build a beautiful quilt in this easy to learn game.
- NUMBER OF PLAYERS AND AVERAGE PLAYTIME: This board game for adults and family is designed for 2 players and is suitable for ages 8 and older. The average playtime is 30 minutes.
While many of the games on this list are incredibly tense, this one is quite relaxing. In Patchwork, you are building up a quilt by buying and placing Tetris style pieces onto your player board.
Each square on your quilt is worth -2 points until covered by a piece. Once in your quilt, any of the pieces that have buttons on them will give you income when you pass certain checkpoints on the time track. These buttons you earn can then be spent to buy more pieces and round and round we go.
The really interesting part of the game is time. Each piece has a certain amount of time needed to sew it into your quilt. This advances you on the time track.
However, if you are behind on the time track, you can draft another piece, and another, until you pass your opponent. This leads to some very interesting decisions where you may pass up on a great piece, to get a few smaller pieces or vice versa.
It is the theme and the solitaire nature of the quilt building that leaves this one feeling serene, but make no mistake, this game is very strategic.
- Time: 25 Minutes
- Designer: Bruno Cathala & Bruno Faidutti
- Publisher: Matagot Games
- Mechanic: Simultaneous Action Selection
- NOT ALL OF THE DINOSAURS DISAPPEARED: On a Pacific Island, a female velociraptor and her young were spotted. Your mission is to capture the young alive or neutralize the swift and powerful mother. The confrontation will be epic!
- STRATEGY BOARD GAME: Raptor is a card driven boardgame with tactical play and some double guessing. Players use their cards to move their pawns (scientists on one side, Mother and baby raptors on the other) on the board.
- CHALLENGING AND COMPETITIVE: Each round, the player who played the lowest ranked card can use its corresponding action while the opponent has movement/attack points equal to the difference between the two cards values.
- HIGHLY VARIABLE: Scientists can use fire, move by jeep on the tracks and call for reinforcements, while the mamma raptor can hide in the bushes, yell to frighten the scientists and call for her babies. In Raptor, each side has access to a variety of actions and powers. The modular board ensure that each game is unique.
- NUMBER OF PLAYERS AND AVERAGE PLAYTIME: This fun dinsoaur themed board game is for designed for 2 players and is suitable for ages 9 and older. The average playtime is 25 minutes.
Let’s jump right out and say that this is one of the best-themed games on this list. This game is highly asymmetric and pits a mother and her baby raptors against a team of scientists trying to keep them from getting out into the wild.
The gameplay revolves around one very simple mechanic with a clever twist. Both players have cards of equal values but with unique actions for their particular side. Players each select a card to play and simultaneously reveal.
The player with the lower card gets to perform the action of their played card. The player with the higher card has movement and attack points corresponding to the value difference of the two cards.
The game is won by the scientists if they can neutralize the mother or capture 3 of the baby raptors. The game is won by the raptors if they can rid the board of scientists or have 3 baby raptors escape into the wild. The game is tense but has a fun enough theme and base mechanic to keep this one feeling relatively light.
- Time: 30 Minutes
- Designer: Brent Povis
- Publisher: Two Lantern Games
- Mechanic: Drafting, Set Collection
This is definitely the least well-known game on this list, but it is extremely underrated. This is a game about foraging for mushrooms and cooking them.
The game has this conveyor belt of cards representing the forest in the center of the table. Each turn players can draft cards from the forest, the first two are free, but if you need to go deeper in the forest, you will need to spend foraging sticks that you can only get by selling mushrooms. The card at the end of the conveyor belt drops off into a decay pile at the end of the turn, which will grow for a limited amount of time, ever-tempting players into taking it a pile of junk for that one card that they really want.
Once you have collected a nice set of mushrooms (3 or more), you can start frying them and get points for them according to the rarity of that type of mushroom. There is a constant struggle between saving your mushrooms for a set or selling them to give you more leverage in the forest.
Pointing out specifics of what makes this game so great, is honestly difficult to do, but what really encapsulates my feelings of this game: It is an absolute joy to play and I would never turn down a game of it.
1. Codenames Duet
- Time: 15-30 Minutes
- Designer: Vlaada Chvatil and Scot Eaton
- Publisher: Czech Games Edition
- Mechanics: Deduction, Word Association
- 400 all new words compatible with original codenames
- New cooperative gameplay
- Campaign mode to record your progress
- Variable difficulty to challenge even the greatest spies
- Great with two players, or more
Codenames is one of those rare games that has managed to reach the 1 million sales mark and it is truly one of the greats.
If you are unfamiliar, Codenames is a team-based deduction word game that consists of 1 spymaster and 1-3 guessers per team. The spymaster has a code of words in a grid that he is trying to get their teammates to guess, but they can only give one word clues and cannot include any words from the grid. It is a word association game.
For example, if I need to get my teammates to guess bank and tree, I might use the clue “branch.”
Codenames duet takes that same basic gameplay and turns it into an interesting 2-player cooperative experience. In this game, you each play as both the spymaster and the guesser and each person has a different code of words in the grid.
You take turns giving clues and guessing until you have either gotten all 15 of the combined clues or until one of you have found an assassin.
Codenames Duet is a little bit more complex than the original Codenames, but it is a tense 2 player cooperative experience that you will want to play again and again.
This concludes my top ten 2-player games. I hope you enjoy and if you have any comments or opinions, feel free to comment below.
Nice selections, Patrick! I own 9 outta 10 of your picks. :^) For Morels, I have Fungi. I have Hanamikoji (not Jixia Academy). I sold Battle Line to get Schotten Totten, since I liked the art a lot better.