duel box

Zach’s Favorite Board Games For Two

In All, Blog, Lists by Zach Hillegas0 Comments

It’s one of the questions most asked in the board gaming world–“what are some good board games for two?” If you’re not a stranger to any type of board game community, then it’s highly likely that you’ve heard this question a thousand times over. Tabletop gaming is loads of fun, but the sad and simple truth is that, for many people, it’s just not easy to consistently get a group together to play. Chalk it up to busyness, distance, or what have you, sometimes it’s just easier to play games with one person.

This is especially true if you have a partner. Many a couple have turned to board games in their quest to find new ways to bond, and it certainly can be a challenge finding that one game that will satisfy your needs. I’ve played some games in my time, and there has been some hits and misses. I’ve compiled some of my favorite two player games into the following list, a list that I hope can help others find their perfect two players game.

NOTE: Keep in mind that this list is “Zach’s favorite board games for two,” not “the best board games for two.” I haven’t played every game in the world, and, frankly, there are tons of games out there that are well-suited for two, arguably much better than some of the games on this list. However, I’m simply listing MY favorites, and I suspect that, as I continue to play more games, that this list will become bigger and bigger.

Also, many of these games are considered “better” at higher player counts, and that is irrelevant for the intents and purposes of this article. If Kemet, for example, is “best” with five players, does that take away from it being an enjoyable two player experience? No. I find all of the following games to be enjoyable with two players, and if they ARE indeed more enjoyable with even more, then hey, it’s just good motivation to find ways to get a bigger group together. It can be a good thing when a game isn’t limited to two players–it creates opportunities to share the love if you end up meeting people that would like to join your game nights.

If You Like Direct Conflict and Interaction

SMALL WORLD

small world contents

Read our Small World review here

Small World is a medium-weight game of conflict and area control. Each player controls a fantasy race with their own special ability, combined with an extra ability attached to said race, meaning that every player has two special “powers” at any given moment, which have to be used in specific ways to get max victory point gainage. The idea behind Small World is that, well, it’s a small world, and eventually, you’re going to start running into other players, forcing you to fight. Small World supports two to five players, and is very easy to learn and play.

WHY IT WORKS FOR TWO PLAYERS

Small World is awesome for people that want a game that has direct player conflict, but not too much conflict. It encourages you to attack the other player, but the game plays so quickly and smoothly that the “take that” moments don’t hurt very much, or feel very personal. Attacking is just part of the game, and the nature of the way it works ensures that it never feels like it hurts. It encourages conflict, but it’s not the kind of game that allows for huge upsets or particularly memorable battles. Because of this, I would argue that it’s primarily an area control game, with conflict built in on the side.

Also, Small World has specific balances built in for every player count, which automatically makes it a more viable two player option than many other games. In this case, you get a special board that’s designed for two players, and two players only. As a result, the game works just as well as it would with other counts, save for the added tension that additional players provide. Still, Small World 1v1 is a nice, quick competitive experience that’s a great substitute for people that get burned out on overly aggressive games, but who still want some conflict.

See what others are saying about Small World
Kemet

kemet box

“It’s kind of like Risk, but more balanced, more complicated, and less lucky. Oh, and it’s in Egypt.” This is how I’ve often described Kemet to someone who’s never heard of the game. Kemet is a conflict/area control game where you move tiny soldiers around on a map, trying to conquer your opponents and hold certain areas. Kemet is unique because the game encourages you to take the offensive. The first player to eight points wins, but a lot of points are “temporary” points that can be taken from other players if you take the spot they’re on the board. If you win a battle that you initiate, you’ll get a point. If you win a battle that you don’t initiate, you don’t get a point.

Mechanically, Kemet is a masterpiece. It’s one of the most well-balanced games I’ve ever played. Every spot on the board is equidistant from one another, and there’s a cadre of special powers that you can upgrade yourself with, which really makes the game come into its own. You can equip yourself with abilities that make you into an offensive monster, or stack yourself with defensive bonuses that make players think twice about picking on you. Alternatively, you can set yourself up to have a booming economy, giving you more spending power than other people on the board. There’s so much to do in Kemet, and it’s truly a conflict game done right.

WHY IT WORKS FOR TWO PLAYERS

Like some of the other games on this list, Kemet has multiple boards that are designed for specific player counts, meaning that the two-player version was tested, and specifically balanced for two. Combine this with the fact that Kemet is one of the most balanced games I’ve ever played (regardless of player count), and it’s easy to see why this game works.

Kemet might not be that interesting for two, were it not for the power tiles. Without them, it would just be a contest between taking the same areas every game, which, without more players, could quickly become repetitive. However, the power tiles allow each player to craft a specific, unique build that will result in vastly different strategies, which usually ends up in players brewing up counter-strategies and seeking to 1-up each other. In every game of Kemet, you pursue the same objectives in a completely different way. Its variety, combined with its sublime balance, makes this an excellent two-player game, especially for those who like area control and conflict.

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Eclipse

galactic center

Read our Eclipse review here

Eclipse is the game that does it all. A 4x game set in deep space, you will explore the stars, build up an empire, raise an army, research new technologies, upgrade your ships, and conquer your enemies all within the course of one game. Eclipse has been praised for its ability to include so many mechanics, while still being relatively easy to play. In reality, Eclipse LOOKS far more complex than it is–the game is admittedly quite intimidating when you see the hundreds of components scattered about the table. That being said, there’s a ridiculous amount of strategy to be found in Eclipse; this game will evolve the more you bring it to the table, revealing more strategic potential with every play.

WHY IT WORKS FOR TWO PLAYERS:

Eclipse is kind of a “jack of all trades” game. It really does have a little bit of everything–it has resource management! It has area control! It has engine-building! It has exploration! It has conflict! It has negotiation! The best part about all of this? You don’t have to focus on, or emphasize any one of these mechanics; Eclipse can be played the way that you want to play it.

You can play a balanced approach, doing a little bit of everything, or you might want to go heavy conquest, and win through conquering. Maybe you want to stick to your own area of space and peacefully expand. Maybe you want to win by extensively researching technology. With almost every path in Eclipse, there are routes to victory. This makes it great for two players, because you can mutually determine the nature of the game. Are you dating someone who doesn’t like conflict but likes building stuff and managing resources? Play a conflict-free game of Eclipse. Got a bloodthirsty partner who’s just the opposite? Knock yourselves out with massive armies. Eclipse is very versatile.

As far as balance goes, it works well with two. In fact, I would often rather play with two rather than three, because it ensures that both players are mutual, equal enemies. In, say, a three player game, it’s easy for one player to be picked on. Eclipse can also be played pretty quickly with two, sometimes finishing in a solid hour with experienced players. If you’re both fans of complex games but don’t like long run-times, two player Eclipse can be a nice treat.

See what others are saying about Eclipse

If You Prefer Passive Conflict

7 WONDERS DUEL

duel box

Read our 7 Wonders Duel review here

7 Wonders has established itself as a well-known, classic tabletop game, and the undisputed king of the “card drafting” genre (Dominion, mentioned earlier, uses drafting but is more well-known for deck-building). However, there was always one problem with it–that darned two-player variant. Two-player 7 Wonders was never really that great; it requires a “dummy player,” and although it’s fun in its own right, it just feels like the game wasn’t meant for two.

Well, nobody had to worry about that anymore when 7 Wonders Duel came out. Duel is a separate, standalone game that takes the formula of 7 Wonders, and condenses it into a fine two-player experience. The game is balanced for two, and while it plays mostly the same as its predecessor, there are certain fundamental changes that not only work well for two, but also outshine the mechanics of the beloved original.

WHY IT WORKS FOR TWO PLAYERS

Well that’s, like, the point. It goes without saying that Duel was custom tailored to be a two-player experience, so it’s no surprise that it would end up on this list. One thing I like about Duel is that it’s quick; it requires a healthy dose of strategy, but feels neither too long nor too short.  Many collections are filled with games that either last ten minutes or two hundred, so it’s nice to see a game that can pull off a 30-45 minute run-time.

Duel is also great because it’s neither overly aggressive, nor exceptionally passive. I see it as a nice middle-of-the-road game. Unlike 7 Wonders, it’s often more important to prevent your opponent from getting good cards than it is to maximize your own setup. You’ll be blocking a lot more in Duel, or making choices just to ensure that your opponent doesn’t get what they want. However, every card ultimately ends up benefitting you anyway, so it doesn’t feel overly malicious. I see Duel as an excellent hybrid between “take that” mechanics and “passive conflict.” You’re working on yourself, but you’ve also gotta block your opponent, but it also doesn’t feel overtly malicious. It just works.

See what others are saying about 7 Wonders Duel
Dominion

dominion box

Another veritable classic on this list, Dominion is most people’s gateway game into the world of card drafting and deck building. Dominion is relatively simple–players start off on equal footing with identical hands, and they slowly add cards to their deck, transforming it to their own purposes. The game is won by acquiring victory points, which require money, and gaining money requires a well-built deck that will produce for you. Every game of Dominion is different; the game comes packed with a variety of cards, and only a portion of said cards are available in every game. Whoever can use these cards to their advantage and form the most efficient deck will win.

WHY IT WORKS FOR TWO PLAYERS

Dominion’s mechanics just work, no matter how many players are involved. This in of itself makes it a good two player game, but Dominion is also great because it excels as a passively competitive game. Dominion isn’t really aggressive, it’s just a contest of who can build the better deck. In this respect, it’s like a two-player puzzle, and whoever solves it first wins. Dominion is great for two players who want some light competition, and who like the prospect of building a deck on the fly.

See what others are saying about Dominion
CASTLES OF BURGUNDY

Game in action

Read our Castles of Burgundy review here

Castles of Burgundy is nice and peaceful; the object of the game is to build up the most successful estate, using tiles that are taken off of a central board. Every players have their own smaller board, and placing tiles on it will grant them special bonuses, depending on what was played and when. Castles is lovely, because it provides all kinds of tactical decisions, but doesn’t feel punishing if you don’t get things totally right. There’s not a lot of direct interaction, making this a game that encourages passive competition, but allows for players to focus on building themselves up instead of tearing each other down.

WHY IT WORKS FOR TWO PLAYERS

Many would argue that Castles is best for two, even though it supports up to four players. Castles of Burgundy, at the end of the day, is a thinking game, and it just works with two players. Once again, this game is good for passive competition; Castles isn’t really aggressive (though it CAN be if you decide to be cutthroat about taking tiles that your opponents want), but it’s still engaging because there are so many meaningful decisions to make. The best part about Castles is that the game isn’t punishing. No matter what you do, you’ll score a lot of points, and you’ll likely be close to your opponent due to how well-balanced the game is. You’ll feel a sense of gratification after playing it, while being able to see what you could have done differently. This makes Castles a wonderful game to unwind with–you get some nice friendly competition, but ultimately you can just relax and enjoy the ride.

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Libertalia

Sorry darling, daddy's spy parrot saw what you were up to and now he's takin' the treasure

Read our Libertalia review here

“Pirate Poker” is a term I might use to describe Libertalia. This is a wonderful game for scurvy swabbies that love to bluff and read their opponents. It’s all about getting the booty in Libertalia–every turn, players will play pirates from their hand, and the pirate with the higher ranking will run away with the treasure. But wait! Every pirate has different actions and abilities, and not all the booty is good, so you’ll have to be careful, lest you end up with cursed relics. The best part about Libertalia is that everybody shares an identical hand, so the game is not only choosing the best pirates to play, but also anticipating which ones your opponents might put down. If a bunch of pirates were to sit down and play Poker together, I think it’d feel roughly the same as your average session of Libertalia.

WHY IT WORKS FOR TWO PLAYERS

You have to read your opponent to win Libertalia. It’s a battle of wits. There’s not any direct bluffing, but there are opportunities to play the psychological game and make your opponent think that you might be up to something that you’re not actually planning on doing. Libertalia works well with all player counts, and most prefer it with three to four players, but I loved the experience that it afforded as a two player game. I liked it because it’s an absolute mind game, and it’s fun trying to outguess your opponent. This is especially so if you know them well. Some might argue that Libertalia is best with three or four players, but I’ve found that the game doesn’t suffer with just two.

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If You’re In It For The Long Haul

Pandemic Legacy

pandemic legacy january final

Read our Pandemic Legacy first impressions here

Pandemic Legacy is the #1 rated board game of all time right now on Board Game Geek. If that doesn’t tell you something, I don’t know what will. Legacy takes the classic game of Pandemic, and turns it into an ongoing campaign with unexpected events, unprecedented challenges, changing objectives, and permenent modifications to the components. Players will rip up cards, apply stickers to the board, and upgrade their characters as they fight disease in a twelve to twenty-four session long adventure. Pandemic Legacy can really only be played all the way through once, but boy what an adventure it is.

WHY IT WORKS FOR TWO PLAYERS

Legacy works well for two for all the same reasons the original game does. Players can play with however many characters they choose and still end up having the same experience. However, Legacy is a bonding experience more than anything. Due to the fact that you’re both fighting the same diseases together, the same diseases that continually evolve and challenge you, it’s a fun shared experience when you succeed and fail together. There’s nothing like finishing a hard-fought game of Pandemic Legacy, looking at the board, and seeing the story that you and your partner wrote together. Pandemic Legacy is more than just a game, it’s an experience–an experience that’s worth sharing with someone.

See what others are saying about Pandemic Legacy
Imperial Assault

purpose

Read our Imperial Assault review here

Imperial Assault is the definitive tabletop Star Wars experience. This is a tactical adventure game with your favorite Star Wars characters captured in mini form. The great thing about Imperial Assault is that it’s two games in one. You’ve got the campaign mode, in which up to four rebel heroes progress through en episodic adventure against the nefarious Empire. Every mission has its own storyline and special objectives. One player controls the Empire and its vast army, while the other[s] play as the Rebel heroes. As the campaign progresses, both sides earn special rewards and upgrades, which can turn this game into the unhealthiest of addictions.

There’s also the skirmish mode, which is much more in line with X-Wing, mentioned above. Players can build their own squad of units, and face off in a tactical 1v1 battle. This has potential for a strong metagame, as you can get extremely competitive with your loadout. Between the skirmish and campaign mode, Imperial Assault is loaded with goodies.

WHY IT WORKS FOR TWO PLAYERS

Skirmish, first off, is strictly a two player game, so it goes without saying that it works well for two. However, skirmish is a competitive game, and not everyone might feel up to the preparation that each session requires, and that’s why campaign is an excellent alternative. The campaign works well for two players in similar ways that Pandemic Legacy does. It’s an ongoing adventure that tells a multi-session story that both players keep up with. The difference with Imperial Assault (aside from the lack of permanent component changes, a hallmark of Legacy games) is that it’s competitive. Instead of fighting on the same team, you’re fighting one against the other.

Imperial Assault can be played with four rebel players against the one Imperial, but, like Pandemic, one player can assume as many characters as they want without disrupting the experience. I’ve found that I actually enjoy Imperial Assault’s campaign more with two players than with four, because it’s a more focused experience. Overall, if you’re looking for something with a lot of longevity and variety, you can’t really go wrong with Imperial Assault. You’ll get a lot out of this one.

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 X-Wing: The Miniatures Game

all wings

Read our X-Wing review here

There are so many things I love about X-Wing. It’s a Star Wars fan’s dream come true, what with all the beautiful little detailed minis, and the game itself is exceptionally well-designed, and deceivingly simple. X-Wing is designed for two players, so it’s going to be a 1v1 affair, perfect for anybody who has a competitive opponent that they can consistently play games with.

What I like about X-Wing is that it takes the concept of a miniatures/war game, and reduces it to something exceedingly simple. It’s extremely easy to learn and play X-Wing, but it’s abounding with strategy. The rules are very easy – pick ship, move ship, attack with ship. Naturally, there are plenty of things that are stacked on top of this, but the fundamentals are relatively simple. X-Wing takes the intimidating genre of miniatures games and packs it into something that’s easy, fun, and affordable. You’ll find the depth of strategy that you’ll find in a lot of, say, competitive card games, but with the fun aspect of moving around little miniature ships, and we all know that every adult that says they don’t secretly want to do that is a liar.

WHY IT WORKS FOR TWO PLAYERS

X-Wing is a lifestyle game. You’re meant to keep up with it, keep adding to it, find new strategies for it, evolve its metagame, blah blah. That means that X-Wing will require an investment of both time and money; it’s not really a “pick up and play” game. It’s intended that you build a squad, choose complimenting ability cards, and tactically outsmart your opponent. I enjoy playing X-Wing games where the squads are completely randomized (I use this site to build random loadouts), but this can lead to imbalances where one side has a “luckier” build than the other. In the end of the day, this is a game that’s meant to be kept up with, not just played on a whim. If two players are into that idea, then it can be one of the deepest and most fun games you’ll ever own; it will form a true metagame between you and your opponent, where your squads continuously evolve as you discover holes in each others’ strategies. With a consistent second player, X-Wing has the potential to be a truly emergent gameplay experience, and being able to share that with someone over a long-term period is a really special experience.

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If You Want to Work Together

Pandemic
pandemic cover

fd

If you’re a person, and you play board games, you’ve probably heard of Pandemic before. Gaining popularity throughout the masses, and showing up at mass-market locations, Pandemic is one of the new go-to gateway games on the block. Pandemic was one of the biggest influences (if not THE biggets influence) in popularizing the genre of cooperative games, and still holds up as a great game. Pandemic, for those unaware of its premise, is a race against time–there are four major diseases that are breaking out, and it’s up to your team of intrepid specialists to prevent worldwide collapse.

WHY IT WORKS FOR TWO PLAYERS

Pandemic’s excellence as a two-player game all comes down to its cooperative nature. Because of the way the game works, the gameplay experience is unaffected by player count. You can play Pandemic with one player or with four, and it will still be the same game. The reason I say this is the freedom you have in the pawns you choose. You can play with a minimum of two pawns and a maximum of four, but there’s no rule that limits one pawn to one player. The game DOES change slightly depending on how many characters you control, but you can control however many you want. You can play a two-player game with two pawns to make it easier, or control four pawns (two each) to make things more difficult. As far as balance goes, Pandemic excels as a two-player game.

There’s also the obvious cooperative aspect that makes this game fun for two, because it means that you share your highs and lows. Pandemic is a particularly good choice for couples, because it promotes teamwork and joint celebration if you’re able to solve it together. If you have a partner that’s adverse to direct conflict or even competition, this might be a perfect choice for him or her. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

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About the Author

Zach Hillegas

Zach is an avid tabletop gamer, and he created Board Game Resource out of his love for the hobby, and his desire to see more people come into it. When he’s not writing for or managing BGR, Zach might be hanging out with cats, hiking a mountain, or spending time with his lovely wife. Zach is currently studying for a degree in Business Management. Zach has also enjoys creating digital character art. You can check out his gallery here, or follow him on Instagram at @artworkbyzach!


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