Are you game?
January 31, 2010 4:38 PM   Subscribe

What are the best two-player games in existence throughout history (besides sex)? By best I mean easy to learn, not too difficult to master, and doesn't depend on a significant expenditure such as a videogame system or one-use board game.

Lately and especially this Winter my wife and I have been enjoying things like the 2-or-more player card game Cassino. I recently made a set of dominoes and we've really been enjoying that. What are other good 2 player strictly "social" level games? By social level I mean that it's not a big deal who wins or loses; they're casual enough that we can both laugh and congratulate each other. Picture old people in the park playing it?

I'm fine with personal recommendations of more card games, but I have been loving reading through the pagat site. Personal experience of good card games is wonderful. But anything outside of card games is very welcome too; like I said, I made a set of dominoes just to see if we'd enjoy playing! I'm not adverse to making or buying simple setups for any truly fun game system.

In addition to just a straight up recommendation, I'd really love your reasons as to why it's fun. It's sometimes hard to gauge just based on a system of rules.

FWIW I am not a fan of traditional off the shelf board games. And I definitely do not mean computer games like WoW or Dragon Age!

posted by carlh to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (44 answers total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
I love Speed Solitaire.
posted by kylej at 4:41 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Go. Easy to learn, hard to master, leads to lots of discussion during.
posted by The Whelk at 4:43 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Chess, backgammon, scrabble, etc.
posted by dfriedman at 4:43 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've also enjoyed German Whist , or Whist for two-players. It can move amazingly fast, simple rule-set, has a good balance of luck vs skill, and you can finally understand how gentlemen in the 19th century would loose entire fortunes playing it all night.
posted by The Whelk at 4:44 PM on January 31, 2010

posted by Blasdelb at 4:45 PM on January 31, 2010

I really enjoy cribbage. There are lots of little technicalities and phases in gameplay; there is enough chance involved that a novice can still compete against a more advanced player. When I was little, I was fascinated by my parents' wooden pegboard. Now that I can play the game, I really want to handmake one of my own.
posted by hermitosis at 4:45 PM on January 31, 2010

Othello / Reversi

It's extremely simple (yet can become pretty complex as strategies emerge!), and also lends itself to casual conversation during the game.
posted by ThomThomThomThom at 4:46 PM on January 31, 2010

Mastermind, maybe?
posted by pemberkins at 4:48 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by fire&wings at 4:55 PM on January 31, 2010

Backgammon, very easy to learn. Basic sets aren't expensive or you could make a set if you wanted.
posted by selton at 4:56 PM on January 31, 2010

My boyfriend and I generally play a game of Scrabble every night over dinner. Play with nine tiles instead of seven and it's really fun (and it goes faster, too).
posted by phunniemee at 4:56 PM on January 31, 2010

posted by cozenedindigo at 5:02 PM on January 31, 2010

I had Pente as a kid and loved it. "A minute to learn, a lifetime to master!" is the slogan right on the box.

Although there is a board and pieces to buy (the pieces are super-cool), you could also play on a computer, or even with just a grid and a pile of rocks.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:02 PM on January 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm really loving the answers so far (reading through Whist rules at the moment) and am making a list of games to try! ...but to save anyone any time I should say that we do already have a nice marble chess set collecting dust behind our bar. It's fun but we both take it a little too seriously to enjoy it casually.

I may come back through here tomorrow and just mark everything as favorite because I'm liking everything I've read so far :)
posted by carlh at 5:03 PM on January 31, 2010

Seconding Scrabble
Have you tried a crossword puzzle war? Make a copy of the crossword and race each other.
posted by sallybrown at 5:08 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Checkers. It's too basic to really take seriously.
Backgammon. It's been around for hundreds of years for a reason.

My hubby and I used to play Phase 10 when we were first married. I've been told there are rules for playing with a regular deck of cards, but I haven't been able to find them.

I also really like the good old standby Gin and Gin Rummy.
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:09 PM on January 31, 2010

I've spend many hours play 500 card game with my Aunt and Grandmother. The rules are easily adjustable to your preferences. It requires both some strategy and luck.
posted by jmd82 at 5:20 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

My friend from hong kong taught me this game where you hold both hands out facing each other in fists. one person guesses a number, either five ten fifteen or twenty.. at the same exact time as the guess both players either unclinch their fists to make five (one hand) or ten (two hands) or zero (no hands). if the person guesses the right number (like one fist and three unclinched fist is fifteen and they guess fifteen) then they win the round. you can play with other people and with beers.
posted by pwally at 5:21 PM on January 31, 2010

My parents swore by (and at) Upwards. This is a Scrabble like game, but you can also build on top of existing words, changing them. You get points for the number of tiles in the stacks. It is a lot less intense than Scrabble. Upwards slowly replaced cribbage as our go-to family game.
posted by Pennyblack at 5:36 PM on January 31, 2010

Second vote for Go.
posted by edguardo at 5:38 PM on January 31, 2010

Chess, backgammon, Take Two.

But mostly chess.
posted by pompomtom at 5:42 PM on January 31, 2010

Crib. It's really easy to handicap too so even if skill levels differ you can have close matches. You can even play without a board if you have pen and paper.
posted by Mitheral at 5:54 PM on January 31, 2010

I love me some mancalla.
posted by Netzapper at 6:15 PM on January 31, 2010

The ultimate two-person strategy game requiring no specialized equipment: Rock, Paper, Scissors.
posted by alms at 7:12 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Checkers. It's too basic to really take seriously.


My hubby and I used to play Phase 10 when we were first married.

TooFewShoes, are you mad? You dismiss Checkers as "too basic" and then go on to suggest a drawn-out card game that requires no skill whatsoever? Might as well be playing Bingo or War.

Sidenote, few people know that the correct rules to Checkers / Draughts requires a player captures an opponent's piece if he is able. The game then becomes about setting traps whereby such a forced move sacrifices one of your own pieces but puts your opponent into a disadvantageous position where you can jump two or three of his pieces, establish board control, be kinged, etc.

Checkers is a serious strategy game with a lot of meat to it, though less meat than Chess or Go have.
posted by meadowlark lime at 7:37 PM on January 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

And to the OP, if you're looking for a unique, medium-weight game that be played by two with just a pen and paper, look at Dots and Boxes or Sprouts.
posted by meadowlark lime at 7:45 PM on January 31, 2010

Nthing backgammon, cribbage, and scrabble.

meadowlark lime, I think TwoFewShoes was referring to the OP's comment that they took chess too seriously to enjoy casually, and that maybe checkers would work better for them. I may be wrong.
posted by Nabubrush at 8:40 PM on January 31, 2010

There are a number of board and card games you can buy in game stores and online that play well 2-player. "What's a fun/simple game to play with my wife?" is a common question on boardgamegeek (the sort of go-to site for these games). Here's some stuff to click on: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Of these kinds of games, for you I'd recommend: Lost Cities, Battle Line, Hive (those three are all fairly astract), and a bit less abstract: Settlers of Catan the Card Game, Jambo, Hera & Zeus, Dominion.
posted by fleacircus at 9:04 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Regarding the checkers subthread, while checkers is theoretically less deep than chess or go, it is still a deterministic, pure strategy game. If carlh finds chess too serious a game, i don't see how checkers would be considered any less serious.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 10:02 PM on January 31, 2010

Nine Men's Morris boards crop up across the world--there are examples scratched into the stone seats of medieval cathedrals in England, and identical boards scratched into stone seats in temples in Northern India--presumably worshippers in India got just as bored during long rituals as worshippers in Britain. Originally Egyptian, the game is also mentioned in Shakespeare. And it's a lot of fun.

Also, another vote for Mancala/Owari.
posted by Hogshead at 3:05 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

The "fast-paced version" of Chinese Checkers is a lot of fun with just two players. It's similar to checkers, only in this game, the board is a hexagram and the goal is to get all of your pieces on your opponent's side of the board before they get theirs on your side. You advance your piece by "hopping" them over other pieces on the board (both yours and your opponent's), which you can move either diagonally or horizontally (depending on the location of the pieces). Like checkers, you can also jump over pieces consecutively. The beauty of the fast-paced version is you can hop your pieces over non-adjacent pieces, which makes for some very interesting possibilities.

Chinese Checkers is easy to pick up, and you'll soon find that there are lots of strategy and clairvoyance involved! The element of surprise in this game is bound to crack a good amount of smiles and laughs.
posted by matticulate at 3:48 AM on February 1, 2010

I'll put down a vote for cribbage as well. Once you get hooked on that there's no going back. It's easy to learn the basic rules, but the real fun is in the nuances, especially when you play lots of games with the same partner and begin to figure out one another's strategies and tendencies.
posted by fso at 5:33 AM on February 1, 2010

posted by Obscure Reference at 7:25 AM on February 1, 2010

If you take chess too seriously, try speed chess, with a clock. Start with 5 minutes each. It's frickin' great. Um, don't use your marble set. Get a basic vinyl board, weighted-plastic pieces, and clock set.

Go on a 9x9 board is fun and not "too serious." And it's a great introduction to the only game other than chess that contends for the best game ever title. Go is great not just because you could spend your whole life improving and still be only an ok amateur, but because it's just beautiful, in an abstract sense and in a physical sense if you get a nice set.

Backgammon, using the doubling cube. Play to 11 or something. It's great because it plays very fast and almost automatically, but has enough depth to be interesting.

Scrabble. You can play it casually or you can memorize every two and three letter word in the dictionary, and then get started on all words containing Q or Z.

Poker (Texas hold em or Omaha) can actually be very fun heads up (2 player) if you get decent at it. Once you master the basics, it's great trying to figure each other out and constantly adjust to the other's adjustments, etc. And if you get good, you can make money playing other people. :-)

The card game Spit is fun and not at all serious.

Checkers has some depth, as people above pointed out, if you use the rule that if you can capture, you must. For the less serious, all sorts of variations like flying kings are fun.
posted by callmejay at 8:59 AM on February 1, 2010

Oh, and trivial pursuit, some editions are funner and some harder than others.
posted by callmejay at 9:02 AM on February 1, 2010

One-thousand Blank White Cards can be fun for two or twenty.

Second fast games like speed solitaire (or, as I've heard it called, "Nertz") and Spit.

Ruk Shuk is good for kinesthetic types.

And there are a whole host of games for two involving eye-had coordination -- table shuffleboard, darts, bocce, cornhole, ladderball, and just about anything that Carrom has to offer.
posted by cross_impact at 11:16 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thumb war because you can do it anywhere and any time.
posted by MS_gal at 2:23 PM on February 1, 2010

Dutch Blitz is fast-moving, easy to learn and a lot of fun. It can be played with two or more.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 2:24 PM on February 1, 2010

Piecepack is a public domain gaming system for which tons of games have been written. My wife and I have had tons of fun making our own piecepacks (although there are some lovely packs here) and playing together. Here's a good list of recommended games. Not all the games are created equal, but part of the fun is playing through them to find the ones that really play well.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 3:16 PM on February 1, 2010

Jenga rules.
posted by yoz420 at 3:33 PM on February 1, 2010

You could try playing some of the more interesting, non-mainstream board games. My girlfriend and I have lots of fun with the following almost every week. They are great for two players or more:

A complex little game that will give you years of fun! It takes a little bit of time to learn all the rules, but plays great with one (yes, you can even play by yourself) to five people. Each player has his or her own little farmland that you build up, plant vegetables and grains on, and grow your family. What is great about this game is that there is less direct competition since each player has his or her own little farmland to build. I highly recomend it!

A much simpler game than the above. It took my girlfriend and I about 10 minutes to learn this one. The game basically consists of playing down tiles in a similar fashion as you play dominoes with the ends matching. There is some element of luck and some more complex elements with a scoring system at work, but this would be a great game to start with.

This game is a card game with a twist and a unique card deck. The whole board game is a big card deck. The point of the game is to draw cards and build up a good deck to 'fight' the other person and get more points in the end. It reminds me a little bit of those trading card games that were popular in the 90s, but this is fun! It took me about five minutes to learn and the different number of cards included in the game can lead to limitless game combinations.
posted by 1awesomeguy at 9:17 PM on February 1, 2010

Seconding Carcassonne.
posted by jasondigitized at 7:55 AM on February 2, 2010

Another vote for Dominion. I like it with four players, but it's fun no matter how many you have.
posted by etoile at 5:34 PM on February 2, 2010

Chess, Go and Backgammon are the games my wife and I still play after being married for 22 years.. That and the odd puzzle from time to time..
posted by SteveG at 8:47 AM on February 7, 2010

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