two player games?
September 16, 2011 10:27 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I are sick of watching tv at night. Board game suggestions for two players only?

We want to get some games to play together. It will always be just the two of us playing.

Group games we have liked in the past are Trivial Pursuit, Taboo, Malarky. I'm also interested in games that provoke discussion, like Would You Rather? For what it's worth, neither of us really like Risk.

Also, please no computer game / video game suggestions.

I did see this thread,which was awesome.
posted by pintapicasso to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (45 answers total) 155 users marked this as a favorite
It's not a board game, but my boyfriend and I have a running competition at Phase 10. Much shit-talking has ensued.
posted by angab at 10:30 AM on September 16, 2011

Carcassone! Dominion! Race for the Galaxy!

Those are our go-to two-player card games. However, they are a little on the nerdy end of the spectrum, and I can't tell how far in that direction you want to go. I like 'em, though -- I'd start with Carcassone or Dominion.
posted by little cow make small moo at 10:30 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Scrabble is probably cliche, but based on what you said, i think it would be a good choice.
posted by empath at 10:30 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

My husband and I play, in no particular order or preference, Scrabble, Yahtzee, Clue, Quiddler (card-based word game), Chez Geek and its variants and add-ons, Fluxx and its variants, and Zombie Dice. All of these are fun in a two-player scenario, but some will vary based on your level of geekiness and/or appreciation for zombies and/or Cthulu.
posted by bedhead at 10:30 AM on September 16, 2011

Offering the caveat that these are not really discussion games, but this book is nothing but the boards and pieces for a bunch of two-player board games and is awesome. (When my ex and I weren't playing scrabble, we were playing a funky pirate game in this book.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:31 AM on September 16, 2011

Pandemic is really fun with two people.
posted by SpiffyRob at 10:31 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

ALso, don't rule out old school regular playing card-games -- Cribbage is a good one for two players, for example...
posted by empath at 10:32 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Scrabble, backgammon, and a modified version of Settlers (play to 15, no trading; ports become very important) are the big hits for us. We also enjoy trading the computer back and forth for competitive tetris (I totally kick ass, by the way) and chainfactor scores. Entanglement two-player is also good.
posted by phunniemee at 10:34 AM on September 16, 2011

I got my wife playing board games by getting her to hooked on Ticket to Ride. We're in the middle of a board game revolution at the moment and TTR is the ultimate gateway game.

Lately we've been playing card deck building games like Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer and Dominion.
posted by eyeballkid at 10:34 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Royalty is a card game but like scrabble. I also enjoy Banannagrams.
posted by xammerboy at 10:36 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and as 2 or more player co-op games go Forbidden Island is easier to learn than the previously mentioned Pandemic, but just as stress inducing.
posted by eyeballkid at 10:37 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Forbidden Island is good, Lost Cities is also terrific - easy to learn, travels well, no setup, healthy competition.
posted by nkknkk at 10:39 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

My SO and I have played Mansions of Madness with just the two of us before. It's quite different from playing it in a bigger group, but pretty fun. (For different fun you can have one person play as the keeper and one person play as two investigators... that way there are more opportunities for scary shenanigans.)
posted by bewilderbeast at 10:50 AM on September 16, 2011

Seconding Carcassonne. It's not so nerdy it's a drag - you're basically fitting puzzle pieces together in an attempt to gain control of regions and resources. It's a lot less complicated than Settlers of Catan, which has a similar premise, and way simpler and WAY shorter and less sinister than Risk.
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:51 AM on September 16, 2011

I'm fairly nerdy on the spectrum, and so my recommendations will be as well. I prefer Thunderstone to Dominion. San Juan can be fun for two if you're fairly evenly matched.

There are also a variety of cooperative board games (you against the game) that can work very well with small numbers of people. Pandemic is mentioned above, Lord of the Rings and Arkham Horror are others.
posted by contrarian at 10:54 AM on September 16, 2011

I second Bananagrams and recommend Cribbage!
posted by unreasonable at 10:55 AM on September 16, 2011

Fjords is kind of like Carcassonne specifically for 2 players.
posted by Pockets at 10:56 AM on September 16, 2011

The Awful Green Things From Outer Space.

It looks silly, and it is silly in a lot of ways. But it's surprisingly challenging and fun. The silliness helps defuse the pressure and tends to reduce the amount of "poor loser" endings.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:56 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

As suggested, Scrabble is fun! Mrs. The Deej and I sometimes play with, er, special "couples" rules, wherein some special, couple-related, non-dictionary words can be allowed. If ya know what I mean. It certainly can provoke discussion.
posted by The Deej at 10:57 AM on September 16, 2011

Thirding or fourth-ing Forbidden Island- there was a thread on Pandemic in the blue a bit ago, and if the gameplay there sounds good, I think you'll enjoy Forbidden Island more. The mechanics are very similar (racing around a board, putting out mutiple fires/crises at once while trying to escape intact, using your character's special abilities to save the day), but without the fiddly accounting of wooden blocks that makes Pandemic seem a little more Risk-y to me.
posted by heyforfour at 10:57 AM on September 16, 2011

My wife and I play: Scrabble, Tri-ominos, Rummikub (a good game but takes a while to get going with only two people), Boggle, Blokus (2D and 3D), and In a Pickle. Gin Rummy for cards, maybe Uno. If we're drunk we play Sorry!
posted by LionIndex at 10:59 AM on September 16, 2011

A word of warning about Carcassonne... In games like Settlers of Catan, it's a race to build. Lost Cities is good too. Carcassonne feels like a building game at first, but the ultimate best strategy involves choking the life out of other player by trapping their pieces and restricting possible moves. This can really piss people off.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:06 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Previously, previously, previously, previously.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 11:15 AM on September 16, 2011

I cannot speak highly enough of Hive, it's two player only, deceptively simple and really fun.
posted by Cosine at 11:18 AM on September 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

Seconding the two-player variant of Settlers of Catan -- it really is very good.
Ticket to Ride (North America or Europe boards) is also decent.
Despite my initial skepticism, everyone I've introduced Blokus to has become addicted to it, and there's a two-player board if you don't want to double up on the 4-player board.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:30 AM on September 16, 2011

I've really enjoyed Gloom with two people, but you both have to like to make up stories and get a bit silly.
posted by polymath at 11:31 AM on September 16, 2011

Oh yes, Blokus I forgot about it. I don't have it but I have enjoyed playing it elsewhere. Also San Juan.
posted by little cow make small moo at 11:35 AM on September 16, 2011

I like Set a lot, Boggle remains fun with two, as does Pandemic. I've also enjoyed Mr. Jack Pocket (which is a two person game to begin with). If you want more recommendations, I've always done well with the Good Gift Game Guides by Matthew Baldwin, which do judge games by whether they make a good two person game or whether you really need more players for it to be fun.
posted by Margalo Epps at 11:54 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here to second Pandemic (really fun for any number of players, works fine for two) and cribbage.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:27 PM on September 16, 2011

I've played many of the games suggested above, and think they are all great suggestions.

Sometimes, though, all I crave is a nice, long game of chess.
posted by Fastest Pokemon at 12:33 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised I haven't seen St. Petersburg mentioned yet. It's one of my favorites for two players, and it also works well for four if you have another couple over. (You can play with three but the play feels a bit weird and unbalanced, because of the way turn mechanics work.)
posted by yomimono at 12:49 PM on September 16, 2011

My husband and I have actually liked Eminent Domain - it's half "Race for the Galaxy," half "Dominion," and quite fun. Blokus is good, and easy to find at a regular store and not just a game store or the Internet. We've also played a lot of piquet, which is a two-player (regular) card game.

I'm primarily mentioning these because they they haven't been mentioned yet; we play a LOT of board games, and quite a few of the ones already mentioned are tons of fun. We also play some fairly hard and/or long games too, but you might want to see what type of games you actually like before diving into, say, Agricola, Through the Ages, or Dominant Species.
posted by daikaisho at 2:35 PM on September 16, 2011

Citadels is a strategic card game. I find that it's best with two players because guessing what the other player's strategy is becomes more important.
posted by vegetable100% at 4:19 PM on September 16, 2011

Ooo, also ricochet robots is lots of fun.
posted by vegetable100% at 4:20 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Katamino is a fun board game for folks who like puzzles. It's sort of like tetris, but competitive against another person! It can also be played alone. And it's colorful - always a plus in my book.

I'm not selling it well here, so check it out elsewhere if you're interested:
BoardGameGeek it.
posted by brackish.line at 5:33 PM on September 16, 2011

Twilight Struggle is a great two player game.
posted by backwards guitar at 6:57 PM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Surprised to see only one mention of Hive. A friend and his GF (who might align with your sensibilities) encountered this game at a coffee shoppe once and haven't shut up about it since.
posted by TangoCharlie at 10:58 PM on September 16, 2011

Qwirkle works flawlessly as a two person game.
posted by hecho de la basura at 8:42 AM on September 17, 2011

Twilight Struggle is great, but it takes about three hours to play, so might not be the right gateway game.

In a similar vein, though, is Cold War: CIA vs KGB. It's like Pontoon but with Henry Kissinger.
posted by mippy at 6:47 AM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do not take any notice of anyone recommending Race For The Galaxy. It's not that it's not a good game, but simply that it's not an easy game to get in to, especially if you're new to boardgames. Look at these cards and try not to wince.

San Juan is a better choice - RftG is kind of an advanced version of San Juan. In it, you have a deck of cards, five thick 'role' cards, and a small stack of 'price cards'. Each round you pick a role, and you each get to take that action, with the person choosing the action receiving a small benefit. The roles are building, ie placing a card in front of you and 'paying' by discarding cards from your hand; producing goods from certain buildings; selling those goods for more cards (the number of cards you get changes each time, that's what the price cards are for); and the other two roles put cards in your hands in slightly different ways. So throughout the game you're making choices on taking the right role at the right time, and choosing which cards to build and which to discards. There are a number of strategies you can follow for scoring points in different ways. It's pretty easy to pick up - and if you like it a lot but want more then I'd recommend RftG. But not straight away.

I'm curious as to why you don't like Risk. You're right not to like it, but if it's because it you don't like direct conflict, then a game with low interaction like San Juan or a co-op game like Pandemic is a good choice. It's all (or both) of you against the game, which can make a nice change from competing against each other. Forbidden Island is technically a kids game, but I like it a lot - it's like an easier Pandemic and might be better if the disease theme of Pandemic is offputting. If you don't like it because it takes a long time for the obvious winner to win, but don't mind fighting each other, then take a look at the previously-mentioned Twilight Struggle. It's a great game but be warned that it is quite complex, especially to a beginner. More accessible is 1960: The Making of the President, which uses similar mechanics but pits Nixon against Kennedy rather than US vs USSR. Both are card-driven games, where each round you're dealt a hand that will both help you and your opponent, and a lot of the strategy is choosing when to play certain cards to get the most from them.

My top recommendation is Jaipur. Jaipur is two-player only. You and your opponent are trying to be the best trader - what you're actually doing is taking cards from a central 'market', either grabbing one, or swapping more than one for cards in your hand or the 'herd' of camel cards in front of you. You then 'sell' cards by discarding sets and take tokens with point values. The clever bit is that the first tokens are worth more, so you want to be quick to discard - but if you can hold of and discard three or more at once you can claim a bonus token. It's a very clever game and very easy to pick up.

Final recommendation, and not exactly a game: Tales of the Arabian Nights. You say you like "games that provoke discussion" - this isn't exactly that, instead, it's like a big boardgame version of those Choose Your Own Adventure books, and the fates of your characters will more than likely cause discussion. You're making choices almost always randomly and suffering unexpected and quite often unexpected results, but your failures (and eventual victories) make for a good yarn. Reading aloud from the book is a good chance for some ham acting, too.

Final final recommendation - find out if you have a local specialist gaming store and pop along. If you're very lucky it might be one of the good ones and you'll be able to try some games before you commit to buying them.
posted by liquidindian at 1:19 PM on September 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Arkham Horror

Gnnh. This is like recommending Eraserhead to someone who says, "I've heard movies are good..."
posted by liquidindian at 1:23 PM on September 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

Campaign Manager 2008! You forgot to mention that as well.

Also, why not try Monopoly?
posted by mippy at 1:29 PM on September 18, 2011

I'm iffy on two-player confrontational games in general, especially amongst couples, as it can lead to some nastiness. Co-operational games like Arkham Horror or Death Angel (a card version of Space Hulk) are my go-to suggestion, but if you want to fight it out, I'd suggest Kahuna (boardgamegeek isn't loading for me right now, or I'd link; here is the version I have). You can have a lot of fun with the island names, it plays pretty quickly, and there's some decent strategy.

There's also always something like chess or go. Chess can be spruced up with Knightmare Chess to turn it into something more board game-y. If you can find a third, and you like counting, there's cribbage (which is lackluster as a two player game, but you can do it).

Alternate suggestion: grab a NES, a Wii, or a computer hooked up to some gamepads with some emulator software, and play River City Ransom.
posted by curious nu at 11:04 PM on September 18, 2011

liquidindian is correct about Race for the Galaxy, except it isn't like an advanced version of San Juan, that's exactly what it is. Really, they're both distributed by the same company, and the creator of RftG even credits Andreas Seyfarth in the instructions. I think the best way to teach RftG is to first teach San Juan.

So many core game concepts are the same between those two games, far too many to be accidental. You're building to twelve cards in front of you and when a player reaches that the game ends. The cards are divided into two types: production and special buildings in San Juan, worlds and developments in RftG. Worlds produce based on their color, and the goods produced are represented by a face-down card on the world. No world will ever have more than one good at once. The cards in your hand serve dual purpose as the things you can build and, in terms of raw hand-size, your wealth. The most expensive buildings/worlds/developments cost six cards to build, which all give you a score bonus in some way. And they both have that Puerto Rico-like mechanic of role-selection (Seyfarth created Puerto Rico, and San Juan was intended as a fast-playing card game version).

Carcassonne is in a special place among board games in that people seem to agree it plays best with two people, instead of more players. It is possible though to really hate on people in Carcassonnne. A lot of the game depends on just which tiles you receive at which times, and it's also possible for a cruel player to lock up many of your opponent's "meeple," so that they can't ever be reclaimed to score points elsewhere.

A two-player-only game we've enjoyed a lot, if you can find it, is Catan: The Card Game (not "Struggle for Catan," which is another Catan card game which could be good, I just haven't played it). In addition to the usual Catan resource management, building and trading, it has this interesting mechanic where there are five individual draw piles. When you discard cards, you choose which draw pile they go under, and you can also spend two resources of any type to search through a draw pile for a card of your choice. Being able to search through decks for cards and drop them where you want adds a unique dynamic to it, but the other player can do it too, and can take cards you've discarded. It's got a crazy number of expansions, which have been collected in a single box set, but we haven't played with those yet.
posted by JHarris at 3:28 PM on September 21, 2011

If you're looking for it, Catan: The Card Game has been reimplimented as "The Rivals for Catan".
posted by liquidindian at 9:40 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

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