Looking for a challenging board game that is short
November 5, 2012 4:19 AM   Subscribe

My finacee and I like to play boardgames in the evenings in the cold months, but we need some fun, challenging games that don't take so long to play and that can be completed in an hour or two.

We got rid of the cable a year and a half ago and haven't looked back. We prefer to spend our evenings and weekends doing things together that are interractive instead of staring at a screen. In the summer months we spent most of our evenings outside, but it is getting dark early and getting cold so we're having to move our evenings indoors. Board games are something he and I both enjoy but by the time we get supper done and all the chores done we usually only have two hours or so left to the evening before we go to bed. That isn't enough time to complete the games we generally like to play. So I come to you, my fellow Mefites, for game suggestions that are fun, challenging, good for two people, but not excessively long.

And yes, I have been to boardgamegeek.com but the sheer number of games and volume of information makes it difficult for me to find what we're looking for.

What we're looking for:
- 2 player game (or at least a game that plays well with 2 players)
- relatively challenging
- game difficulty relying more upon strategy than upon dumb luck
- lots of replay value
- a game can be completed in between 1 to 2 hours

Our current go-to games:
1. Twilight Struggle: A while ago I discovered Twilight Struggle thanks to the green. My finacee was extremely skeptical but we were both surprised at how much we love it. The strategy element, having to really think ahead and play your cards carefully, is enjoyable for both of us and he loves the hisorical element. Since I bought it we've been playing it at least once a month, but only that much because it takes us so long to complete a game. We're both very "careful" and we think over each play extremely carefully, so because of that games take a long time to complete. We're averaging around 5.5 hours and we don't often have a block of time that big to devote to it.

2. Monopoly: We like this one, and we used to play it a lot more often, but a few arguments arose from it and we have been taking a break. Regardless, a game usually lasts at least two, usually more like 4 hours for us.

3. Scrabble: We both love it and we usually have an online game going at all time. We generally play online because my finacee is extremely slow at playing. In the summer we'll play it outside, and what generally happens is I'll play, then I'll recline on my deck chair and snooze in the sun. He wakes me up when he finally plays a word, I quickly play mine, and then I snooze again. Games last on average around 3.5 hours.

4. Trivial Pursuit: Awesome, love it, we're really equally matched, but it isn't exactly a quick game when played tabletop. We have a version of the game for the PS3 that takes less time because each turn has a time limit, but very question is multiple choice so it isn't very challenging.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (50 answers total) 172 users marked this as a favorite
If you're into other games (cards, puzzle), you might really enjoy a jigsaw. This would last multiple evenings, but if you have a table it could be left up on, then you can work on it each night till you get bored. My family does this at the shore every year, and it's a great co-op type of game.

If you enjoy cards, try Uno, Double Solitare (basically, you each set up a solitaire layout in front of you with your own decks, but share the "Aces" piles), Rummy 500.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:27 AM on November 5, 2012

Dominion! Takes 20-30 minutes per round; tons of replay value (each game is different, and particularly with extensions, there are almost infinite possibilities for new card combinations). Strategy level is challenging, but not exhausting.
posted by Bardolph at 4:31 AM on November 5, 2012 [11 favorites]

Blokus doesn't take long and can be pretty interesting.
posted by R. Mutt at 4:32 AM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

Our three go-tos for under-an-hour, strategic games (these ones are so fun you will probably want to play two to three sessions):

Mr. Jack- One player is Jack the Ripper, and is trying to obscure their identity while also fleeing the town of white chapel. The other player is the inspector trying to identify the true killer before he escapes. Super-fun and strategic.

Battle Line- I always lose, but I am still obssessed with it.

Dominion (and expansions)- Somewhat like Magic: The Gathering, but you use a shared agreed-upon deck, and plays more like a Euro-game (economic goals).
posted by 2ghouls at 4:33 AM on November 5, 2012

Seconding Dominion, it's a load of fun and has expansion packs you can buy if you get bored at some point. Can be all about the strategy if that's what you're looking for, although I also know people that play with a minimum of strategic planning and they like it just fine.

We've also been playing Ticket to Ride, but on the iPad. It's a fun and quick game, and again lots of expansion packs. Can imagine the actual board game might be a PITA to set up, so I do recommend the iPad version.
posted by lettezilla at 4:35 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, Backgammon.
posted by R. Mutt at 4:36 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Carcassone is absorbing, challenging, and a lot of fun.
posted by shibori at 4:47 AM on November 5, 2012 [8 favorites]

Will you play card games? We love playing cribbage.
posted by murfed13 at 4:55 AM on November 5, 2012

Small World (like Risk but a billion times better, faster, and more replayable), Carcassonne (great game with tons of expansions), Ticket To Ride (see Carcassonne), Dominion (see Carcassonne). All work well with 2 players and can scale up to 4-5 if you have friends round.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:00 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Carcassone or Thurn and Taxis.
posted by synecdoche at 5:01 AM on November 5, 2012

Pandemic is a fun one, mostly because the cooperative element is unusual, and lasts around 1 hour. Also the difficulty is quite easily adjusted.

Agricola is probably my favorite two-player game (although better with more) and is highly replayable. Two-player takes 60-90 minutes.
posted by Durin's Bane at 5:04 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Echoing the recommendations for Small World and Dominion. Also, if you like Scrabble - Bananagrams. My personal experience is that those are great fun games to play with your partner!
posted by harujion at 5:11 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

We've been playing Pandemic and Ticket to Ride. I have also heard good things about Lost Cities and Jaipur.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:12 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Echoing Pandemic - I play it 2-player pretty frequently, and it's definitely fun. Usually runs me about 45mins when we're going fast, so it definitely will fit your time criterion.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:15 AM on November 5, 2012

I've been playing a lot of cribbage and Dominion lately. Neither usually lasts anything close to an hour (though occasionally a hand of Dominion can get up there), but you can just play three-game sets or whatever.

If you want a curated look at how some of these games play, I recommend Tabletop, a web show. Skip Star Fluxx, the most recent one (heavily luck-based), but it has episodes featuring folks playing Ticket To Ride, Pandemic and Small World, which people have mentioned.
posted by brentajones at 5:21 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by HuronBob at 5:34 AM on November 5, 2012

Nthing Carcassone and cribbage - each of them has more or less equal parts luck and strategy, and they're easy to learn. Mr. Bruno and I play huge meta-games of cribbage: I play green, he plays red, we mark each peg hole with a sharpie as we race to the most wins. Usually takes us the better part of a year to finish a meta-game, but a single game only takes 20-40 minutes depending how fast you play.
posted by hungrybruno at 5:40 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing: Bananagrams, Dominion, backgammon, Battleline, Agricola.

We had and traded away Dungeon Lords and Space Truckers because, I think, the nerd factor was too high for MrsEld. They were good though and fit your criteria.

Munchkin is great but doesn't do super well with only two people.

Also think abut stratego.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:40 AM on November 5, 2012

Nthing Dominion.

I also enjoy a game called Khet. It is played in a sorta similar fashion to Chess, but games typically take around 30-45 minutes. You play with pieces on the board containing mirrors and bounce a laser off the mirrors and try to hit the opponents pieces. A lot of fun and a great learning curve. There are two "editions" One of them has expansions but ive never played with those.
posted by Twain Device at 5:45 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Backgammon is a great one. An ex and I modded Settlers for two players--play to 15 points, no trading, ports become very important. Not the same game but still very fun.
posted by phunniemee at 5:50 AM on November 5, 2012

Kensington is a great game for two players. I don't think you can buy it new anymore, but board game geek, eBay and my local junk store have copies in fine condition. You'd end up doing 2 out of 3 to fill an hour.
posted by crush-onastick at 5:53 AM on November 5, 2012

Lost Cities is a fun two person game- takes about 20 minutes to play, a surprising amount of strategy involved.
posted by rockindata at 5:58 AM on November 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

I came to suggest Blokus and Ticket to Ride, so nthing those. We've also been playing a lot of boggle (on the ipad, actually).
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:11 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend and I have really ben enjoying Seasons lately. It has cards, dice, strategy, and a bit of luck. 2 player game takes about an hour. Wings of War (there are multiple versions) is fun too -- an easy to play, no paint require miniature wargame with fighter planes.

I'll also nth Dominion.
posted by AmandaA at 6:21 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have doubts about some of the above playing well with only 2 players, so it may be good to consult the BGG lists for a few opinions. (There's _always_ a joker who reckons that their favorite game plays well with X, where X ranges from "solo" to "8 people using a second set of boards".)

Having said that:

* Summoner Wars: a 2 player game, with different armies with varying abilities that you have learn how to play
* 1960 the Making of a President: basically Twilight Struggle again, and many think not as good, but given you like TS, it's worth a look
* Suburbia & Kingdom Builder: the hot light-middle weight Euros for this and last years Essen games fair. Lots of variety generated by variable setup. Caveat: I've never played either with 2. I imagine they would work well, but check this out.
posted by outlier at 6:50 AM on November 5, 2012

If you like Twilight Struggle, I'd recommend both Labyrinth and 1960: The Making of a President. They are similar in mechanics to TS, but can play a bit faster once you know the rules. Still 2.5 hours or so though.

For speed and fun, you can't beat pandemic, but it's really best with 4 players.
posted by georg_cantor at 6:52 AM on November 5, 2012

Agricola is probably my favorite two-player game (although better with more) and is highly replayable. Two-player takes 60-90 minutes.

I agree- Agricola is great.

Also, the recently released Agricola- All Creatures Big and Small, is a fun stand alone game refocused for two players. It's still challenging, but not as overwhelming as Agricola can be at times. Games last from 30-45 minutes.
posted by Dr-Baa at 7:00 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hive is good for short games. I'd call it chess-like in that different pieces/insects have different moves but games are fairly short.
posted by vacapinta at 7:05 AM on November 5, 2012

I love short games!

30 minutes - 1 hour games that you can play more than one of
- Innovation
- Race for the Galaxy is one of my favorite games
- Dominion

a little longer:
- Agricola
- Power Grid
- Ticket to Ride
posted by oranger at 7:16 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

An ex and I modded Settlers for two players--play to 15 points, no trading, ports become very important. Not the same game but still very fun.

There's actually an official 2-player version that's included as part of the Traders & Barbarians expansion pack, which includes a whole bunch of rule variants and other things beyond just the Traders and Barbarians scenario. You still play to 10, trading is possible (and there's a way to "force" a trade), and there's neutral players on the board that end up being not-so-neutral in a way that the game seems much more cutthroat.

My wife and I have never had cable and we play games a lot. Our commonly played games include:
Ticket to Ride (we have the Europe version)
Settlers of Catan
Blokus 3D
posted by LionIndex at 7:38 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Some of the classic board games are classic for a reason.

Othello the board game (also known as Reversi).
Scrabble and and Upwords is surprisingly good if you like word games.
Rummikub (though I prefer this with 4 people can be played with 2)

There is a small element of luck but skill can trump luck in pretty much all of them.
posted by wwax at 8:22 AM on November 5, 2012

Ticket-to-Ride and Dominion are both very good 2-person games -- I find myself preferentially playing them that way. The key is that the game play does not rely on setting the other players against each other (no trading, no teaming up as in Settlers or Carcassonne).

Carcassonne makes for a good 2-player - you lose the teaming up strategy, but that's only a minor part of the gameplay.

All three games are under 1-hour; both Carcasonne and Ticket to Ride are simple enough to play with kids, but challenging when played with adults.
posted by jb at 8:36 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Race for the Galaxy is excellent, but probably better with 3-5 players (because of the mode-choices); Galaxy Truckers is awesome but I have no idea if it works well with two people (I've only played once and don't really understand the strategies other than "don't get stranded in space, that's bad").
posted by jb at 8:38 AM on November 5, 2012

We have found that the full version of Ticket to Ride can become a simultaneous game of Solitaire for two if you aren't competing for the same regions of the map. The simple solution is Ticket to Ride:Nordic Countries. It's for two or three players only. There's a bit of a geography barrier locating the towns if you are familiar with the region, but there are pictures on the cards.
posted by hwyengr at 9:02 AM on November 5, 2012

We play The Castle, the specifically 2-player version of Carcassonne.
posted by Eumachia L F at 9:12 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agreed with hwyengar, that TtR:Nordic is good for two. The geography can be fun—we call it The Ticket To Ride that Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

Similarly, if you like Crayon Trains like Empire Builder, Lunar Rails is really better for two. It's a shorter game in general (the trains travel faster) and it's particularly quick when you play just two. (The MrTech and I can whip through a game in about an hour if we're focused and nobody gets card-hosed.) Be sure to play the "Honeymoon" variant in the rules. The "Golden Spike" contest is also good for a short game.

MrTech and I also play a lot of 2-player Race for the Galaxy. A whole lot of it, actually. I really like being able to pick two roles per turn. I want to say that it adds more strategic depth, because you don't get as hosed by the random element of relying on other people to pick the other thing you need to do that turn—but maybe it's just that I'm not as good as I should be at predicting what other people will pick so getting to pick 2 roles is easier and less frustrating. :)
posted by BrashTech at 9:14 AM on November 5, 2012

posted by 168 at 10:23 AM on November 5, 2012

4. Trivial Pursuit: Awesome, love it, we're really equally matched, but it isn't exactly a quick game when played tabletop. We have a version of the game for the PS3 that takes less time because each turn has a time limit, but very question is multiple choice so it isn't very challenging.

When our family would "play" trivial pursuit more often than not we wouldn't even use the board. Each team would be read a full card and get a point for each question they got right. First team to n points won. Or you could do it that the first to n points in each category won. In either case, it speeds it up significantly since there isn't any time wasted on rolling and moving and trying to get to the right color.
posted by bowmaniac at 10:35 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fantastic suggestions everyone!

Carcassone seems to be a reoccuring suggestion, and the description sounds pretty fun. I went ahead and ordered that. Agricola sounds awesome to me but my finacee is scared off by the photos of the gameplay -- it looks like it takes up a football field's worth of table space. TS is about at his limit for how big a game can be before he starts getting twitchy. Maybe I can sell him on the "All Creatures Big and Small" version? I've also been trying to talk him in to trying a more fantasy based game (like one of the LotR based games, or one where we run around trying to vanquish beasts and what not) but he doesn't seem to keen.

Dominion is going to be on the Christmas list this year, as is Power Grid and maybe Ticket to Ride and maybe Race for the Galaxy... :)
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:47 AM on November 5, 2012

Ok, since you brought up lotr: one of the games I traded for was the LOTR version, but not equivalent, of Stratego called Confrontation. We have only played it once but it is two and only two players and looks to have good to great replay value along with decent depth and extremely quick setup and 20 min or so playtime. It sounds like exactly what you requested.

Oh and Agricola really won't stress your other half out, but it will require a bit of table space.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:03 AM on November 5, 2012

Regarding Power Grid, it's the kind of game that some people love love love and others hate hate hate. Were I you, I'd try to see it played (either in person or on YouTube) before buying it.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:21 AM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Rummikub is our fallback when we don't feel like Bananagrams.
Dominion, yes!
Race for the Galaxy is great. It takes some learning first.
posted by BigJen at 12:24 PM on November 5, 2012

If you thought Agricola looked interesting but were intimidated by the table space, what about At the Gates of Loyang? Same developer, and iirc part of a series of farming-based games.

Perhaps I am in the minority, but I didn't really like Dominion all that much - but we only played the base set, and I have heard that the expansions are where the fun comes in. Race for the Galaxy is good (as long as you don't mash ALL of the expansions into the same deck) though, and Eminent Domain sort of feels like a combination of the two.

Others we have been playing lately include Stronghold, Kingdom Builder, and Garden Dice (looks adorable, but can be delightfully vicious). Or possibly Ingenious, though I haven't actually played it as a two person game.
posted by daikaisho at 12:42 PM on November 5, 2012

Dominion is going to be on the Christmas list this year, as is Power Grid

Whoa now. Power Grid is a great game but isn't primarily a two player game. There are ways to make it work two player but there's some debate as to whether it remains a good game. Dominion is a good call, though.

1989: Dawn of Freedom uses Twilight Struggle's card mechanics, but instead of the whole cold war, it focusses on Eastern Europe and a single year. It's a little bit streamlined compared to TS so might be worth looking at.
posted by liquidindian at 1:23 PM on November 5, 2012

Well, I'm not sure if it's too your taste, but Death Angel is very fun, plays well with two and takes about 1.5 hours to play.

This is a co-op game where you and your compatriots take control of a number of squads to clear a derelict spaceship of alien invaders. It relies heavily on working out tactics with your teammate by managing actions and movements. Very tense! Sometimes luck can get you with a bad roll, but mostly, if you don't win it's because you didn't think your moves through. It's a card game, but everything you need to play is in the box and you can usually find it for $20.

I also want to nth Innovation, Agricola and Small World. All loads of fun.

If ever you want something challenging that is quick and DOES rely on dumb luck, check out Dungeon Quest. Usually a games lasts around 45 minutes. The game is hilariously spiteful. I've played it a couple dozen times and 'won' twice. And one time I 'won' with negative points.

Laughs were had.
posted by Tevin at 2:01 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bardolph: "Dominion! Takes 20-30 minutes per round; tons of replay value (each game is different, and particularly with extensions, there are almost infinite possibilities for new card combinations). Strategy level is challenging, but not exhausting"

I'd actually even recommend Puzzle Strike over Dominion, in that I'd consider it a sort of improved version of the same basic idea (there's direct interaction between players, for one, and it has a really, really effective built in mechanic to allow comebacks if you're in danger of losing). It actually has so much depth to it that the Kickstarter campaign for the current revision actually included an optional strategy guide talking about intermediate/advanced strategy. Absolutely fantastic game.
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:41 PM on November 5, 2012

My fiance and I recently discovered Forbidden Island. It's a cooperative game -- you work together to win or everyone loses -- super fun and suspenseful.

Also, nthing Dominion.
posted by rkriger at 10:42 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had a lot of fun playing Talisman. Picture Monopoly-meets-Dungeons and Dragons, with leveling, adventuring and different character classes, and you won't be two far off. A two-player game should take just under two hours.

Talisman at Board Game Geek
posted by Green Winnebago at 7:36 PM on November 8, 2012

The thing about Race for the Galaxy is that it helps to have someone teach you the game, and then you're going to have to play it a few times before it starts to click.
posted by mecran01 at 7:26 PM on November 11, 2012

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