Board or card games for two people
December 15, 2019 11:26 AM   Subscribe

For Christmas, I'd like to buy my partner a board game or card game that he and I can play together without needing additional people present (although it's fine if the game also allows for additional players).

We like a wide variety of types of games, so I'm looking for answers from any genre or style.

I saw this previously, but maybe there's something new on the market! Any suggestions?
posted by southern_sky to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (36 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
posted by atlantica at 11:39 AM on December 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

I in general like meatier games, so these are going to take a bit of learning, and have some complexity to them.
Some of my faves for two players are:

Nusfjord. Manage valuable resources, such as Fish, to build buildings and get points. Works with more than two, shines with two.

Innovation. A card game take on civilization building games. , but has a ton of depth, and an enormous amount of variety between multiple playthroughs. This comes with four expansions, but you should start out playing just the base game and wait until you both thoroughly understand it before adding the others into the mix.

A ton of Stefan Feld games are good with two players. I think Castles of Burgundy might be my favorite, but I super duper like Macao as well. His games often have novel dice mechanics while still being very strategic.

On the lighter side of dice games, Sagrada plays great with two. Building a stained glass window, by placing dice, this game requires good regret management skills.
posted by aubilenon at 11:41 AM on December 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

2-player games my spouse and I enjoy:
Patchwork (Tetris-like puzzle)
Jaipur (set collecting)
Hive (Chess But With Bugs)
Ticket To Ride: Nordic Countries (connecting cities with train lines; TTR is usually aimed at 3-4 players but this variant is tuned to 2-3)
Kingdomino (domino-style pattern matching to build a kingdom; 2-4 player but plays equally well with 2)
Agricola: All Creatures Great And Small (small-scale worker placement to build a farm)
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:00 PM on December 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mansions of Madness. Lovecraftian-flavor co-op board game. Requires a (free) helper app, which simplifies rules-learning and adds color. We played with three, but because of the app, you could even play solo and be entertained.
posted by praemunire at 12:19 PM on December 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hanabi, Splendor, second Castles of Burgundy.
posted by ferret branca at 12:20 PM on December 15, 2019

Phase 10 (rummy type card game), Word on the Street (kind of Scrabble meets Scattergories, specifically a 2p game), and Qwixx (dice game, like Yahtzee but better) are all good with two players.

Pandemic, Forbidden Island, the Oregon Trail card game can all work if you play 2-3 characters each.
posted by Flannery Culp at 12:25 PM on December 15, 2019

Seconding Splendor. Also Lost Cities, though this is strictly a two-person game.
posted by lyssabee at 12:48 PM on December 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding Azul. It's easy to play but really rich in strategy. You can kind of play it like mutual solitaire, but it's much more rewarding if you manage your draws to keep your opponent(s) from scoring. Sometimes you'll take a point hit just to make your opponent take an even greater hit. That's fun.

Also seconding Kingdomino, which is great. The auction mechanism is sneakily deep (higher scoring tiles mean later draws in the next round) but it plays really fast.

The really badly named "The Game" has also been a hit around here. (It may be a Target exclusive now in the US, FWIW, so don't pay the crazy prices on Amazon).

And if you need a whole lot of recommendations from which to choose, Ars Technica's annual game gift guide is extensive. There are a few games on my wishlist based in part on their reviews.
posted by fedward at 12:50 PM on December 15, 2019

Came to say Agricola. Definitely more on the strategy side of the spectrum and it’s lovely to play with any number of people (1 to 5). It’s the only game my partner and I have found that we can play by ourselves for many nights in a row without getting sick of it and without needing to buy expansions to keep it fresh. (Granted I haven’t played a massive number of board games, but that’s mostly because I’d rather just play Agricola.)
posted by ghostbikes at 12:57 PM on December 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

So many great suggestions here already (Azul, Jaipur, Patchwork, Hive). If you're looking for a game that relishes in complexity, Mage Knight is a wild time - get ready to cross reference some symbols! Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective is for my money the best two player board game experience out there (though it supports as many people as you want to play with). You get to set your own pace and actively engage with the person you're playing with rather than looking down at some cardboard for a few hours together.
posted by iNeas at 1:19 PM on December 15, 2019

Cribbage is one of the all-time great games for two people. It uses a cribbage board in addition to a deck of cards. Cribbage boards make great gifts, as you can tell by the large variety of boards that are available.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 1:20 PM on December 15, 2019 [7 favorites]

I asked this on Twitter a couple of years ago and a bunch of friends had a load of good suggestions, which I wrote up here.
posted by fabius at 1:32 PM on December 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I really like Kingdomino, Qwirkle and Lost Cities for two people.
posted by charmedimsure at 1:41 PM on December 15, 2019

Lost Cities mentioned above is great. Carcassonne is also wonderful for 2 people.

I also enjoy Ticket to Ride, chess, Sequence, Cribbage, Mancala, and Backgammon.
posted by hydra77 at 1:57 PM on December 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Two Player Games that we play often:

Cribbage: the classic. We have three boards, one of which lives in our overnight bag. I agree with Winnie above that there is a wide world of boards available, and collecting them is a hobby in and of itself.

These three games have proven to be infinitely replayable in our house, due to there being many ways to win, many to lose, and some interaction between players.

7 Wonders Duel: complex and fun, you'll have to keep the directions on hand for a few games.

Castles of Burgundy: This one scores high at BGG and it's probably our most-played game, but it just hasn't caught on in our friend circles. There are a lot of pieces and you'll also want to keep the directions on hand, but it's infinitely replayable and super enjoyable.

Lords of Waterdeep: We've been playing this at least once a week for several years now. It also has a lot of pieces and ways to win/lose, but I found it pretty easy to learn.

Other games that aren't so in-depth:

Codenames Duet: a good quick word game. Works best if you know the person you're playing with well.

Carcassonne: tile-laying game in which you're building cities, roads, and cloisters in the French countryside. We play with the House Rule that you draw three tiles each to begin and keep three in your hand through the whole game (instead of having just one at a time...adds a bit more strategy).

Lost Cities: once you get the mechanic down (play then draw, get support from the adventurers guilds if you can, build journeys) it's super easy. We also take this one with us when we travel. We just leave the board at home - there's no need for it, really - and just take the deck of cards.

Other ones that are new to us but are a ton of fun, and we think will be regulars in our two-player game rotation:

Sagrada: You're building stained glass windows! It's like a beautiful game version of the word problems that are like "There are five children standing in a row. Abdul is not next to Betty. Corinne is two people away from Dante. Eshan is not standing next to Betty. Where is everyone standing?"* Only it's a grid instead of a line. It can get pretty intense towards the end of the game when you're trying to get the right number and/or color to fit in one of the few remaining openings on your window, but it's fun.

Splendor: it's a card-drafting and collection-building game. It's easy to learn and we've found it to be pretty replayable so far. Sagrada and Splendor are a two-fer in our house: together they're about an hour to play. We almost always play Sagrada first because Splendor is a bit of fresh air after the stress of finishing the windows in Sagrada.

Wingspan: fantastic artwork, solid gameplay, and you learn about birds while you're playing. Works really well with two people. We're getting the European Birds expansion for the holidays and we can't wait to try it out.

* this is a fake scenario that I just made up, I don't think there's a solution. I shouldn't have put it in here amongst all these game people! Don't try to solve it! It's fake!
posted by Gray Duck at 2:21 PM on December 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

We play Bananagrams a lot. It is the best
posted by scruss at 2:22 PM on December 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding Sequence (linked by hydra77 above) and nthing cribbage, to which I would add:  if you get a 3-track cribbage board you can easily play with 3 players (in addition to 2 players or 4 players), with a slight change in the game play. (A 2-track board pretty much limits you to 2 players or 4 players easily.)
posted by adventitious at 2:34 PM on December 15, 2019

this is a fake scenario that I just made up, I don't think there's a solution. I shouldn't have put it in here amongst all these game people! Don't try to solve it! It's fake!

The set of solutions is larger than one. Abdul, Corinne, Betty, Dante, Eschan is a working solution, as is Eschan, Corinne, Betty, Dante, Abdul. Those are only the solutions with Betty pinned to the middle, and I suspect there may be others based on other Betty positions.
posted by fedward at 3:10 PM on December 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Blokus is a great abstract game that plays 2, is easy to pick up, and is fun to think about.
posted by value of information at 3:44 PM on December 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

One that I haven't seen listed is 5 Tribes, which seems to have a pretty unique gameplay mechanism (worker placement meets mancala), and plays well (if quite differently) with 2.
posted by DebetEsse at 4:07 PM on December 15, 2019

Odin's Ravens is short, pretty to look at, and has just enough 'take that' to be infuriating. You're racing competing ravens across the world, occasionally appealing to Loki to help you out or hinder your opponent. The wooden ravens are nice.

Hanamikoji has you vying for the attention of particular geisha (I think to perform at your inn?).

KLASK is a fiendish miniature air hockey-esque affair that's becoming very popular. Shut Up and Sit Down has just done a nice review on YouTube so it'll probably be sold out soon.

Spirit Island has been the new hotness for a while now and Board Game Geek users say it's best with two players. Turns the 'let compete to colonise all of the shit' narrative from a lot of boardgames on its head as you team up as mighty spirits to defend your island from invaders (who are white, and this is good).

Fog of Love has two people falling madly in love, but then stuff happens. I won't try to describe it, but it's good.

Everdell is a delightful game about delightful woodland creatures building delightful villages in a delightful forest and occasionally imprisoning some of them in dank underground dungeons but look! The mouse farmer has a little hat!
How delightful!

Burgle Bros casts you as cool 50s characters breaking into a bank or an office building to steal stuff. Work together to disarm security features, avoid guards, crack safes, and occasionally blow holes in walls to escape when said guards hear that rare chihuahua you've liberated.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 7:06 PM on December 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

cribbage is my pick second in line is ....nope that's all I got. :>)
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 10:25 PM on December 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Nthing Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne. Classics. We got Hive, but I still feel like there's some strategic element I'm not quite grasping...
posted by gottabefunky at 10:34 PM on December 15, 2019

Not really enough info about what you're looking for, but:

Hanamikoji is among the best mentioned so far for a quick 2P game that's easy to teach, impossible to master.

Pandemic: Legacy is something you should stop what you're doing, buy, and play through together.

I personally love Twilight Struggle, it may be the best two player board game out there. You'd both have to be into it, though, as it's a bit if a commitment to learn.
posted by booooooze at 4:29 AM on December 16, 2019

posted by somanyamys at 6:15 AM on December 16, 2019

Twilight Struggle is indeed a fantastic 2 player game. It's fairly easy to learn, very hard to master which is pretty expected in such a great game.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 6:58 AM on December 16, 2019

Dominion has a lot of staying power in our game rotation.
I like Android Netrunner a lot, but it's a little hardcore strategy for some tastes.
Small World works well as a two-player game.
Pandemic for when things get a little too competitive
Zombicide is also fun to play cooperatively.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:56 AM on December 16, 2019

Seconding 7 Wonders Duel.

My husband and I also played an endless number of 2-player Race for the Galaxy. The base game is excellent, and once you've mastered it, you can look at expansions. Works well for up to 4 players, also.
posted by BrashTech at 10:56 AM on December 16, 2019

If you want some cooperative play, Forbidden Island is a lot of fun (and inexpensive). It comes in a nice tin and the pieces are fun so it would definitely make a great gift. There are two subsequent games in the same mold but the first game is definitely the place to start.

Another vote for Wingspan. I’ve only played as two player and found it delightful. The amount of thought that went into every aspect of the design is outstanding. It went straight to my top five after playing it twice.
posted by mrcrow at 11:11 AM on December 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Morels is an extremely relaxed rummy game for two players. You forage mushrooms and cook them, and there's enough luck involved that the competitive element doesn't get too strong.
posted by momus_window at 11:21 AM on December 16, 2019

We like Hanabi.
posted by quaking fajita at 2:31 PM on December 16, 2019

OH OH OH! I forgot about ... The Mind which is a weirdly simple realtime coop card game where you can't talk and basically have to read each other's mind.
posted by aubilenon at 2:41 PM on December 16, 2019

You probably already know it, but Fluxx was the game that got me hooked on weird tabletop games, which has turned into a full-blown lifestyle. It can be played with two people or with much larger groups. It's an easy-to-learn card game with a lot of character. It's very chaotic and there's no real strategy--it might feel like you can deploy an intelligent strategy but the game will inevitably blow all your plans to shit in 3 turns. There's a variety of different themes and licenses available.
posted by zeusianfog at 4:43 PM on December 16, 2019

Backgammon and Quiddler are the two that Mrs. TheCoug and I play most often.
posted by TheCoug at 10:41 AM on December 17, 2019

Cat Lady is fun and simple!
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:50 PM on December 17, 2019

A couple of people have mentioned Carcassone already - just a note that there is a specifically two-player variant of that called Carcassonne: The Castle which we enjoyed.
posted by automatronic at 7:48 AM on December 18, 2019

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