two-person quarantine games, mismatched player edition
March 7, 2020 5:26 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I, together for 28 years, used to play two-person games for fun, like Mastermind, Boggle, Scrabble, backgammon, checkers, and so forth. We stopped when it was apparent that I will win most knowledge and/or analysis based games, because it was no longer fun for either of us. I seek suggestions for two-player games, appropriate for quarantine, which incorporate enough chance to provide us both with the joy of a fair challenge.
posted by mwhybark to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (46 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
My suggestion, as someone with a similar gaming partner to you (although I'm better at some subtypes), is to figure out ways to handicap yourself. Doing so, and seeing what works, what's too extreme, etc. is like a fun kind of game design, a metagame if you will. It can be almost as fun as the game itself!

Like for bananagrams, I've adjusted the rules to allow some players to use acronyms but not others. Stuff like that. It's really fun! If you already have the games, that is...
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:41 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]

Codenames Duet is a word association game where each player takes turns giving clues and guessing. It’s cooperative and as much relationship based as knowledge based.

Fog of Love requires you to figure out what your partner is like based on role playing and then make good choices. It’s more creative than competative.
posted by rikschell at 5:41 PM on March 7 [5 favorites]

Card games might be your sweet spot here, as many of them have the chance of what is dealt as an important mechanic. Mille Bournes is a great card game that involves its own special deck (so, not just another variation on Rummy/Crazy 8's etc) and can be played with 2.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:43 PM on March 7 [8 favorites]

My wife and I love Ticket To Ride (also fun to play with a group). Onitama tournaments are a lot of fun too - the game goes by pretty quickly, so you ought to play multiple rounds..
posted by seed at 5:44 PM on March 7

Well, if your sense of humor is a little dark, you can play Pandemic with two players. It's cooperative, which takes out some concerns about mismatched skill levels.
posted by ktkt at 5:47 PM on March 7 [27 favorites]

We’ve had fun with Dominion even though my husband beats me at most strategy games. There’s some chance involved with what cards you draw, etc.
posted by bananacabana at 5:58 PM on March 7

We have Mille Bornes, and Uno, someplace. Pandemic, that is hilarious, we will give it a shot. I am familar with Ticket to Ride and enjoy it. If I had to guess I would say strategy is too important to the game for it to be satisfactory here (see also Carcassone and Settlers).
posted by mwhybark at 6:03 PM on March 7

Came to suggest Pandemic. It’s a fun game, and it rewards repeat playing because you get more attuned to the cooperation.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:04 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]

Also thanks all for the super-quick responses! o
posted by mwhybark at 6:04 PM on March 7

Is a fun card game.
posted by Jacen at 6:10 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]

Kingdomino, Dragonwood, Labyrinth, Tsuro.
posted by mhoye at 6:11 PM on March 7

Codenames Duet sounds very appealing. I like the idea of collaborative puzzle games like this; 28 years is a long time to understand when your partner has a take you don’t and it is very satisfying to see how it benefits you both.

That said, we do still engage in infantile competitive behaviors, such as complaining about our aches and pains. It’s really for the best we don’t have any children.
posted by mwhybark at 6:11 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]

So Kingdominoes is Carcassone x dominoes? Oh man, maybe
posted by mwhybark at 6:13 PM on March 7

Strongly recommend Kingdomino for your specific situation, as well as the following:

Lost Cities
Love Letter

Links are amazon but please patronize your local game store if possible.
posted by nkknkk at 6:15 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]

Cooperative games I can recommend (sorry can’t post links right now):

Lord of the rings - card game
Arkham Horror - card game
Both Pandemics (for season 2, google the amended win conditions if you’re smashing your objectives early on)
Bloodbowl with you playing halflings or goblins

Hope you enjoy many games together :)
posted by mkdirusername at 6:25 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]

Quiddler is a word/card game that is great for mismatched partners because it values multiple short words as highly as it does the longer clever words and also allows the use of an agreed-upon dictionary when it's not actively your turn.
posted by QuakerMel at 6:33 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]

Came in to recommend Pandemic and its various iterations. Lots of fun and totally collaborative. There are also various card games. We played a lot of Pandemic for a while and it was great, but then I abruptly lost interest and we haven’t touched it since. But it was a great couple of months.

We also recently picked up a two player Catan card game. Can’t make a definitive judgment because we haven’t actually played it yet, but it seems interesting.
posted by charmcityblues at 6:42 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]

May I also suggest that your wife might enjoy games more, and get better at them, if you find some that engage her on an interest/aesthetic level? I'm seldom a person who gets really excited about learning the rules of a new game and thus usually lose because I'm bored and not thinking too hard about how to win. I don't know which of us was more surprised that I immediately and repeatedly trounced my husband at Wingspan when we got it. It turns out I don't really like board games qua board games, but I do really like birds, and I focused on learning the game because I quickly grew fond of my little bird sanctuary. I also don't really like Magic: the Gathering unless I'm playing green decks full of trees and ancient dinosaurs and shit. I am definitely confirming many sexist stereotypes here, but I just have a hard time getting interested enough in a game to want to win for the game's own sake. It's got to have something that captures my imagination a bit to get me past the "whaddya mean I have to read these rules, thanks for the homework" hump.
posted by potrzebie at 6:43 PM on March 7 [10 favorites]

Gin rummy, gin, rummy, Rummikub - these are all my family's games that I've played since I was maybe 7, because it's as much about the cards/tiles you get as your skill.

Also, in cases of cabin fever, games that are a tiny bit physical can be a real relief. Use painter's tape to make game boards for things like giant tic-tac-toe, beanbag games (socks + rice or beans tied off with string of some kind to make beanbags), Cornhole, Apartment Croquet (just make it up). If you can grab a set of marbles, or golf balls or similar, you can invent marble and bowling-type games (Apartment Curling). Add in some dice and y'all can just throw dice like 1930s alley hoodlums.

If you have a chance to run out for supplies, also consider stocking in some craft supplies. Thanks to youtube, the two of you could try learning something like macrame, crochet, knitting, arm knitting. It can be competitive, in a fun way. Resin crafts are also really cool, and sciencey!
posted by Lyn Never at 6:43 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]

Knightmare Chess makes for a great handicapping system if y'all are familiar with the basic rules of chess. It adds a bunch of magic the gathering type cards onto normal chess, so it's a simple matter of giving the worse chess player more points worth of cards to work with (the cards have point values that roughly correlate to power level).
posted by juv3nal at 7:01 PM on March 7

My girlfriend likes Castle Panic and its siblings.

She loves Jim Henson's Labyrinth: The Board Game , but I am already finding it slightly repetitive. Needs more cards to be really replay able.
posted by Jacen at 7:15 PM on March 7

Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, played co-op, not paying any attention to the score (talk to as many people as you feel like).
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:40 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]

The Royal Game of Ur looks like there's a significant amount of luck involved.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:44 PM on March 7

posted by curious nu at 8:07 PM on March 7 [6 favorites]

Not really a game per se, but have you considered jigsaw puzzles?
posted by DingoMutt at 8:24 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]

When I taught my kids how to play scrabble, I chose not to make scoring part of the game. Even playing with them as adults on apps, we are more likely to play a fun word or pattern rather than defensively or for a high score. So, maybe scrabble without scoring. And then afterwards, read the board out loud to try to make it sound like not nonsense.
posted by b33j at 8:28 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]

followup after discussion with her, what would be be awesome would be turn-based iOS games along these lines. We were discussing the early iOS/FB app game stuff, and Words with Friends came up several times despite the various issues it has (online Scrabble ripoff, easy to cheat online for word multiplayer games, etc).

Some of the eurogames upthread have good, multiplayer, iOS iPhone/iPad implementations, like Ticket to Ride, Carcassone, and Catan. We’ll circle back to these but they are to the side of what we are after. What else? We liked this idea because a game can carry through the day as well as being a thing at home on the couch or at the table.

(PS, I have repeatedly suggested the various multi-device multiplayer realtime bridge simulator shouting games and that’s a hard no)
posted by mwhybark at 10:42 PM on March 7

My favourite two player games for this very dynamic:

7 Wonders Duel
Love Letter
posted by iamkimiam at 10:44 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]

Cribbage is a serious game of skill in the vein of poker. You play so many hands that the luck will even out and the better player will win more often pretty much in direct proportion to the skill level difference. If backgammon is unacceptable cribbage will be too.
posted by Mitheral at 10:46 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a unique computer game. One player has a bomb to defuse, the other has a manual. Neither can see what the other has.

It will either be a lot of fun, or really highlight your communication issues.
posted by Sophont at 11:11 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]

(it looks as if there is at least a Pandemic iOS game, hm)
posted by mwhybark at 11:50 PM on March 7

Castle Panic or other tower-defense/dungeon crawler games can be good here. BUT if you are the kinda gamer you sound like (I sure am) be careful it’s not just you bossing her around or “remote controlling” her. In fact enact a mental handicap system for yourself where you only make one decision or suggestion to two of hers, or say that the rules are that on her turn she decides and then you make your moves supporting of her strategy. There’s also good coop two player games like Portal 2 on the computer where you can have the same mental rule. Ticket to Ride is much more fun on iPad because you will have other players or bots with you and you can also play “together but apart” if you each are playing other people, also it’s much easier as the app shows your destinations with a green light and alerts you when you’ve hit them etc.
posted by J.R. Hartley at 3:05 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]

Umpteenthing Cribbage!
posted by Thorzdad at 5:56 AM on March 8

Mr Otter_Handler and I are also mismatched, but I found that adding variations to rules of basic games make it interesting - for example, we added complications to the dice game Farkle that make it more cutthroat (you must reach at least 500 points on every roll; you lose points if you don't). Risk tolerance becomes key! We also play cribbage with variations (added a few card combinations that earn points), to nth cribbage as a suggestion.
posted by Otter_Handler at 6:06 AM on March 8

Came in to make a meta-suggestion: cooperative games. User mkdirusername suggested a couple at the top of the thread. This is a whole category of board games where the players are cooperating to defeat the game. Several people name checked Pandemic - this is probably the best known/most beloved cooperative game in the category. Here are a couple of best of lists of cooperative games. Main caveat is that some are best with larger groups and may not scale well down to 2. One recommendation I haven't seen mentioned in the thread yet is 5 Minute Dungeon.
posted by kovacs at 7:34 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]

Forbidden Island is another good cooperative board game that works for two players. (There are more games in the “Forbidden” series if you like this one.)
posted by mbrubeck at 8:13 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I can also vouch for the Pandemic iOS game. It’s a little harder than the board game (just like with Monopoly or Risk, there are complexities in the rules that you can ignore if you’re just playing for fun, but the computer doesn’t allow it), but because the essential nature is cooperative, differences in skill level still don’t matter much.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:28 AM on March 8

If you're concerned about J. R. Hartley's point (that you might dominate a cooperative game to the point where it isn't fun for her), you might consider Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle. You start off by playing Year 1, with relatively simple rules, and as you move up year by year, the game slowly becomes more complicated. So, the less strategic partner has the chance to steadily acclimate to the complex game you ultimatley end up with in Year 7.

On the iOs front, you might check out TikTok: A Tale for Two. It's a Myst-style adventure game, with the twist that it requires two players on two different iPhones. Each of you sees a slightly different scene, and neither of you has all the clues to move forward on your own. You each have to help the other move forward, based on the information you have but they don't. It's not a super long game and it has zero replay value -- but it's not super-expensive, and I felt it was a fair price for the entertainment value. Note that it does not fulfill your request of being playable separately throughout the day-- you both have to be in the same room, working together simultaneously.

Finally, there's a couple of home versions of escape rooms. I've played Thinkfun's Mystery At The Stargazer's Manor and Exit The Room: The Sunken Treasure. Both had fun puzzles. I personally found the Thinkfun one more satisfying but your mileage may vary. Note that both those games are among the easier ones from their respective company. I played them in a group of four, including two children under 11. They might be a little easy for two grownups so you might want to look at one of Thinkfun's more challenging home escape games.

I have also heard good things about Escape Room In A Box but I haven't played it yet.
posted by yankeefog at 9:46 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]

Monopoly Deal is a card game version of monopoly. It's pretty fun with 2, 3 or 4 players. I am not a big fan of regular monopoly but the dynamics of the card game are fun.
posted by wowenthusiast at 10:29 AM on March 8

Arkham Horror: the Card Game is good. It’s got a lot of replay value. You probably want two starter sets (~$100), plus one campaign ($40 + 6x$15) to get a solid start.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:35 PM on March 8

Stardew Valley multiplayer variant? Very noncompetitive and an absolute delight of a game.
posted by epj at 3:59 PM on March 8

Letterpress sounds like it could qualify. It's the only phone game that my husband and I play together. The person who plays first in a round has a pretty big advantage, so if one of you is a lot better at it, they can just always let the other person play first.

One can play against random people or bots as well, for practice.
posted by slenderloris at 10:03 AM on March 9

Horrified is a great co-op boardgame that's fun with two players.
posted by darchildre at 10:35 AM on March 9

Battle Line is my favorite two-player game! It's easy to learn but difficult to master and doesn't rely on trivia knowledge. There is a strategic element but also a luck element.
posted by zeusianfog at 4:07 PM on March 9

CRIBBAGE !!!!!!!!!
posted by pintapicasso at 8:12 PM on March 9

Update: Thanks all, this looks to be a useful thread.

After I really dug in to suggestions here and our own stash of games I was sort of surprised that one of the oldest, possibly the actual oldest, games did not come up. Mancala is incredibly simple to learn, at least as simple as checkers or tic tac toe. But it is an infinitely more challenging game. Checkers, chess, tic-tac-toe, dominoes, and backgammon all appear to me to be derived from Mancala. I am not sure I have ever taught Viv this game. Seems worth a shot.
posted by mwhybark at 2:43 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]

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