What are some good two player games? – Ask The Bellhop

DragonGem from The Lobby, the Tabletop Bellhop Live twitch chatroom asks,

What are some good 2 player games?

Thanks for the question DragonGem and also thanks for taking part in our first ever live show.

This sounds like such a simple question, doesn’t it? Something I should be able to answer easily and quickly. But it is actually not such an easy question as there are just so many possible answers. At first, I considered contacting DragonGem to have her narrow the question down but then I realized that I think it would be worth talking about just how many different styles of two-player games there are out there and showcase just how broad this wonderful hobby of ours is.

EDIT: We also covered this topic on the Tabletop Bellhop Live Podcast, Ep 3. I also wrote a follow-up article on great two-player board games for date night.

Disclosure: Some links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

The short answer:

There are so many two-player games out there. Not only that, there are a huge range of styles of two player games available.  Then there are the games that aren’t designed for two players but are fantastic with two. I will dig into that a lot more in the long answer. For my short answer, I’m just going to list some of my favourite two-player games that range over all of the types.

The best all around two player boardgamegame I recommend to everyone is PatchworkOverall knowing nothing more recommendations:
Patchwork – small portable two-player game great for playing at home, at a coffee shop or cafe. An abstract strategy game where you are putting polyominos onto a grid trying to optimize space and money (represented by buttons).

Player Vs. Player Card Game:
Star Realms. A sci-fi themed deck builder where players start off with just a few ships and use them to build up a full space fleet and related outposts in order to wipe out your opponents fleet.  In my opinion, one of the best deck builders ever made.

Board game for any player counts, best played with two:
Attika. I honestly think this eurogame should have been released just as a two player game. Build up your city-state in ancient Greece by playing terrain cards to build structures and expand your empire. Win by either connecting to two shrines or by being the first to build all 30 of your buildings. (There is also a re-themed version, US Telegraph)

Heavy Euro brain burner:
Fields of Arle. One of Uwe Rosenburg’s best. All the engine building farming goodness of games like Caverna and Agricola but specifically designed for two players. This is a big, dense, fantastic game.

Best Miniature Wargame:
Mars Attacks. No one believes me when I say this is one of the best designed miniature games to come out in years. Asymmetrical teams. Scenario-based gameplay. Scenery included in the box and no rulers needed to play. The best part is that it keeps the humour of the movie in the game. Flaming cows anyone?

Two player game you can take anywhere:
Hive. This game is just a set of bakelite tiles with bug symbols on them in a zip up bag. You can play this anywhere. We’ve played on a bus, at a pub, on the beach, at a picnic, and even in the pool. Added to that it’s a very solid abstract strategy game.

Block Wargame:
Hammer of the Scots – Think of a traditional chit based wargame but then stand the chits up so that the other player can’t see what they are. Add in a cool mechanic where you turn the blocks as they take damage and their stats change and you have the Columbia Games block wargame series. Everyone I’ve tried is good but so far Hammer of the Scots where you get to play out Braveheart is the best.

The Duke was my number one two player board game of all boargamesBest Chess-like Game that isn’t Chess:
The Duke. I love this game so much. You play on a grid but much smaller than a chess board and you only start with three pieces. The goal is to capture your opponent’s Duke. Each turn you move a piece or pull a piece from a bag and put it on the table. All of the moves the pieces can make are printed on the pieces themselves, and when you move a piece you flip it over and then the moves available change. Mind blown!

Okay, I think you get the point. People have been playing games against each other one on one for all recorded time, and they’ve come up with a ridiculous number of ways to do this.

The long answer:

There is no way I can possibly cover this topic in depth. I can’t possibly tell you all of the best two player games. There are just too many. Two player games are incredibly popular and are almost a genre of their own. Actually, for some styles of games, they are a genre of their own. For example, most miniature wargames are two players. Many chit based historic games are two player only. There’s an entire market built around collectable two player card games.

So to try to tackle this huge question, I’m going to eat the elephant the only way you can: one small bite at a time. I’m going to take a look at some of these genres (again only some, and if I missed your favourite head over to Ask the Bellhop and feel free to ask a more specific question). Also, I’m not going to repeat the games I mentioned in the short answer above. Those are some of the best of the best and I would waste time talking about them again down here.

Two Player Only Euro Games

It is great to see big heavier board games like Fields Of Arle coming out for two players.There are a series of games originally put out by Z-Man games that all come in small square boxes that say For Two Players on the bottom of them. Almost all of these are fantastic. Actual games include Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, Le Havre: The Inland Port, and most recently Caverna: Cave vs. Cave. These are perfect for people who dig the big box euro games from Uwe Rosenberg. I’m also going to toss Lost Cities into this mix as it’s also a Euro and has a similar sized box. Lost Cities, in particular, is great for coffee shops as it’s mostly cards with the board just being a placeholder for the center row. Then, I have to toss in 7 Wonders Duel, a fantastic Civilization style drafting game that I think is actually better than the seven player original.

Twilight Struggle also belongs here (though some people consider it a wargame, it’s not a chit and hex style game like the ones I will be talking about in a bit). Twilight Struggle is considered by many hobby gamers to be the best two player game ever made. It sat at the number one spot on boardgamegeek for a very long time. It’s a card driven area control game that recreates the cold war.

Two Player Only Card Games

Playing Star Wars Destiny with my daughterDo I really need to say Magic The Gathering? Is there anyone here that doesn’t know about Magic? Okay, good we’ll skip by that one and move on. In addition to the most popular card game out there, you can also find a bunch of other collectable card games like Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon. Then there are the Living Card Games like Android Netrunner, Arkham Horror or A Game of Thrones. The great thing about these games is the organized play community. Go down to your FLGS and you are sure to find people playing many of these card games. In fact, if you ask you will probably learn that nearly every game is represented some night of the week. This means lots of people to play with, lots of people to trade with and lots of awesome prize support. It also often means spending lots of money to stay competitive.

Of all of the games I’ve tried, the two I’m most into right now are Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn which to me is an improvement on Magic and is non-collectable and Star Wars Destiny which I’ve been playing with my daughter (as previously mentioned in my week in review posts).

Two Player Only Abstract Games

Onitama is a fantastic two player abstract board game that both my wife and my kids loveOf course here you have a lot of your traditional games that fall into this category, like, chess, go, or backgammon, but let’s look at some more modern games.

My wife and I are in love with Onitama, a somewhat Chess-like game where cards tell you how you can move your pieces, all information is 100% public and when you use a move you pass it to your opponent. Then there are a series of games, part of something called the GIPF project. Each game is stand alone but there are some rules for combining the components of all of them. They all have silly names like YINSH and ZERTZ and PUNCT. I’ve yet to play one I haven’t enjoyed. Another great game for couples is the co-op abstract card game …And Then We Held Hands.

Multi-player Games That Are Great Two Player

There are a lot of these, some of which are actually better two player than with more. Again this is nowhere near a comprehensive list. Just some of my favourites.

Azul is a great date night board game. It plays just as well with two players as with fourMy wife and I have really enjoyed Clank!, a deck building version of the classic DungeonQuest. Ascension is another deck builder that’s great with two. They have even put out two player only sets now that can be played stand-alone or added to your other cards. Terraforming Mars is fantastic at all player counts, even two. I think I actually prefer to play Carcassonne two player over more, it’s just so much more cut-throat. Splendor plays surprisingly well with only two. Castles of Burgundy is similar to Attika I mention above in that it’s actually better as a two player game than it is with more. Race for the Galaxy is another that falls into the best with two boat. For something a bit heavier we’ve found Martin Wallace’s Brass to be very solid. An older one we still enjoy is St. Petersburg.

There are two Japanese themed games that I love playing two players: Takenoko and Tokaido. At Origins 2015 I picked up Valleria Card Kingdoms and my wife and I played something like ten games before we had even headed home from the con.

There are some fantastic abstract games that work great two players, like Ingenious, Qwirkle and Azul (we are so hot on Azul right now). Word games as well, including the classic Boggle and Bananagrams or combine these with deck building in Hardback.

Two Player Miniature Games

Did you know there's a Mars Attacks miniature game. Even more surprising: it's really good!Of course, you have your Warhammer and Warmahordes (that’s what I’m told players are calling it now). Actually, Games Workshop has been putting out some great smaller, games like Warhammer Underworlds Shadespire that are more board game like than mass battle wargames. There are also the hugely popular Star Wars games, including X-Wing, Armada and now Legion (as well as the Skirmish mode in Imperial Assault). X-wing and Armada are notable because the ships come pre-painted. There are a crazy amount of miniature games out there. They are a hobby of their own and probably better saved for another blog post. There is one classic game, which has always been a favourite of mine, that I can’t help mention as I just saw a picture from Gencon of the new core set: Battletech.

Two Player Wargames

Battlelore is a fantastic modern wargame using the Command and Colors systemMost wargames seem to be designed for two players. Two armies clashing over the battlefield. Sure there are a few games out there for more than two but when you think wargame you think two grognards sitting across a table with a map covered in hexes between them with little chits of cardboard on top. Okay, wargames have come a long way, well sort of. You can still get traditional hex and counter games, but I personally can’t recommend any as these aren’t really my thing.

What I really like are the Columbia block games I already mentioned and the Command & Colors games from Richard Borg. Of the C&C games so far Command & Colors Ancients is my favourite, but if you prefer a fantasy theme you can’t go wrong with the new edition of Battlelore.

Great Two Player Cooperative Games

If you want to see more two player game suggestions, with a focus on two player cooperative games, check my The Best Two Player Cooperative Games article. In that article, I answer a question from Ryan Peach who is a blind meeple looking for cooperative games to play with a sighted partner.

Check it out!

There are so many more!

Seriously. I didn’t even get to talk about good two player dexterity games like Hamsterolle or how great it is playing Hey That’s My Fish just me and my 8-year-old.

As you can see “great two player games” covers a huge spectrum of styles, mechanics, and genres. Really each one of these could have been its own blog post with its own detailed answer. Heck, maybe someday they will be. If you are interested in hearing more of my thoughts or more detail on any part of this post let me know. Hit me up at questions@tabletopbellhop.com or Ask the Bellhop.

So what are your favourite two player games? Do you stick to one style of game or play all kinds?

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9 Responses

  1. My favorites Longer 2 Player Games are

    Star Wars Rebellion
    Rum and Bones 2nd Tide
    Arkham Horror LCG

    My Favorite Shorter 2 Player Games are
    Lost Cities
    Star and Hero Realms
    7 Wonders Duel

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      I completely forgot about Star Wars Rebellion, though I had to admit I’ve only played four player, but that’s a great game. Rum & Bones I have yet to try, my cousin got a copy of the 1st version and he wasn’t a fan. I’ve heard that the 2nd edition is way better but I don’t know anyone who plays it. I’ve also heard good things about the new Arkham LCG, so far I haven’t had any luck with LCGs. I bought Star Wars and was disappointed. I tried to get into Netrunner and it just didn’t click. I’ve avoided them since.

  2. I completely agree with your Carcassonne recommendation for two players – it’s one of our faves. We also love Splendor. Some other two player hits in our house are Takenoko, Cubist, Pandemic (yes, it’s great with more but works well as a two player), World’s Fair 1893, and Five Tribes.

    1. Cubist? That’s not one I know. Could you tell me more?

      The others I’ve played an enjoyed (well mostly I found AP to be a huge problem in Five Tribes) but I haven’t tried any of them two player.

      1. https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/147431/cubist
        The goal of Cubist is to use 6 sided dice to build the sculptures that appear on cards. Each player is working to complete their own sculpture, so other than being the first to complete something there isn’t a lot of “take that” involved. There’s also quite a bit of randomness involved. It’s a super light game, but we find it really enjoyable. We also have Blueprint, which is a similar concept, but we far prefer Cubist. It’s a nice starter game that would be good for all ages.

    1. Thanks for the comment Thor,

      That’s three games I don’t own. Though I have heard good things about all of them.

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