One of the first questions I answered here on the Tabletop Bellhop blog was “What are some good two player games?” This is, by far, the most popular post I’ve written. It’s also one that I still get a lot of comments on. Many of those comments are asking me for more specific two player game recommendations. People want to know what are the best board games for couples, or the best games to play on date night.
Playing games is something my wife and I do together often. When we do have a night out without the kids it often involves a nice meal, some craft beer, and some gaming. Over the years we’ve found quite a few games that work great for when it’s just the two of us.
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Rather listen than read? We discuss this topic on Ep 19 of The Tabletop Bellhop Podcast: Two to Tango.
What are the best games for date night, the short answer:
In general, the main thing you are looking for when picking a game for date night is something small and portable, a game with a small table presence that can be played quickly.
This is based on the assumption that you are going to be at a standard sized dinner table at a restaurant or pub, and that you will be ordering food or drinks. Most restaurant tables aren’t that big in the first place and you also need room for all the other stuff on the table. Cardboard standees showing off the deal of the day, condiments, silverware and whatever else the venue thinks you need for your meal, are all going to be taking up table space. You also want something you can set up and play quickly so that you aren’t just starting a game when the food arrives.
Of these, Hive is my strongest recommendation as it comes in its own zippered pack that fits easily in a purse, bag or large jacket pocket. The game pieces are small bakelite hexes, about 1.5″ across. No board is needed, you just need a flat surface to play on. Hive has the added bonus that its durable pieces won’t get damaged if there’s a spill or if you are eating greasy finger foods while playing. The game itself is an abstract strategy game where players take turns playing or moving hex-shaped tiles. The tiles represent various insects and which insect a tile depicts determines how that tile moves. The goal is to surround your opponent’s Queen Bee tile. The game is quick to learn, with the only hurdle being memorizing how each insect moves. None of the moves are complicated but it’s worth having the instruction booklet available for the first few games.
What are some of the best two player boardgames for date night, the long answer:
There are a lot of games that I think would be awesome to bring out on a date night. A big part of trying to decide what game to pick has to do with where you will be playing it. As noted above, in general, you want small quick games, but that’s not always the case. Maybe your perfect date night is sitting at the local brew-pub, one that has nice big 5’x3′ tables and doesn’t mind you staying for four hours as long as you keep buying drinks.
Due to this, I’m going to recommend a variety of games and note where I think they fit in during your couple’s night planning.
2-Player Board Games with a Small Footprint and Quick Playtime:
These are games you can probably fit on those small round coffee shop tables. They can also be played in about ten to thirty minutes tops once you know how to play.
Onitama is a slightly more modern abstract chess-like game. It’s simpler than The Duke but does take up a bit more room. Each player controls one master and four martial artists. You are trying to either wipe out the opposing team or to get your master into the opponent’s temple. Moves in this game are determined by cards and can be applied to any of your pieces. What’s brilliant here is that in each game only five cards are used. You have two cards, your opponent has two and one sits in the middle. When you use the move on a card, that cards moves over to your opponent. It’s a brilliant perfect information game. There are also two expansions you may want to check out, Sensei’s Path, which adds sixteen more move cards and greatly increases the replayability of the base game, and Way of the Wind, which includes rules for adding a ferret-like Wind Spirit to the game.
I’ve already talked about Hive in the short answer above. My wife and I have played the heck out of Hive. At one time she always carried a copy in her purse. We have played Hive at bars, pubs, restaurants, coffee shops, even while waiting in line at Service Ontario to renew our health cards. There is also a more portable version, called Hive Pocket edition, which includes two expansions.
The Duke was the game that eventually replaced Hive for us. Both are chess-like games in that they are abstract strategy games where you have to learn how each playing piece moves. What’s neat about The Duke is that the movement information is right on the tiles themselves. Even cooler, when you move a tile you flip it over to the other side and the move available for that tile changes. Now, the set up for The Duke is much smaller than a chessboard. The board for The Duke is a 6×6 grid, which makes it perfect for playing on small tables. We pack this one in our luggage any time the two of us are headed out of town.
Here’s a game I used to play with my wife but have since given up on. Bananagrams is an excellent Scrabble-like word game that doesn’t need the huge board. Instead, you just dump the tiles out on a table and players use them to make their own crossword-style grid of words. The game includes a bunch of variant ways to play. It’s very simple to teach, just as portable as Hive and great for people intimidated by hobby board games. Oh, and the reason I no longer play this with my wife: she always wins. 😀
You’ve probably heard about The Mind. This is a cooperative card game where the players are not allowed to communicate. Each player is dealt a hand of cards from a deck with numbers from 1 to 100. You then have to take turns, playing the cards in your hands in numerical order from lowest to highest, on to a shared central discard. Remember though, you can’t communicate with the other players. For the first round, everyone only has one card. In round two, they each get two cards, and so on. I’ve personally never gotten past round five, though I think it’s designed to go to ten. While The Mind works better with a bigger group, it’s still fun to play with two players. Plus, when it comes to portability and table space, you can’t get a much smaller game.
Similar to The Mind, The Game is another cooperative card game. You can talk during this one, so it may actually be the better choice for date night, assuming you want to socialize. The goal here is simple, play all of the cards numbered 1 to 100 in order. You have four stacks you can play into, two are counting up and two are counting down. If you are able to play a card that’s exactly ten away from a card on the top of one of the decks you can go the opposite direction. It’s a really solid game for one to five players that I find very intense with two.
Datenight board games with a small footprint and medium game time:
These are games that still don’t take up a lot of room but can take a bit longer to finish. While longer, most of these games are still pretty quick. Think in the twenty to forty-five minute range. Probably too long to try to fit a game in while waiting for a meal to arrive but potentially playable while having dessert or after dinner drinks.
…And Then We Held Hands is a very unique cooperative card game. I’m not even sure how to best describe this game. There is a central game board that represents the players’ emotional state. Players work together by playing cards to overcome challenges, with the goal of ending up in sync and meeting at the centre of the board. When playing cards you cannot talk about the game, what cards you have or what you plan to do. You can play cards from your hand or from your partner’s hand. There is also a mechanic where you can change your point of view and splay your cards differently, which changes all of their values. As you can probably already tell, the one major drawback to this game is figuring out the unique mechanics. Once you do it’s a rewarding experience.
Red 7 could easily fit in with the quick games but game length depends on which rules you use. I personally find the full rules, including scoring, is where this game shines. Though it does make for a slightly longer game, which is why I put it in the medium gametime category. Red 7 is a card game with only forty-nine cards, the numbers 1 to 7 in eight different colours. When the game starts, the player with the highest card wins. Then the next player needs to do something to make sure they are winning by the end of their turn. This might mean playing a higher card, or it could mean changing the objective (to something like the player with the most different coloured cards wins). At the end of their turn a player must be winning or else they lose. Red 7 is a brilliant game that blew my mind once I got over the small learning curve and really started to get the brilliance of its simple system. Advanced rules add scoring and special abilities to odd-numbered cards. This one is great at two but it’s just as good with up to four.
Santorini is a beautiful looking game. It’s an abstract game where players are building the city of Santorini using lovely 3-D plastic pieces. Each turn players move one of two pawns and build up an adjacent square. The goal is to reach the top of one of the buildings while preventing your opponent from doing the same. Santorini is one of the best looking games I own. It’s a fantastic abstract that plays best with two players. Once you master the original game, toss in the god powers for more asymmetric fun. If you can find it, I recommend the somewhat better made Roxley Games edition.
The EXIT The Game Series – While these “escape room in a box” games don’t take up much room at all, you do need one to two hours to play most of them. If you’ve got the time this is a great way for you and your partner to test your wits and try to solve some puzzles together. Most of these play one to six players but some are considered best with two players, such as The Secret Lab, The Abandoned Cabin, The Pharaoh’s Tomb, The Forbidden Castle, and Dead Man on the Orient Express.
The Fox in the Forest – This is a two-player trick-taking game that takes about half an hour to play through a full game. You normally wouldn’t think two-player and trick-taking go well together but it actually works great in The Fox in the Forest. The game has three suits with eleven cards in each suit. Each player starts with a hand of thirteen cards. In general, the highest card in a suit wins the trick, but the odd-numbered cards have special abilities which break the rules. If you are at all a fan of traditional card games, you need to check this fairy tale themed game out!
Two-player games with a medium footprint and quick gametime:
These games are nice and quick to play but take up a bit of room. Now, these don’t need an entire card table or anything, I’m still looking at games for bringing out in public. These will still work at most restaurants but you are going to have a hard time fitting them at smaller coffee shop tables or a standing bar table.
Patchwork is probably the game my wife and I play the most on date nights now. It’s a brilliant polyomino game where you draft pieces of a quilt and play those tiles onto your player board. You move on the time track after each piece is placed, and each piece takes a different amount of time. You have to pay for your pieces with buttons, getting more buttons at certain intervals on the time track. The time track also determines player order. So if you grab a big piece with a lot of buttons that will take a long time, that usually means your opponent is going to get to go a few times in a row before your next turn.
For something with a bit more meat, and a bit more brain burn, check out Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small. This is a smaller two-player only version of Agricola that focuses on just the animal husbandry aspect of the full game. This is an excellent worker placement set collection game that manages to give the feel of a full heavy euro in about half an hour. There is a bit of a learning curve and it uses a lot of heavier game elements, so save this one for date nights with other gamers.
Kingdomino is back on the lighter side of things. This is a great game to introduce to non-gamers as the basic mechanics are drafting and matching, like in dominos. Kingdomino is much more than dominos though and it’s only after a couple of plays that some of the deeper strategies come out. It really starts to shine when the strategy clicks and you start drafting tiles not just for your own benefit but also so that your opponent can’t get them.
Date night board games with a medium footprint and medium gametime:
How many times am I going to mention Azul on this blog? It feels like it shows up in every single game recommendation post I do, doesn’t it? There’s a good reason for that. It’s a fantastic game. Azul is a tile drafting game where you are trying to build a specific Portuguese-style wall pattern. Players score points for playing tiles adjacent to each other, filling rows and columns and collecting full sets of tiles. They lose points when tiles break due to drafting tiles that cannot be played. Azul is one of the best games I’ve played, period. This one was a bit hard to place. It doesn’t take up a ton of room, but I can’t see playing it on a tiny round table at a coffee shop. It can also play very quickly, unless players take a really long time to plan their moves. Which does happen, especially when both players know the game well. Depending on how serious you take the game, it could be over in under fifteen minutes, but I’ve also seen a game of Azul go on for close to an hour.
A more recent release is Azul Summer Pavilion. This version of Azul also plays excellently two players. It’s a bit less cutthroat than the original Azul but has slightly more complicated scoring rules which might appeal to more hardcore gamers.
Le Havre The Inland Port is another one for players who like heavier games. This is a meaty economic engine-building game distilled down to a quick two-player experience. Players acquire resources, construct buildings, refine resources and in the end get points for the buildings they have built and the money they have earned. This game is all about turn optimization, finding the best combinations of buildings, knowing when to build and when to use what you already have built. The game includes a cool clock mechanism where buildings get better the longer they sit unused. In Le Havre The Inland Port, timing is everything.
Once you have mastered Kingdomino I suggest taking a step up to Queendomino. Because it requires a central board and market and adds in some pawns, it does take up more room than Kingdomino. These new pieces also increase the complexity of the game, making it more of a gamer’s game. Now players are building buildings, having to worry about money and using knights to tax the people. It’s a solid step up from Kingdomino and, like the original, it plays great with just two.
There are a lot of fantastic deck builders out there that play great with two players. Ascension is one of my favourites but, due to the board and all the tokens, it’s not a good choice for playing when out for the night. What I recommend instead is Star Realms. This is a sci-fi deck builder where players each start with equal forces and use those to draft from a central supply of cards. Unlike Dominion, the cards available come from a central deck and change as the game goes on. As cards are bought new cards come out. One of the best things introduced in Star Realms are abilities that are based on playing multiple cards from the same faction. A nice bonus is that the entire game is card-based. Even Honour, the health points of Star Realms, is tracked with cards.
Speaking of card games, I, of course, do have to mention collectable card games and living card games. Years back, my wife and I both played a ton of Magic The Gathering. We also dabbled in the Star Trek Customizable Card Game and fell in love with Middle Earth The Wizards. These are all great games for couples to play, that usually don’t take up a lot of room. I have to admit that we aren’t into the collectable card thing anymore but I do that know these games remain popular. I often see couples playing Magic at coffee shops locally, I know a couple that plays Netrunner near obsessively, and I’ve also seen a ton of people playing Keyforge.
Two-player board games with a large footprint and medium game time:
These games need a decent sized table. They either have boards or need you to have a bunch of cards on display or involve building a tableau. These are games we play at coffee shops with bigger 3×3 or larger tables or at the local brewery which has great lighting, nice big tables, and fantastic beer.
I love Race for the Galaxy. I love it at six players. It shines with four. It’s fast and furious with three. What many people don’t realize is that it’s actually amazing with two. This surprised me at first because there are special two-player rules for playing Race for the Galaxy and, in general, I find that rule variants for specific player counts are a bad thing. Not so in this case. When playing two-player, each player picks two actions to do each turn instead of one. All actions chosen are played out. The only funky rules are when you combine both explore actions or both consume actions. As I’ve said before Race for the Galaxy can be a beast to learn but it’s so worth it.
Carcassonne is another game that most people don’t think to play with two players, but is fantastic when just playing as a pair. Carcassonne with two players is super competitive and cutthroat. It is almost more about making sure your opponent can’t get done what they are trying to do than it is about worrying about your own score. Carcassonne is a classic tile-laying game where people are building roads and cities and cloisters and the farms surrounding them. It’s been around since 2000 and still stands up as one of the best games I own. There is also a two player only version of Carcassonne, called Carcassonne The City, though it’s out of print and I have to admit that I prefer the original.
Date night game suggestions with a large footprint and long playtime:
In general, these are the games you save for game night or for playing at home perhaps after the kids go to bed. Playing these longer games on date night takes some dedication. I’m only including this section because my wife and I have been known to completely clear off the desk in a hotel room to set up a large heavy game when on vacation. This can sometimes including moving the lamp, the phone, all the local travel guides, etc, off to another spot, to make space to play. The following are games that my wife and I have specifically re-arranged a room to be able to play.
Fields of Arle by Uwe Rosenberg is a heavy euro farming game specifically designed for two players. It’s got a huge board, not much smaller player boards and tons of chits and tokens. In Fields of Arle, players are expanding their estate by cutting peat and building dikes. Using worker placement, players pick from a huge variety of manufacturing processes to create and refine goods as well as ship them to neighbouring cities. I’ve yet to play another worker placement game with as many options and it can be overwhelming but also rewarding in the end. If you and your partner can’t get enough of heavy euro engine builders you should check out Fields of Arle.
Twilight Struggle: Deluxe Edition – Back when I first joined Board Game Geek, this was the number one game in the world. Twilight Struggle held that spot for a very long time. I’ve always been shocked by the fact that a two-player only game could be considered one of the best games out there. In this rather heavy Warro (mix of Euro and Wargame) you play through the Cold War. Its card-driven mechanics have been popular with heavy gamers for years.
Check out these other great two player game articles:
If you want more two-player game suggestions, with a focus on two-player cooperative games, check out my Best Two Player Cooperative Games article. There I answer a question from a blind meeple looking for cooperative games to play with a sighted partner.
If you want more two player games that are quick and easy check out my 27 Quick, Easy to Learn, Fun Two Player Board Games article.
Finally, my older What are Some Good Two Player Games? article also has some great games you may want to check out.
Date Night Board Game Recommendations, Honourable Mentions:
Fog of Love seems to be pretty popular as far as couples games go. I personally haven’t played it so didn’t want to include it on this list, though it’s one I’m curious about and hope to try sometime. If you’ve played it please comment below and let me know how it is.
Then there’s an entire genre of two-player games I skipped over, Wargames. There are quick small footprint wargames and there are wargames that take a thousand hours to complete. I’m personally not a big wargamer so that’s not the kind of game I think to bring out when it’s just my wife and I. While we did play Hammer of the Scots and do love Command & Colors Ancients, they aren’t the kind of games we bring with us when on vacation or out for a night at the pub.
There are of course a number of games meant for the end of date night. Things like Consentacle A Card Game of Human Alien Intimacy, 1000 Sex Games, the “Funny” Dice Set, or heck there’s even a XXX version of Monopoly. I think I’m going to hold back on the recommendations and let you discover this category of games on your own.
What games do you like to play on date night? Let us know in the comments!
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