Today we’ve got someone who’s looking for short, simple to learn two-player boardgames.
Max Rockatansky writes:
“What’s an easy but quick two-player game?”
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Quick and Easy are very subjective terms when it comes to two-player games.
The problem with today’s question is that it’s rather vague. What is easy for one gamer can be seen as overly complex to another, especially when you are comparing gamers of different experience levels in regards to hobby games.
The same thing is true of the term quick. To a chit and counter wargamer, a two hour game may be considered lightning fast.
Due to the fact that I don’t know exactly what Max is looking for here, I’m going to recommend a range of games.
To me, all of these fit the bill of pretty easy and pretty quick, which for me means under an hour and capping out at the difficulty of say, Patchwork. The games listed below are grouped by just how quickly they can be played. Each group is then sorted by complexity, which should be a good indicator of how easy they are to learn.
Very quick board games that are also very simple to learn:
Maki Stack – This is a very simple two to three player dexterity game that plays great with only two players. It features some of the nicest wooden components I’ve seen in a board game. The wooden bits of sushi are pretty much Melissa and Doug play food quality. My kids like to just mess around with the bits from this game. To actually play, players flip up a card and then race to stack their bits in a pattern that matches the card. The first person to do so gets the card. The first player to collect a certain number of cards wins.
The Mind – The Mind is basically a deck of cards numbered 1-100. To play each player starts with a hand of one card. The goal is to play the cards in hand in order. The trick here is that you can’t communicate. If you get through level one, you move on to the next level with a hand of two cards, and so on. There’s a little bit more to it but that’s the basic gist of The Mind.
Ticket to Ride New York – This is a lightning quick version of Ticket to Ride, one that I found as good as, if not even more fun, than the original. Ticket to Ride New York offers everything the original does but in a smaller box and in about fifteen minutes game time. I first played this with my podcast co-host Sean and we were both pleasantly surprised. There is also Ticket to Ride London which is a similarly short version of Ticket to Ride but with a UK theme.
Bananagrams – A really simple crossword style word game that is similar to Scrabble but without the complicated scoring or the board. There are quite a few versions of this one out there including Bananagrams Duel which is specifically made for two players. This game has the added bonus of being very portable as it comes in a zip up banana shaped bag.
Boggle – This is another very simple word game. It is probably the fastest game on this list as each round is only three minutes long. Shake up the letters and try to spell as many words as you can, but you can’t score anything that your competitor also lists. This one is so quick you usually play multiple rounds during one sitting.
Onitama – A perfect information abstract strategy game with a martial arts theme. Try to defeat all of the pieces from the opponent’s dojo or get your sensei piece into the opposing side’s temple. There’s no move memorization here, as all of the moves are represented by cards. The brilliant part of this game is that once you use a movement card it gets passed to your opponent.
Great two-player games that can be played in under half an hour.
Kingdomino – In this deceptively simple domino based area majority game you are trying to make large areas of matching terrain by drafting kingdom tiles with up to two terrain types on them. This one features a lot of hate drafting with two players and that is a great thing to me.
The Game – I now think of this as a more complicated version of The Mind. This cooperative card game has players trying to play through a hand of cards by building four stacks. Two of which are counting up and two of which are counting down. If you can play a card that’s exactly 10 off from the last card played you can break the rule and go the other direction. This game is way more fun than it should be. Unlike The Mind, players are encouraged to work together and communicate while playing The Game.
Hey! That’s My Fish! – Don’t dismiss this as a kids’ game. You start off with a bunch of ice flow hex tiles on which there are one, two, or three fish. Players then place their penguin playing pieces on a three fish tile. Each turn, players move a penguin in a straight line and collect the tile they were on. As you play, the board starts to disappear and moves get more difficult as areas of the map get cut off. This is a fantastic game at all player counts and fun for players of all ages.
Santorini – If you want a game that’s going to catch people’s attention with its table presence, Santorini is it. In this abstract city building game, you move two workers over a grid. Each time one moves you get to build one section of a building in an adjacent square. You continue to build up each round and the first player to get a worker onto the third floor of a building wins. Add in the included god cards to give each player special powers and up the interaction and complexity, keeping the game fresh.
Blokus – Here’s a mass market favourite of mine. Blokus is one of the few four-player games that has a two-player variant rule that I actually like. You just each play two colours. It works really well. The goal here is to play as many of your palomino tiles, in both colours, as you can, with a neat placement rule where your pieces can only touch on the corers.
Resistor – This is the hidden gem that no one has heard of on this list. Resistor is published by Level 99 Games and is a game about two warring supercomputers. It features double-sided circuit cards where you can see your cards and the back of your opponent’s cards in their hand. The goal is to make a circuit connection from your CPU to your opponent’s before they do the same. As the game goes on the path gets shorter each round. Being able to flip cards already in play is the most interesting mechanic here and being able to remember what was played where is a big part of being able to win.
Hive – Surround the opponent’s queen bee to win, in this hex based tile placement and tile moving game. Each tile features different bugs which all have a unique way to move. Ants move around the growing hive whereas grasshoppers hop over it and beetles climb over it. I’m a long time fan of this one. There are multiple editions out there. I recommend trying to find one that includes some, if not all, of the expansions. There is also a Pocket Hive version if you want something even more portable.
Excellent, easy to learn two-player games that take about half an hour to play.
Lost Cities – This is one of the best two-player card games out there. A Knizia classic. If you dig a bit of push your luck and some card counting and really having to watch what your opponent is doing this one may be for you. Just make sure you pick up the original card game as the later released variants, including Lost Cities the Board Game and Lost Cities Rivals don’t compare to the original.
Patchwork – Build a quilt by drafting polyomino tiles in different fabrics with and without buttons on them. Each tile takes time to build and as time goes on you earn buttons based on how many are already on your quit. These buttons let you buy bigger better tiles but are also your points at the end of the game. This is one of the best two-player games I own and my wife and I bring it with us everywhere. It is one of our most popular date night games.
Azul – This excellent, abstract, tile laying game blew me away when it came out and quickly became one of our most played games ever, with a lot of those plays being at two-players. The game is rather compact at two, and fits great on a coffee table, bar or window seating. The original version is the simplest and easiest to learn of the Azul games.
Splendor – Spendor is one of the easiest to learn engine building board games. You collect gems represented by poker chips and use them to buy merchants. These merchants act as permanent gems making it easier and easier to buy more merchants. This eventually leads to being able to claim noble cards and higher level merchants worth end game scoring. The game is a race to fifteen points.
Star Realms – This is one of my favourite deck builders and is also best at two-players. Star Realms was one of the early variable card market deck building games and one of the first to add in suit based bonuses. You only need one deck to play, though there are a variety of expansions and different starter sets out there. If you prefer a fantasy theme check out Hero Realms, the games are very similar.
Star Wars Destiny – This is a collectable card and dice game set in the Star Wars universe. Players build their forces through pre-game deck construction choosing to either feature the Light Side or the Dark side. In addition, heroes and villains, as well as some other special cards, are represented by dice. These dice are rolled each turn to determine what abilities the associated cards have. The first player to wipe out the opponent’s heroes wins. You can get a two-player starter set for Star Wars Destiny and my oldest daughter and I have had quite a bit of fun with just that. Sadly I have heard this game is now discontinued, though it’s still in stores and available at Fantasy Flight’s website.
Azul Summer Pavilion – This newest version of Azul is just as good as the original but includes slightly more complicated scoring rules, giving it more weight than the original. Also, it requires an additional playboard, and thus needs more table space than the original Azul (and may not be as great for a night out). It is less cutthroat than the original game, with less opportunity for hate drafting, and that’s going to appeal to some gamers.
War Chest – This one has a bit more of a learning curve than the other games listed so far but is an excellent abstract war game that uses poker style chips. Each player gets four random unit types and chips and cards for those units. A number of these chips are placed into a bag and each turn players pull three chips out of their bag. You then use those chips to play, manoeuvre and attack with your units. A player wins by controlling a set number of objective spots on the map.
The Duke – This is another game that is pretty much on the cusp of what I would call “easy”. If you can learn to play chess though you can learn to play The Duke. The best part about The Duke is that all of the moves are listed right on the pieces themselves. The neat bit is that after a piece acts you flip it over and it will have a different set of moves.
If you’ve got more than half an hour but less than an hour to kill check out these two-player games:
Qwirkle – This tile laying and pattern matching game has similarities to Scrabble. Try to make rows and columns of either all the same shape or all the same colour but not both. Get all six colours or shapes in a line and score a Qwirkle for bonus points. I would play this over Scrabble any day.
Sagrada – This dice drafting stained glass window building game is pretty much different every time you play it due to randomized starting patterns, randomized tools that break the rules during play and randomized scoring cards. In general, you are drafting d6 dice in different colours and putting them on a pattern where you can’t have two of the same number of two of the same colour next to each other.
Ingenious – Ingenious is a classic Knizia tile laying game played with hex shaped, domino like, tiles. Each tile takes up two hexes and feature one or two different shapes and colours. Points are scored by making lines of the same shape/colour on the board. You have to watch out because only your weakest shape/colour will score points at the end of the game.
Carcassonne – This classic tile laying game can be extremely cutthroat with only two players (and two players is actually one of my favourite ways to play because of this). Just watch for those farms, and big cities. There is also a two-player specific version of Carcassonne called Carcassonne The Castle, another game from Knizia. While it’s still a tile game featuring roads and different zones, it’s quite different from the original. I dig The Castle version, but I’ve found it’s not for everyone due to how cutthroat is it. It is also very out of print.
7 Wonders Duel – 7 Wonders is popular and great at high player counts. It seems like this game comes out any time you have a group of six or seven players, but it isn’t great with only two. I think Antoine Bauza knew this and that’s why he teamed up with Bruno Cathala to create 7 wonders Duel. This game isn’t just designed for two players but plays extremely well at two players. I actually prefer it to the original game by quite a bit. If I had enough copies of this game the next time I had six players who wanted to play 7 Wonders, I would set up three games of 7 Wonders Duel instead.
Check out these other articles for other great two player game recommendations:
What are your favourite simple and fast two-player board games? Let us know in the comments!