Some board games can seem intimidating, with a thick rulebook, lots of components, or too many things to learn all at once. Sometimes though a boardgame will surprise you by looking complicated when in reality it isn’t.
Two player board games continue to be extremely popular. The question I get asked the most is some variation on “what are the best two-player board games?” Today’s version of that question comes from a couple brand new to gaming. So today I’m going to look at some of the hottest newly published two-player tabletop games.
Willie Waldman writes:
My girlfriend and I are getting into gaming. I would like to know some of the games you think are the most fun for 2 players. Any category. Any size. Any type. We play at home. We are new to this so any help would be appreciated. Thank you!
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Check out our previous discussions on two-player board games:
As I mentioned above, this isn’t the first time I’ve been asked about two-player games. In order to make sure I’m not just recommending the same games over and over again, each time I get a two-player board game question I like to mix things up and do a different take on two-player games, a different focus or filter for which games I’m recommending. Some of our previous two-player articles include:
27 Quick, Easy to Learn, Fun, Two-Player Board Games – showcasing fast and furious two-player games that don’t take much time and are easy to learn.
The Best Two-Player Cooperative Games – where I highlight some lesser-known two-player cooperative games starting with two-player only games and branching out from there.
Some of the Best Two-Player Games for Date Night – where I break down a number of two-player games in different categories based on how much time you have and how complex a game you want.
What Are Some Good Two-Player Games? – this was the first time I talked about two-player games and gave some general recommendations.
The twist I’m putting on the topic tonight is to provide Willie and everyone else with a list of newer two-player games. These are games that came out within the last three years and are still in print.
What are some newer, great, two-player games released in the last three years?
In Willies’ question, they note that they and their girlfriend are brand new to gaming. In addition to that, they don’t really know what their game type preferences are yet, and are just looking for two-player games in general. Due to that, I’ve decided to limit my game recommendations to newer games. New games for new gamers.
To that end, every game on this list was published in 2017 or later (at least in North America). What this should mean is that these games are in print and easy to find either at your local FLGS or online. In addition, I’ve made sure that this list has a wide variety of game types; card games, cooperative games, competitive games, Eurogames and even some miniature wargames. I’m sure that there’s something on this list for every new gamer to enjoy no matter what type of games they are into.
Note, this list is in no particular order. Also, there is a short list of honourable mentions at the end of the main list (games that, while considered being great two-player games by some, didn’t make my list for one reason or another).
The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Core Set – This non-collectible card game is designed for up to four players but actually plays best as a one or two-player experience. My wife and I are currently playing through the original adventure path, Dragons Demand, that is included in this box and really enjoying it. This is a great board game option for pairs and couples that are roleplaying game fans especially D&D and Pathfinder fans. The one drawback to this game is that it has a pretty significant learning curve. It’s not a quick and simple game and has a significant rulebook that is not dissimilar to the RPG that it’s based on. Fans of RPGs will be used to these kinds of books but it can be intimidating to new gamers. I do think it’s worth the effort to learn, this is a very solid fantasy adventure game.
The Fox in the Forest Duet – I grew up playing traditional card games with my friends and family and when I first heard about a cooperative trick-taking game I was intrigued. Trick-tacking to me just seems like an inherently competitive thing. Once I got to play The Fox in the Forest Duet I was shocked by how well two-player, cooperative trick-taking can work.
Since first discovering this game it has become a date night favourite for my wife and I. Games are quick and don’t take up a lot of room, which is also great for playing places like coffee shops and pubs.
Read more in my The Fox in the Forest Duet review.
The Fox in the Forest – If you prefer competitive two-player gaming to cooperative, take a look at the original Fox in the Forest. This is also a two-player only trick-taking game, however this version is very cutthroat. It is quick to play and takes up even less room than The Fox in the Forest Duet since it doesn’t have a board and only uses a card deck and some scoring tokens.
My wife and I are big fans of this game since discovering it during one of the Renegade Game Studios worldwide play days. We originally borrowed a friend’s copy and then sought a copy of our own, only to receive a copy as a gift from one of our fans. The Fox in the Forest is our most played game on this list, almost replacing The Duke as our favourite two-player only game of all time.
For more information about this great trick-taking game check out my The Fox in the Forest review.
Keyforge – This is a very unique concept for a game. It’s a two-player duelling card game similar to popular games like Magic the Gathering (actually it’s from the same designer as MTG, Richard Garfield).
The thing with Keyforge is that every single deck that has been and will be published is one-hundred percent unique. Decks are procedurally generated and no two decks will ever be identical. Another big change versus Garfield’s other card games is that this game is not collectible. There is no deck construction required. You buy two Keyforge decks and you start playing with the cards right out of the box.
The gameplay in Keyforge is solid and enjoyable with a lot of back and forth. It rewards players who can quickly come up with interesting combinations for their cards. The best thing to me though is the fact that one deck (well, two if you are providing the cards for both players) is enough to play and you don’t have to keep buying new cards to stay competitive.
King Me! – For something a bit lighter than the games mentioned so far, how about a game where the basic mechanics are those of checkers? King Me! from Ravensburger takes the original game of drafts and turns it into an area control game. While we originally got this one for our kids, it’s surprisingly deep and very solid. King Me! is a game that even adults and heavy gamers can enjoy.
It’s easy to dismiss this game as just a kids’ game based on checkers and that’s disappointing because King Me! is a very solid game for players of all ages. This is a true hidden gem and a game I like to advocate for whenever I can. Don’t let this one just pass on by.
Find out more in my King Me! review.
Star Wars X-Wing Second Edition – While I do admit that I’m not personally happy that Fantasy Flight rebooted Star Wars X-Wing, and that all of my existing ships are now useless without buying an upgrade kit, I can’t deny the popularity of the second edition of X-Wing and the changes that came with it.
X-Wing has always been, and still is, a fantastic dogfighting miniature game with some of the best looking models in the industry. It has the added bonus that the miniatures come pre-assembled and pre-painted. I know people who have bought ships for this game just to put them on a shelf as knickknacks.
The advantage of getting into this game now as a new gamer is that you can start right off with the second edition and don’t have to worry about all that upgrading.
Warhammer Underworlds – If you are actually interested in the whole hobby aspect of miniature gaming let me point you to the Warhammer Underworlds series of games and models. This is a fantasy miniature game from Games Workshop where you are expected to collect, assemble, and paint your own unit for the game. This particular hobby board game is very accessible to new players as the models are snap together and basically ready to play out of the box. Painting, while fun, isn’t necessary to play.
This card-driven skirmish game features great Warhammer fantasy miniatures and very interesting gameplay with variable objectives that keep the game fresh each time. There are a number of different Warhammer Underworlds games on the market with Beastgrave being the most recently released. Each of these new boxed sets presents two different starter armies to play. Picking which one you want should be done based on what armies look the coolest to you and your opponent.
Once you have a base set you can expand your army or invest in new ones. Along with army building, you can also create or buy scenery, additional game boards, and more. This is a great first step into the miniature wargaming hobby.
Codenames Duet – This is a team-based version of Codenames, designed specifically to be played with two players or two teams. This was another one for me that. like Fox in the Forest Duet, I had doubts about before actually playing.
The system for Codenames Duet works really well, with one player (or team) trying to get the other player (or team) to pick the right words based on a two-sided clue card that has a different pattern on each side. In this cooperative version of Codenames, you work together to try to discover all of the codewords for your agents while avoiding the dreaded assassin. To keep things interesting, while one card may be a bystander or assassin for one team it could be an agent for the other.
For more information, check out my review of Codenames Duet.
Shobu – This is an abstract strategy game where players are moving their stones on four different player boards trying to push the opponent’s pieces off. Each turn you must take two moves, one passive set up move which just moves one piece, and a second aggressive move that has to be an identical move to the original but with a different piece. That aggressive move is the only one that can push your opponent’s pieces.
This is a fantastic abstract game that will be popular with players who like games with perfect information and no random factors, such as Chess or Go.
Ticket to Ride New York – This is another lighter game and one that’s also small and portable and thus great for playing at coffee shops. A part of the new Ticket to Ride City Series, New York is a simplified version of Ticket to Ride that can be played in under 15 minutes.
One of the things that surprised me the most about Ticket To Ride New Work is how good it plays with only two players. It can be very cutthroat, especially once players start to memorize what route cards are in the deck. Anticipating what your opponent is going to do and trying to prevent them from doing it can be as important as trying to complete your own routes. This can even lead to Poker like bluffing moments.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the original Ticket To Ride but I really enjoy the New York version.
EXIT The Game: The Haunted Roller Coaster – At this point, my wife and I have played through three different EXIT games and have found that these are a great activity for just the two of us. While these games can be played solo or with more players, there aren’t really enough components and things for a larger group to work on at the same time. Two players seem to be the perfect number for these escape room in a box style games.
Any of the EXIT games could probably be on this list but I wanted to call out The Haunted Roller Coaster specifically because the theme fits the season with it being mid-October and also the fact that I think this is the best gateway to the EXIT series of games. If you’ve never done one of these puzzle boxes, I think this is the perfect place to start.
For more information, check out my EXIT: The Haunted Roller Coaster review.
Gloomhaven: Jaws of The Lion – This is my final two-player game recommendation for the night. If you want a two-player dungeon crawling experience, and like some weight and difficulty to your games, I have to strongly recommend Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion. Note, my recommendation is specifically for Jaws of the Lion and not the original full Gloomhaven game. While the full Gloomhaven is a great two-player experience, I don’t recommend spending that kind of money until you’ve played through Jaws of the Lion first.
My wife and I are currently playing through the Jaws of the Lion campaign and have really been enjoying it. You can check out our Gloomhaven live plays on our YouTube channel.
While the Gloomhaven system is not an easy one to learn, especially for new gamers, the Jaws of the Lion boxed set does a fantastic job of onboarding new players. If it wasn’t for that tutorial system there’s no way I would recommend this for a couple of new to the hobby gamers, but with that gradual introduction of new rules, even new players should be able to dive into the Gloomhaven Experience.
Check out my Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion review and comparison to the original, for more information about this fantasy adventure game.
Honourable Mentions, excellent two-player games that just didn’t quite make the list:
These games almost made my list but each has one or more reasons that I can’t recommend them as strongly as the games above.
Undaunted Normandy – This is two-player only, card-driven, wargame that is getting a ton of positive buzz online. The amount of people I respect saying good things about this one has me really wanting to try it.
Watergate – If you want to talk two-player positive buzz right now you have to mention Watergate. This two-player tug of war has been winning all kinds of 2019 two-player game awards and is even nominated for some 2019 game of the year awards. If you want to know why this one didn’t make the main list above you will have to check out my Watergate review.
Command & Colours Medieval – I think the Command & Colours series is some of the best there is in two-player wargaming. I’ve loved every C&C game I’ve played. The Medieval version just launched last year and I would love to check it out. There is also a feudal Japan-based C&C game out next year as well that I’m also hyped about. At this point, there’s pretty much a Command & Colours game for every genre from Fantasy to Sci-Fi as well as various historic time periods.
Gorinto – If Gorinto were out in the wild for people to buy right now it would have been on this list for sure. As you can read in my Gorinto preview, I found this to be one of the best modern abstract strategy games I’ve ever played. It was successfully funded on Kickstarter and late pledges are still open at the time I’m writing this article. I’m really looking forward to my copy showing up in early 2021.
Unmatched – This is a card-driven miniature skirmish game from Restoration Games. What many people may not know is that this is actually a re-release of a classic Star Wars game: Jedi Duels. Restoration has taken that basic system, updated it, and made it so that you can now create fantastic battles between unmatched forces like Big Foot vs. Robin Hood. While I have seen the game played at local gaming events, I haven’t actually gotten to try it myself and that’s why it’s not on the main list.
Funko Pop! Funkoverse – This series of miniature skirmish games features surprisingly deep gameplay. Designed and developed by a team of experienced wargamers at Prospero Hall, the Funkoverse games let you mix and match characters from popular licences in two-sided battles. The biggest draw for many people here are the cute Funk Pop! mini-figures that are used to play.
There you have what I think are some of the best two-player games that are on the market and easy to find right now.
Have you played any of these games? What’s your favourite. Do you have a favourite newer two-player game that I missed on this list? If you do, let me know about it in the comments!