When my girlfriend and I first moved to Germany over two years ago, we needed to find things to do. It was January, and, while I love where we live, there really isn’t much to do when its cold and miserable outside. This is really when we got into board games. In particular, as we didn’t know many people, we really got into finding games that work well with two players. We have a lot more people that we can play games with nowadays, but I think we probably still play mostly just the two of us. Here is a short list of some of my favourite games for two players.
Star Realms is one of the first games I ever bought and is a fantastic deck building game. Star Realms is an excellent game for two people in a very small box making it ideal for those with not much shelf space or if you want a game for two to take along on an adventure.
This is space battle themed game that pits you head to head in a race to build the best deck of complimentary space contraptions to beat your enemy into submission. There are four factions of ships to go alongside your starting deck of boring scouts and vipers, each with their own unique aesthetic and style of play. The machine cult is all about scrapping cards that are no longer useful to make the leanest, most efficient deck possible. Focussing on the Empire is all about making sure you draw more cards per turn than anyone else. The federation is all about having more trade points to spend and recovering victory points (Star Realms health). Finally the blobs are a purely destructive force where dealing the most damage in the shortest time is the clearest way to victory. When played together cards of the same faction often give each other powerful bonuses, making Star Realms a wonderfully strategic experience.
With more than one Star Realms set you can even play with more than two people. However, when we played this way, it did not work out well. The problem with more than two players is having to pick someone to attack and when a game makes you feel guilty for trying to win it just isn’t really a game anymore. There are some ways around this introduced in the latest expansion (including a co-op mode) but I haven’t tried them out yet so I can’t really comment on whether it makes it worthwhile for more than two players. Either way Star Realms is an excellent one-on-one deck builder that I’ve been playing for a few years now and still have a good time whenever I crack it out.
The one thing I hate about Star Realms base game is the scoring cards. They are just awful. After a single use, I chose to write a simple python script to keep track of the scores instead. Luckily in the most recent expansion Star Realms: Frontiers, the score cards are much improved.
Fungi is hands down the best mushroom collecting simulation out there. Or maybe not, I don’t know. I haven’t really researched mushroom-based games very thoroughly.
In Fungi the players take a journey through a forest, represented by a line of 8 cards that is more like a conveyor belt than a forest, shifting one space forward every turn towards a waste pile that gets emptied every time it has more than four cards in. Players take turns choosing which mushroom to pick from the forest with the aim of creating the most delicious sets of mushrooms to cook up in their trusty frying pans. Only brought one pan with you? That’s fine there’s plenty more just lying around in the forest!
Once players have their mushrooms collected they need to cook them up. The rarer the mushroom the more points they are worth when you cook them up but you need at least three mushrooms to start cooking your turns, as well as your frying pans, are severely limited and if you run out of time, mushrooms in your hand are worth nothing at the end of the game.
We bought Fungi almost three years ago and it is still one of my favourite games that we play pretty regularly. It is fast-paced, and because every action your player takes could mean the difference between delicious mushrooms for dinner and the bitter taste of defeat, it is surprisingly engaging even on your opponents turn. Oh, and it has the best theme of any game ever.
Seven Wonders: Duel
Its like Seven Wonders but for two people. Pretty snazzy! 7 Wonders Duel is fantastic because this isn’t just some cheap, cut down version of 7 Wonders. The designers have reimagined the core mechanic of 7 Wonders to form an exciting head-to-head experience without losing any of what made the original game great.
Just like in the big box game, in 7 Wonders Duel the aim of the game is to build the very best city over the course of three rounds, known in game as ages. While in 7 Wonders gamers choose their new constructions from hands of cards passed from player to player, in 7 Wonders Duel, all of the available cards are visible to both players at all times, laid out in alternating rows of face-up and face-down cards. As well as that, the military type buildings allow you to move the military token towards your opponent in a desperate tug of war that can award valuable victory points or even, if you manage to move the token all the way towards your opponent you win the game immediately! A scientific victory is also possible if you can gather up six unique science-y symbols of the seven available. An excellent sneaky victory if one of you isn’t paying attention.
My one criticism of what is undeniably a fantastic game, is the shrinking of all of the cards. I get what they were trying to do: it makes the game really nice and portable, and you really don’t need full-sized cards if there’s only two of you. But I do miss the full-sized cards of the original game. The little cards just feel a bit cheap, and a bit fiddly, which isn’t great for someone as clumsy as I am. That said, this is an excellent choice for anyone that enjoyed 7 Wonders and wants something they can play more regularly.
Yes, that’s right, while I’m pretty sure the intention of Scythe was more focused towards a group of 3-4 players, I think this complex game of simple actions works really well with just two players going head to head.
Scythe is a game that includes giant mechanised fighting machines but it certainly isn’t a game about giant mechanised fighting machines. Scythe is an engine building game where the goal is to have the most points at the end of the game. Points are awarded for the number of achievements completed, the amount of cash you have, the number of territories controlled, and the number of resources controlled at the end of the game. So a Scythe is not a combat game, despite the giant cannon boats with legs pictured below.
Scythe can come across as an intimidatingly complex-looking game, but under the surface it’s actually pretty simple. You can do two actions per turn, the second of which is dictated by the first, and you can never do the same pair of actions two turns in a row. This means that each turn is essentially a decision between three options (until you get to the factory but then it’s still just four options) which means that after a few turns, once everyone knows whats going on it is actually quite a simple and fast-placed game. That said, the combination of area control, worker placement and engine building makes for seemingly contradictory complex game of very simple actions as you forge your empire in an increasingly crowded imagining of post-war eastern Europe.
While Scythe can be played with up to five players, I have mostly played it with just two. As a two player experience it is great fun trying to out-manoeuvre and out-wit your opponent with very little luck involved. The combat is an issue with Scythe. It’s supposed to be a tense show down in which you secretly decide what resources to commit to the battle while simultaneously trying to read your opponent’s mind in a monumental struggle for victory. However, in reality, you just turn a dial and add a card or two. It is a bit stale and feels incredibly inconsequential, which does a disservice to the giant-cannon wielding tank-bots on the cover art. An excellent strategic game if you have a couple of hours on your hands and you love playing with beautifully produced (if a bit useless) tiny plastic killing machines.
Scythe also has a one player variant included in the box where you face off against an automaton which is really just a deck of cards. I was pretty skeptical about whether or not playing a board game on my own would be any fun. After recently giving it a go, it wasn’t so bad. Definitely has nothing on playing against a real opponent though so if you have a friend nearby you should make them play with you instead.
Excellent for any number of players. Well maybe a bit dull for one. Let’s try that again. Excellent for any number of players greater than 1. Carcassonne is a fantastic game that has rightly established itself as a classic in the gaming community as the original Meeple experience.
In Carcassonne, players take turns in building up a landscape from scratch into a mighty patchwork of cities and roads and… fields I guess… to match or even exceed the majesty of the fortified French town of Carcassonne. Tiles are drawn at random and placed where the player wishes in order to score the most points with the Meeples that they can then plop down on top of those tiles. These tiles join together to form a network of cities, roads and churches and the bigger the cities or roads a player controls when they are completed the more points they get. This all sounds pretty simple, and it is. But it is also absolutely fantastic. The theme is great, the mechanics simple but with endless possibilities, and you get to play with Meeples in their natural habitat: towering over the citizens of Carcassonne. What more could you possibly want?
Carcassonne is a classic and has every reason to be. If you haven’t played it yet you should go out and find yourself a copy and someone to play with as soon as humanly possible. The game can be incredibly competitive and tactical or just something to relax with in front of the TV. One of the great things about Carcassonne is that it really reflects what you put into it. Additionally, if you are one of those people that just love to add more and more to your games then Carcassonne is the game for you. There are no fewer than 10 expansions for Carcassonne adding everything from mighty dragons to hills and some sheep.
Need a new miniature game in your life? Loved Battlefleet Gothic but thought it wasn’t complicated enough? No? Oh okay then, you’re probably in the majority but personally, I absolutely love Dropfleet Commander. I just wish I had more time to play it (and more people to play it with). I know this is a bit of a wildcard and there are lots of people who are not into miniature games at all and if you’ve not played any such games, this is not a forgiving place to start. But I think it is definitely worth a mention.
Anyone familiar with Games Workshop’s discontinued 40k fleet battle game Battlefleet Gothic (which has in recent years been made into not one but two PC games) will feel right at home with Dropfleet Commander, right down to the landscape-orientated manuals that show off the superb ship designs so well. This is unsurprising given that Andy Chambers was one of the lead designers for both games.
Dropfleet Commander isn’t just some unofficial update or reboot for Battlefleet Gothic though. The aim of Dropfleet is to land troops on a planet, with the battles taking place over three tiers: high orbit, low orbit and atmospheric, adding some 3 dimensionality to the space battles as well as some interesting strategic goals that mean that a player with ships at the end of the battle isn’t necessarilly the victor. Add to that a much more engaging turn based system (where players take turns moving battle groups rather than entire fleets) and this is a cracking in depth space combat game that I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoyed Battlefleet Gothic. However, I can’t recommend this as a first miniatures game because the rule system is fairly complex. If spaceships aren’t your thing there is also Dropzone Commander in the same series but I haven’t played it so I don’t have an opinion on it.
So that’s it for this list but there are plenty of other great games out there that are well suited for when its just the two of you, so who knows? Maybe this list will get a sequel some day. Whether you enjoyed this post or you think that I’m an idiot that should keep my stupid opinions to myself, let me know what you’re thinking in the comments. Also suggest more games for me to play or just to think about. If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy some others like this one about Phoenix Point, or maybe this one about some beer I made. Take it easy! Or not… your call I suppose…