It’s nice to get together with a group and play games, but many of us don’t always have the luxury of 4+ players to game with. If you’re anything like me, most of your games are played with only two players (usually a close friend or a partner), and not all games designed for larger groups are all that fun at lower player counts.
Sometimes it seems there aren’t many options for two people other than the classics like Chess or Checkers, but if you start looking, you’ll find a plethora of games out there made specifically for two. The German publisher Kosmos has an entire line of 2-player only games (over 40 of them!), and even popular games such as Agricola, Le Havre, and Caverna all have stand-alone 2-player versions. Designers recognize that many of us only have one other person to play with, and they’ve risen to the challenge with some excellent games for two.
So grab a beer or a glass of wine and sit down with your favorite person in a match of wits in one of these games designed just for you!
Chess can be frustrating, especially since you’ll probably get trounced by anyone with more experience than you or feel unchallenged when playing against someone who’s not as good as you. Onitama solves this problem by leveling the playing field.
In Onitama, you’re a martial arts teacher pitted against your opponent on a 5×5 grid, moving your pieces in a Chess-like manner to either capture your opponent’s Master or move your Master across the field to the other player’s Temple Arch. One of the main things that differentiates it from Chess, however, is that all pieces in the game can move in the same ways.
During setup, you’ll randomly pull 5 martial arts moves that will be used during the game. You and your opponent start with 2 cards each, and the 5th is placed to the side of the board. You’ll move any of your pieces using one of your cards, then swap it for the card in the middle. In this way, moves are exchanged between opponents over the course of the game.
As in Chess, you’ll have to think several moves ahead to outwit your opponent, but the puzzle in Onitama changes from game to game with the 16 potential moves randomized at the start. Onitama further differentiates itself from chess with a playing time of only 15 -30 minutes per game!
Good for those who like: Strategy, Thinking several moves ahead, Zero luck, Chess
If I told you there’s a game of competitive quilt-making you might run for the hills, but if I reframed it as a cutthroat game of competitive Tetris your ears might perk up. Patchwork is both.
In Patchwork you’ll be purchasing Tetris-like pieces (technically, polyominoes) to place on your personal player board. Purchasing pieces will cost you buttons and time. The time it takes to “sew” your pieces into your quilt is important, because the player that’s behind on the time board always takes their turn. If you purchased a piece that takes a lot of time to sew, your opponent may get to take a couple of turns in a row!
Many of the pieces you’ll purchase have buttons on them which allow you to collect more buttons along the way to buy new pieces in a later round. Once a piece is purchased and placed on your board it can’t be moved for the rest of the game, so you’ll need to be careful not to sew yourself into a corner.
If you’re the first player to pass certain spaces on the time board you can pick up single-tile pieces to fill in gaps in your quilt, which is important if you want to be the first to complete a 7×7 grid to collect the only end-game bonus. The game is over when both players reach the end of the time board, and the winner is the player with the most buttons in their possession at that time.
Don’t let the theme fool you into thinking this is a light and fluffy game; while it can be played with the ease of a Sunday drive, Patchwork can also turn into a ruthless quilt-off between two equally-matched players.
Good for those who like: Tetris, Tile laying, Spatial puzzles
Carcassonne: The Castle
You may be familiar with the very popular Carcassonne and it’s many expansions, but did you know there’s a version specifically made for two players? Carcassonne: The Castle is co-designed by one of the most revered designers of board games, Dr. Reiner Knitzia, who turns the classic tile-laying game of expansion on its head.
In The Castle you’re building inwards from the boundaries of the castle walls (which also double as the score board), creating keeps, towers, and courts. While you still want to score as many points as possible, it’s harder in The Castle because the only end-game scoring for unfinished features comes from bonus tiles you collect as you play. Will you go for big points by completing larger features before the game ends, or score bit by bit to try get exactly enough points to land on the bonus tiles and reap their rewards?
Even if you’ve never heard of Carcasonne, The Castle is a satisfying tile-laying game that’s light enough to play right out of the box, but offers a mental challenge that even the most hard-core board game addict can’t resist.
Good for those who like: Tactics, Multiple paths to victory, A little bit of luck
Lost Cities is one of the older games in the Kosmos 2-player line, but its popularity today shows it’s stood the test of time. In this super simple card-game, turns consist of just playing a card and drawing a card. That’s it! Cards have both a color and number, and your goal is to play matching colored cards in rows of increasing numbers. The colors represent different destinations you’ll visit on your expeditions, with numbers representing how far you’ve traveled.
You’ll need to make sure your rows equal at least 20 points, the cost of the expedition. If not, you’ll score negative points at the end. You can sweeten the pot of potential treasures from your expeditions by first playing investment cards to double, triple, or quadruple your reward, but be careful – if you can’t pay the 20 points for the cost of the expedition you’ll lose double, triple, or quadruple the points!
While there’s not much you can do to directly hurt your opponent in Lost Cities, there is a bit of strategy in keeping cards they may need or discarding cards to distract them. This is especially important to note because there’s a lot of luck involved with card draws in the game, and knowing how to mitigate this luck could be the difference between winning and losing.
If you only have a few minutes or need a game to keep in your purse or backpack for spontaneous gaming sessions, this is the game for you.
Good for those who like: Numbers games, Math, Luck of the draw
If you’re a fan of Jurassic Park, Raptor is definitely a game you should check out! Raptor is a game that pits scientists against raptors in a race to either capture 3 baby raptors from a fierce and protective mama, or protect and free 3 of your babies before they’re all taken away.
Both the cards you play and the board are important to balance as you navigate the jungle or desert on the two-sided board. You and your opponent will choose one card each turn and simultaneously reveal the cards you chose. The player who reveals the lower numbered card gets to take the action on the card, while the player with the higher numbered card gets to perform a number of actions on the board equal to the difference in the numbers on the cards.
Card actions for the scientists include things like tranquilizing baby raptors, using a jeep to travel fast through the jungle, or starting fires to trap the raptors or steer them into your clutches. Raptor cards allow for the mama to call her babies to her, or to disappear from the board and reappear later, and also seeing what card the scientists will play next.
Board actions for the scientists include things like capturing sleeping babies, shooting the mama raptor with tranquilizers to slow her down, and moving slowly across the board. Board actions for the raptors include moving babies slowly towards an exit, moving the mother raptor quickly to get to the scientists, and eating scientists so they can’t harass her babies anymore.
You might be thinking the key to this game is who can figure out the best moves and timing for card and board actions, but if you overlook the very important aspect of picking and playing cards each turn you’ll miss out on half of the fun that Raptor has to offer. You see, the bluffing and intuition involved in figuring out which card to play when, and what card your opponent might play next, and whether to take a chance on a crazy move is a huge aspect of the game!
If you’re not too put off by the theme, Raptor is one game with asymmetry done right.
Good for those who like: Quirky themes, Asymmetrical play, Luck, Bluffing
Dianne N. is the lead for Women Like Board Games, an Instagram and Blog dedicated to photography and reviews by and for women who like board games. Follow Women Like Board Games on Instagram, and check out the Women Like Board Games Blog, with more reviews coming soon!