Top 9 Two-Player Games.

One of the most common questions I am asked is "What is the best two-player game?" Because there are so many great choices, I thought I would share my top nine with you here! I have set them out into my favourite for each major facet and theme of what makes a good two-player game for me; zoning outhorror themescivilization themesclever points scoringworker placementI cut - you chooseblackjack or poker style games and war games! What’s your favourite?

Mandala - Best for puzzle fans who like zoning out!

Age range - 7 and up

Easy to learn? - Yes

Easy to set up? - Yes. 

Two-player only - Yes

Social factor - High

Mandala is a beautiful game. Its pretty abstract, although they try to theme it around the Mandala patterns. But ultimately, when playing, all you are thinking is colours. Each player has six scoring areas that you can place a coloured car in, and a pile of cards that you can score from. If you put a red card in the first spot, this means all red cards you score will get you one point. A blue in the second spot, means all blues get you two points. And so on.

Getting cards into your scoring area comes from completing a mandala, which happens every time the two areas that you communally make them have at least one card of each colour. Each player who has at least one card in the “field” area can then take a card in turn. If it is an odd number in the “mountain” area, then the player with the most cards in the field goes first. If it is an even amount of cards in the “field” the player who completed the Mandala goes second.

On your turn, you have a choice to place one card into a Mandala “mountain” that is being built or as many of the same colour into the “field”. There can never be the same card of the same colour placed on different turns, so you can only do these actions if you have one of the six colours that is current not in either the “filed” area or the “mountain” area. Your only other option is to replace cards.

All of these sounds incredibly robotic and monotonous I know, but actually playing it is so fun! There is something so incredibly calming and relaxing about this game. Scoring well is incredibly satisfying too, and games can be very different. The end game mechanic can either come from the draw pile running out or one player having all six colour cards in their score area. This could happen within just a few turns, meaning a winning score can vary from 10 points to 70!

It is hard to put into word why this game is so good. But it is. It is a worthy addition to this top 9 list and I would heartily encourage anyone who is a fan of Azul or Sagrada to try this out.

Arkham Horror The Card Game - Best for adventure/story telling horror fans.

Age range - 13 and up

Easy to learn? - No

Easy to set up? - Yes

Two-player only - Yes,, unless you buy more than one base game. 

Social factor - High

Arkham Horror LCG is one of the best modern board games out there. It is one of the best thematic and customisable games as well and delivers a brilliant experience in solo mode too. With two copies of the base game you can make this work up to four players, but I would say the sweat spot is with a two. You can share your amazing experiences with someone else, but you are not ever waiting too long for your turn.

There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said about this game, so I will assume if you are reading this far in, you perhaps have not heard much about Arkham Horror LCG, so I will give a very brief overview of the game.  

Arkham Horror is a game that first came out in the 80’s and it blew everyone away for its amazing theme and gripping storyline. It was remade in 2005 into one of the best fantasy adventure co-op games of the modern era. Then in 2016, they created a card game to simplify the rules and mechanics and open up a new style of game, a living card game. What this means is with the modestly priced box, you get all you need to play the game with three amazing adventures in the box but you can expand the game with extra packs of you cards you can simply buy when you want. There is no luck of collecting cards in blind packs. You just buy the expansions you want. Each scenario can be happily replayed, but most probably you will want more as the story will grip you, and you will start looking into the expansions to satisfy your thirst. The first one of the expansions comes with two more amazing stories and you can read my thoughts of that here.

So, fair warning! This could end up costing a fair bit! Which is its only real criticism. But that is only because it’s good! I cannot recommend this game enough! And would suggest it if you are a fan of adventure games where you can choose your own path. This may be the experience your game nights have been crying out for!

7 Wonders Duel – Best for fans of civilisation games.

Age range - 7 and up

Easy to learn? - Yes

Easy to set up? - Yes

Two-player only? - Yes

Social factor - High

 

People love civilisation games! I think probably from their experiences with old computer games like ‘Civilisation’ which gave you the chance to play as God and make your own world as you see fit! It’s an amazing escape from reality that I can see the appeal of! I mean, I say I can see the appeal of it, I pretty much lost most of my 21st year to it!

7 Wonders created a wonderful board game experience for this theme, but it was limited to only working with a minimum of three, but more suited to larger groups, offering the advantage of playing brilliantly up to seven. But the two-player version is not great! 7 Wonders Duel was created to fix this and deliver a two-player only game that still gave the same flavour, and it has quickly become one of the best two-player games ever made.

There are many reasons as to why this game is so highly rated. In this small box, there is a game that offers incredible depth. This small two-player card game is currently ranked in the top 20 games of all time, and also sits within the top 20 for strategy games.

Players go through multiple era’s, developing your city with the resources available. You can win through either your scientific or military progression, or simply via points. It creates such a brilliantly balanced game that feels different every time you play.

If you are looking for a two-player game that come across as a larger experience and plays more like a three or four player game, than this is the one. The box is small, there are only really cards in it, but it just feels so much bigger!

I would recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of civilisation games or enjoys crunchy euro-games and is looking for a more complete two-player experience.

Arboretum - Best for fans of clever scoring mechanisms.

Age range - 7 and up

Easy to learn? - Yes, apart from the scoring

Easy to set up? - Yes

Two-player only - No

Social factor - Medium

People should buy Arboretum for three reasons.

  1. The card art is beautiful.

  2. The game play is smooth and very satisfying.

  3. The scoring is brilliant and highly addictive!

 

I first bought this game as I was intrigued by the scoring mechanic and the theme and card art really appealed to me. But then sat on it for a few months as the scoring mechanic that had drawn me in, confused me enough to stop me from playing it.

I am not sure why. The rule book is pretty clear. And it is not that difficult. But something stopped me from immediately playing the game as I usually would with a new addition the family!

But then, when I did play, I could not stop. It is so addictive! I think because your first few games are poor, very poor! It is a clever new way to score, and it takes a while for your head to figure it out, as well as learning the cards in the deck. But when you do, (and your learning curve is short and your progression in scoring will be big!) it feels so good!

It’s always a great experience to feel you are getting better at something, especially board games! I usually play this game with my wife as she enjoyed the theme and scoring two. And of course, I am comparing my score to hers. But mostly I am looking back to my previous scores to see if I can beat them.

I won’t go too much into the scoring or mechanics here, all I will say is this. It will feel fresh, challenging but fun.

 

Essentially you are laying cards into your play area, or as the game would suggest, planting trees in your Arboretum. In doing so, you are looking to create lines of trees starting and ending with the same species in ascending or descending order. In a cross section of cards laid both vertically and horizontally, the multiple options of scoring paths will initially blow your mind! But there is a moment in every Arboretum players’ mind when it clicks. And when this happens, you will feel great!

This moment does not go away. It lasts for every subsequent game, more so when you score well and get your trees down in the right order at the right time.

For a game that is just cards, this must be one of the best out there and I would recommend to anyone who enjoys games like Sagrada or Reef and enjoys games with interesting scoring mechanisms.

Targi - Best for a fans of worker placement.

Age range - 5 and up

Easy to learn? - Yes

Easy to set up? - Yes

Two-player only - Yes

Social factor - Medium

 

I have spoken about Targi a few times before, so you can read more about the game here.

 

So, for now, I will simply say this. Targi is a brilliant game. One of the best in my collection and I would recommend it to anyone at any time for any reason. As a standalone two player game is simply has to be here.

 

It has a brilliant expansion that is not essential, but when you have played 50 odd times (which I would wager would happen quickly due to the nature of this game being so good!) it is well worth adding to freshen up the game.

 

Targi is a phenomenal game that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys worker placement games and is looking to bring some of that into a dedicated two-player experience.

Hanamikoji - Best for a fans of "I cut, you choose".

Age range - 6 and up

Easy to learn? - Yes

Easy to set up? - Yes

Two-player only - Yes

Social factor - Medium

 

In Hanamikoji, players are tasked with offering gifts to win the favour of the Geishas. Each Geisha has a particular present they are partial too, based on the gorgeous art (and number on the card!). You are looking to be the player with the most amount of gifts (cards) against each Geisha at the end of the round.

 

If you win the favour of four or more Geisha’s or achieve 11 or more points, you win. This can take one to three rounds, depending on the tug-of-war between you and the other player, so game lengths can vary. But a round only takes around 5-15 minutes as there are only so many things you can do so it never drags. It just becomes more tense and fun!

 

Essentially you have multiple options of placing cards down, from choosing two cards from four as mentioned above, to trading off three cards, one of which you opponent can take, two you can use; and simply choosing one card to place at the end of the round. It is incredibly simple, but elegant, beautiful and highly satisfying to play. I would recommend this to people who enjoy games likes Tussie Mussie and Schotten Totten which we will discuss below.

Schotten Totten 2 - Best for fans of poker.

Age range - 5 and up

Easy to learn? - Yes

Easy to set up? - Yes

Two-player only - Yes

Social factor - High

 

Schotten Totten is a brilliant two-player small box game. A perfect example of what can be done with very little but still being able create something that is very good!

 

When I heard they had decided to make a sequel I was intrigued! You don’t really see sequels in board games. You often see similar games in the same genre, like the Azul range, but straight out follow ups, with a number “2” after the name is rare! And to do so for a game so perfectly balanced felt brave to me.

 

So, were they right to do so? Yes! The game keeps the original feel of the Schotten Totten, making you feel instantly familiar in both mechanic and theme, but offers enough new opportunities to make this feel like a stand alone game worthy of your consideration even if you have the original game.

 

If you don’t, then I would suggest you get this first. It is the better game for me. But if you do, I would still suggest you looking this game as it offers something new that you will certainly enjoy.

 

The game mechanic is essentially a simplified version of poker. You have multiple places to play you card which is thematically, one of your warriors either attacking or defending a section of castle wall. If you score the highest with your combination of cards at this section you win that particular battle! Victory comes from winning at four sections of the castle wall, or in a twist to the original, winning at the same part of the wall twice.  

 

When you declare victory at one part of a wall, the tile is flipped revealing a different victory condition. It may have gone from a simple best of three cards, to a best of two, or four cards. Or perhaps the highest or lowest sum of three. Maybe only same strength cards, or a run will bring victory. This is a nice change to the original and makes the game feel quite different.

 

Scoring is very simple. The best hand you can achieve is a colour run, three cards of the same colour in a numerical sequence. There are then sets of the same number or colour, a run of card of any colour and finally, simply the sum of the cards.

 

The game comes with expansion cards which I would suggest you use as quickly as you can, probably from game two onwards. They bring a lot of extra fun to the game with wild joker cards, spy cards that let you take the colour of your choice when the attacker declares control; and a shield that lets you chose the colour and strength of your card.

 

There are also cards that let you redeploy your cards to another part of the wall, bring a discarded card back to your walls defence or take a card from your opponent’s side of the wall and discard it! Very satisfying when they have just completed a successful high numbered colour run!

 

You can also take cards from your opponent’s side and use on yours in an act of treason, destroy all cards on both sides of the wall in a cataclysmic explosion, bring two discarded cards back into your deck; or force an exchange of three cards from your hand with your opponent.

 

All of which makes for a very good game that feels different to the original, but still has the highly satisfying poker style card laying that made Schotten Totten so good.

 

I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of the original, poker or two player games like Hanamikoji and Tussie Mussie.

Kompromat - Best for a fans of blackjack.

Age range - 7 and up

Easy to learn? - Yes

Easy to set up? - Yes

Two-player only - Yes

Social factor - High

 

Kompromat was first designed as a blackjack style game between two pirates. But it was developed into a cold war style Russian spy game in later development as the designers felt it suited the nature of the game more, which is simply this, to be as sneaky as you can! Sound fun? You can see more of my chat with the designer here and publisher here.

 

The game is simple. Like Schotten Totten above, you are playing cards either side of another card, trying to win that card. But here, you are doing so in a blackjack scoring style rather than poker.

 

Each card you win offers points, and sometimes powers that you can utilise in later rounds. The item cards that do this are varied and bring a lot of fun and excitement to the game.

 

Each player has a set of cards in their hands, identical to the other player, that they can play in turn, blind from their hand into a particular row. You keep playing a card until you are either satisfied with your score, get a perfect 21, or go over 21, and as such, go bust.

 

When one player has completed a row, the other player than plays against their chosen row. Play continues until all four rows are completed by both players and then the cards played are revealed. Each player plays their first card open, to give the other player some idea as to what they have against each card, in a tantalising and clever addition to the game.

Due to the limited cards in your hand, if a player first lays a 1/11 (a card that can be either 1 or 11 at the players discretion) and then lays just one more card afterwards when they had more cards left in their hand, you can safely assume this may be a 10, and thus a perfect 21. This could discourage you from going for this card with your full might, but maybe they are bluffing. Perhaps they did this to discourage you from trying for this card leaving them with more cards in their hand for later rows. And in fact, all they placed was a 0.5 after their initial 1/11.

 

It is a tense and laugh out loud affair that has clearly gone through a lot of play testing and mathematical algorithms to create a perfectly balanced game.

 

If you enjoy blackjack, anything with a tense and suspenseful scoring reveal, or are just a fan of classic card style games like Blackjack, I would highly recommend this as a perfect addition to your two-player collection.

Undaunted: North Africa - Best for a fans of war games.

Age range - 7 and up

Easy to learn? - Yes

Easy to set up? - Yes

Two-player only - Yes

Social factor - High

 

I have made a full review of this game that you can watch here, but I wanted to include this game on this list as for a dedicated two-player game, it offers such a brilliant and unique experience.

 

The Undaunted games bring the battles of the second world war to life, in a brilliantly balanced tabletop experience. I say balanced, in that each scenario often has one side with a favourable advantage. Meaning the other player needs to play with skill and precision to stand a chance of victory.

 

Normandy was the first edition of this game, and then North Africa was release in 2020 bringing the battles between the Long-range desert group and the growing Axis threat.

 

Cunning, military strategy and luck all play a part on your potential success, but in terms of gameplay, you are just playing cards and rolling dice. But it feels so much more!

 

I would recommend this to anyone with a passing interest in the history of the War, players who enjoy combat or strategic games, or anyone who simply wants to experience a two-player game in a campaign scenario with different battles and missions on offer each time you bring this to the table.

 

Looking for the perfect two-player game?

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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