The summer holidays have begun (well, a few weeks ago)! Is the less than satisfactory weather getting you down? Run out of things to do with the husband? That old, war-torn family copy of Monopoly not quite doing it for you at the moment? Well I've got good news! Here's a compilation of my top 10 favourite games to see you (and your partner of choice) through those long summer days.
Corny intros aside, this is a piece that I've been really excited about! As someone who mainly plays board games with one other person (still working on convincing the rest of the family), one problem I'm always struck with is finding games that work well without having to call in a bunch of people. Lots of games either lose their difficulty, become too predictable, or end up very lengthy and attritional (cough cough… Risk). On the other hand, being someone who plays lots of games meant exclusively for two players, one thing I've found is that many of these lack much scope or strategic depth, which proves very annoying when you want something a bit more challenging to play. Games that tick all my boxes, as well as being good for two players, are real gems in my opinion, and that's why I wanted to compile them all into an article and share briefly the joy that I've found in each one.
Alongside all the game titles, I've put a difficulty rating (purely subjective), so you can pick out ones that work for you. I've tried to include a range of different weights, genres, and types too. Not every game is right for every person, and that's OK, but perhaps this list might open your eyes to something different, and you might just find a new favourite game…
#10 – Camel Up (Difficulty: 3/5)
Starting our list at the end, we have Camel Up! I absolutely love this game because it's an amazing blend of serious strategy and absolute hilarity! Players will simply love plotting and scheming their way to victory as they battle it out to back the best camels and bring home the most money.
This game works great for a pair who likes a good bit of competition. When played with two players, the competitive element of the game magnifies – leading to tougher decisions and more cutthroat gameplay. The game has a high player capacity too, which makes it very versatile, and great for crowds of any size.
#9 – Dobble (Difficulty: 1/5)
I couldn't write a list of top 10 games without including Dobble! This is a great little number to pull out in any situation – it is quick, easy, and adaptable to any size of crowd. There are even different game modes included which keep the game fresh and interesting.
Pairs will love Dobble because it is a relatively light game that still has a lot to give. If you don't like games that get more complicated as the player-count decreases, this might be the game for you. It's perfect for groups who prefer compact games too.
#8 – Azul (Difficulty: 2/5)
Claiming spot #8, it's Azul! This is one I've played a lot in a pair, and I simply can't get enough of it. The rich strategy combined with fleshed-out mechanics make it so addictive; this is a game that seasoned gamers and newbies alike will adore.
Playing with two players decreases the number of tiles available to you, which works well; forcing you into a head-to-head for that last red tile, or making you second-guess finishing your row. As well as this, playing Azul 2-player really helps you to refine your skill and technique, making it a game you'll want to keep coming back to as you battle to outwit your opponent.
#7 – Quacks Of Quedlinburg (Difficulty: 3/5)
Don't be put off by the unusual name (I know I was at first!), this game is seriously good. I just love everything about it; the theme, the bag-building mechanics… just everything! It's so satisfying to play, and it feels so tangible; you'll love mixing up ingredients and using potions!
In terms of paired play, the game loses none of its competitiveness and excitement. If anything, you'll have an even better time, as the competition will be more direct, and the market more varied (I can assure you, you will run out of pumpkins A LOT slower). This is one I play in a pair a lot, and I just couldn't recommend it more.
#6 – Forbidden Island (Difficulty: 2/5)
In at #6, Forbidden Island. It might not be one you've heard of before, but be assured that it's simply amazing! Forbidden Island is a neat little co-op that balances having reliable call backs to risk-based games like Pandemic in its mechanics, whilst also being a different game in its own right.
I chose Forbidden Island for this list over Pandemic as I feel as though its extra simplicity lends itself better to smaller groups, but both games play amazingly and I'd highly recommend Pandemic just the same. The strong importance of teamwork makes it really enjoyable for groups who want less direct competition, and the tactile nature of the game makes it really immersive and interactive.
#5 – Skip-Bo (Difficulty: 1/5)
Beginning our final 5, we have Skip-Bo. Derived from the card game Spite and Malice, Skip-Bo is a surprisingly addictive and ubiquitously entertaining game that everyone will enjoy. The premise is really simple, work with the other players to stack cards from 1 to 12 whilst trying to empty your stock pile, but as I've found out, that's easier said than done!
When playing with two players, the game lends itself quite well to being scaled – changing the length and difficulty of each round. While this may not seem groundbreaking, it makes the game super versatile and opens it up to a larger audience. Even if you don't play games often, Skip-Bo is a great one to have around to whip out on any occasion, it's a real crowd-pleaser and packs a lot into a simple game.
#4 – Labyrinth (Difficulty: 1/5)
At spot #4, we have Labyrinth. I've got a lot of respect for 'simpler' games because you can play them with a wider range of people, and everyone is bound to have fun. Labyrinth is no exception; it uses clever and engaging mechanics combined with a comparatively simple ruleset to create a game that is great for everyone – pairs included.
Two players will love trying to perfect the balance between helping themselves and hindering their opponent as they shift the board in their hunt for treasure. This balance is especially important when playing 2 player as the competition is more direct, and as such, playing Labyrinth helps players to develop this as a skill they can transfer to other games.
#3 – Carcassonne (Difficulty: 2/5)
Beginning our final three, Carcassonne! While lots of people will have heard of this game (if not, go check it out!), what most won't know much about is how good it is for two players. If you're someone who hates having to wait for your turn as everyone builds cities around you, or a player who just likes working on their twenty-point road in peace, two-player Carcassonne might be the solution.
When playing Carcassonne as a pair, you can choose whether you want to play competitively (think stealing each other's cities or ruining roads), or whether you'd prefer a peaceful game where you work on your own things without the meddling of lots of players. However you play, Carcassonne is sure to provide a thrilling and entertaining game every time, and this is why it is more than deserving of its #3 spot.
#2 – Power Grid (Difficulty: 4/5)
Even though it might not be #1, Power Grid is definitely the reason I wrote this article. I got the recharged version from a boot sale and I have never looked back – it is simply amazing, packed full of clever mechanics that ensure a different and exciting game every time. On a more personal note, the nerdy side of me absolutely adores the way the game perfectly simulates supply and demand, as well as other economic phenomena (OK I'll stop now).
Focusing on paired games, Power Grid continues to impress. 2 player games incorporate 'The Trust', an AI of sorts, which works against the two players as they build their power companies by taking up vital connections and stealing the best resources. The Trust forces the players to pick an enemy; their opponent or itself, which makes for exciting gameplay and lots of competition! If you're looking for a more serious and weighty game to play with your partner, this has to be the one.
#1 – Wingspan (Difficulty: 3/5)
Rounding off our amazing list, it has to be… Wingspan! This game is simply a must for groups of any size; it can be enjoyed by all, and is perfect for more experienced gamers and those just starting out alike. As if that wasn't enough, Stonemaier spoils its players for choice with a range of expansions and new birds and ways to play (there's even a game about Stonemaier games that is also amazing with 2 players – check out Rolling Realms).
In terms of 2 player gaming, Wingspan is the gift that keeps on giving. I play it as a pair all the time, and for a very good reason; it is always fun and engaging, and every game is different. The main reason Wingspan is highest on this list is that not only does the base game provide a super experience for two players, but the expansion Wingspan Asia, which is built for two players, is just as amazing and can even be played without the base game if you only wish to play paired. However you play it, Wingspan is the perfect game for two or more players of any ability, and that is why it gets my #1 spot.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article. Perhaps you've even spotted a game you'd like to try, or maybe it has provided the inspiration for you to search for your own perfect game. This list is not definitive – there are hundreds, if not thousands of amazing games that are perfect for small and big groups alike. The message here is to find the games that work for you.