For many us who partake in the way of dice, card, and board gaming, two player count is the norm. Perhaps you like go head to head with a partner, or family member. Or perhaps it’s with the friend who will play that one game you enjoy, that no one else does (those are friends indeed!).
Game publishers and designers have got two player gaming well covered, with a wide selection of purposely designed games. I enjoy many of these, especially two player war games. However, there are also a number of 'standard' four-five player games that I really like, that play well with two. My purpose here, is to highlight some of those. Specifically, those games that I enjoy as much (or more) at a two player count, than with a full group.
Some you may have tried, some, perhaps not. Either way, I hope that this gives you something else to consider for your next two player gaming session. As a bonus, if you try them and like them, you'll be able to play them with bigger groups too!
Player Count: 2 - 4 | Complexity: Medium | Released: 2011 & 2019
The Castles of Burgundy is a territory building game in which players use dice to draft and place tiles. It’s a great game at any player count and I would recommend it to most players. With two players, it's a fun, tactical race for points.
Players each have a 'princedom', formed of 37 hexagons. Each hexagon will show a die face (1-6) and be one of six colours. Each colour is representative of a building type. Your aim is to fill up your princedom strategically, to maximise your points. Players score when completing a connected group of buildings. A bonus is also applied to the score, the value of which decreases each round. Players also score for completing all spaces of a specific building type.
Dice rolls drive tile drafting and placement. Players each have two dice, which are rolled at the start of each round. Those dice can be 'spent' to draft tiles from the shared market, or placed in a hexagon of the player’s princedom. Alternatively, those dice can be spent to sell goods (for points), or acquire workers. Workers are a valuable resource that enable players to manipulate dice rolls.
Players will need to choose wisely, and keep tabs on how their opponent(s) are developing their princedom. Small gains and early bonuses could be the difference between victory and defeat.
I really enjoy The Castles of Burgundy. It's a great example of a modern, abstract strategy euro style game, with a high replay value. This isn't the sort of game you can open, learn, and dive into right away. But the time spent learning is worth it. You'll not tire of this one quickly.
Player Count: 2 - 5 | Complexity: Medium| Released: 2013
Concordia is a peaceful strategy game of economic development, set within the Roman Empire at its height. From a foundation built upon common currency and uniform law, shrewd merchants have the opportunity to develop profitable trade networks. Players each assume control over an emerging merchant 'dynasty' in Rome. Beginning with two colonists, and a warehouse partly stocked with commodities, players spread their influence throughout the empire. They will establish trading colonies, buy and sell commodities, and aim to develop a strong trade network. This is achieved through playing personality (action) cards.
The personality cards drive gameplay. Each player starts with an identical set of seven cards, and will play one per turn. Once a card is played, it remains in front of the player. Cards cannot be reclaimed (and played again), until the player uses a specific card to reclaim all of their cards. Actions available include moving colonists, gaining new colonists, establishing trade houses, purchasing new personality cards, producing goods, and trading. Purchasing new personality cards is particularly important, because they will influence end game scoring.
It is through prudent hand management that players will hope to gain the edge over their opponents. This aspect of the game is one I particularly like. The value of a card has the potential to change turn on turn. I enjoy the challenge of working out the best time and order in which to take certain actions to reap the most reward.
The ultimate rewards come from the gods, represented on the personality cards. End game scoring focuses on six areas, over which a different god will have influence. Points scored in each area are multiplied by the number of personality cards the player possesses, that represent the relevant god. So trade wisely and be mindful of the gods!
Player Count: 2 - 4 | Complexity: Medium | Released: 2015
Grand Austria Hotel is a great economic game that is easily at its best with two players. It's very good with three, but with four players, it's not so fun. Playing with two is definitely the way to enjoy this one.
Thematically, players are hoteliers running a business in Vienna. Your goal is to earn victory points by attracting and rooming guests, and paying homage to the Emperor. Guests are drafted each round, from a common market. To room them you'll need a suitable room available. You'll also need to satisfy their hunger/thirst with varying combinations of cake, strudel, wine, and coffee. At the same time you'll need to earn the favour of the Emperor, to avoid penalties.
You'll do all of this by action drafting. To start the round, the 'lead' player will roll dice and place them on the appropriate spaces of the action board. There are six main actions. Players can acquire resources (food and drink), ready rooms, hire staff, and earn kroner or favour.
The value of any action depends on the number of dice on the related action board space. Usually, the more dice, the better. If there are no dice assigned to an action, it cannot be taken. This is the element of gameplay I particularly appreciate. You will have decisions to make each turn. There are some options to manipulate the dice but, for the most part, players must work with what they have. The key to success, is to utilise staff when possible and to pay attention to the rewards guests provide, when roomed. Time it right, and you can pull off combos that will provide bonus resources or actions - all of which will mean more points!
Player Count: 2 - 5 | Complexity: Medium | Released: 2012
Axis & Allies is a team-based, economic war-game that depicts World War II on a large scale. Players each take control of a major power, and work alongside allied nations to achieve the team’s objective. Generally, the objective is to control the capital cities of opposing nations at the end of a round. The original Axis & Allies hit the market in 1981. There are now multiple versions for fans to enjoy, offering a variation in scale and complexity.
Axis & Allies: 1941 is a version that I particularly enjoy. It provides a streamlined, simplified version of standard gameplay, but maintains a feel of wide reaching conflict. My experience is that this version is less intimating to a wider audience.
With two players, one player controls the Allies: US, UK, and Russia. Whilst the other player controls the Axis’ powers of Germany and Japan. There’s a set play order for each round: Russia, Germany, UK, Japan, US. The Allied forces must control Berlin and Tokyo at the end of the US turn to win. The Axis forces must control two of Washington, London and/or Moscow, at the end of Japan’s turn to win.
Controlling two, or three nations, is a challenge that I enjoy. Despite controlling multiple nations, you cannot share resources between them, nor conduct joint attacks. The challenge arises in the need to coordinate each nation’s units to relieve pressure from one another. Also, to create gaps in your opponent’s defences, for you to exploit.
Whilst this version is simplified, it is still a long play (120 minutes and up). That, and the theme, may put many off. However, if the Axis & Allies series interests you, the 1941 edition is a good version to start with.