Well lockdown provides definite challenges to most gamenight routines, that’s for sure. Some have taken to soloing, others are Skyping gamenight. Many of us find ourselves isolated with a perfectly good gaming partner but those multiplayer marvels like 7 Wonders and Cosmic Encounter have lost their shine. Well that’s alright, there’s a slew of awesome board games designed specifically for 2 players.
Whether your other half is a regular member of gamenight or never understood the lure of dice and cards, isolation is the ideal time to check out some of these titles. Let our 2-player list dispel the social distancing blues:
7 wonders is 10 years old this year and is still in the BGG top 50. The weakness of this modern classic however is in its 2 player variant. Both players share control of a third player bot. This fiddly addition sadly detracts from the swift and simple play that makes 7 Wonders great.
Enter 7 Wonders Duel! An elegant standalone 2 player version of this multiplayer staple.
Duel retains the engine building and card drafting core of the original. Instead of drafting from a hand of cards though, you pull them from a central display. Half of this display is face up and half face down. If a card is partly covered by another then it can’t be drafted until the one below is gone. It’s a simple but highly strategic variation to the drafting mechanism which is perfect for 2 players.
7 Wonders Duel also boasts several very different paths to victory. You can win by accruing the most points over 3 ages. You can also win by pushing the military counter all the way to your opponents capital. Lastly you can try for a scientific victory by accruing all different science symbols. These very different winning parameters give excellent replayability as well as impressive strategic depth.
This is honestly one of the best 2 player games out there. It does a fantastic job of retaining the principles that make 7 Wonders great while optimising for a head to head situation. There’s even an expansion available for Duel called ‘Pantheon’ if you find yourself craving further complexity.
Dinosaur Island published by Pandasaurus Games was basically Jurassic Park the board game. You harvest DNA, grow dinosaurs, build exhibits and enthral your visitors... well, those that don’t get eaten anyway! Dino Island actually works fine at 2 player but the setup and tear down is epic! Seriously it’s a table hog and a bear to prep. That’s where Duelosaur Island comes in!
This neat little two player standalone version manages to channel the gene splicing park building fun of Dinosaur Island in a fraction of the setup time. By utilising multi use cards Duelosaur island manages to keep a decent percentage of the strategic depth while drastically reducing components, mechanisms and playtime. Despite these reductions, like no DinoMeeples and no worker placement aspect, Duelosaur is clearly still a Dinosaur Island related game. Production quality is incredible and the same great art by Kwanchai Moriya is seen throughout. The game also still features the dino’s, Amber dice, amusement attractions, dual layer player boards and spectacularly awful puns that we’ve come to expect from the original title.
With a scalable play time from 30-60 minutes if you want that big game feel without the hassle Duelosaur Island is a real contender. It’s been expertly trimmed down to afford the ideal Park building experience in the most efficient way.
Star realms is an incredibly easy and fun head to head deck building game. Each player takes command of a space fleet and attempts to reduce their opponents health points to zero. Honestly it teaches in about 10 minutes but it is so very addictive.
Consisting solely of a deck of cards, Star Realms plays like a collectible card game. Instead of highly asymmetrical customised decks though, your deck will start out with the same pretty lame fleet as your opponent. Right away the race is on to buy powerful new and unique ships and space stations to add to your personal deck. Attack your foe and trash the least helpful cards in your deck to bring out your big guns more often.
For many, Star Realms is the ultimate 2 player game. It’s so easy to learn but provides infinite entertainment, and all in a tiny box of cards! There are an insane amount of small expansion packs for Star Realms as well as a sequel, Colony Wars. The sequel can be played as a stand-alone version in the same vein as Star Realms or added to the original deck to bring it up to 4 players. How versatile is that?
If the Space theme does nothing for you, Star Realms was reimplemented with a fantasy theme as Hero Realms.
Kingdomino is a widely renowned dominoes style filler game. The original game also works pretty well for 2 players. I’d especially recommend playing the Mighty Duel variant if you already own Kingdomino. Once again though the publishers have seen fit to release a Duel version specifically designed and optimised for 2 players.
Kingdomino Duel’s domino style kingdom building is easy to recognise from its predecessor. It benefits from a completely new main mechanism though. Dropping the tile drafting from the original, Kingdomino Duel uses the insanely popular roll and write mechanism. You roll 4 dice each with a selection of Coats of Arms on them. As first player you choose a die, then your partner chooses 2 and you get the final one. With your 2 dice you create a 2 sided domino which you draw onto your sheet. Some die faces also contain a cross, mark these on your sheet with the appropriate shield. At the end of the game you’ll score by multiplying domain spaces, shields of the same pattern touching orthogonally, by crosses in that domain.
Aside from having a smaller footprint and faster drafting mechanic, Kingdomino Duel also adds another factor to gameplay. Both players race to attain powerful one off actions to boost their kingdom building. It’s an excellent addition and makes Duel an ideal game to add to your 2 player repertoire.
Battle line is an excellent introduction to strategy games for those that have enjoyed traditional card games in the past, particularly poker. It’s a classic one on one war game. You battle for control of 9 flags, winning by controlling 3 in a row or any 5. Take control of these flags by playing cards to your side of them. Each player is aiming to make a powerful formation of 3 cards. Cards posses numbers and suits so formations work in a similar way to poker hands. A straight flush, ascending numbers of the same suit becomes a Wedge, the most powerful formation. Three of a kind, the same numbers in different suits becomes a Square, the second most powerful. So on and so forth.
Battle Line is a reimplementation of Reiner Knizia’s earlier game Schotten Totten. Battle Line adds powerful leader cards and tactic cards that enhance the tactical gameplay massively. It’s so easy to play, the rules won’t tax anyone who has played with a standard deck of player cards before. The depth of tactics and strategy though is immense, it really does pack a punch for such a simple game.
The art style is perhaps a little dry on this title so it’s worth noting that Schotten Totten has been republished now including the added tactics cards. GMT have also recently released Battle Line Medievel. If either of those implementations appeal more then grab one because it really is an excellent and underrated game that deserved to be played more.
Another classic Reiner Knizia title. Like Battle Line, you’re playing cards with different suits (colours) and values. Lost Cities definitely feels less aggressively competitive though. You’re kind of just focusing on your own little expeditions rather than trying to crush the love of your life under an armoured boot. In fact in Lost Cities you can even play nice, discarding cards that help your fellow player that they can pick up next turn. For this reason, along with its crazy simple rule set, Lost Cities is a great gateway for non gamers to enjoy in a chilled setting.
Each adventurer is looking to go on 5 or 6 expeditions. You’ll do this by playing cards of the appropriate colour in front of you. There are also handshake cards which act as multipliers for their expeditions. Here’s the catch though, handshakes must go first then each number must be higher than the previous. i.e if you lay a red 4 you can no longer lay a red handshake card, 1,2 or 3. This adds a pleasantly tense push your luck element to the game. How long do I wait to lay my first card? Lay my 4 now or see if I get a 1,2 or 3 next go? Wait too long and your expedition will have barely any cards. This is an issue as each expedition starts at minus 20 points! So to score well you need to play plenty of cards.
It’s a fast, easy game that offers decent player engagement without complexity. Wether you’re a gamer or totally new to the hobby Lost Cities is good fun to play.
Well there we go, a comprehensive list with some of the best 2 player games on the market. All you need now is a willing victim... err I mean volunteer to try them out. Board games are a reliable antidote to boredom as the stay at home order doesn’t look like being lifted any time soon. Remember, couples that play together, stay together.