I am always on the lookout for good two player games, they hit the table at those times we cannot get a group together. I doubt I am alone in this. So here is a selection, some I really like and all are generally well received and highly regarded. Please don’t consider this a definitive list, there are many good two-player games out there.
Small box games specifically for two players
Often less expensive than larger games and often fairly short to play. All the below play in around 30 minutes or less.
Le Havre – Inland Port.
A fascinating game true to many themes of Le Havre, of balancing obtaining resources and money against chasing victory points with an innovative production wheel. Players need to balance the value of buildings against what they may produce. Keep an eye on what your opponent is doing, and sometimes it really pays to use an opponent's building. It’s a fun and challenging production engine.
There are only so many pieces of cloth, can you craft them into a winning quilt? Don’t forget the buttons. Buttons are wealth, and at its heart Patchwork is a cutthroat economic engine that plays surprisingly well. Don’t be put off by the theme – it’s a really good game, deep, challenging and very pretty.
A great abstract game. Players need to trap and surround their opponent's queen. It’s surprisingly deep and tricky, with what seems like an almost endless range of possibilities. No two games will ever be the same. Hive is an almost perfect travel companion, there is no board, just the solid hexagonal pieces so it can be played almost anywhere.
7 Wonders – Duel.
Two players compete over three ages to build the greatest civilisation, measured in victory points or military and scientific achievements. True to concepts and the feel of 7 Wonders, the designers have managed to pack so much into a game that plays in 30 minutes. It's a full civilisation building game presenting players with a rich and challenging experience at every turn of play, with game mechanics that are both simple and evocative
Multiplayer games that are also great two player games
The advantage of these is if friends arrive they can always join in. Good for a couple and good for a group so the best of both worlds.
Castles of Burgundy.
To some, this multiplayer game is considered best as a two-player game. To others it is very much an introduction to what are termed as Euro games. Personally I think it is great with two, three or four players, and agree that it is fairly simple to play whilst giving players something to think about and consider at every step. It’s a fun game of purchasing and placing buildings on a private estate, with some degree of interaction between some buildings and elements of area control / scoring.
More complex than Castles of Burgundy, not too hard to learn, but more challenging to master. Village is a worker placement game with the added twist that time passes and workers die, where and when they die is part of the strategy. It's a game full of tactical challenges and a wide range of possible strategies to rack up victory points. The whole game is beautifully presented, fun and engaging.
A multiplayer game that to my mind and that of many others is best with two players. It’s got strong elements of tile laying, worker placement and area control. With the mass of expansions, the possibilities for interesting and new ways to have fun are near endless. Another game that is fairly easy to learn and play, but retains a few challenges and interesting decisions to consider.
Complex and some may say unforgiving. Build that farm, collect the resources you need, feed and grow the family. Agricola really is one of the best worker placement games out there, it’s amazingly deep and challenging. With so many possible routes to victory no two games are ever going to be the same. There are always tough decisions to make balancing conflicting needs and opportunities. A classic.
Big box two-player games
These tend to have a war game feel and are commonly fairly long and complex.
War of the Ring.
Will the combined forces of darkness sweep across Middle Earth crushing all before them, or will the defence hold and the ring-bearer succeed on his quest. This brilliant game brings to life the epic struggle of characters in The Lord of the Rings. It is big, bold, immersive and brings Middle Earth to life in a vibrant way. A challenging war game full of tactical decisions and grand strategy, though you’ll need to set aside an afternoon or an evening to play.
Commands and Colors: Ancients.
Very much a traditional hex-based war game, but with big hexes and units that are solid wooden blocks rather than fiddly counters. This has the advantage of many expansions, adding minimal new rules and a whole host of new scenarios. Scenarios tend to play in well under an hour so is good if pressed for time.
Hannibal: Rome v Carthage.
In some senses it is a card driven war game, in others it is an area control victory points game. The game combines these two elements really well, with losing a battle resulting in the potential loss of provinces. It’s reasonably easy to pick up, challenging to master, and is an engaging and thematic presentation of the Punic Wars. It’s all about those action cards and the options for how they are used, and it is a lot of fun.
The cold war brought to life in this epic card driven game. At heart it is an area control victory points game about the political struggle between the USA and Soviet Union, whatever you do don’t start nuclear war. It’s deep, complex, challenging and hard to master. Twilight Struggle is possibly one of the best two-player games ever created, it is superb and fully deserves all the accolades, but it’s not a game for casual play.