The Best 2-Player Board Games (2024)
14 mins read

The Best 2-Player Board Games (2024)


Many of the most ancient and enduring board games around, from Chess to Checkers, are for two players only, and with good reason. Two going head-to-head is an undiluted contest of skill and, sometimes, luck. As soon as you introduce a third player into the mix, you have a problem. If there’s any interaction in the game, that third player may ally with or otherwise help one of the other two. If there’s not any interaction, then you either risk a dull game, or you risk a player of unequal skill inadvertently helping one of the others by making poor choices. So there’s a lot to be said for sticking to just two players, and that category contains some of the best, most exciting strategy games around.

Because it’s such a wide and flexible genre, we’ve broken our selection of the very best among this august club into three sub-sections. Quick games are great to break out with kids, but our picks will also suit adult gamers too. Co-operative games can be great for couples. Finally, the competitive games section contains the most intense and challenging titles for your enjoyment.

And if you’re looking for more recommendations, check out our lists of the best board games for adults and the best board games for kids.

TL;DR The Best 2-Player Board Games

Quick Games

These are easy to set up and play in less than 30 minutes. Perfect for baby nap times or killing a little time with a friend or loved one without taking up all evening.

Mindbug: First Contact

Mindbug First Contact

A richly tactical strategy board game that plays in 10 minutes and is easy enough for an eight-year-old to play sounds like a dream, but Mindbug: First Contact has made it a reality. It comes with a selection of creature cards, 20 of which will get used at random in each game. On your turn, you can either play a creature from your hand or attack your opponent with a played creature. They can defend with one of their own, comparing a single-digit strength value, or take the pain. This is a fascinating face-off in its own right, given the various simple keywords and special power on each creature. But the real kicker is that both players have two Mindbug cards, which they can use to steal enemy creatures. Not only is this a taut and fascinating exercise in timing – play it now, or wait in case something more powerful appears – but it’s a brilliant balancing exercise, since your most powerful cards can easily become your opponent’s. A minor stroke of genius in a tiny box.

Radlands

Radlands

Radlands came out of the wastelands to huge critical acclaim. Players get a random selection of three camp cards that they must defend with irradiated warrior and event cards from their hands while also attacking the enemy camp. Cards cost water, however, and resources are extremely tight, meaning you have to balance discarding cards to gain short-term bonuses against spending to play them into your battle lines. Taut, thematic and rich with tactics, Radlands is shaping up to be a classic board game.

Schotten Totten

Schotten Totten 2

In theory, Schotten Totten sees you lining up members of a Scottish clan, represented by superb cartoon art, for a factional showdown. In practice, it’s more like Poker as you try to collect triplets of colour or number which you assign to one of nine flags. The secret of Schotten Totten is that you’re forced to start making plays before you collect complete sets. That makes every card down and every card drawn an agony of anticipation where bluff and timing are everything. It’s a fine game but, better still, you can also use the cards to play a related 2-player game, Lost Cities (see it on Amazon).

Jaipur

Jaipur

Trading games tend to work best with multiple players, so you’ve got a bit of bargaining going on. Jaipur solves this problem with an elegant economic system. As an Indian merchant you want to collect goods like cloth, gold and tea to sell in bulk. But the market is one of diminishing returns. That creates constant tension between hoarding goods and selling early to get the best prices and deny them to your opponent. With other smart, interlocking mechanics, Jaipur is a slippery customer. Whenever you feel like you’ve mastered it, it reveals new tricks: so it rewards repeat play against the same person.

Co-operative Games

These co-op board games are challenging and only those who work together can hope to come out victorious. Plus they won’t have you going to bed angry at one another.

Sky Team

Sky Team: Prepare for Landing

Sky Team is a super-quick cooperative game made especially for two players, who are working to land a plane as pilot and co-pilot. Each has their own set of instruments and pool of dice to assign to them, trying to keep the plane steady in the air, clear the approach of other aircraft and deploy all the necessary equipment for landing as it descends. Both the randomness of the dice and limited communication rules make this far trickier than it sounds, especially given that several of the instruments require a balance between the two player’s assigned dice. The consequences of failure don’t bear thinking about … but fortunately it’s just a game, and you can just reset and give it another fifteen minute try.

Arkham Horror: The Card Game

Arkham Horror: The Card Game

There are many H.P. Lovecraft based games on the market. And many are co-operative. After all, if you’re going to go mad in the face of eldritch extra-dimensional horrors, it’s best to do it with a friend. This is the best of them and, as a bonus, it’s fairly fast and simple, too. Each player makes a deck for their character from the cards provided. Then you find forgotten secrets and vanquish horrors in scenarios that link together into a narrative campaign. Numerous expansions add not just more card options to add to your deck, but new horrific scenarios to defeat… or go insane trying.

Fog of Love

Fog of Love

In co-op games, you don’t fight each other. In Fog of Love, you don’t fight anything: you’re a couple, playing out a romantic relationship. Each player builds a character from a selection of trait, feature and occupation cards. These then inform what they want from, and how they behave in, the scenes of that make up each game. But there’s a catch: traits must remain hidden so, like in the real world, the partners can have competing goals. Each play flowers into a complex story which can lead to love or loss or anything between. Their subtlety and realism make up for the lack of well-defined win conditions.

Spirit Island

Spirit Island

If you’ve ever sympathized with the underdog, Spirit Island is for you. As ancient spirits, it’s your job to help native islanders resist an invasion. But growing powerful enough to head off the colonists is slow going. Building up your spirit’s abilities is an addictive draw, but to reach your potential, you must deal with those pesky explorers. You’ll need to allocate precious energy and actions each turn to destroying their soldiers and cities. Take too long and their expansion will blight the landscape, causing you to lose. It’s a heavy game in both rules and depth but brilliantly blends unusual mechanics with its unusual theme.

Sleeping Gods

Sleeping Gods

If you want a single title you can immerse yourselves in to enjoy weaving your own narrative together, look no further than Sleeping Gods. It’s a behemoth of a game in which you’ll guide the crew of a small boat, lost in a strange and exotic dimension, and trying to get back home. On the one hand, this is a game of survival in which you must marshal crew and resources through dangerous encounters, trying to keep everyone alive. On the other, it’s a game of narrative, with a branching story, clues and puzzles that keep feeding back cleverly into the mechanical strategy of survival. If you do manage to pilot through to the conclusion, additional plays will tell an entirely different tale.

Competitive Games

Competition where you go up as the other player goes down can feel mean and unfair. Fortunately lots of board game designs have found ways to let couples compete without the cruelty.

Splendor Duel

Splendor: Duel

Splendor Duel is part of a wave of designs that re-interpret popular classics as 2-player only affairs, and it’s the best of the lot. The core loop, a simple yet deep efficiency engine exercise where you buy gems that can later be used to help purchase other, bigger gems, remains intact and is as enthralling as ever. It also boasts the same satisfying poker-chip gems to play with. But the recipe has been extended in several fascinating ways. There’s a spatial element now, as you pick up adjacent gems from a pattern on a board, as well as gems with special powers and new win conditions. The result is a rich, crunchy game full of twist, turns and one-upmanship that’s far deeper than its straightforward rules suggest.

YINSH

YINSH

No, no-one sneezed. YINSH is the best of a series of abstract games known (of course!) as the GIPF project. No, I don’t know, either. Ignore the names and get stuck into this fascinating challenge instead. Players go head-to-head on a hexagonal board, moving rings which leave markers behind. To win you need to make chains of your own colour, but moving rings alternate between black and white. So you need to plan patterns ahead to get those connections. With several rings in play, YINSH weaves worrying webs in your head, but when you complete a chain you lose a ring. This elegant twist makes strategy easier but winning harder and ensures timing is part of the tactics.

Race for the Galaxy

Race for the Galaxy

The icons in this game start out looking like an alien language, but Race for the Galaxy is fast and engaging. It’s all about building an intergalactic empire from the planets, aliens and technologies in your hand. The hook is that you aren’t always in control over what cards you can play, as the players select what game phases get executed each turn. This makes everything into a tricky balancing act, with a thousand things to do funneling down into your limited actions. Pick the right priorities and construct the right card combos and your reward isn’t just a win. It’s a real sense of a space-born society growing and flourishing.

Unmatched: Cobble and Fog

Cobble and Fog

If you fancy a bit of no-holds-barred, head to head fighting action, you won’t do any better than the Unmatched series. Each box has a set of unique characters with their own special power and deck of cards with which to attack, defend and pull off special moves. Play is all about combining tactical movement on a cramped board with managing your hand to build up powerful chains of cards. Despite the variety, the core rules are simple and can be learned in minutes. Cobble and Fog is the best set so far, with four characters from gothic literature to enjoy, but all the boxes can be combined with each other for even more options. See our Unmatched: Cobble and Fog review for more info.

Watergate

Watergate

There’s a whole genre of games in which card play replicates key real-life events in order to explore alternative histories. Most are long and complex, but Watergate puts their tension and detail into the reach of any gamer. One player represents Nixon, the other the Washington Post, as each plays cards trying to connect or block connections on a web of evidence and witnesses linking the President to the famous scandal. Multi-use cards and a see-saw of supporting mechanics ensure plenty of depth and replay value alongside the excitement of trying to weave the web together.

For more ideas, take a look at our roundup of all the best trivia board games, and the best roll and write board games.

Matt Thrower is a contributing freelance board game and video game writer for IGN. (Board, video, all sorts of games!)



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