Whether you’re cooped up in quarantine for theor just taking a weekend in, board games are a perfect way to pass the time. Problem is, tons of board games these days are built for bigger groups, and even if they have two-player options, it’s often not the ideal way to play. So what games can you find that work — or better yet, really shine — as two-player experiences?
Here are some of our favorites.
Tile-placement games are a mainstay for many board game enthusiasts, in part because of the fun of building a unique board each time you play. Many people have played Carcassonne, one of the most popular entries of the genre, but it’s actually not the best example of the game — and certainly not the best for two players. For me, it’s a toss-up between one of the best board games around in all categories, The Castles of Burgundy, and a solid game with killer two-player tile-laying action, Kingdomino. In both games, players take tiles from a central space and add them to their personal princedom or kingdom board (depending on the game). Both games perfectly balance the competition for tiles with the personal satisfaction of building your personal province without direct interference. The two games seem similar but feel dramatically different. For the shorter, simpler game, go with Kingdomino. For the deeper, more complex game, opt for The Castles of Burgundy. Either way, you won’t be sorry.
If you’re in need of a simple puzzle game that soothes your anxieties, look no further than Patchwork, a game in which you “sew” your own quilt and race your competitor to collect buttons. The game is quick, the racing and patch-buying elements satisfy competitive spirits, and the Tetris-like quilt-sewing mechanism is as gratifying as finishing a puzzle.
If you want a little more bite in your competition, 7 Wonders: Duel is a devious little card-drafting game. Both players are attempting to build civilizations across three eras, drafting various cards that help players pursue military or scientific dominance, grow their resources and build various Wonders. The game moves quickly, and the card-drafting mechanism introduces surprising opportunities to block or trap your opponent. As far as well-balanced games for many play sessions, this is one of the best games out there.
Deception games are popular for parties, but tough to find for small crowds. Luckily, Mr. Jack is here to save you! In this game, one player takes on the role of Jack the Ripper, a murderer on the loose, while the other player takes on the role of the detective responsible for investigating his heinous crimes. Eight unique townspeople from the Sherlock Holmes universe — any of whom could be the murderer — wander the streets. Each round, players move townspeople toward or away from street lamps and use their special abilities. Both players can control any character on the board, with opposite goals in mind: helping Jack leave town or catching the murderer before they can get away.
Codenames is a super-popular small party game, but there’s a two-player version that’s just as fun — if a little less satisfying, since you can’t rub your victories in as many of the vanquished players’ faces. The players set up a grid of cards, each with a single word on them. Then one player is tasked with using single-word clues to get the other player to guess a certain number of “correct” cards. It’s a game of word association, shared knowledge and trust. It’s fun, and as a bonus, it teaches you to communicate very efficiently with your partner.
Feel free to reach out on Twitter or in the comments with your own recommendations. I’ll be looking for new two-player games to occupy my time in the coming weeks.