My name is Jillian Schmett, and I am happy to be joining the team of awesome people at White Wizard Games! Some of you may know me from Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, where I am frequently discussing games. Whether we chat all the time or this is your first time reading one of my articles, welcome and I hope you find it informative and enjoyable!
Today I wanted to address a question I often see come up in the various forums, groups and threads, “Which games are good for two players?” Whether you’re looking for something to play with your sibling, spouse, friend, child, or anyone in between, there are so many games available on the market today. I have compiled a list of games that I would recommend, which I hope will be helpful for anyone searching for a good two player experience. Star Realms and Hero Realms are popular 2 player games, so this topic seemed like an interesting one for our audience. For the sake of organizing this list, I am going to categorize them into various occasions that they are especially good for. Basically, I want to provide you with a variety of games that work well with two players, and give a brief description of each (although not all of them are specifically two player only games, I have chosen ones that I feel scale really well at two).
For When You Feel Like Chucking Dice
Sometimes you just want to grab a bunch of dice, roll them, and see what happens. I find myself enjoying these games when I have had a long day and just want to relax and not have to think too hard (although some of the games on this list can be a bit on the “thinkier” side). Most of these games last less than 30 minutes and are easy to take with you on the go. With the recent explosion of the Roll and Write genre on the market, I actually found it a little difficult to narrow this down into a reasonable number of suggestions.
Rolling America (2015): Designed by Hisashi Hayashi and published by Gamewright Games, Rolling America is a game that can be played at any player count. The game consists of a map of America, which has been broken into sections, and 7 different colored dice. Each round, players will take turns drawing two dice randomly out of a bag, rolling them, and assigning the numbers to an open section of their board. There are restrictions for placement based on the number value and color of the dice, and each player has a certain amount of special powers they can use throughout the game. Players try to fill in the map with as few open spaces as possible by the end of the game. In later rounds, it becomes harder to find areas while following the rules of placement. It plays in about 15 minutes so it is quick, fun, and portable. Learn more.
Blueprints (2013): Designed by Yves Tourigny and published by Z-Man Games, Blueprints is a 2-4 player game in which players will be assigned a blueprint card, and the try to construct the building on it while following the rules of placement and trying to score as many points as possible. The game is played over 3 rounds and usually takes about 30 minutes. It’s a fun and interesting little filler game. Learn more.
The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game (2017): Designed by Stefan Feld and Cristoph Toussaint, this game is based off the 2011 Euro classic (can I call it a classic yet? I feel like it’s been around long enough to call it a classic) Castles of Burgundy, which will be making an appearance later in this article. With a quicker play time than it’s namesake, at about 15-30 minutes, CoB the Dice Game is an excellent implementation of the mechanisms used in Castles of Burgundy that have players rolling dice and assigning them to hexagonal spots on a map, trying to maximize placements to gain the most points possible. There are different rewards for filling in sections and different special powers that can be gained and used to manipulate the dice throughout the game. Although it is definitely different from the game it’s based on in quite a few ways, it still gives a similar feel in a smaller amount of time. If you like Castles of Burgundy and haven’t checked this out yet, you definitely should. Learn more.
Ganz Schon Clever (2018): Designed by Wolfgang Warsch and published by Schmidt Spiele, Ganz Schon Clever has exploded onto the gaming scene recently and became very popular very quickly. It is for 1-4 players and takes about 30 minutes to play. Players will be rolling dice and choosing from the pool to assign them into different sections of the board. During opponents’ turns, passive players are able to choose one of the leftover dice to fill into their own sheet if they choose. As sections fill up, various bonuses will trigger and chain together to score points. There is no other way to describe this game than addicting. This is one of those games that you will want to keep playing again and again, always trying to beat your (or your opponent’s) high score. Learn more.
Saint Malo (2012): Designed by Inka and Markus Brand and published by Alea, Saint Malo is a roll and write for 2-5 players with a little more complexity than many others in the genre, although it is still considered a light game. Play time runs about 45 minutes. Players will be rolling 5 dice and using them to gather resources, build buildings, place citizens in their cities, and build walls to protect from pirate attacks which will result in negative points at the end of the game if they are not fended off. Learn more.
For When You Want to Shuffle Some Cards
Not all of these games necessarily require a lot of shuffling per se, but they all do use cards for their main mechanisms. Cards are a familiar component, many of us played games with decks of playing cards long before we found the joys of hobby gaming, and sometimes you just want to play a game that lets you see what you can do with the hand you are dealt.
Star Realms (2014): Designed by Robert Dougherty and Darwin Kastle and published by White Wizard Games, Star Realms is an excellent two player deck building game. Play time usually lasts about 20 minutes and is packed with back and forth combat the entire time. Players will be using Trade to acquire Ship or Base cards, which will in turn create more Trade to be used to buy more cards, or deal damage to the opponent. Matches are fast paced and the game is extremely balanced. If you’re looking for a game that feels similar to a TCG, but without the cost, this is perfect for you. Learn more.
Hero Realms (2016): Designed by Robert Dougherty and Darwin Kastle and published by White Wizard Games, Hero Realms plays 2-4 players and takes the Star Realms experience and adds to it. With a similar system of using gold to buy cards which will gain you extra gold or deal damage to the opponent, Hero Realms introduces Character cards with special player abilities and a fantasy theme. In addition to allowing for higher player counts (although it is still excellent at 2), it also has many expansions available, including Boss Decks that allow you to fight cooperatively against a boss. Learn more.
San Juan (2004): Designed by Andreas Seyfarth and published by Alea, San Juan is based on the classic, Puerto Rico. San Juan implements city and economy building with only a deck of cards. This game has simple mechanisms but the decisions you make continue to feel important throughout the game. The way the cards are used as currency and also buildings/goods makes for a more in-depth gaming experience than you would expect. Learn more.
Battle Line (2000): Designed by Reiner Knizia and published by GMT, Battle Line is retheme of an older game, Schotten Totten, with different graphics and very minor changes to gameplay. It’s an excellent 2 player deduction game, in which players are playing cards from their hand onto the table and trying to gain control of the majority of the “battle line.” 9 wooden pieces (referred to as flags) laid out in a line between the 2 players represent the different areas, and victory is achieved by either taking control of 3 adjacent flags, or 5 total flags. The way the cards are played and areas are won is reminiscent of poker, using things like pairs/three of a kinds/flushes/straights, etc. to determine the winner of each flag. The deduction part comes in when you are trying to consider your best play based on what has already been played and is showing on the table in addition to what’s in your hand and what is likely in your opponent’s hand. Special power (tactics) cards that can only be played in a limited amount and under certain circumstances keep the game ever-changing. Learn more.
Muse (2017): Designed by Jordan Sorenson and published by Quick Simple Fun Games, and featuring absolutely gorgeous art by Apolline Etienne, Andre Garcia, Daniela Giubellini, and Kristen Plescow, Muse is a 2-12 player party game. It is unusual to see party games that work with 2, so Muse is an interesting addition to this list. In the two player variant, players will be working cooperatively to try to guess cards correctly. Each round, a player will draw a card with a picture on it, and another card which will give parameters for the clues. I.E., you may need to describe your card by humming a song, striking a pose, or naming a nonfiction work of literature. Players then will draw 5 more cards, shuffle them, and lay all 6 face up on the table. The guesser will try to pick which card corresponds to the clue. If you like Dixit but are looking for something slightly different, or something that works with 2 players, this is the game for you. Learn more.
Lost Cities (1999): Designed by Reiner Knizia and published by Kosmos, Lost Cities is one of the oldest games in this article and has proven its staying power. It’s a hand management, set collecting card game with deceptively simple mechanisms being used to create a great 2 player gaming experience. Learn more.
For When You’re Planning a Date Night
The entries in this section are ones that are either easily portable with a small table footprint and therefore good to play at a bar/pub/restaurant, games with some sort of romantic theme, or games that generally provide for a laid-back, relaxing gaming experience.
…and then, we held hands. (2015): Designed by David Chircop and Yannick Massa, and published by LudiCreations, …and then, we held hands is a cooperative 2 player game about finding balance in a relationship. Players take turns trying to complete the common emotional objective by discarding emotion cards from their hand or their partners. This must be done without verbal communication. The goal of the game is to reach the center of the board, while in a balanced state, and within one turn of each other. This can be difficult to do and is an interesting way to explore empathy and emotion together. Learn more.
The Fox in the Forest (2017): Designed by Joshua Buergel and published by Foxtrot Games/Renegade Game Studios. A trick-taking game that works for 2 players seems nearly impossible, but The Fox in the Forest does this and it does it well. The implementation of special card powers allows this, and the relatively short play time makes it a great game to take along on a night out. Learn more.
Fog of Love (2017): Designed by Jacob Jaskov and published by Hush Hush Projects, Fog of Love is a 2 player cooperative card game that incorporates bluffing, deduction, and even a bit of role playing while players are assuming the role of partners navigating a relationship. Players create characters and then will play through the story of the two characters meeting, falling in love, and facing challenges together. Learn more.
Jaipur (2009): Designed by Sebastien Pauchon and published by Gameworks, Jaipur is another long-time favorite among 2 player games. It incorporates hand management, card drafting, and set collection smoothly and plays in about 30 minutes. Collect and sell cards, or trade camels to try to gain the most points and the title of most powerful trader in the city! It comes in a small box and has a relatively small footprint so it’s another one that is good to take with you on a night out. Learn more.
Codenames Duet (2017): Designed by Vlaada Chvatil and Scot Eaton, and published by CGE, Codenames Duet provides fans of the game with an official 2 player version of the game. After the massive success of the original Codenames, many versions followed, and each have been enjoyable (in my opinion, at least. My entire half-shelf dedicated to them can attest to that). 2 player variants existed for years, but Codenames Duet is designed specifically for 2. It stays true to the experience offered by the original, and the 2 player adaptation is done well. If you have enjoyed other versions of Codenames in the past, you won’t be disappointed by this one. Learn more.
Patchwork (2014): Designed by Uwe Rosenberg and published by Lookout Games, Patchwork is a great abstract 2 player game in which you are acquiring fabric using buttons for currency to buy polyomino fabric tiles which are used to construct a quilt on your player board. This is a great entry level game. If you enjoy Tetris style puzzles, this game is worth checking out. Learn more.
Kodama: The Tree Spirits (2016): Designed by Daniel Solis and published by Indie Boards and Cards, Kodama is a 2-5 player game in which players are playing cards from their hands to their tableau, creating a tree and scoring points for chaining similar icons across multiple cards. The artwork is gorgeous and the gameplay is very relaxing. Learn more.
Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama (2017): Designed by Eilif Svensson, and Kristian Amundsen Østby, and published by Indie Boards and Cards, Kokoro is a reskin of the flip-and-write game Avenue, set in the Kodama universe. Players will be filling in paths on their individual dry erase board, based on tiles that are flipped. More points are scored by connecting certain spaces on the board and bonuses are available for having paths through certain icons connecting to the bonus spots on the board. Learn more.
For When You Want to Play Something Heavier
The Castles of Burgundy (2011): Designed by Stefan Feld and published by Alea, Castles of Burgundy is, in my opinion, Stefan Feld’s best work. It seamlessly implements dice rolling, set collection, tile placement, and variable phase order to create a 60-90 minute playing experience that I have enjoyed countless times and at all player counts. The art is rather bland, as is usually the case with Feld games, but if that doesn’t bother you then this point-salad is a wonderful gaming dish to be enjoyed any time of year. Learn more.
Twilight Struggle (2005): Designed by Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews, and published by GMT, Twilight Struggle is a 2 player strategy “wargame” (at least I consider it one). In it, players are using cards in various ways to place/move influence points around a world map, simulating the struggle between America and the USSR during the Cold War. The multi-use cards that make each play a difficult and important decision, the multiple win conditions, and the fact that the more you play and become familiar with the cards, the deeper the strategy becomes, all make this game an A+ for me. If you are thinking of dipping your toes into the wargame pool, this is a great place to start. Learn more.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (Various designers and publishers): Originally appearing over 30 years ago, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective has seen many reprints, revisions, and expansions in that time. Consisting of a few books outlining different cases (to be played in different sessions), a map, some newspapers, and a few other booklets with information, this game is probably along the lines of escape games in that it could be considered more of “an experience” than a board game. Working together to gather information, you will be trying to solve various murders and see how your investigating skills hold up against the great Sherlock Holmes. Learn more.
Exit the Game Series (2016-2018): Designed by Inka and Markus Brand, and published by Kosmos, there are 6 Exit games released in English so far, and 4 more scheduled for later this year (2018). These games do a great job of bringing the feel of an escape room to the game table. They are a one-time experience, as components will need to be destroyed to solve the puzzles, but at a price point of approximately $13 I have not found that to be a problem. I will say that, although these games can be played at higher counts, so far my best experiences have been at 2, because it can be little difficult to share all the information and components necessary to solve the puzzles if there are a lot of people at the table. Learn more.
Orleans (2014): Designed by Reiner Stockhausen and published by TMG and DLP Games, Orleans is a 2-4 player Euro strategy game that incorporates the rarely used mechanism of bag building. Players will acquire discs (various types of workers) to add to their bag, later drawing them and placing them on their player board. Using the workers in different areas of the player board will allow players to perform various tasks. There are many ways to score points which allows for a lot of replayability with this game. Learn more.
Thanks for checking out my list! I hope you found something here that you’d like to take a closer look at yourself. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions that you think should have been included, feel free to contact me on Facebook (Jillian Schmett) or Twitter (@boardgamechick).