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Games For Two

I've received a number of requests for two-player game recommendations in the last few weeks. So here ya go, IntarWeb.

  • Lost Cities: This is my default recommendation for a two-player game, unless I know the person well enough to suggest something more specific -- and even then it's often my recommendation. Lost Cities is a very clever (and remarkably fun) rummy variant, which makes immediately accessible to non-gamers. The rules can be explained in three minutes, an entire game takes about thirty. Plus, chicks dig it. It's considered politically incorrect in gaming circles to imply (or state outright) that one sex prefers certain games over others, but, I'm tellin' ya: girls like rummy (see also: Ticket To Ride -- another game based on Rummy that women enjoy.) All and all, Lost Cities is just about the perfect "couples game." If you're looking for something with a smidgen more strategy, check out its sister title, Shotten-Totten (sold in the US as Battle Line). And they can be tried-before-they're-buy'd at Flex Games, which has online versions of both.

  • Lord Of The Rings: The Confrontation: Easily one of my favorite two-player games (read my full review here), LotR:tC uses the classic Stratego mechanism of having pieces visible only to their owner. The Light player wins if he gets Frodo (and the One Ring) all the way across the board and into Mordor; the Dark player wins by catching Frodo or overrunning The Shire with bad guys. Each character has a unique ability, and although a whole match can be played in 20 minutes, each game has its own narrative: in one, Aragorn sacrifices himself so that Frodo can trudge forth to victory; in the next, Wargs beset the ringbearer just as he descended from the Misty Mountains. And a Deluxe edition of the game was just released, doubling the number of characters and special powers in play.

  • Another Stratego-esque favorite of mine is Hera & Zeus. Some complain that the game is too "fiddly" -- that is, there's a lot of special cards to keep track of, and a lot of shuffling of the cards -- but, amongst experienced players, I think it's a tense and exciting battle. A bit more a learning curve on this one than the prior games, though. You can read my full, (and, by Internet standards, ancient) review here.

  • Jambo also takes a game or two to get the hang of, but has been one of the most well-received two-player card games in recent years. Players are merchants in a Swahili market, trading wars and occasionally siccing pumas on one another. Read my full review here.

  • Though most of the Carcassonne games can be played with up to five players, they also work exceptionally well with only two. They also number amongst the best "gateway" games of the market, perfect for those new to the boardgaming hobby. Players take turns adding tiles to a shared map, trying to create various landscapes. There are a lot of games in the Carcassonne line, but I'm of the opinion that Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers is the best for those new to the series. There is also an exclusively two-player version called Carcassonne: The Castle, which is a bit more strategic (and, in my opinion, a bit more fun) that the rest.

  • Another "works for many and works for two" game is San Juan, The kid brother to Puerto Rico. I think the game works best with three, but two is also quite good. Read my full review here.

  • There are, of course, no shortage of two-player wargames, but many of them require the players to memorize a 104 page rule book and dedicate every weekend for a season to playing a campaign. Memoir '44, on the other hand, allows you to recreate the pivotal battles of WWII in about 40 minutes a scuffle, using a light, intuitive combat system. An even simpler wargame -- albeit one with a fantasy bent -- is Heroscape. Though clearly aimed at the 12-year-old boy market, I know a lot of adult game players who swear this is one of the most fun games ever released.

  • I'm not a huge fan of abstract games, but even I think Travel Blokus is a blast. It's a very quick, very light strategy game -- almost like a snack. Try it out online at blokus.com/. Or, if you are in the market for something meatier, try the titles in the GIPF series, a collection of abstract, two-players games that have been getting rave reviews. YINSH, the highest rated of the bunch, falls somewhere between draughts and Reversi; DVONN was named GAMES Magazine's 2003 "Game of the Year;" and ZERTZ is like Chinese Checkers with an IQ of 145. Check them out at the GIPF Project homepage.

    Posted on April 06, 2006 to Games


Have you tried Set? It's pretty good with any size group, from one to, well, infinity. (Though I suppose its ideal size is about 2-8.)

Jambo is pretty good, too.

Posted by: J.D. on April 7, 2006 10:16 PM

Good recommendations, although the missus and I are the only people in the world who didn't like LOTR: Confrontation.

Lost Cities is indeed a great game, and what I love about San Juan is that I think it plays equally well with 2, 3, or 4 players. Carcassonne: The Castle is my Carc of Choice, and we have lately started playing it where you begin with a hand of three tiles, and on your turn you play a tile and then draw a replacement. This I think makes it even better as you have a little more choice in your moves.

The other two-player games we really dig are Fjords, Travel Blokus, and Jambo, especially that last one.

Posted by: Dave Lartigue on April 8, 2006 7:20 AM

As far as card games go (good with any number of people) I quite enjoyed Ninja Burger. Probably just because it was so darn cute, and not as much for the game play.

Posted by: pips on April 8, 2006 10:57 AM

Awful Green Things from Outer Space is always fun for 2. Other than that, you hit all our two-player favorites (San Juan, Carcassonne, Lost Cities).

Oh, and Can't Stop is another fun one for two, if you can find a copy.

Posted by: Jan on April 8, 2006 12:02 PM

I have always wondered if you had tried Wiz-War. It is no longer in print but I love the game.

PS: Went down Eastlake the other day to find the Starbucks with the breast milk sign. Man what a crack up!


Posted by: Sean on April 8, 2006 1:44 PM

Holy crow, how did I forget Travel Blokus and Jambo?! Thanks, guys.

Posted by: Matthew on April 8, 2006 2:08 PM

I actually enjoy playing Settlers with two players. You generally don't get as much trading done, and you have to play to a higher point total, but it's still fun.

But this could be because the game was my first.. well.. 'modern' 'adult' game =)

Posted by: John Eddy on April 9, 2006 11:15 AM

Attika works really well with two players. Also, Blue Moon is another option but requires a larger time investment than the other games mentioned because 'knowing the deck' is somewhat important (but you can still play without that knowledge and it's still fun).

Posted by: David on April 9, 2006 5:53 PM

For some reason, I much prefer Memoir '44's predecessor, Battlecry, which is even simpler. I suspect it may be because M44 just seems like a simplistic version of that mother of all WWII wargames, Combat Mission. The ACW, however, well, I can quite easily cope with that being reduced to three types of units and a bunch of order cards (it's also insanely quick to play, less than 30min to set up and play).

Posted by: Simstim on April 10, 2006 6:03 PM

Have you played the game Betrayal at the House on the Hill? My friends and I were introduced to it last year, and instantly became addicted. You and the other players are explorers of a haunted house, and at some point during the game, one of you turns traitor, with the intent to destroy everyone else. It could happen in the form of werewolves, Frankenstein, aliens, derranged cults, giant two headed snakes, etc...there are 50 different scenarios. If you haven't tried it, I recommend it - it's super fun.

Posted by: lani on April 13, 2006 12:52 PM

Happy to see that someone else out there likes Fjords (fih JORDs). Of the listed games, I'm a big fan of Lost Cities and I'm thinking about travel blokus... I suppose I should check out LoTR:TC.

Posted by: irrational robot on April 18, 2006 3:39 PM