If you want to be really unsporting and generally piss people off as much as possible – and I mean without becoming a professional footballer – you should consider colluding in Castles of Mad King Ludwig. You pre-arrange with a friend that whenever you are master builder you will put whatever they most want into the highest price slot and they will buy it from you. In return you will do the same when they are master builder, and so the money just moves backwards and forwards and is never really spent. In the meantime, you both get whatever rooms you want and the other player(s) are cut out of the game.
Obviously it is rare for something quite as extreme as this to happen, and the behaviour is often not formalised in such a way, but the fact that this kind of process works is something of a flaw with an otherwise excellent game. However, in the two-player version, it is automatically fixed.
So, which games actually benefit from the two-player mode and why?
Mad about Castles
Not only do you avoid the potential for collusion, you also add a lot of interesting destructive play into the mix. I also find that with more than two players the master builder mechanism greatly increases the likelihood of player A’s mistakes swinging the balance between players B and C.
This is a key point about two-player games in general: destructive play is much more important. Not only should you engage in it more readily, you should also expect more of it from your opponent. Build in a bit of robustness into your strategy – in a multiplayer game you can safely assume that no reasonable player will damage themselves too much just to harm you in the process, but in a two player game it can make strategic sense for your opponents to do this. Of course, if you are playing with unreasonable players you may find that they do this in a multiplayer game anyway…
The Wonderful Seven
What is the third part of a two-player game? Well, the game of course. Whoever designed the two-player variant of Seven Wonders understood this. The two-player variant of Seven Wonders introduces a third city that the players take it in turn to control. This adds some great extra mechanics and tactics, while the increased knowledge of the cards you get from playing with only two players boosts the importance of some of the non-trivial, drafting-related decisions you have to take in the game.
Knowledge is another key aspect of two-player games. Due to the smaller number of interacting parties involved, they tend to be much more predictable than multiplayer games. This makes it even more important to carefully control and exploit any mechanisms by which you can surprise your opponent or make the game harder for them to predict.
The Short, the Lucky and the Confrontational
I don’t normally like games that involve a lot of luck. The exception to this is when they are short enough that you can play them lots of times. Anything that involves sequential rather than simultaneous play is fastest with only two players, so two-player games are a great way to make something quick and snappy. Anything that involves fighting each other or direct confrontation is also better if there is more to the game than “Hey guys, let’s gang up on so-and-so.”
So, in the spirit of making things short and snappy, goodbye!