Recently, my local boardgame café (The Dice Cup) started running a two-player games night. My initial reaction was, “Eh? Why would you want to get a bunch of people together only to play two-player games?”
You see, for some reason, I’ve always considered two-player games to be something of a last resort. “Oh, there’s only two of us available to play games tonight? I guess we could play some two-player games…” I would say, while wishing we had more people.
Nevertheless, I went along to try it out and I was pleasantly surprised. The range of available (good) games is actually much bigger than I thought it was. At least, it wasn’t like I was introduced to any new games, but I guess my impression of two-player games was biased and, frankly, unreasonable.
So what are the options? You have a whole evening, but you can only play two-player games. Broadly speaking, they seem to fit into the following categories:
When it comes to two-player games, this is what I initially think of. I’m not a huge fan of abstract games and maybe this is why I’ve always been somewhat prejudiced against two-player games.
I’ve talked about many of these before, but games like DVONN and YINSH from the GIPF series are very good and a significant improvement on the likes of Chess, Go and Draughts (Checkers) for casual play.
I’d also highly recommend trying Santorini if you’ve not played it before. It’s essentially an abstract game, but the God cards add lots of rules changes and thereby variety each time you play. It’s great!
This is something of a more recent trend. Uwe Rosenberg has been particularly good at putting out quality versions of his popular Euros like Agricola, Le Havre and Caverna. These do a very good job of simulating the multiplayer Euro experience with only two.
With the possible exception of a really good LCG, I think these are my favourite kind of two-player games. The good ones have you so engrossed in the decision making that you barely notice that there’s only one other player at the table.
There’s some debate as to whether these would really be considered boardgames. They’re certainly very specialist, and not something I play very much. I did play my fair share of Warhammer 40k as a teenager, and my Dad even tried to play Squad Leader with me when I was a child (what was he thinking?!).
These games are typically long, have lots of rules and, if you take the miniatures route, require a significant financial investment. My issue isn’t so much that the games aren’t good (some people love them), but more that I can achieve a much higher fun to time/money ratio with other games.
The closest I get these days would be games that attempt to bridge the gap like Star Wars: Rebellion, Twilight Struggle, Battlelore and War of the Ring. These games often include other more familiar boardgame mechanisms like hand-management and action selection rather than simply taking it in turns to move units across the board and attack.
Mage vs Mage
Magic: The Gathering is the quintessential example here, but there are many other games that attempt to simulate a battle between two spell-casting mages.
They are nearly all card games and players typically find themselves trying to select appropriate spells to cast each turn. Do you try to summon lots of creatures, throw fireballs at your opponent, or use enchantments (buff/debuffs) to manipulate the creatures around you?
These games often have lots of options and provide opportunity for deep strategic play. They lend themselves naturally to CCGs (Collectible Card Games), which can be financially ruinous, but I do enjoy them.
Thematically, the basic principles of play can be adapted to many other scenarios (eg. battling superheros). Notable examples of this type of game would be Summoner Wars, Mage Wars, Hero Realms, Marvel Dice Masters and Yomi.
Living Card Games (LCGs) differ from CCGs in the sense that booster packs aren’t random. They release booster packs of cards regularly (typically one a month), but you know exactly what you’re getting so you’re not having to buy lots of boosters in the hope of getting a rare card like you do with a CCG.
For some reason, they’re often attached to licenses like Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Cthulhu and Star Wars. I guess they’re nearly all published by Fantasy Flight who have a clear business model of acquiring popular licenses and milking them for all their worth.
While not quite so financially draining as CCGs, the expense can still be significant if you want to keep up with the latest releases. However, there’s a lot less incentive to do so unless you’re interested in competitive play (eg. Android: Netrunner).
I really enjoy them though; particularly the co-operative ones. I like the deck-building aspect of these games and the fact that there’s a limited pool of cards to draw from. Thematically they’re often very strong (the licenses help) with lots of flavour text on the cards.
My personal favourite is Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. My son and I have spent many hours battling orcs, exploring Moria and trying to capture Gollum.
At the last two-player evening I went to, people were playing Star Wars: Rebellion, Jaipur, Star Wars: X-Wing, the GIPF series, …and then, we held hands and 7 Wonders: Duel, to name a few. We even snuck in a naughty four-player game of Dimension when the organiser wasn’t looking! I had a great time and I’m looking forward to the next one.
Do you play two-player games often? Can you think of any other categories of two-player games? Which games are your favourites?