Table Games for Two
Explore New Board Games with Friends & Sweethearts
By Stephen Harkleroad
Nothing can be more romantic than sitting down with your significant other, having a glass of wine after a home-cooked dinner, and pulling out a brick of cardboard pieces and dice to play a board game. Right?
Two player games can offer a unique challenge. Most board games make use of the fact that with three or more players, every action can have vastly different consequences for each player at the table. With two players, this is not always the case—it can often be a zero-sum game, where one player’s loss is directly another’s gain.
Unless designed properly, this can reduce every action down to simple math, which for many isn’t particularly fun. Because of this, games designed for more than two players don’t scale well down to two players without adding in a lot of new rules and “dummy” players, which often fundamentally changes the game for the worse.
Still, there are plenty of ways to design effective two-player games. In fact, many of the most popular games are exclusively for two players. Below is a list of relatively light two-player games you can play with—well, whomever you wish, romantic or not.
One of the most iconic two-player hits is Lost Cities. Players are trying to score points by starting one of four expeditions. There are cards of four colors, numbered 1-10 in each color (and a few extra multiplier cards). A player can place a card on their side of the board with the matching color--but once they place a card of a certain color, any other lower-valued card of that color cannot be played by you. Your “expedition” slowly increases in number, and you’ll score points equal to the sum of that expedition.
The game is a tense buildup, trying to play as many cards as you can per expedition. Going too fast means you’ll miss out on a lot of points, but going too slow will let your rival catch up and grab the cards you need. Rounds are quick, scoring is easy, and for such a small deck of cards it has a lot of strategy.
Jaipur is a trading game with two players—well, kind of. Trading with two players usually doesn’t work very well, since both sides know the terms of the deal and there’s very little mystery to it, but in this case players are trading with a common market.
By cashing in various goods like spices or gems, players get bigger rewards for selling the most at once and selling it first, so there’s an interesting decision as to how long to wait until you pull the trigger on a trade. There is a mechanism in place to lubricate trading (they are camels!) and it’s a quick and fun little game.
Many abstract games are perfect for a two player experience. Obviously, games like chess can only be played by two players, but newer games also capitalize on being easily adaptable to two players.
Patchwork has both players working with a grid of patches to build their own quilt. Each player is trying to grab patches and fit them, Tetris-style, into their own quilt, tracking both the size and the pattern of the quilt.
Likewise, Hive is a classic abstract game made up of only 22 hexagonal pieces; players are attempting to surround the queen bee of their opponent by placing their own pieces. It is unique in that there is no board and can be played on any flat surface, so it is small and convenient enough to be perfect for travel.
Adapted for Two
Many popular strategy games have made versions of those games explicitly for two players.
7 Wonders Duel takes the highly popular 7 Wonders-where players are building their ancient civilization and, ultimately, building a wonder--and changes the rules to fit two players.
The farming-based Agricola also gets this treatment. All Creatures Great And Small strips the original of all the agribusiness except for animal husbandry, and provides a unique experience for only two players.
Both the original 7 Wonders and Agricola depend highly on multiple player interaction, so adapting it for two players was necessary instead of just altering existing rules.
Social deduction games
Inhuman Conditions is a unique two player social deduction game. Most social deduction games (think Werewolf or Mafia), by necessity, require a huge number of players to be effective; Inhuman Conditions can only be played by two. One player is an investigator, trying to figure out if the other player is a human or a robot.
The suspect, for their part, is either human or robot, and if they are a robot they may be a violent robot. Both players talk with each other—the investigator asking questions and the suspect answering them—but both are dealt a card that requires them to do something specific in the course of this conversation (such as mentioning the same person multiple times, or explaining the same experience three times but in different ways).
Both sides have a goal they are trying to reach without letting the other side know too much.
Endless possibilities for couples
Cooperative games, in general, scale down well to two players without many rules changes. Since cooperative games are all players vs the board, it doesn’t have the same drawbacks as traditional games do. Almost every cooperative game can be played seamlessly with two players.
There’s also a whole host of two-player games that are much heavier in playstyle. Twilight Struggle, for example, depicts the decades-long push-pull of Cold War politics, and almost all war games are by necessity played out with two sides.
But, hey, if your romantic endeavors involve staking out the battlefields of Chancellorsville for five hours, to each their own.
Stephen Harkleroad has been playing board games since before you were born, statistically speaking. He wrangles spreadsheets for a living. His favorite board game is Dune, and he has most recently spent time as a Human Cleric (Life Domain).