Board game Top 10: Board games for 2 people

While there are thousands of board games for 2 people, there’s often something a little bit special about games specifically designed for two. Below you’ll find my favourites, with a skew towards games for everyone. I’d be confident of teaching all but two these to pretty much anyone.

Better still, almost all of them should cost you less than about £20. Games are linked by the title where I’ve reviewed them elsewhere on the site. And most are easily found in stores and online. As always, if you have any questions or want more info – or have your own recommendations – just pop them in the ‘comments’ below.

(Gamers: I’ve avoided expandable card games completely, as well as miniatures games – and have only included one war game. I think the majority of people that might come looking for a post such as this will be relatively new to the hobby and be looking for the kind of game I’ve included here; but hopefully you’ll find something new to check out.)

The best board games for 2 people

10. Battle Line/Schotten Totten (1999)
20 minutes

Battle Line, from the master of abstract game design Reina Knizia, is a fantastic card game that’s been in print for almost 20 years. The idea is to win either five of the nine areas – or three adjacent areas. Picture nine flags across the centre of the table between the two players, with you each playing cards to your side).

Players take it in turns to play and then draw a card: either a numbered card (1-10 in six colours), or tactics card (they add complexity, but you can leave them out). To win a flag you need to have a three-card combo in front of it that beats your opponent. This is decided by a simple poker-style scoring system (runs, straights and flushes).

9. Blokus Duo/
Blokus To Go
15 minutes

This is a travel version of popular board game Blokus, with a smaller board and designed specifically for two players. It has many classic two-player abstract tropes. Identical sets of pieces and simple rules make it an even playing field. While you start with all pieces available, so there are no elements of luck involved. Six-year-olds can grasp it, but there’s plenty of tactical depth for seasoned gamers too.

See also: Hive (a hugely popular Chess-like abstract game).

8. Twilight Struggle (2005)
120-180 minutes

Twilight Struggle successfully straddles the divide between war and board games. And it was the number one game on Board Game Geek for several years – no mean feat. It emulates the battle for global political influence across between the USA and the USSR during the Cold War. It’s card-driven, with each card depicting a real historic event. These cards allow players to manipulate the influence its superpower has over a country or countries. It’s a truly epic experience, and takes some plays to get your head around, but is well worth the effort.

See also: Wir Sind das Volk! (a similar style game set in the aftermath of World War II, with East and West Germany in a battle to make its citizens the happiest). 

7. Lost Cities (1999)
30 minutes

The second Knizia abstract on the list, Lost Cities shares several traits with Battle Line. Players face off by placing cards either side of (this time five) central areas. Here there are five colours with numbers 1-10 in each, plus extra cards that can multiply your score in each. But you must play these multipliers before any number cards of the colour, so it’s a real gamble. You can only play numbers in ascending order. And you won’t score positively in a colour unless your cards add up to at least 20. You have a play a card every round – either discarded or to your area. But all discards are available to your opponent. Creating the feeling the game, as well as your opponent, is against you. It’s very clever indeed, but incredibly simple in terms of rules.

6. Caverna: Cave vs Cave (2017)
30 minutes

While a bit more of a gamer’s game, Caverna: Cave vs Cave does a great job of simplifying and distilling designer Uwe Rosenberg’s classic euro game Caverna. Players collect resources by taking actions, using them to furnish their caves. New rooms either score points or make gathering/other actions more efficient. Despite a relatively small amount of components there’s plenty of variety and denial can be an important part of play, so it isn’t just a ‘do your own thing’ game.

See also: Rosenberg has given the same treatment to Agricola with All Creatures Big and Small. It distils Agricola down to animal collection, but us still a fun if lighter experience.

The best board games for 2 people – The Top 5

5. Hanamikoji (2013)
15 minutes

This clever and quick card game has just 28 cards and 15 cardboard tokens. But it packs a lot of game into this very small package. Much as in Lost Cities above, both players must make agonising decisions. But here it feels as if every one, even the first, is vital. Each round you’ll play the exact same four actions, but the order and how they affect the cards in play always changes. You’re trying to win control in the majority of seven areas, but hidden information spices things up. Along with the fact you know all but one card is placed in every round – but you don’t know what’s missing. A game can be over in as little as five minutes, a single round, but it always feels like you’ve strained your brain in the process.

4. Targi (2012)
60 minutes

Targi is a little longer and slightly more complex than most games on this list. But I still feel confident I could teach it to most non-gamers. Players take it in turns to claim positions around a 5×5 grid of cards. You place three pieces each, claiming resources and scoring points as you go. But as you can see what your opponent may be going for in the grid, you can often block their moves. It clever combines set collection, worker placement and tableau building while adding that crucial competitive two-player edge to create a really great game.

3. The Rose King/
30 minutes

I started playing this online (on Yucata) back in 2011. I bought a copy in 2013 and it has been in my Top 50 games since I started writing one in 2014. Not bad for a 25-year-old abstract game. Played on a 9×9 grid, players take it in turns to play or draw a card. A neutral marker starts the game on the central spot. When you play a card, it tells you a direction and distance to move this marker. And there you place one of your pieces. In this way you slowly build areas, which score for their size at the end. All information is open and you can only have up to five cards, so its easy to work out all possible moves. While the ability to play a few moves which switch the colour of played pieces really spices things up.

2. Adios Calavera (2017)
20 minutes

I’ve talking a lot about this game since its release. But I think there’s a life in this flogged horse yet! Adios Calavera is a simple rush across a 9×9 grid for your eight playing pieces. But it is made unique by one of you going north-south and the other east-west. The distance a piece can move is dictated by how many pieces there are in its row. But one player’s row is the other’s column. So you need to think about the strength of movement you’re giving your opponent as well as yourself. Each piece can be flipped to a ‘special power’ side for a more complex game. While several variants allow for even more replayability.

Number 1: Patchwork (2014)

It was a close thing between my top three, ask they’re all about even in terms of quality. But the proven crossover appeal of Patchwork put it to the top of my list. And it plays in around 20 minutes. It has been a massive hit with gamers. But the gorgeous artwork makes it a real head-turner that’s easy to get non-gamers into; especially spouses. Unfortunately boardgaming is still seen by some as nerdy and blokey. So it’s always great to see a game taking a punt on an unusual and inclusive theme. Better still, it’s a brilliantly mean spatial puzzle of a game with a small rules overhead but loads of depth.

Honourable mentions

Jaipur  is a fun game I’d happily recommend to new gamers. It is hugely popular, but I got a little tired of it over time. Once you’ve mastered the game it largely comes down to look to determine who wins. But you’ll get a lot of plays out if it before then. It’s a similar story with Jambo. Another enjoyable small box game that was good fun for around 20 plays.

I’ll also get told off if I don’t mention 7 Wonders Duel; another massive hit that is very highly rated on Board Game Geek. The scoring mechanisms have a strong resemblance to its sister game 7 Wonders, as you use cards to claim other cards as you strive for end game points. But the mechanism of the game underwhelmed me and I often feel it plays a little ‘on rails’.

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