A photo of some of our board games on a closet floor.

10 two-player board games for any level of gamer

Jigsaw puzzles have made an enormous comeback during the pandemic, boasting a screen-free, meditative way to slow down and do something simple. It surprises me that the same has not been true for board games. But, I have a hunch about why.

People enjoy playing board games in social contexts with groups of friends. While some like Codenames have free and functional rudementary versions in online formats, and you can pay for “real” digital versions of others like Ticket to Ride, this isn’t fun for the masses. The masses don’t want to deal with the technology element to get people around a metaphoric table to play a game that probably needs explaining. (And, when you do, there are distractions at homes and the game plays excruciatingly slowly.)

The masses might, however, play a board game at home with their partner, roommate, or kid they want some 1:1 time with if it were easy to do and fun for two.

It is, indeed, easy to do and fun, and you don’t have to be a “gamer”. Here is an unordered list of 10 recommendations that are fun, quick, and only as competitive as you want them to be at any level:

  1. Patchwork. I love the aesthetics and the different strategic approaches you can take in such a seemingly simple game.
  2. Onitama. There are 10 total pieces and only 5 cards in play each game. If chess hurts your brain too much but you like the idea of it, try this. It also plays a bit differently each time depending on the cards you pick.
  3. Backgammon. This is a classic game dating back thousands of years that you find all around the world. It’s a race against your opponent, and some luck-of-the-roll too.
  4. Pentago. Tic-tac-toe-esque, but with five in a row and a (literal) twist. I get a real kick out of this game, but admittedly, my husband will not play with me; it can be a frustrating one to lose.
  5. Quiddler. Aesthetically-pleasing cards, fun mechanics, and an accessible but different take on a word game where the fanciest word isn’t always the best play. There are 8 rounds, but for a really quick game, you can also just play the odd or even rounds.
  6. Hive. For once, a game based around a queen rather than a king! This game has a lot more depth than it might look like, but you can also play without any depth at all and see what happens.
  7. Battle Line. A game with two different ways to win keeps everyone on their toes. We often get very close to the end without a clue who will win…until suddenly it’s over.
  8. Fugitive. This is an unbalanced game, where each player has a different role and objective. It’s fast so you can switch off. And you get to bluff, which is a good skill to practice sometimes.
  9. Othello. I always loved the tagline on the box: “A minute to learn, a lifetime to master!” Kind of says it all.
  10. Sylvion. This game is beautiful and about collaboratively preventing forest fires. You win or lose together!

If you have a high tolerance for a hefty rule book and long length of play, I highly recommend one more bonus game:

11. Twilight Struggle. One player is the USSR, one is the US. There’s a space race, there’s nuclear threat, there’s a chance to poke your opponent. This game is terrific.

While Pandemic Legacy didn’t make this list because #TooReal, I did want to share the tip that if you decide to play it with two players, I strongly recommend that each of you play two characters so that you have four characters playing. It becomes a little more fun and nuanced as a two-player game.

All of these games are easy to buy online, but first, check to see if you can buy from your local game shop! You probably have one in the city nearest to you, and they could certainly benefit from your support.

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