I really got into two player board games many years after discovering a wider swath of board games. I’ve known chess, checkers and backgammon for as long as I can remember.
Then came some of the board games that are considered traditional in the United States. The richness of the two player genre didn’t reveal it self until much later. Actually fairly recently.
Personally, I find two player games easier to organize. I only need to coordinate with one other person. Usually my live-in partner. That works well for an introvert like me.
When I was dating, some of my best dates were at a local board game cafe: Interactivity Board Game Cafe; as far as I know, the first board game cafe in Victoria, BC, Canada.
I remember one such time. We met on the alcohol side and had some wine. But what I liked most about it was the choice of games we made.
There were a couple of games, … not so much board games but balance games with wooden blocks.
One had a wheel, and we’d stack the coloured wooden blocks on the inside of the wheel. The weight of the blocks would make the wheel turn and cause some other blocks to fall off. If you place a block and made other blocks fall off, you took those blocks. Whoever got rid of all of their blocks first won. I just can’t remember the name of this one, (or find it on BGG)
Bamboleo has a wooden disk centered over a pivot. The wooden disk is populated with wooden blocks of various sizes and colours. We took turns removing the blocks one-by-one. Whoever made the disk fall off the pivot lost.
A Few Favourites
My real introduction to two-player games came several years ago after playing 7 Wonders for a few years. It got harder to find six other people to play once I became skilled at it, or maybe this introvert just got tired of looking.
Soon it was me and my partner trying to play 7 Wonders with only two players. It was never as much fun as with more people, … no matter how much wine we drank.
7 Wonders Duel
There is actually a separate two person game from the same game designers: 7 Wonders: Duel. It’s played with two people and only two people. Some similar mechanics, and very similar theme.
The card drafting really appeals to me. The cards form a pyramid structure. When some cards are played, then others are accessible. Rows of the pyramid alternate being being visible and not being visible. There’s a whole strategy behind which cards to take based on which other cards then become accessible.
Another appealing part of this game is the multiple ways of scoring: science, trade, monuments, combat. But not really combat, just collecting shields.
Hive was recommended by an employee of IGBC when I asked about two player games that they liked. It’s simple in that it is easy to learn and only a few rules. The player interaction is really good. Almost a “chess-like” strategy and battle ground.
I really like that it’s just set of tiles. The symmetry of player abilities adds to the simplicity without taking away from the replayability. Surround the other players queen bee before your queen bee gets surrounded.
Besides the queen, there’s ants, spiders, beetles, and grasshoppers. They each have a unique movement. What I like best is there’s no board, and no setup. Place one tile and the game has started.
This game has deep strategy with a very, very simple set of rules. Your turn consists of (1) move a tile, (2) place a tile. Boom. That’s it.
One person plays colour and the other plays symbols. 36 squares. 36 tiles. 18 turns. Plays in about 20 minutes. But the landscape is utterly unpredictable.
It plays fast and plays ruthlessly, … depending on who you’re playing with. One person is trying to group colours together and keeping like symbols from being grouped together. The other player is grouping like symbols and keeping colours from being grouped.
I don’t think I’ve ever played this just once in any sitting. You’ll want to play this at least twice: once as colour or symbol, and then switch. You’ll need bright light. A couple of the colours look very similar in dim light. But I don’t use that as an excuse just because my girlfriend always wins.
More complicated than Aqualin or Hive, but less complicated than 7 Wonders Duel. Shōbu has four boards: two aggressive and two passive. Each board is a four by four grid of sixteen spaces. On each board, each player has four stones.
The aggressive boards for one player are the passive boards for another player.
You have to make the same move on your aggressive board as you did on your passive board. Same move meaning direction and number of spaces; different pieces of course. You win by pushing all four of your opponents stones off of one of your aggressive boards.
It’s already more to explain. What I like best about it is that a passive move is not allowed if a corresponding move cannot be made on an aggressive board. That restriction on possible moves makes for interesting dynamics. I really have to plan ahead, but not with the ‘chess-like’ thinking in Hive. P.S. She always wins at this game, too!
I like two player games that are simple and quick, yet have a deep strategy. Only a few rules, but plenty of meaningful choices and player interactions.
The exception to that is Duel. I wouldn’t call those rules simple, but the theme makes up for it: ancient mythology around the eastern Mediterranean. What do you like about two player games? Do you have a favourite that I didn’t mention?