Designed For Two Players
Text by Fiona Clarke and Tyler Phillips
If you’re stuck inside and starting to feel increasingly stir crazy, board games are an entertaining way to pass the time and a break from staring at a computer screen. While many board games require groups of people to play, there are a lot of worthy ones that don’t.
Wanting to determine the best-of-the-best, we consulted with board-game experts who shared the two-player board games they pull out over and over again that will appeal to everyone from beginners looking for a lighthearted fantasy caper to advanced players looking for a mind-boggling strategy game.
And, to make it easier, we’ve organized the games by their level of difficulty — beginner, intermediate, and advanced — leading each category with the four games that got the most recommendations.
Four of our experts recommended Patchwork, created by accomplished game designer Uwe Rosenberg, as one of the best two-player games for beginners. The game challenges players to strategically collect different pieces to create a quilt. It’s a favorite game for two because the rules are simple to understand and it only takes about 15 minutes to play, yet its subtle strategy keeps it interesting. Greg May, owner of $35, Barnes & Noble.
The second most-recommended two-player board game for beginners was Santorini. Combining great art with simple play, gamers can learn the basics in less than one minute. As players build domed towers, the board mirrors the beautiful imagery of its namesake island. At the start of each game each player gets assigned a Greek god that grants them a different rule-breaking power, which makes for a very quick and fun game as the gods interact with each other. $27, Amazon
Three experts rated Codenames Duet as one of the best cooperative games, praising the word-deduction game as easy and fun. The rules are relatively straightforward: players make associations between words as they cooperate to identify targets with a limited number of guesses. There are versions of the game specifically geared toward fans of different franchises, including Harry Potter, Marvel, and Disney. $20, Amazon.
Hive is a bit like chess in strategy and movement, with great pieces and no board. The main objective is to use hexagonal tiles that are each adorned with a different bug and have unique rules to surround your opponent’s queen bee. It’s fast to learn and easy to play, but the strategy keeps it complex, whether it’s your first time playing or your hundredth time playing. The game’s resin tiles also make it easy to travel with and you don’t have to worry about cards blowing away or getting spilled on. $24, Amazon
FOR INTERMEDIATE PLAYERS
7 Wonders Duel
This two-player adaption of the popular 7 Wonders board game has players navigate three rounds, gaining buildings to accrue resources, gold, technologies, and military might. It’s hard to understate how well this game packs a traditionally long and complicated gaming experience into just thirty minutes. It has taken the regular 7 Wonders game and turned it into a really enjoyable two-player experience. $25, Walmart
Paris: La Cité de la Lumiere
With vibrant artwork, a chill vibe, and subtle yet serious strategy, Paris: La Cité de la Lumiere will light up your dark nights many times over. In the first half of the game, players take turns building streets in Paris and securing various peculiarly shaped buildings. Then, in the second phase, the objective is to place your buildings as close to the streetlights that illuminate the city as possible. It’s a truly gorgeous two-player game with an affordable price tag. $37, Amazon
This recently released favorite is a gem. At first it “may seem like a simple and straightforward card game, but once you play it, you realize that there’s a lot of depth and interesting strategic choices to it. Two players are tasked with collecting cards of six different colors, but the point value for each color is only determined throughout the game — and these values will likely differ for the two players. There are many nuances, and each round you’ll have to make interesting decisions to secure your preferred colors while also making sure that your opponent doesn’t get the colors that will score them the most points. $30, Amazon
That’s Pretty Clever
The main objective is to earn points by choosing from six different-colored dice for chain-scoring opportunities on your scoreboard. But you must choose wisely: Any dice you don’t pick for yourself that has a smaller value can be stolen by the other players. And if you end up loving the game, you can kick things up a notch with Twice as Clever, which has the same concept but “is slightly more complex. $20, Barnes & Noble
FOR ADVANCED PLAYERS
The Castles of Burgundy
This game is a classic that works well for just two, even though it’s suitable for up to four players. The main objective is for players to create expansive estates, and while he says that its five rounds make gameplay definitely on the more involved end, this is a game that is extensively praised in the board-game community. $41, Amazon
Twilight Struggle, Deluxe Edition
Widely considered one of the best two-player games and one of the best games of all time, Twilight Struggle takes about three hours to play. The game simulates the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War. A perennial favorite among hardcore gamers, it can seem a bit overwhelming at first, but it’s worth the investment because every card is unique and interesting and the game play has a fine-tuned balance and variety of options. $55, Amazon
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
This game invites you to play as the fabled Robinson Crusoe as he and his crew become shipwrecked on a cursed island and must explore, hunt, shelter, and hopefully escape the island before it’s too late. One of the all-time greatest survival board games and, although there are a lot of rules that make it complex, it’s well worth the effort to learn. What you’ll find is a dynamic and tense game that will have you cheering at every lucky card draw and dreading everything else. $52, Amazon
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
This challenging, absorbing, and quietly immersive game that asks players to sift through a box of old newspapers, narrative vignettes, and clues to solve a mystery that puts you and your partner right at the center of the story. It’s best for those with some time on their hands or those who like a challenge, because it’s a slow-paced, cerebral affair of poring over evidence and making deductive leaps. The box contains 10 different mysteries and can even be played solo if your sidekick bales. $44, Amazon