The Absolute Best 2 Player Board Games
Sometimes all the pain and work that goes into scheduling a board game night, where you can whip out an epic 7 player game of Diplomacy or even tackle a full game of Captain Sonar, is a bit too much. Sometimes, you just want to relax with a friend (or significant other), and play a great game without having to worry about ordering food and cleaning up after 5 other human beings with questionable hygiene choices. So we have compiled a list of the absolute best 2 player board games. We’ve included a wide variety of complexity, theme, and difficulty, so whether you are a beginner in the world of board games, or someone who has been playing since they were in diapers, there should be something on this list for you. If you feel we omitted an important game from our list of the best 2 player board games, let us know, and we’ll CONSIDER adding it. Not that we’re ever wrong.
No list of the best 2 player board games would be complete without the long running champion, the former #1 rated game on Board Game Geek, and in our opinion, the absolute best strategy board game out there. In Twilight Struggle, players take sides in an epic struggle that recreates the Cold War. The goal of the game is to spread your ideological influence across the globe, while avoiding thermonuclear war. If that sounds dry (and we understand why you might feel that way), believe us when we say, this is flat out one of the best games ever made.
The depth of strategy in this game cannot be overstated. And while the rules are complicated, they are not difficult to learn, and can be taught relatively quickly. But to truly master the game requires many, many plays (if it is even possible). And that is one of the most truly rewarding aspects of this game. The more you play it, the more you want to play it, as the game slowly unfolds, and you understand how to best gain control of the map, and mitigate the bad cards in your hand.
Speaking of, one of our favorite aspects of Twilight Struggle, is how each player is forced to deal with bad decisions. Much like the cold war, it is not always about making the best decision, but sometimes about making the least bad decision, and how to mitigate the damage done by another players card. This game is an absolute stunner, and one that any serious gamer must have in their collection.
As children of the 80’s, we all grew up with a deep seeded sense of shame about our gaming habits. We are now in nerd-mecca (or nerd-vana if you prefer), and for many younger gamers, the idea of being ashamed of your passion for Dungeons and Dragons or A Line in the Sand may be a foreign concept, but for some of us, the shame is real, and deeply ingrained. But we hold out hope that even the least experience board gamer can learn to love the hobby as much as we do, given the right gateway game.
Which brings us to Dominion, one of the best 2 player board games on the market. If you have a spouse who has never played a “real” board game, and sarcastically cracks a Candyland joke anytime you bring it up, then this is the game that will convert them. Dominion is a fast paced, easy to learn deck building game that can be taught quickly, and is a really fun game that doesn’t require a massive time commitment or excessive brain power to play well.
But don’t let that description deceive you, Dominion is also a lot of fun, and is extremely customize-able (each game, you select 10 card types to play with, and the basic game comes with 24 different types) and with 11 expansions, the possible combinations are nearly endless. That translates into a different game experience each time, but one that is easy to grasp, even for first time players. If you’re looking for a gateway drug for your spouse or friend who scoffs at board games, then Dominion is it.
7 Wonders: Duel
In 7 Wonders: Duel, one of the best 2 player board games out there, each player seeks to develop resources, as well as advance their military and scientific development so that their civilization can flourish, and be the first to build their ancient wonders. If the name sounds familiar, it is because there is a popular version of this game (simply called 7 Wonders). Duel is a stripped down, streamlined version of that game, and in many ways, it is superior.
Similar to Dominion, this is a quick game, one that is easy to learn and can be taught in a short time to relatively inexperience gamers. Players draft cards from those available on the table, and use resources to build different types of structures and buildings within their civilization. They in turn grant addition resources, victory points, or other benefits. At the end of the game (barring a military victory) the player with the most points wins.
In our opinion, this is one of those rare moments where the remake is superior to the original. There is a deceiving depth of strategy to this game, given the simplicity of the rules, and it will make a fine addition to any board game collection, in particular if you are looking for something more light hearted and breezy.
In Jaipur, you are one of the two most powerful and wealthy traders in the capital city of Rajasthan. But for all your prestige and oppulence, you are still unsatisfied. Only the merchant with two Seals of Excellence will gain glory and admiration, and will be invited to the Maharaja’s court. So you must buy, sell, and trade more efficiently, and amass more wealth than your opponent, all while keeping a close eye on your herd of camels.
Jaipur is a fast paced card game, where the cards fly fast and furious. It is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging and enjoyable 2 player games board games around. However, the challenge of this game doesn’t come from a set of complex rules or a plethora of options and actions that can be taken. Instead, it comes from the well designed rules. The game is incredibly well balanced, and both players have to weigh each choice, while tracking what options they may be giving up to their opponent.
The game has a decent dose of luck, so if you like a bit of fate being sprinkled on your games, then this is a good option for you. Each game takes around an hour, so it isn’t a heavy time commitment, but is a bit more involved than some of the other games on this list. So give the game a shot, you may end up falling in love with it.
The Castles of Burgundy
While the Castles of Burgundy was initially designed for up to 4 players, it really shines as a 2 player board game. The game is set in Medieval France, where each player takes on the role of an aristocrat ruling over a a small princedom. During the game, players build powerful castles and settlements, trade along the river, mine silver, and learn knowledge from travelers.
build settlements and powerful castles, practice trade along the river, exploit silver mines, and use the knowledge of travelers. As you expand your holdings, more complicated strategic decisions await you, until finally, the player with the most victory points wins. The game is relatively simple, and takes around 20-30 minutes to teach/learn.
The complexity of the game doesn’t come from the rules, but comes from the gameplay itself, which is always great. After a few rounds, the flow of the game sinks in, and you realize there is a lot going on, and each decision can drastically alter the outcome. There are multiple paths to victory, so there are always new ways to play the game, and new ways to defeat your opponent. This is a fine additional to any collection, and one of the best 2 player board games out there.
Fields of Arle
Fields of Arle is a fantastic worker placement game that takes place in East Frisia where players expand their holdings and develop their estate by building dikes and cutting peat. The game covers nine and a half years, alternating between summer and winter seasons, where players trade, develop resources, and expand their territory.
If that all sounds super boring (what, you can honestly say you’ve never fantasized about cutting peat?) then we can assure you, this is an incredibly fun game. It wouldn’t be on our list if it wasn’t. This game offers a lot of freedom to the players. You have a lot of choices on actions, and while that may be daunting on your first play through, it actually opens up the game quite a bit, making it an incredibly enjoyable play, and a game you can play over and over again, drastically altering your strategy.
The gameplay here is quick though, so you won’t feel like you are sitting around accomplishing nothing. The designer of this game, Uwe Rosenberg, has several games in the top 100 on Board Game Geek, and with good reason (another of his games, Agricola, is on this very list). The man knows how to design a game. If you’re looking for one of the best 2 player board games out there, the Fields of Arle is a great choice.
The second game on our list of the 2 player board games from esteemed game designer Uwe Rosenberg, Agricola is a modern classic. In Agricola, you play a farmer and his wife. Each turn you can take two actions, one with each member of your farm. The hitch, each action can only be taken once each turn, so you’d better make sure you jump on an action you need before your opponent uses it. You collect resources (clay, wood, or stone) build fences, or take other actions to build your farm. You may consider having children to expand your workforce, although you’ll need a place for them to sleep in your house, and food to feed all those hungry new mouths.
The game may sound simple, but it becomes much more complex once you factor in two types of cards, Minor Improvements and Occupations. The gameplay is elegant, and the rules are very streamlined, which makes for a natural, great gaming experience. New players can pick the game up relatively quickly, and it is an extremely rich experience.
The theme is beautifully realized, and we can’t stress enough how great this game is, and why it’s on our list of the best 2 player board games of all time. It is a wonderful game, one that serves as a great second step into the world of more advanced board gaming. If you know someone who has played and loved Settlers of Catan, or Dominion, this makes a great step deeper into the more complex world of gaming, and may just be the best worker placement game out there (we like Ora Et Labora slightly more, but at that point we’re just parsing details, they’re both excellent games).
Many of the games on our list of the best 2 player board games are in depth, challenging, and require deep thinking. But what if you want a fast game? One that requires almost no setup, that is easy to understand, but difficult to master. What if you want a great palatte cleanser between more difficult or long games? Well, then Hive is perfect for you. It is a very easy to understand game. But don’t let the simple rules fool you, this is a highly addictive game, one that will have you returning time and time again. Similar to dominoes, the game plays out on a table, and begins with a single piece being played. The object of the game is to completely surround the opposing player’s queen with your insects, while preventing them from doing the same to your queen. The average game takes about 20 minutes. Pretty straightforward, but so much fun!
Two of the best parts about this game are, it is super portable. You can take this game anywhere, and play it when you have some time to kill. I’ve seen people playing it at restaurants while they wait for their food, at the beach (yes really), and at cafes. All you need is the travel bag that comes with the game, filled with the pieces (which are sturdy and tough), and you’re set.
The other, the game is great for kids. It’s easy enough to learn that even your youngsters can pick it up easily, and can participate with your board game nights. And it’ll give them a taste of a game that is more fun, and more complex than most board games geared towards kids. At the low price, easy point of entry, and complete fun, this game is a no brainer for our list of best 2 player board games, and should be a quick addition to any collection.
War of the Ring
We’ve covered this game a couple of times on this site, including an in-depth review of what we love about this game. Maybe it’s our continued obsession with all things Tolkien, or maybe it’s just that this is a remarkable game. But either way, we cannot recommend it enough. This is, hands down, one of the best board games ever made, not to mention one of the best 2 player board games around.
In War of the Ring, players take sides during the titular war, as it played out in the Lord of the Rings books. One player controls the free peoples of middle earth, the other controls the forces of Sauron. The game plays incredibly well, there are two paths to victory, one through military conquest, the other through either the destruction, or recovery of the one ring. The balance between these two paths to victory creates an amazing experience, one where you are constantly trying to shore up your defenses, while trying to desperately to win using the ring mechanic.
The game is completely fun, gorgeously made (some of the best minis on the market), and has a wonderful balance between the tactical and strategic. It is a long game, and the rules can be a bit daunting, but the rulebook is very clearly laid out, and the effort required to learn the game is well worth it. It is a richly rewarding war game. If you enjoyed playing Risk as a kid, then this is the perfect game for you, and one of the best 2 player board games on the market.
Now bear with us on this one. We realize this game looks incredibly boring and dorky. How could a game where you are struggling with your opponent to make the biggest and best quilt make the list of the best 2 player board games? Yes, this game may not have the best, most appealing theme (there are very few zombies in the quilting world), but don’t be fooled, this is a really great game. There is an economic knife fight raging underneath this particular quilt. It’s quick, easy to teach, but has depth to the gameplay, and is loads of fun. Alongside Dominion, this is one of the best games to lure non-gamers into the hobby on this list (we’re looking at you, sarcastic wives of the world).
The game is incredibly intuitive, and a whole lot of fun to play. Each turn you have exactly four choices, and those choices will in turn effect the options available to your opponent. Your decisions are intertwined with the decisions of your opponent in a natural, and really fun way. That interconnection makes your decision much more complicated than simply chosing one of four actions. You have to try and anticipate what your opponent is planning, and try to thwart their strategy while continuing to work on your quilt.
Patchwork plays great, both for experienced board gamers like us, as well as newcomers. It is not difficult to learn, and plays quickly for those who have shorter attention spans, all while providing a fun, intense gaming experience. It challenges its players to manage their resources, and make clever decisions while sparring with their opponent. All over something as silly as quilt making. You’ll definitely be eyeing your grandmother’s quilting group differently after a few plays. That old lady might slip a knife in your back if your quilt shows hers up.