Even in our screen-obsessed times, board games are a great way to get to know your friends or family without gluing your eyes to a phone, computer, or TV. Many board games require groups of people to play, but there are a lot that don’t, so we asked five gaming experts to recommend the best two-player games for couples or roommates to play together. “In the realm of two-player board games, there is something for every taste,” according to Taryn Gregory, Inventory Lead at Guardian Games. Read on for their picks, which will appeal to everyone from beginners looking for a lighthearted fantasy caper to advanced players looking for a vexing strategy game.
Best two-player games for beginners
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. Greg May, owner of The Uncommons and Hex & Company, calls it “the perfect game for couples” that is sure to delight “fans of Blokus or Tetris.” Scott Cooper, owner of Blue Highway Games, says Patchwork is his retailer’s best-selling two-person game because, although the rules are simple to understand and it only takes about 15 minutes to play, the “subtle strategy keeps it interesting.” May agrees: “Games are usually quite close, and there are just enough layers to keep you coming back without dragging things out.”
Codenames: Duet - The Two Player Word Deduction Game
“Codenames: Duet takes one of the best recent party games and tweaks it a bit to make it an excellent cooperative game,” says May. Three other experts also highly praised 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,” explains Cooper. Plus, both May and Lauren Bilanko, co-owner of Twenty Sided Store, note that there are versions of the game specifically geared toward fans of different franchises, including Harry Potter, Marvel, and Disney.
Hive: A Game Crawling With Possibilities
Both Gregory and Bilanko recommend Hive, which Gregory describes as “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. According to Bilanko, “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: “It’s portable, so it’s great to take to the beach or on a train or to a bar, because you don’t have to worry about cards blowing away or getting spilled on,” says Bilanko.
To play Morels, gamers forage for mushrooms that they then either sell for money or cook for points. Cooper calls it a “30 minute, light strategy game from an independent game designer.” It’s designed for players aged 10 and up, so it’s also great for kids.
Best intermediate two-player games
The Fox in the Forest
“The Fox in the Forest is a fun, medium strategy game with really lovely art, making it a game to enjoy while relaxing,” according to Gregory. The card game’s general objective is to score more points than your opponent by winning more tricks. Cards feature various characters, and players use them to change the trump suit and take the lead, according to Daniel Kilbert, owner of The Compleat Strategist. It’s ideal for players who prefer a a bit of fantasy in their gaming.
Bilanko describes Tiny Towns as a “resource management game,” in which players attempt to construct their own towns using the cards and pieces available on the board. Tiny Towns is designed for two to six players, so couples or roommates can play by themselves, or whip it out when hosting a larger game night. “It’s really versatile and it scales really well,” Bilanko says.
[Editor’s Note: Tiny Towns is currently available for pre-order.]
Bilanko also loves Haven, because it “really immerses you in the story.” The intense battle-strategy game pits players one on one, challenging them to either attack or protect woodland creatures that live in a fantastical forest. “The artwork is phenomenal and it has a good level of complexity,” she says.
Caper combines elements of a drafting card game (players start with a handful of cards and then take more to build a stronger hand) with a whodunnit-style murder mystery along the lines of Clue. But unlike Clue, which is best played with a group, this is perfect for a pair, says Bilanko. “Usually you see mechanics like this in games where you have to have three or more players, because of the intrigue level.” The game allows players to hire and equip a crew of thieves, who then attempt to plunder famous sites across Europe. It’s wacky, colorful, fun, according to Bilanko, who adds “the artwork is amazing to look at.”
Best advanced two-player game
According to May, Twilight Struggle is “widely considered the best two-player game — and one of the best games of all time.” The historical game takes about three hours to play, and simulates the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War. Gregory calls it a “perennial favorite among hardcore gamers” that is “very strategy heavy.” It can seem a bit overwhelming at first, but he says 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.” (Gregory especially recommends it for anyone who likes to play Risk.)
Slate has relationships with various online retailers. If you buy something through our links, Slate may earn an affiliate commission. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change. All prices were up to date at the time of publication.