Board games for two players aren’t just for when you don’t have enough people to play.
They’re some of the best and most fun board games out there. Also, most board games for two people can be changed to fit a bigger group if needed.
To get things going, we’ve put together a list of what we think are the most important 2-player board games.
These ideas are great for everything from a date night to a friendly competition with friends. Since many of them can fit in a backpack, they’re also some of the best board games to take on vacation.
Want to know how these suggestions were picked?
The team has played each game on this list, so this list is based on real-world experience.
In other words, we’ll never recommend something that we wouldn’t buy ourselves.
Klask was made by a Danish carpenter named Mikkel Bertelsen when he woke up drunk one morning. It’s the perfect game for two people to play over a couple of cold ones with friends.
Klask, which comes from the Danish word for “smack!” and is a head-to-head game played on a small wooden pitch, is a modern version of pub games like air hockey and table football that adds magnets to the mix.
Each person uses a pusher like in air hockey to move a ball around the pitch. Instead of moving the plastic pieces with their hands, though, they use a strong magnet from underneath the board.
This magnet makes it harder to get the upper hand on your opponent because players have to stop the ball from going into their goal, which is a circle hole in the board, while also keeping their own magnetic piece from getting stuck in the hole and making the game’s signature “Smack!” sound.
Bananagrams is a brilliant idea, even if you don’t think it’s a word game. It’s easy to carry, and you can play it with almost anyone, anywhere.
The idea isn’t hard to understand: each person gets about 20 single-letter tiles, which they have to use to make a crossword.
When you’re done (which is harder than it sounds, especially if you get a lot of “q”), you have to take another one that is added to the same puzzle.
The catch is that your opponent also has to take a new tile, even if they haven’t finished their own pile yet.
This causes pressure to build up as the number of tiles you don’t need grows.
And because your goal is to be the first person who uses all those spare tiles in the game, it’s a race against time to build a crossword that actually makes sense (this is also a case in point for why Bananagrams is better as a 2-player board game – it’s less manic). This must-have is fast-paced, intellectual, and tense.
10. Twilight Struggle
Twilight Struggle is a two-player board game that has become a modern standard. Everyone should play it at least once.
The historical board game takes place during the Cold War, and the two players are in charge of the United States and the Soviet Union.
They fight a cold battle of influence, diplomacy, and indirect war all over the world.
At the heart of the game are cards that each player must play to increase their control and impact in countries all over the world.
Based on real-life events like the Arab-Israeli War, the Space Race, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, these cards show how the US and USSR’s presence in each area is affected by their actions and those of their opponent.
The game is based on the decades from the end of World War II to the “official” end of the Cold War in 1989. As the years go by, players get access to more events and cards.
Twilight Struggle has a lot of complexity at its core, which is what you’d expect from a simulation of one of the world’s most difficult political times. But the fact that you just play a card and do what it says makes it a lot easier to learn than you might think.
Most of the game’s complexity comes from the choices and methods players can use. The two players have to push their nation’s ideology and control while limiting their opponent’s impact and keeping a full-scale nuclear war from happening.
Even though it has been around for almost 20 years, Twilight Struggle is still one of the best two-player board games you can play.
It is a head-to-head reenactment of events that is both tense and strategic. It is also surprisingly easy to play. There’s a reason why it’s a modern classic.
9. Disney Villainous
What will happen if bad people win?
With Disney Villainous, you can find out. It lets players mess around in a Disney-themed toybox and is all about giving famous bad guys a happy ending… and screwing over anyone who tries to stop you.
Importantly, it’s better to play it as a head-to-head board game for two people than as a group battle. In all the years we’ve been playing Villainous, we’ve found that playing with just one other person makes the experience more focused and fun.
Don’t be fooled by the family-friendly theme, either. Villainous’s beautiful artwork hides layers of strategy. You see, each character’s goal and play style are based on the movie it comes from, so they all act differently.
When you take it on as a pair, you can learn the ins and outs without getting caught up in the chaos of a bigger fight.
And don’t get the wrong idea: “chaos” is the right word. This isn’t just a name; if you want to win, you’ll need to think like that. Throwing a wrench into another player’s plans is the fastest way to win, and the same is true of the (also good) Disney Villainous additions.
So, we’re left with what could be one of the best board games ever made for two people. In our review, we said that the game has “enough depth and spice to keep you playing for months.”
Jaipur is a great example of a good board game for two people. Even though it’s easy to learn, it has a secret depth that lets you try out different strategies as you go. It’s also delightfully tasty.
Putting you in the role of a seller from the Indian city of Jaipur, you have to become the best businessperson in the area to get an invitation to the maharajah’s court.
But how you get there is up to you. Players can try out different ways to get there, and there are no wrong options.
Should you buy and sell cheap items quickly, or is it better to go after expensive items that give you a bigger payout in the end?
Keep track of your opponent no matter what you do. If you sell an item quickly, you’ll get more points. That means your opponent could get ahead of you if you don’t sell your goods quickly enough.
What comes next is an interesting balancing act, which is why Jaipur is one of the best card games. In fact, we always go there when we’re on vacation.
7. 7 Wonders Duel
Many people think that the first 7 Wonders is one of the best board games ever made. 7 Wonders has the epic theme of leading a civilization through the ages, but it can be played in well under an hour.
It found the perfect balance between the deep strategy of developing your technology, culture, science, and other things, and the ease of only having to pick one card and do what it says each turn.
7 Marvels Duel takes 7 Wonders and makes it even simpler, so that only two people can play it. Even though 7 Wonders has rules for two players, they aren’t the best way to play with just two people.
In 7 Wonders Duel, instead of moving cards around the table, the two players choose cards from the middle of the table.
They have to choose from cards that have already been shown. As the players collect valuable resources, they can even build wonders, like those Wonders, that help their civilization grow.
6. Splendor Duel
This smaller, more focused version of Splendor fits in the Goldilocks zone for two-player board games. It’s easy to learn and has a lot of strategy. That is an unusual mix.
At first glance, Splendor Duel is a game about making gems. In practice, though, you have to be faster and smarter than your opponent.
This is a test of how well you can use your money. To win the most expensive gems, you have to buy them faster and smarter than your opponent.
Also, you have to think about how to keep your opponent from getting resources. When to act is also like walking a wire.
When you think about how close the matches are and how there’s always a sense of trying to beat the other person, this really does feel like a grudge match for the ages.
In fact, it’s done so well that it might even be better than the first Splendor.
5. Jurassic World: The Legacy of Isla Nublar
When something unexpected happens, and you have to fly by the seat of your pants, board games are at their best.
Think about The Legacy of Isla Nublar. During one game, we played as John Hammond, the founder of an old people’s park.
When we were caught sorting our merchandise stock, we had to fight off a T-Rex with only a cattle prod. It’s one of the most remembered 2-player board games on this list because of silly, unexpected things like this.
Even though you’ll be working through events from the movie series, the real fun starts with all of the tasks that take place in the gaps.
That’s because you’ll put your own mark on Jurassic Park (and then Jurassic World) and leave a completely unique board.
When you add in the fact that you have to work as a team to keep those roaming dinosaurs in check, it’s a fun mix of the best parts of Pandemic and Horrified.
Yes, it uses ideas from Legacy games we’ve seen before. There are hidden features and permanent character upgrades that depend on the path you take.
But because there are so many minigames spread out throughout the mission, it has its own unique feel.
You’re also making a board for a game mode that can be played over and over again. Most of their competitors don’t have that, and few joint board games can beat it.
4. Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion
If you grew up like we did, drawing maps of magical worlds and making up stories about swords and sorcery, this two-player board game will remind you of those times.
With a big world and heroes you can customize through upgrades, it feels like an adventure right from the start.
It also responds to what you choose. The kingdom will react to the choices you make because the game has different paths.
This is kept track of by stickers on a map that changes as you travel. Along the way, secret features (like new characters) are unlocked.
When you add a combat system based on cards and tactics instead of the luck of dice, this game gives you a sense of control that is only matched by the best tabletop RPGs.
And yes, up to four people can play at once. But if you do it as a pair, you can take more ownership of the story and it’s easier to find a time that works for both of you for the next session.
This two-player board game has an oddly calming effect. It’s a relaxing way to pass the time by putting together tiles like in Tetris.
It’s great for a date night or a lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s also not too intense, so there won’t be too many fights.
Your goal is easy: make a quilt before the timer goes off. This is a little easier to do in Patchwork than it would be in real life.
Players use buttons to buy spots to put on their board, and in exchange, they get buttons. Then, they can buy more patches, which will give them even more buttons.
At the end, the winner is the person who has the most buttons.
But there’s a catch: some patches cost more, and each one moves the timer a certain number of places. This means that spending a lot of money on a profitable tile now could limit what you can do in the future.
Also, if you leave places on your quilt unfilled, you’ll lose points. It’s an interesting push-and-pull that pulls you in quickly, and once you get a taste for its smart but simple gameplay, you won’t want to put it down.
2. Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective is 40 years old, but it still belongs on any list of board games for two people.
It’s one of the best board games for adults who like to think of themselves as armchair detectives because it’s interesting, engaging, and hard enough that winning will make you feel like a damn genius.
As a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, a group that tells Holmes what’s going on in London, you’ll work your way through many original cases, from a mummy’s curse to a murder on the Thames. Your goal is to figure out what happened before the great detective does.
As you might expect, this is pretty hard, and having a tight time limit doesn’t make it any easier. But you won’t mind, because each copy of the game comes with a set of props, hints, and case files that make the game very realistic. In fact, they have a vibe that you probably won’t find anywhere else.
Playing together only adds to that feeling; it’s the best way to avoid a “too many cooks” situation where everyone is trying to be heard.
1. Lost Cities
Lost Cities is considered a classic and one of the best games ever made by famous game designer Reiner Knizia. In Lost Cities, both players are rival archaeologists who plan and go on trips at the same time.
This makes the stakes much higher. With successful exploration as their goal, each archaeologist’s reputation and possibly even job are on the line.
These trips are shown by sets of numbered cards that players must lay out in numerical order. But players don’t have to play cards in order.
They can just put cards with higher numbers on top of cards with lower numbers. But the more cards that are put on an adventure, the better it is, because it will give players more points at the end of the game.
If you start a journey, you’ll get points for all of your columns, no matter how many cards you’ve put there. Taking a whole team around the world costs a lot of money, which is why every mission you start starts with a score of -20 points.
This means that a person must put down cards with a total value of at least 20 or they will lose points. Also, adding special handshake cards to an expedition will increase its total score, which is true for both plus and minus scores.
This means that you’ll need to make sure you can lay down enough cards on a journey to avoid getting minus points.
This is why Lost Cities is such an exciting and powerful book. Players use the same deck of cards, so they both take cards from the same stack.
You’ll spend most of the game hoping that you’ll get the cards you need to get past that minus-20 total. If you don’t, you’ll quickly regret your choices as your expeditions drain your points.
Lost Cities is a game with a lot of danger and a lot of reward.