You don't need a big group of friends to have a great time with many of the best board games. There are loads of great board games for just two players. Below, you'll find our picks for the best board games for 2 players — from couples on a date night to a parent spending quality time with their child, and everything in between.
In fact, there are so many games that are enjoyable with two that we couldn’t list them all. Instead, we’ve broken them down into three categories so you can find one to suit your mood: quick, cooperative, and competitive. Many of these games support more players, but play excellently when just two are at the table.
TL;DR The Best 2-Player Board Games
- Schotten Totten
- Paris: La Cité de la Lumière
- Arkham Horror: The Card Game
- Fog of Love
- Spirit Island
- Sleeping Gods
- Race for the Galaxy
- Unmatched: Cobble and Fog
These are easy to set up and play in less than 30 minutes. Perfect for baby nap times or killing a little time with a friend or loved one without taking up all evening.
Radlands came out of the wastelands to huge critical acclaim. Players get a random selection of three camp cards that they must defend with irradiated warrior and event cards from their hands while also attacking the enemy camp. Cards cost water, however, and resources are extremely tight, meaning you have to balance discarding cards to gain short-term bonuses against spending to play them into your battle lines. Taut, thematic and rich with tactics, Radlands is shaping up to be a classic board game.
In theory, Schotten Totten sees you lining up members of a Scottish clan, represented by superb cartoon art, for a factional showdown. In practice, it's more like Poker as you try to collect triplets of colour or number which you assign to one of nine flags. The secret of Schotten Totten is that you're forced to start making plays before you collect complete sets. That makes every card down and every card drawn an agony of anticipation where bluff and timing are everything. It's a fine game but, better still, you can also use the cards to play a related 2-player game, Lost Cities (see it on Amazon).
Trading games tend to work best with multiple players, so you've got a bit of bargaining going on. Jaipur solves this problem with an elegant economic system. As an Indian merchant you want to collect goods like cloth, gold and tea to sell in bulk. But the market is one of diminishing returns. That creates constant tension between hoarding goods and selling early to get the best prices and deny them to your opponent. With other smart, interlocking mechanics, Jaipur is a slippery customer. Whenever you feel like you've mastered it, it reveals new tricks: so it rewards repeat play against the same person.
Paris: La Cité de la Lumière
A lovely theme, illuminating the beauty of turn of the century Paris with newfound electric lights, is thrown atop this clever two-player abstract. First, players have to build the board together out of a series of tiles, trying to put together shapes of their color, or shared purple, that they can use in the second phase. This seems them placing buildings, why they can skip a board tile to collect, as close to as many street lamps as possible to score points. It’s a simple concept, developed to a challenging and engaging perfection.
These co-op board games are challenging and only those who work together can hope to come out victorious. Plus they won’t have you going to bed angry at one another.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game
There are many H.P. Lovecraft based games on the market. And many are co-operative. After all, if you're going to go mad in the face of eldritch extra-dimensional horrors, it's best to do it with a friend. This is the best of them and, as a bonus, it's fairly fast and simple, too. Each player makes a deck for their character from the cards provided. Then you find forgotten secrets and vanquish horrors in scenarios that link together into a narrative campaign. Numerous expansions add not just more card options to add to your deck, but new horrific scenarios to defeat… or go insane trying.
Fog of Love
In co-op games, you don't fight each other. In Fog of Love, you don't fight anything: you're a couple, playing out a romantic relationship. Each player builds a character from a selection of trait, feature and occupation cards. These then inform what they want from, and how they behave in, the scenes of that make up each game. But there's a catch: traits must remain hidden so, like in the real world, the partners can have competing goals. Each play flowers into a complex story which can lead to love or loss or anything between. Their subtlety and realism make up for the lack of well-defined win conditions.
If you've ever sympathized with the underdog, Spirit Island is for you. As ancient spirits, it's your job to help native islanders resist an invasion. But growing powerful enough to head off the colonists is slow going. Building up your spirit's abilities is an addictive draw, but to reach your potential, you must deal with those pesky explorers. You'll need to allocate precious energy and actions each turn to destroying their soldiers and cities. Take too long and their expansion will blight the landscape, causing you to lose. It's a heavy game in both rules and depth but brilliantly blends unusual mechanics with its unusual theme.
If you want a single title you can immerse yourselves in to enjoy weaving your own narrative together, look no further than Sleeping Gods. It’s a behemoth of a game in which you’ll guide the crew of a small boat, lost in a strange and exotic dimension, and trying to get back home. On the one hand, this is a game of survival in which you must marshal crew and resources through dangerous encounters, trying to keep everyone alive. On the other, it’s a game of narrative, with a branching story, clues and puzzles that keep feeding back cleverly into the mechanical strategy of survival. If you do manage to pilot through to the conclusion, additional plays will tell an entirely different tale.
Competition where you go up as the other player goes down can feel mean and unfair. Fortunately lots of board game designs have found ways to let couples compete without the cruelty.
No, no-one sneezed. YINSH is the best of a series of abstract games known (of course!) as the GIPF project. No, I don't know, either. Ignore the names and get stuck into this fascinating challenge instead. Players go head-to-head on a hexagonal board, moving rings which leave markers behind. To win you need to make chains of your own colour, but moving rings alternate between black and white. So you need to plan patterns ahead to get those connections. With several rings in play, YINSH weaves worrying webs in your head, but when you complete a chain you lose a ring. This elegant twist makes strategy easier but winning harder and ensures timing is part of the tactics.
Race for the Galaxy
The icons in this game start out looking like an alien language, but Race for the Galaxy is fast and engaging. It's all about building an intergalactic empire from the planets, aliens and technologies in your hand. The hook is that you aren’t always in control over what cards you can play, as the players select what game phases get executed each turn. This makes everything into a tricky balancing act, with a thousand things to do funneling down into your limited actions. Pick the right priorities and construct the right card combos and your reward isn't just a win. It's a real sense of a space-born society growing and flourishing.
Unmatched: Cobble and Fog
If you fancy a bit of no-holds-barred, head to head fighting action, you won’t do any better than the Unmatched series. Each box has a set of unique characters with their own special power and deck of cards with which to attack, defend and pull off special moves. Play is all about combining tactical movement on a cramped board with managing your hand to build up powerful chains of cards. Despite the variety, the core rules are simple and can be learned in minutes. Cobble and Fog is the best set so far, with four characters from gothic literature to enjoy, but all the boxes can be combined with each other for even more options. See our Unmatched: Cobble and Fog review for more info.
There’s a whole genre of games in which card play replicates key real-life events in order to explore alternative histories. Most are long and complex, but Watergate puts their tension and detail into the reach of any gamer. One player represents Nixon, the other the Washington Post, as each plays cards trying to connect or block connections on a web of evidence and witnesses linking the President to the famous scandal. Multi-use cards and a see-saw of supporting mechanics ensure plenty of depth and replay value alongside the excitement of trying to weave the web together.
Matt Thrower is a contributing freelance board game and video game writer for IGN. (Board, video, all sorts of games!)