Best Two Player Board Games 2017 (with Reviews)

Two player games are a diamond in the rough, and finding the best 2 player board games can be difficult. Many games have a tailored, two player variant that often involves a "ghost" player the other two play for, or involve each player taking more than one turn.

Some variants work well and some fall flat. Other games are strictly two player, never meaning to expand beyond that, but these can suffer the same fate. Finding a solid two player game can be a difficult task. Games should have the same elements you love about multiplayer games: replayability, different pathways to win, durability, theme and execution, and fun. Below are some of our favorites, both of two player board game variant and two player-only, that you'll want to give a try and potentially add to your collection. 

Two Player Games Comparison Table

(Click the Thumbnail to Jump to the Review)

Image

Game 

Players

Time

Price

Our Rating

2

30 mins

$$

2-5

30-45 minutes

$$$

2-5

30 minutes

$$$

1-4

60 minutes

$$$

2

20 minutes

$$$

2

45 minutes

$$$

2

30 minutes

$$$$$

2-5

45 minutes

$$

2

15 minutes

$$

2

20 minutes

$

Top Ten Two Player Board Games Reviews

Our Rating:

Hexagamers

The full 7 Wonders game has a two player variant, but we find the ghost player becomes a dumping ground for hate drafting. There seems to be a set strategy to win the two player variant, and Whitney and Wes played it so much they started using a 45-second timer per hand to add an additional challenge. Enter 7 Wonders Duel.

Similar in style but different in execution, 7 Wonders Duel is a drafting/building game where players aim for victory in either scientific knowledge, war domination or highest point count. Duel is played over three rounds, but instead of exchanging hands, players choose from the deck layout (minus three to randomize selection). Cards are laid out in slightly different pyramid formations for each round, with some cards face up and some face down.

Cards are blocked, so you can only choose from exposed cards, and if you unblock a card, you immediately flip it over, giving your opponent a new card to consider. Additionally, instead of one wonder, players get four a piece (and get a hand in choosing!), but only seven can be built throughout the entire game. Wonders can offer huge advantages, including stealing the other player's resources, immediately taking another turn, coins and more. 

Like its mother, Duel is intensely strategic. ​Every decision is important, especially with the additions of science and war victories. If either player drafts seven unique science cards, they immediately win. Likewise, if either player gets 10 war points, tracked on a nearby board, they immediately win. AND, if either player gets two science cards with a matching symbol, they get to choose one of five face up progress tokens which can grant them a significant advantage.

There's a lot going on and a lot to keep at the forefront of your mind, so if you don't want a thinking game or you dislike strategy, Duel probably isn't for you. For us, though, Duel embodies a near-perfect two player game. It is beautifully designed; executes its theme flawlessly; engages both players in an interactive, competitive and fun game; provides options for winning and strategy; has high replay-ability; and it won't break the bank to buy. When you need a further challenge, you can buy Pantheon, the expansion, and open up an entirely different and important strategy to play. With all it offers, 7 Wonders Duel ranks #1 on our top two player board games to play.

Our Rating:

Hexagamers

Carcassonne is fairly simple (unless you're Whitney), in fact it made our list of Top Board Games for Beginners, and can involve up to eight players with expansion, but is still an engaging, fun and challenging game with two.  

As a tile flipping game, it's harder to plan strategy in advance, both a pro and a con. Players can fall victim to crappy tile flipping, but if a tile can't be laid, it is discarded, and once you build up a map, you have more choice of where you can place tiles and Meeples. Carcassonne begins with the start tile, and the youngest player starts by flipping a tile from the shuffled, face-down stack then placing it adjacent to another tile and deciding whether s/he wants to claim the tile with a meeple.

There are fields, roads, cities and cloisters, and every tile laid must have a matching edge to the tile it's placed next to, much like a jigsaw puzzle. A unique element of Carcassonne (and similar to Ticket to Ride) is that scoring is tallied as the game progresses. Players can place meeples on a tile only when it's flipped to lay claim to different spaces, as no two meeples can occupy one space. Different places are worth different values, but you only have eight meeples and you only get them back once your place (city, road or cloister--but never a field) is complete. It demands a balancing act of risk and commitment. You need to continually assess your next move and how to complete your current places while looking for other opportunities to score, and block your opponents from completing their places. 

There is more luck in this game than in 7 Wonders Duel, and it's less of a brain squeezer, but still equally challenging and engaging. It's easier to track what your opponents are doing as everything is laid out in front of you, and there are no secrets. Carcassonne is a rare game in that it's as fun with two people as it is with six (and sometimes, more fun, as less players makes a quicker game). Its replayability is high, and it's a good game to test different strategies with​. While the game is a bit pricier, the tiles are beautiful and high quality, meaning it will withstand a lot of gameplay. For all these reasons and more, Carcassonne makes it on as one of the best two player board games and is one to add to your library.

Our Rating:

Hexagamers

Somewhere between a deck building and card drafting game, but with tokens, Splendor pits players against each other in a race to achieve 15 points. Players take turns collecting up to three tokens per turn (to a max of 10 in your hand), or exchanging tokens for gem cards. The more gem cards you have, the cheaper they become to purchase, making the expensive and high point cards more affordable. The addition of bonus tiles both players are fighting to claim first adds an additional challenge.

Splendor plays up with up to five, but the game adapts to the number of players, meaning it's equally as challenging with two as it is with five--sometimes, moreso, as less cards are flipped and your strategy is more obvious. This is a difficult game to play without strategy. While there's luck involved in flipping cards that are available for purchase, you need strategy the whole game through to give yourself options of what to buy and how to achieve the bonuses and higher value gem cards. 

As it uses only cards and tokens, Splendor is an easy and quick setup that can be played anywhere you go. It's easy to learn and quick to play, too, so you could easily get through a couple of games when you have some time to kill. We really enjoy this game for a duo or a couple. Even if you end up with the same or similar bonus tiles, the layout of cards to purchase is completely random, making replayability high. Ghost players can be a buzzkill in two player games, so the fact that Splendor requires only two people without losing any of the elements that make it fun make it a top contender on our list of great two player games.

Our Rating:

Hexagamers

Pandemic is played as a cooperative game (it's actually one of the Top Cooperative Board Games) where players team up and fight the game instead of each other. (We managed to convert ultra-competitive Whitney into a co-op game lover, and we're confident you'll find at least one you love, too, if Pandemic isn't it!) It may sound simplistic and boring, but it's anything but--and competitive players will find there's no shortage of competition in this game.

Four virus strains are slowly spreading, and it's up to you and your team to eradicate them before the viruses take over the world. Each player gets a role with its own unique ability, and each player has four actions to use on every turn. While you may think you can go off and make your own decisions, remember that if one of three outcomes occur, you both lose. Strategy is of the utmost importance in Pandemic. It takes a lot of work to stop a strain from spreading, so you need to collaborate with your teammate to decide which pathways will give you the best chance to do so.

Because Pandemic is you vs. the board, you don't need a ghost player to help you along -- a win in our books. (You can even play this game solo if the mood strikes.) It's also fairly easy to learn, and while there are a fair number of steps to take during each turn, it's easy to keep track of what you've done or have yet to do with the quick-reference cards and game trackers on the board. 

This generally isn't a quick game, so if you don't have an hour to dedicate, don't start Pandemic unless you can tuck it safely away. Pandemic also offers several expansions and difficulty levels, so it evolves with your skill level--a huge win for us, as the game is always fresh and interesting. Replayability is high, the graphics are great and even when you lose, you'll find you want to play again or even retrace your steps to see where you went wrong, some of the reasons Pandemic makes it to the top five of our favourite two player games.

5. Hive

Our Rating:

Hexagamers

Hive is a tile laying game, a bit like Dominoes, except without drawing and matching. Designed for two players only, each player takes a stack of 11 tiles in black or white and uses the tiles with the aim of surrounding their opponent's queen bee.

The first to do so wins--unless each queen is surrounded by the last tile placed, and then the game is a draw. Each tile has an insect design inlaid, totaling one bee, two spiders, two beetles, three grasshoppers and three ants. In the original version, each insect type is a different color, making them easy to spot and reference. (In the carbon version, insects are black and white, something we like a little less.) Other insect expansions are available--mosquito, ladybug and pillbug. Insects all move in different ways, giving players different strategies for success, and not all insects have to be used. 

The game starts with each player laying down one tile of any insect so their edges touch. The bee must be introduced by turn four, but otherwise, there's no rule to when and what insect enters the game. Insects have to touch an adjoining tile on every move in a sliding motion, and on their introduction, they can't touch the other player's tile (but they can any move thereafter). Hive is easy to learn and easy to play, as soon as you remember the way insects move. Rules are simple and straightforward, and the concept is fun and unique. We love that you don't need a board or a set playing surface. Anywhere that's flat and gives you room, you can play. The tiles make their own "board," and that makes this game perfect for travel. 

Our only minor complaints are the cost is a little high for a small tile game, and the fact that these are bugs. (Ick...)  Hive is quick so you can play several games in a row, and because of the variations in insect movements and expansions, there is a lot of room for strategy experimentation. It's definitely a strategy-driven game, and you need to consider your moves and their risks, somewhat like chess. Hive is way more enjoyable than chess, though, and with its high replayability factor, high-quality game pieces and easy-to-learn concept, Hive rounds out the top five of our best two player games.

Our Rating:

Hexagamers

Akrotiri is a more traditional board game designed for two players only, so comes with the benefit of no ghost player or rule modifications. It strikes us as a mix between Puerto Rico and Settlers of Catan. Players become explorers of Ancient Greece, uncovering land each turn, finding and shipping resources back to Thera, earning money, achieving goals and excavating temples. 

On every turn, players connect a land tile adjacent to an existing land tile and immediately lay two different resources on that tile. (These resources can be shipped via your boat back to Thera to sell for money, a necessity for excavation and purchases later in the game.) Players can then move their boat, load their boat, excavate temples, buy goals or maps, or consult the oracle with their action points. Action points fluctuate depending on excavations. Goals are all unique cards and grant you points for different achievements, like excavating temples on islands with mountains. Maps show different setups for temples and resources that will grant points, but also cost the player drachma. Did you get all that? Right. There's a lot going on in Akrotiri so it takes a few plays to get the rhythm.

Akrotiri ends when a player excavates his/her sixth temple (and if this player isn't the start player, the opponent gets a last turn, too). Whoever has the most points, wins. While we'd recommend the absolute beginner players start with a game that's a little more clear cut, Akrotiri is still surprisingly easy to learn and the instructions easy to understand. It's a very pretty game with good replayability, and we like the concept of being explorers with many options to help us along our way, all reasons Akrotiri makes our list of top rated two player board games.

Hexagamers

If you love Agricola but hate the time is takes to play (hello, two hour brain drain...), All Creatures Big & Small (ACBAS) may be just what the doctor ordered. 

ACBAS takes Agricola and distills it to its simplest element: raising animals. The game ends after eight rounds, and each round has four phases (refill, work, home and breeding). The player with the highest score wins. One of the most important rules to remember is that once you build something, it can't move. Animals, true to their nature, can roam around your farm, though, an important element of the game to achieve the most points.

Each round starts with the refill phase. For those unfamiliar with Agricola, you may want to read the simplified rules to get a jump on terminology and play. Essentially, there are several actions you can take such as expanding, collecting resources or animals, upgrading buildings, and so on. Players take turns placing workers on an action, immediately resolving that action, and repeating until the workers are all committed. Workers then return home and animals breed. Rinse, repeat for eight rounds. Sound boring? Seem easy? Not so. You need different resources to complete different actions and create different buildings to keep and breed your animals, all to gain points and prevent you from losing points. It is a challenge to outwit your opponent and keep track of everything your farm needs or has happening.

There are different rules and scoring for every component of the game, so it can get a little complicated to track. Once you play a couple of times, though, it gets easier to tally and track the score. The action cards are all clearly labelled so it helps expedite decisions and scoring, and the game board and pieces are high quality so the game will last through a lot of handling.

We like Agricola, but we don't like how long it takes to play, so ACBAS is a huge win for us--plus, we don't have to worry about feeding our people. This isn't necessarily a great beginner board game, but for those interested in and intimidated by Agricola, ACBAS is a good intro to the worker placement concept. All Creature Big and Small has some of the same pitfalls as Agricola, namely, the complexities, but the speed of the game, the numerous expansions available and the great replayability makes it as one of the highest ranked two player games.

Our Rating:

Hexagamers

Forbidden Desert builds on its predecessor, Forbidden Island. As a co-op game, you play as a team to beat the board--in this case, a desert you're stranded in, working together to build a flying machine and escape before you are killed by one of three outcomes. You don't need a third ghost player to begin, nor do you need to adjust the rules or mechanics of the game. 

Each player is assigned a unique role with special abilities, and as a team, you must work your way around the desert board, excavating machine parts, avoiding dehydration and carting the parts back to the excavated launchpad. On every turn, each player can take up to four actions to move, excavate, pick up machine parts or remove sand. Some tiles you uncover work against you, and some work for you, just like the cards you can draw. Some will give you special abilities, but most will only increase the sandstorm and create more pileups of sand on other tiles--all of which you have to remove before you can flip that tile.

Now for the fun part. If you run out of water in your canteen, you die. If the storm reaches its maximum level, you die. If there are no sand markers left to add to the board tiles, you die. It's essential to work as a team, and like Pandemic, to strategize together to decide the best course of action. There are tunnels you can shelter in and two wells to increase your water supply, but there is also a mirage, and if you stay in the tunnel, you can't help your partner in excavating and escaping the storm. 

Forbidden Desert is a little more complicated and in-depth than Forbidden Island, a fact we like quite a bit. The game's theme is strong and consistent throughout, and it tailors its difficulty to the players' abilities. While the tiles will always be randomized, making machine parts and other survival essentials guesswork, replayability for Forbidden Desert isn't as high as other games. Still, it's an enjoyable game with quality pieces, it requires strong teamwork and strategy, and challenges players at every level. For the price, it's a good bang for your buck, and it makes for a good two player game.

Our Rating:

Hexagamers

Patchwork combines different elements and boards to create a single game for two players. It reminds us of a cross between Blokus and Tetris. Players place their token on the tracking board (called a central time board in Patchwork) and take five buttons (money) and a quilting board. The oddly-shaped patches to fill your quilt board are placed around the central board, a neutral tracking token is placed at the cheapest patch, and you're ready to play.

Each turn is simple, as players have only two choices: 1) advance your marker to the space ahead of your opponent's, and receive the same number of buttons as the spaces you moved, or, 2) buy a patch for your quilt.

If you buy a patch, your selection is limited to the three patches around the tracking neutral token. The neutral token is moved to the space of the patch you just bought​, you place your patch, and move your token on the central time board according to the spaces designated on your patch.

Tokens move every turn, and the player in last place keeps taking turns until they've passed their opponent. For people who don't like waiting for their turn (Kaitlyn), this will become an annoyance and an issue. For Patchwork, though, the concept makes sense as it creates even ground and opportunity for both players to collect currency and have their selection of patches. There are special patches and bonuses you only receive if you meet certain requirements, and the game ends when both players reach the end of the central board.

We like some of the unique ideas Patchwork has incorporated, like the scoring, movements, payouts and design. It's a fast game to learn and fairly quick to play, both big wins in our books. As Blokus and Tetris fans, we also really enjoy the individual boards we need to fill--and having our own makes it challenging for both players to keep a keen eye on what's happening.

It's a fairly simple game and there's less interaction and strategy involved than in many of the other 2 player games higher on our list. Your strategy is primarily focused on how to fill your board and get your pieces to align properly, as nothing can overlap. We find replayability a bit lower with Patchwork, especially as the strategy to win doesn't change. It's also a little more expensive than we'd like, but as a simple game for players who aren't huge on strategy, or for players with younger kids, it's a decent game to have in your stash.​ 

10. Tides of Time/Madness

Our Rating:

Hexagamers

Tides of Time is the predecessor to Tides of Madness, both designed for two players only. Both games seem to divide players; some love the games, some don't, and as a micro-game, it's a cheap gamble. Tides has a lot going for it, and we really like that it's super quick to set up and play. After three rounds, the player with the most points wins.

During each of the three rounds, players pick a card for their own, switch hands, and pick again until each player has five (or six for round two, and seven for round three). They then choose which card to discard permanently and which to keep for their own, slightly different elements to card drafting games.

Every card has its own different rule and as there are only 18 in the deck, strategy is paramount. Some cards grant you points for not having specific cards in your hand, some stack points depending on how many card types you have, some base your points off your opponent's cards. On every turn, you have to decide: What will work best for your goals? What will hurt your opponent most? Every decision is important.

We are big on strategy, so we've enjoyed Tides of Time. ​If you don't want a bit of a brain squeeze or a focus on strategy, you may want to bypass both Tides of Time and Tides of Madness. Scoring is complicated so the instructions have laid out what each suit and name get you, as your opponent's cards will impact your score, too. It will take a few plays to fully grasp the importance and complexities of the cards, their roles and impact.

It's a great filler game at only 20 minutes, and like Patchwork, it's a cheap game so a good gamble. If you hate it, you haven't broken the bank, but with its unique elements and quick play, we think it's a great contender for top 2 player games.

Conclusion

'True' two player games don't require a ghost player or rule modifications. They're designed for two players, and two players only. There are a lot of games that exist with a two player modification, but it's often they're not as enjoyable, they require a third "ghost" player (which can be a huge hindrance), hate drafting can take over the game, and so on. We were pretty particular in choosing the games meant for more than two but cater to two. Some games just aren't meant to be in this category (sorry, Mammut, that includes you). Do you love a two player game we missed? Tell us about your favorite two player games, or even better, the games you modified with your own rules for two.

Side note: An Honorable Mention goes to Blokus Trigon. We love it, but didn't include it on this list. We also enjoy Rivals for Catan, but in all good conscience, can't highly recommend a game that has 13 pages of instructions for the basic game.​

About the author

HexaGamers

We are the HexaGamers. Six good friends that love all things game related that gets us together to enjoy each other's company.

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