Yes, this is a funky title, especially if you missed the post on Monday by Michael over at Meeple Like Us. What, you aren’t subscribed to his content? Please, go fix that. I 100% recommend it as semi-required reading for board game content because what he is doing (and has done for years) is beyond fantastic. And so when he made a post called “Ten Best Board Games for Couples and Bestest Buds“, well, I had to read it right away. Part of me was eager to see what would make the list. And part of me, as happens so often when I see lists of recommendations for 2-player gaming, was ready to cringe. I shouldn’t have been concerned, knowing Michael’s content as well as I do, and I apologize for that disservice. I knew, from the #10 pick, that it was going to be solid because my wife and I had just played Patchwork again on Sunday and it was fresh in my mind about how great that game is for 2.
I won’t spoil the rest of the list, because not only the games themselves but his thoughtful discussion of them is worth the time you’ll spend reading it. Passages like this one eloquently describe why I’ve been reviewing games since 2016 and why I’m becoming more of an advocate to give a platform for 2-player only games.
There are lots of great games out there, as we all know. Many of them claim to support two players, and sometimes it’s even true. However, finding games that work well at two players is a different thing entirely. Just because you can technically play a game with two it doesn’t mean you’ll actually have fun with it. Games can change dramatically at different player counts, and sometimes surprisingly abruptly. The two-player count is one that is hard to get right – it has to work in the absence of the buzz of social activity you get for free with larger groups. Good two player games are worth their weight in gold for some people.
But seriously, go read it. I’ll wait. Done? Okay, good. So now you’re going to see 10 (plus) more games that are not a counter to those he listed, but rather intended to complement and expand upon his list. And even with what I have here, I could have easily added another 10-20 games to the list and made this a massive, sprawling monster. But instead I am opting to (mostly) follow suit and cover just 10 more games…kinda…
One small note: Battle Line would make this list, but its relative is Shotten Totten and so treat those as essentially one and the same. And since you read his list (right?), you saw Shotten Totten on there. But if you prefer a more ancient flavor of artwork that is a bit on the bland side, GMT’s entry of Battle Line is a great choice.
So with no further ado, here are the games:
Button Shy Games’ wallet line – This is the first of two “cheating” entries on the list because, if I’m honest, I could give you 10 recommendations just from Button Shy Games and Level 99 Games’ catalogs combined, but that wouldn’t be fair to the other games that made this list. With Button Shy, the problem will be that they tend to multiply like bunnies because these games are so clever, portable, and fun. If I had to pick just one to recommend, it would be Liberation because that one is a great asymmetric hidden movement game a la Star Wars: Rebellion where the Liberation side is trying to keep the location of their base hidden, while the Dynasty is trying to not only determine the location of said base (before it moves), but to blast it. After that? Well, there’s a ton of them that are excellent: Penny Rails, Circle the Wagons, Antinomy, Seasons of Rice, Anthelion: Conclave of Power, Hierarchy, Tussie Mussie, Sprawlopolis, and probably more that I haven’t tried yet (such as Herotec and Supertall). Do yourself a favor and pick 2-3 of them that sound interesting to you and get them coming, because at these pricepoints you can’t go wrong.
Skulk Hollow– This game is my current frontrunner for 2019 Game of the Year, and with good reason. The asymmetry in this game is really strong, and both sides are enjoyable to play. Trying to figure out how to take down the massive Guardian is a clever puzzle, while wreaking havoc as the Guardian is arguably even more fun because you feel powerful as you control the massive figure. With some really clever dual-use cards to provide the action economy, ways to cycle cards from your hand to get through your deck quickly, and the ability to store power you have ways to get to use those actions you need. And the best part of all? Having those little foxen meeples climb on the Guardian itself, trying to destroy parts of it to shut down their abilities as they weaken the massive monstrosity. This is going to be one of my go-to games for a long, long time.
War of the Ring – No list would be complete without mention of this massive, epic game. I am aware it won’t be for everyone. The game is long, takes up a ton of table space, and has a real barrier to entry with the dense amount of rules. But this game is so worth it. It has been my #1 overall game for years, and will always retain that spot on my list and remain in my collection forever – until I can get a collector’s edition. The best thing about this game is the epic scope, and how tense it feels on both sides. Part of this is seeing the massive Shadow armies that sweep across the map, clearing location after location to earn some hard-fought points. Part of that is from the “hidden” movement of the Fellowship as they march from Rivendell toward Mount Doom. Most games of this come down to a turn, with each side being on the cusp of a victory condition. Every game is satisfying and I’m always itching to play this one more (because of time commitments, it gets increasingly more difficult to get it played), and if I could keep only one game it would be this one without any hesitation. Not big on Lord of the Rings? Star Wars: Rebellion is a great sci-fi alternative here (although not quite as good, IMO).
Omen: A Reign of War – One of my new favorite go-to 2-player games is Omen: A Reign of War. The concept in the game is pretty simple in deploying units onto one of three battlefronts. However, there are layers in the execution of this game that continue to impress me with each play of the game. It is a fast-playing game where you’re trying to maximize your own point potential while frustrating the plans of your opponents. So many of the cards feel strong in the moment, and there are so many ways to pull off clever plays in the game. Yet the cards are also usable to generate more income, allowing you to play more cards later. Some of them can only be used as units in the city or as their powerful one-time effect on the card. Others can give you a continuous effect every round, but at a cost because they are among the weakest units you can deploy on the board. Add in a set of achievements you’re trying to accomplish (known as feats) and this game hits on so many levels for me. If you don’t dig the idea of warring with ancient units and gods, check out Haven for a similar gameplay feel but with its own unique twists, fantastic artwork, and a bit of area control on a board.
BattleCON/Level 99 Games – This is my other cheat spot, and with good reason: there isn’t a game of theirs which I have played that I wouldn’t recommend with 2. Sure, some aren’t optimal at that player count (MIllennium Blades and Argent: The Consortium are great, but best with at least one more player in the mix), but there isn’t a single one I dislike. However, if you could only do one it would absolutely be BattleCON. I waxed poetic about the game (and several others on this list) in my Top 20 Thinky Fillers list, and my opinion hasn’t changed. This is a game of perfect information, where you know exactly what your opponent CAN do, and being able to look at the board state and “read” what they are likely to do is a key to informing you about what pair of cards you should play during your own turn. It is a great game that heavily involves positioning on a board, timing your attack pairs (especially since a card you play this turn isn’t coming back to your hand for 2 turns), and testing out dozens of very different characters to experience the varied toolkit that this game has to offer. There are so many characters I haven’t played in here yet, but I’ve used enough to have experienced how unique they all feel. Looking for a similar game but a little less thinky/more random? The Exceed series is for you, as it takes the core of this game and has you draw from a deck of cards for an ever-changing flow of possibilities. Neither of those striking your fancy? Pixel Tactics is another amazing entry in their catalog where you deploy units in a 3×3 grid to try and take down the opposing leader. The catch? Every card provides a different benefit depending on where you deploy them, and they all have a powerful ability to use as a one-time use from your hand instead.
Targi – Okay, so this one snuck on here after just one (recent) play, but I can already tell this one is going to be a stellar inclusion. If you like collecting resources to gain points, and if you like placing workers to trigger actions, then you’ll love what Targi has to offer. It takes those basic mechanics and twists them in an interesting way! First, your workers can only be placed on the border of the “map” of action cards (but not the corners), giving you 11 potential places since there is a moving “robber” that will block a space each turn as it counts down the game’s timer. However, once a worker is placed your opponent can no longer place on the card opposite your worker, shrinking the map with every placement. That in itself would be clever enough, but there are 9 cards in the center of the map that change every time one is used (alternating between Goods cards for resource gathering and Tribe cards for VP) and you place a marker on the 2 “intersecting” cards on the map from your workers, letting you gain those goods or pay to add that Tribe to your tableau of Tribe cards – where there’s a little more set collection as you’ll get bonuses for rows of the same icon or all different icons. With so many clever moving parts here, Targi is a game that has blown me away and is easily one of my favorite Worker Placement games because of the layers of cleverness here.
Star Realms – What would your collection be without a nice little deckbuilder, right? We all love building engines and having card combos, and it doesn’t get better for the price point than Star Realms or its “retheme”, Hero Realms. The gameplay is fast most of the time, and rarely overstays its welcome. There are plenty of life tracker apps to help you tally the opponents’ health. And the four different factions available to purchase are very different in feel and can allow you to tailor a deck around one or two core concepts as you try to ramp up first. And when the base game gets exhausted, there are tons of little add-ons you can get for about the pack of a CCG booster to provide a non-random set of cards to integrate into your experience for added variety and excitement.
Micro Brew – This one is a game my wife loves more than I do, but I still don’t mind pulling it out from time to time for a quick play. It has a nice worker placement area, which is fine and all. The real clever thing it does is have small discs of several colors which fill out a personal board and you are trying to manipulate them along here to get the right blend of colors to brew the beer you have a recipe for. Brew it right, and serve it to the right customer, and you’ve earned yourself a loyal customer for life. Brew it wrong and you’ll still get paid, but she will come back later to sample other beers until she finds “the one”. Restrictions on how those discs can be moved – they must follow the diagonal paths and lighter colors move up while darker colors move down – is what makes this a pleasant brain burning experience that can fit in your pocket. Just don’t expect to hammer out a game of this in 10-15 minutes – it is more of a game to pull out after the meal while sipping on some beverages or snacking on those remaining fries.
Bushido – Dice rolling shouldn’t make for a great game, but somehow it feels just right here in Bushido.If it was just “roll and see if you hit”, it wouldn’t come close to making this list. However, there is a lot more here than just that! First comes the opening two phases of the game which only appear in the opening of the game, where you first will draft your 5-card deck of actions and then select your weapon for the duel. The action cards will help make your dice pool each turn based on which card you play, but some consideration should be given to taking several cards of the same element because they can be used to “boost” a card and add more dice. Having three Guards to change between, each changing your core 2 dice to roll, is a clever aspect and timing that change is critical to success. Managing your token generation, defense, and attack potential is a fun and engaging process, and the chance of “exploding dice” when you roll attack dice can make even the most desperate attack turn into a potential finisher. It is a fast, furious, and fun game of push-and-pull as you deal “potential damage” while trying to reduce the incoming damage from your opponents’ previous turn. If you like rolling dice, also check out Dice Throne and Hoplomachus as two more fast and fun dice-chuckers with a decent amount of tactile interplay.
The Castles of Burgundy – This is a game I will only play at two, because the more players you add the longer this goes. We can bust this out in about an hour, which is the perfect length of time for what this game provides for an experience. Dice rolls that can be manipulated are the feature here, and get used to purchase and place tiles. Filling up areas of your board will provide satisfying bonus points that get smaller with every round – encouraging you to try and focus fire on one or two small areas early to maximize your points gained. You’ll be scoring some sort of point value on the majority of your turns, making it feel like you are always doing something beneficial as the game progresses and you realize, with a sense of dread, that what you hoped to accomplish isn’t going to happen. Or, even worse, it will only happen if you get a few turns of perfect rolls and your innocent opponent doesn’t take that tile you really need so you spend the next five minutes avoiding eye contact with that key tile, only to watch with despair as they take it to score 7 points and deny you 30 because that area just won’t fill up now. No, that hasn’t ever happened to me – why would you ask such a thing? This game is far more clever than it should be for a game where you’re rolling dice 25 times to determine what you can do during the game.