Two player games have a different dynamic than multiplayer affairs. There tends to be a lot of give and take, since every point you deny your opponent is just as good as a point you got for yourself. And two-player games are especially great when they are blessed with a simple ruleset yet still give way to deep strategy. Here are a few that fit that description.
This Kennerspiel des Jahres nominee takes place in the sandy desert where two tribes are in competition for trading and territory. The board is a square grid of cards with 16 border cards and the interior filled with goods and tribe cards. Each round, the players take turns placing their three tribesmen on the border cards. The only restriction is that you can’t place your tribesmen where your opponent has placed theirs, or across from them. Then, you put your markers on the interior cards intersected by your tribesmen. On your turn, you get to do everything that has your marker.
Part of the game is about gathering resources and then spending them to gain property, points, and special abilities. But beyond that, Targi is also about keeping a close eye on your opponent. Maybe there’s a card that would be fantastic for your opponent. He places his first tribesmen on the column of that card. So you place yours on the row of that card. Now, he can’t place on that row and can’t get the card. Of course, he’ll be doing the same to you.
The result is an intense game where both players are constantly engaged and interested in the outcome. While creating deep interaction, the rules are simple and the game quick enough that it is perfect for playing with a casual partner or non-gamer spouse.
Speed games are a real treat and speed puzzles are even better. Now you need not only reaction time and reflexes, but powerhouse problem solving abilities. And that is exemplified by Ubongo Duel. Players are given 21 Tetris style pieces. Then, both players have an identical puzzle box made out of squares. A die is rolled to select the four or five pieces necessary. Then the players rapidly pick up those pieces and try to fit them into the box. The pieces can go in any orientation, but the puzzle boxes must all be covered and nothing can be sticking out. The first to finish shouts “Ubongo!” and then players move to the next puzzle competing for best of nine rounds.
Duel has a simple premise and can be explained in less than two minutes, but it provides repeated challenges and is an easy one to take off the shelf. There is no timer and you’re simply competing against your opponent. Because of that, everything feels so intense. After all, they could finish at any moment!
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small
All Creatures takes the wonderful multiplayer Agricola and streamlines it down for two. Not only that, but it strips away all of the farming aspects as well as the need to feed your family. Instead, it really focuses on the animal husbandry and encourages players to raise as many animals as possible.
But grabbing a ton of animals isn’t always easy. There’s a lot to do in getting resources, building pens, constructing buildings, and taking other actions for points. And you only get eight rounds to do all of it. That’s just not enough time to do everything you want. In that way, it keeps that same almost claustrophobic feeling from Agricola and you feel like the game will end too soon almost from the beginning.
Even though there are only two players, competition for the best placements is huge. And, sometimes you need to jump on a spot your opponent wants just to deprive them of the resources you need. It’s an effective tactic – and one you should be prepared for when it happens to you.
What are your favorite two-player only games? Tell us about it in the comments.
All image credits: Z-Man Games