I’ve received a number of requests for two-player game recommendations in the last few weeks. So here ya go, IntarWeb.
- Lost Cities: This is my default recommendation for a two-player game, unless I know the person well enough to suggest something more specific — and even then it’s often my recommendation. Lost Cities is a very clever (and remarkably fun) rummy variant, which makes immediately accessible to non-gamers. The rules can be explained in three minutes, an entire game takes about thirty. Plus, chicks dig it. It’s considered politically incorrect in gaming circles to imply (or state outright) that one sex prefers certain games over others, but, I’m tellin’ ya: girls like rummy (see also: Ticket To Ride — another game based on Rummy that women enjoy.) All and all, Lost Cities is just about the perfect “couples game.” If you’re looking for something with a smidgen more strategy, check out its sister title, Shotten-Totten (sold in the US as Battle Line). And they can be tried-before-they’re-buy’d at Flex Games, which has online versions of both.
- Lord Of The Rings: The Confrontation: Easily one of my favorite two-player games (read my full review here), LotR:tC uses the classic Stratego mechanism of having pieces visible only to their owner. The Light player wins if he gets Frodo (and the One Ring) all the way across the board and into Mordor; the Dark player wins by catching Frodo or overrunning The Shire with bad guys. Each character has a unique ability, and although a whole match can be played in 20 minutes, each game has its own narrative: in one, Aragorn sacrifices himself so that Frodo can trudge forth to victory; in the next, Wargs beset the ringbearer just as he descended from the Misty Mountains. And a Deluxe edition of the game was just released, doubling the number of characters and special powers in play.
- Another Stratego-esque favorite of mine is Hera & Zeus. Some complain that the game is too “fiddly” — that is, there’s a lot of special cards to keep track of, and a lot of shuffling of the cards — but, amongst experienced players, I think it’s a tense and exciting battle. A bit more a learning curve on this one than the prior games, though. You can read my full, (and, by Internet standards, ancient) review here.
- Jambo also takes a game or two to get the hang of, but has been one of the most well-received two-player card games in recent years. Players are merchants in a Swahili market, trading wars and occasionally siccing pumas on one another. Read my full review here.
- Though most of the Carcassonne games can be played with up to five players, they also work exceptionally well with only two. They also number amongst the best “gateway” games of the market, perfect for those new to the boardgaming hobby. Players take turns adding tiles to a shared map, trying to create various landscapes. There are a lot of games in the Carcassonne line, but I’m of the opinion that Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers is the best for those new to the series. There is also an exclusively two-player version called Carcassonne: The Castle, which is a bit more strategic (and, in my opinion, a bit more fun) that the rest.
- Another “works for many and works for two” game is San Juan, The kid brother to Puerto Rico. I think the game works best with three, but two is also quite good. Read my full review here.
- There are, of course, no shortage of two-player wargames, but many of them require the players to memorize a 104 page rule book and dedicate every weekend for a season to playing a campaign. Memoir ’44, on the other hand, allows you to recreate the pivotal battles of WWII in about 40 minutes a scuffle, using a light, intuitive combat system. An even simpler wargame — albeit one with a fantasy bent — is Heroscape. Though clearly aimed at the 12-year-old boy market, I know a lot of adult game players who swear this is one of the most fun games ever released.
- I’m not a huge fan of abstract games, but even I think Travel Blokus is a blast. It’s a very quick, very light strategy game — almost like a snack. Try it out online at blokus.com/. Or, if you are in the market for something meatier, try the titles in the GIPF series, a collection of abstract, two-players games that have been getting rave reviews. YINSH, the highest rated of the bunch, falls somewhere between draughts and Reversi; DVONN was named GAMES Magazine’s 2003 “Game of the Year;” and ZERTZ is like Chinese Checkers with an IQ of 145. Check them out at the GIPF Project homepage.