Many games are advertised as suitable for 2 players but really only shine with more. Here is a Top Ten list of games that work very well with 2 players and are played in approximately 15-30 minutes. They are also readily available to purchase at the time of publishing- see links and prices below.
1. Port Royal
A quick-paced push-your-luck pirate game, players try to be the first to earn 12 victory points. The active player turns over cards from the draw deck one by one and chooses when to stop. The more cards they draw, the more likely matching ships will come out and force them to end their go without hiring any crew but if you’re lucky maybe the perfect card will come out that you wanted and your risk taking will be rewarded. There is no down time in this lovely game as anyone can theoretically take cards once revealed by the active player; they just have to pay a little more.
Available from theboardgamehut for £12.49 delivered.
2. Fungi (aka Morels)
Another delightfully simple game made up of just cards. 2 players are attempting to pick mushrooms from the forest and cook them. Some mushrooms are rarer and so score higher points while others are more plentiful but the rewards are less. Each player can only carry 8 mushroom cards at a time unless they have a basket so managing your hand is key. To score points, players must cook batches of 3+ mushrooms of the same type in a frying pan and can also throw in butter or cider for extra points. Playing in under 20 minutes, and with incredibly simple rules, this is still a very satisfying experience.
Available from theboardgamehut for £11.99 delivered
A masterpiece of streamlined rules that can be learned in minutes, you will need a lot longer to master this one. Divided into two phases, players are attempting to gain the best collection of artefacts for their monastery. In the first phase, the active player draws cards one by one and assigns them to different piles. They may take one face down for themselves, one is put face down for auction (in the second phase) while others are placed face up in a draw pile for the others to pick from. Each type of artefact is worth 3 points (shown by a corresponding dice) at the start of the game but these can increased or decreased with dice modifier cards. In phase 2, players bid with the cards they collected in the first phase and try to gain majorities in the different types of artefact. But with everyone’s hands a secret, you don’t know if your 10 scroll points will be enough. Has somebody collected more? You can never be sure as so many of the cards are taken face down or used to buy other cards. Once the auction phase is over, the game has finished. Everyone reveals their totals for the five different artefacts; the person with the most of each type is awarded the points indicated by the dice and the winner is the player with the highest combined total. It’s quick and easy to teach but great fun.
Available from theboardgamehut for £18.99 delivered
4. Schotten Totten (aka Battle Line)
This is a 2 player only game of claiming boundary stones sitting between you and your opponent. You do this by playing cards from your hand, one at a time, to try and claim each stone with a better poker-style hand than your opponent. Cards are numbered from 1-9 in 5 different suits and a straight flush would beat 3 of a kind (for example). The winner is the first player to win five boundary stones, or three adjacent to each other. The difficulty with the game is not knowing what cards will come out when; each turn you will play a card then pick another one up to replace it. Have you just given up on getting three 10s and spoiled the pile, dumping a useless card in the process, and then drawn the very card you needed? Is your opponent holding the one thing you need to claim that boundary stone in the middle? You may never know. It is all about the constant struggle of knowing what to play and when, and where. It is about probability; it is about out-manoeuvring your opponent, doing something they didn’t expect. This is a not a laugh a minute but is intensely absorbing.
Available from theboardgamehut for £13.49 delivered
A famous game of tile placement. All players are creating one large map of tiles and trying to score the most victory points in the meantime. The tiles are shuffled into a stack, placed face down and drawn one at a time. After you’ve placed a tile, you may assign one meeple to it. The meeples can perform one of these actions: 1. Robber- he is placed on a road and will get you points for every tile that forms part of that road. 2. Knight- he is placed in a city and scores points for every tile that forms part of that city. 3. Monk- he is placed on a monastery and scores 1 point for every tile that surrounds it. 4. Farmer- he is placed in a field. Players score points for having the most farmers in an area including completed cities. The game is infinitely variable as the order the tiles come out changes things massively, plus a large number of expansions that can add further tiles and components with additional rules.
Available from theboardgamehut for £26.99 delivered
6. Forbidden Island
The only co-operative offering on this list, players are attempting to recover 4 treasures from the island before it sinks beneath the rising sea level. Your actions are: moving to an adjacent tile, shoring up a tile (i.e. delaying its demise), using an action card, swapping cards with a fellow character, and trading in 4 identical cards to recover the corresponding piece of treasure. Once your team have managed to find all the pieces of treasure, you need to helicopter off the island before it sinks and you drown. With plenty of recommended tile arrangements included in the box, plus the randomised nature of putting the tiles out, each game will feel different. There are also characters who have unique special abilities and three difficulty levels meaning you could play this with anyone.
Available from 365games for £16.99 delivered
7. Machi Koro
This is a card game in which players are building their own little cities. Turns are very simple: 1. Roll the dice- this dictates what money you and others immediately receive as income from your businesses. 2. Construct a building from the draw piles or a landmark in front of you. The first player to build all their landmarks is the winner. There are 4 different colours of buildings, which act in special ways to dice rolls e.g. green pays you only on your turn whilst blue pays you on anyone’s turn, but this is really the only complexity in this easy to understand but interesting game.
Available from 365games for £19.99 delivered
Everybody knows the rules to chess right? Well, I would say a hefty percentage of the world’s population do anyway. But who enjoys it? Obviously lots of people, but not me. It’s a world of deep strategy that my mind is not capable of understanding. Onitama takes the basic principles of Chess- a square grid (in this case 5x5), the ability to “take” your opponent’s pieces, and a simple goal: either capture your opponent’s main pawn or transport your own main pawn safely into your opponent’s temple. So far, so good. Now, pieces do not have their own unique abilities (e.g. Bishops move diagonally any number of unoccupied spaces); instead at the start of the game five separate ‘move’ cards are randomly selected from the 16 included in the box which dictate how you are able to move around the grid. When you perform a move, that card will then be handed over to your opponent. It is a game of cat and mouse; trying to plan what you can do but also keeping track of what your opponent might be thinking and denying them easy choices. It’s a difficult game to explain, but very easy to learn and games are over very quickly.
Available from theboardgamehut for £25.99 delivered
Another 2 player only offering, this is an interesting Uwe Rosenberg game about creating the best quilt. The players have two commodities, buttons and time, which must be managed carefully to make sure you fill up your grid because any holes left at the end are minus points. With materials of all shapes and sizes, and costing different amounts of time and buttons, the active player can purchase 1 of 3 tiles currently available by spending the corresponding price of time and buttons; or they can pass. The player with more time left will always play next so you or your opponent might string together several goes, placing the material tiles onto your quilt. At the end, the winner is the player who has collected the most buttons (totalling both those on the quilts and earned during the game) minus 2 points for any empty squares on your quilt. Considering its rather benign and gentle theme, this can be a highly tactical and engaging competition where knowing when to pass is just as important as what to purchase.
Available from theboardgamehut for £20.99
10. Flip City
An elegant micro deck builder, designer Chih-Fan Chen shows that it is possible to create clever games out of nothing more than a deck of cards. Players are trying to be the first to have 21 victory points in their tableau, but there’s a problem. You choose what cards go into your deck, but they are then shuffled up and you must draw them one by one. So where’s the issue? Well some cards give you income or victory points but they can also make your population unhappy and once the limit is reached, all the cards in your tableau get discarded and your turn is over. This blend of deck building and push-your-luck creates an absorbing game of planning and praying that the right cards come out at the right time.