In celebration of the release of WizKids’ Marvel Dice Masters, a two player dice-building dueling game with the Marvel Comics license, I thought it might be fun to highlight some other fun and engaging titles for two. My fiancé and I play games together fairly often, as it’s certainly easier than wrangling others together to play in bigger groups.
This list comes with some caveats though. As usual, these choices are purely subjective to my tastes. If you’re angry that I didn’t include Crocodile Pool Party or some other game, take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay.
My choices are not exclusive to two player only games. If a particular title is more enjoyable with just two, it was up for inclusion. However, I’m not considering wargames like Warmachine or collectible card games, as those entire genres are large enough for their own examination down the road.
Some honorable mentions go to certain co-op games like Castle Panic, Legendary, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, Hanabi, and Mice and Mystics, all of which are great with any number of players besides only two. I kept them off this time around because the dynamic of the game changes significantly with two or more than two players, but both styles are equally enjoyable for their own reasons.
Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer (or any edition really) is also a worthy honorable mention. I love Ascension and I think the game is best with only two players, but the issue is that it rarely even hits the table anymore. Other deck-builders have simply taken over and replaced it in our household.
Also, I haven’t played Lost Cities or Ghost Stories yet. Don’t kill me, please.
I have to admit, my first experience with Summoner Wars was not a particularly enjoyable one. My initial impression just wasn’t that positive and I felt the game was a bit overrated. However, I decided to spend more time with it (via the iOS app) and much of the fun and entertainment of Summoner Wars was slowly revealed to me. There’s a lot of content in the game to dissect and discover and if you commit to it, you’ll find a treasure trove of choices and replayability.
One of the common descriptions I’ve seen online for Summoner Wars is, “Magic: The Gathering meets Chess.” While I certainly get and can appreciate the comparison, the analogy to Magic is a little misleading. Each player utilizes a deck of cards in which they use to summon monsters to battle on their behalf, but there is no sealed/collectible aspect to the game. Additional faction expansions exist, but they are completely optional to play. Summoned minions have determined stats for offense, defense, and movement, allowing them to traverse the game board and attack their opponents. Each faction has a particular strength and weakness, and finding ways to use them to your advantage based on your opponent adds a strategic layer over the game similar to real-time strategy games on the PC, like StarCraft or Age of Empires.
Out of the box, Summoner Wars supports 2 players, but a second board can be purchased and added to accommodate up to 4. Honestly, you probably won’t want to do this as the two player battles are certainly what everything is balanced around. Make sure you purchase the Master Set edition, as it comes with a really nice premium game board and 6 complete faction decks. Good luck finding a place to store that massive behemoth of a box, though.
Hive draws many comparisons to Chess, and for good reason; the game features many similar aspects, such as specific pieces that each have their own unique movement capabilities and a central individual that players are trying to protect. However, despite its chess-like trappings, Hive is a much shorter and more accessible game that two players of any age or experience can enjoy.
One of the unique aspects of Hive that I enjoy is that there is no game board. Insect pieces from your hand can be played practically anywhere on the table, though each bug has their own rules for movement they must adhere to. The object of the game is to trap your opponent’s Queen by completely surrounding her with your own pieces. Games of Hive tend to only last around 15 minutes or so, making it easy to dive in and play multiple rounds in a sitting. And you’ll likely want to as well, as new strategies and tactics become apparent with each session. It’s a perfect game for two players who want something that plays quickly but still packs a ton of depth.
Over the last several years, Carcassonne has risen in fame to become one of the most well-known names in tabletop gaming. Numerous editions and expansions have been released, but the core tile placement of the game endures to this day. It plays well all the way to its maximum of five players, but I’ve personally found the most enjoyable Carcassonne experience to be a two player affair.
With simply two, the game takes on a more relaxed nature as the likelihood of useful tiles appearing on your turn increases significantly. However, instead of struggling to even complete your roads and castles with five players, a two player game requires much more observation of your opponent’s moves as they are equally as likely to draw the tiles they require. It’s in your best interest to sneak in and share points, or prevent them from completing that long and winding road.
The game is still enjoyable with any size group, but just the rhythm and flow of Carcassonne simply feels best in a one-on-one environment. It doesn’t hurt that the amount of potential Analysis Paralysis is cut down with fewer players, resulting in less downtime before your turn.
In a similar vein as Carcassonne, the classic deck-builder Dominion supports more than two players. And it plays fine with three or four people, but two person Dominion is one of the most enjoyable games on the market, especially with the right combination of expansions.
Despite being a deck-builder, Dominion often feels like a race. As the first stack of available cards is depleted, it becomes apparent that the endgame is coming into view. With multiple players, it can be a tad more difficult and frustrating to lose out on a particular card simply because the three other players before you purchased the remaining few. In a two player game, you feel more in control of your deck and the card engine that you are attempting to bring online.
Again, it’s just a matter of personal preference with these two picks. Some may find the slight lack of control with more players to be more satisfactory, but as a competitive deck-builder, I prefer the more controlled nature between two opponents.
The X-wing Miniatures Game straddles a fine line between tactical wargame and traditional board game. On one hand, assembling an armada using a predetermined amount of points per ship is clearly a wargaming mechanic. However, the small scale as well as the inexpensive price point makes X-wing an accessible choice for any type of gamer. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a damn good game either.
Piloting space vessels on the side of either the Empire or Rebel Alliance, dodging asteroids and locking on to your enemies all makes for an exhilarating experience. Even with a created team that utilizes all of your available points, X-wing skirmishes never overstay their welcome. And even if you tire of straight-forward dogfights, the included scenarios are a good change of pace for those days when you need something a little different. For any Star Wars or sci-fi fan, I highly recommend X-wing Miniatures.
Agricola is one of the all-time greats, but there’s a sentiment regarding the game that I tend to agree with – the game is more work to play than fun. Uwe Rosenberg, designer of Agricola, went back to the drawing board and created a brand new experience designed exclusively for two players, Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small. It maintains much of the challenge and depth of the original, without the long play time and complicated rules.
All Creatures strips out the family and managing their food/hunger aspect of Agricola and instead focuses purely on acquiring and managing your livestock, taking a huge level of burden off the player. But even though the number of decisions and choices is streamlined, the options presented in All Creatures are still just as important as the classic game. Being able to finish a game of Agricola in 30-40 minutes is just icing on an already delicious cake, and the included animal meeples are freaking adorable. I can’t recommend All Creatures Big and Small enough for those wanting a significant and challenging two player experience without the large table footprint.
But man, is it so, so good.
Netrunner is a two player asymmetrical card game, meaning that each of the two players not only plays a completely different role, but utilizing totally separate rules for play. One player assumes the role of one of four Corporations, placing corporate agendas in private servers and placing ice (their form of firewalls, encryptions, etc.) to protect them, all while attempting to spend enough money to advance their agendas and earn their listed points. The other player acts as the Runner, a cyberhacker opposing the mega-corps that seeks to break through the corporate defenses and steal their hidden agendas, thus earning their points instead. The first side to obtain 7 agenda points wins.
The game follows in the footsteps of Fantasy Flight Games’ other “living card games” by releasing new mini-expansions every month. While catching up on nearly two years’ worth of Data Packs may seem overwhelming, it’s completely unnecessary unless you plan on competing in tournaments or other organized competitions. The cards included in the core box still remain some of the best cards in the entire game, with many top-tier decks utilizing only a handful of expansion additions.
The amount of content included in the base set is incredible for just two players, with 4 distinct corporations and 3 unique runners, each with their own feel and strategies. It may seem daunting initially, but the game is relatively easy to learn as well compared to other competitive card games on the market. But even if you don’t intend on joining the tournament circuit, Android: Netrunner still remains one of the most enjoyable and distinctive two player games in existence. There’s really nothing else like it.