Two Player games are one of the most requested games we get asked about. It’s also one of the hardest games to look for. Sure, there’s a lot of great games out there, ones that work incredibly well for groups of 4-6 people. But it’s the games that keep its quality no matter how many people you play with that are hard to come by. Some games are just intended for group play, and that’s alright, but at the end of the day when you’re with your spouse, sibling, friend or relative, and there’s no time or the effort to set up a get together with friends or a group, you’ll always have the intimacy (or the competitiveness, in our case) to play with that one person whom you trust, as well as whom you want to prove to that you’re better than at games. I’d say that’s the mark of a healthy relationship—the unending quest to relish in the thought of beating your other half and realizing that your equal craziness is why you’re together.
Hanabi (Find it on our store here)
To start off, we’ll talk about a game that doesn’t promote competitiveness. Yes, Hanabi is a game of cooperation and communication. The game is about you being a team of forgetful fireworks launchers who have forgotten the order to your fireworks. But you’re pressed for time because you’ve got a show to put on! All players in the game will be given a hand of cards that will be numbered anywhere between 1-5 and be coloured in one of a few possible colours such as green, yellow, red etc. Your goal of the game is to arrange your cards in the middle of the table by colour, starting with 1s and adding to the tableau of cards in ascending order (i.e. Green 1, Green 2, Green 3 and so forth). Sounds simple no? Here’s the kicker. You don’t know which cards you have in your hand as they’re facing toward the other player(s). That’s right. You’ll be looking at a handful of cards just by their back. But here’s the thing. Because of that, the other player will know exactly what you have in your hand, and it’s their job to give you hints to indicate which cards are which. But be careful though! You’re only given a finite amount of hints, and hints are restricted to purely colour or number. So imagine pointing to certain cards and saying “these three cards are green” or “This card is a 5”. The only way for you to earn more hints is by discarding a card in your hand and drawing a new one, which is great and all but your deck of cards is limited. You’ll get three of each card in the deck EXCEPT for the 5s. In that case, there’s only one of each coloured 5 in the deck, so if you happen to discard it by accident, you’re out of luck, and you’ll score a lower point number by the end of the game.
What makes Hanabi a great two player game is that there is a lot of great back and forth action between both players. You really have to listen to each other and know what the best thing to communicate is at the right time. Are you running out of hints and know your partner might discard that 5 in her hand to gain another hint? Well you better tell her that she has a 5 before it’s gone! Also watch out for mistakes! Get three mistakes by playing the wrong number or colour at the wrong time, and the game is over and you have to deal with whatever it is that you accomplished.
A small game that plays in a short time, and is so easy to teach, you’ll find yourself bringing Hanabi in your purse, or your luggage on a trip. It’s so small and compact, and a ton of fun. Be warned though. Communication really is key.
Pandemic (Find it on our store here)
Next on the docket, is yet another cooperative game. I’ll let you get to the good stuff soon, I promise. But cooperative games are really one of the best kinds of games to play with two. Especially when you have someone in your life unfamiliar with games, what better way to introduce them to the hobby than by working together instead of against each other in a heavy strategic game, potentially turning them off altogether from board games just because they’re not as into farming as you are? Honestly, even though we’re competitive people and poke fun about it a lot, we really do enjoy cooperative games as much as we do the competitive ones. It’s really the dynamic you get between two players that we look for the most. And the most immersive ones end up being the cooperative ones.
In Pandemic, you’ll be working together to save the world from the spread of four different diseases. You’ll each take the role of different specialists at the CDC, such as a Medic, Dispatcher, or Scientist, having a unique ability you can use to help your team win.
One of the most iconic things about Pandemic is just how difficult the game is. A lot of people tell us that they enjoy losing in the game moreso than they enjoy winning in other games. Pandemic’s way of taunting and challenging you to finally win the game can drive some people mad to the point of wanting to keep replaying the game, hoping that this one game will be the one where you finally beat it. And it’s honestly fun to lose at. But don’t worry, if you find the game too hard, or even too easy, you can scale the difficulty of the game by increasing or decreasing the probability of epidemic outbreaks.
So what do you do in the game? With your chosen role, you’ll be travelling across the globe trying to prevent the spread of different diseases that can spread to other cities connected to it. You focus on not only damage control but also trying to find a cure itself for each disease. You do this by collecting sets of cards by colour, representing intel you’ve received from certain cities, hoping to acquire a certain number of coloured city cards to cure the disease of that colour. Be careful though, because at the end of every player’s turn, you’ll draw cards from a deck, indicating which cities will be newly infected, causing time to be an element you’ll be playing against. And oh, did we mention that there’s more ways to lose in Pandemic than there is to win it? There’s only one way to win and it’s by curing all four diseases. To lose? It can happen by running out of cards in any of the decks, by having too many epidemics or just simply failing the world, knowing you couldn’t do anything to stop it.
A game that has a bit of role play, grounded in a very realistic setting, it’s a great two player game that appeals to many non-gamers and gamers alike.
Carcassonne (Find it on our store here)
One of my favourite two player games to play is Carcassonne. Next to nothing time to set up, easy to clean up, easy to teach and easy to play, its genius really comes from its simplicity. One of the greatest appeals of the game is its ability to always play out differently each game you play. The way the game does this is by its modular tile set up. What this basically means is each player draws a square tile place it on the table connecting it to other tiles, creating a map of this world as you go.
Ok, so let’s talk about how you actually play the game. On these tiles you draw to make up this map will feature different aspects such as roads, cities, or monasteries. And you gain points by placing a finite number of “workers” that you have on any aspect of the tiles you place down to indicate their “job”. So let’s say playing one of your workers on a road piece of your tile, you’re indicating that he’ll get you points whenever you complete the road, from one end to another. Or if you were to place him in a city, you’ll have to close off any open ends of the city for him to gain you points. Or the more unique role of placing him in a monastery where you have to enclose the monastery tile on all sides to gain points. There’s a plethora way to gain points, as well as a finite number of workers you can place. The only way of gaining your workers back is by finishing their “job”. Put your worker in a bad place where it’s difficult to finish his “job”, and he’ll most likely be there until the end of the game.
Carcassonne is a favourite because of how well it plays with two people. The back and forth action, and the “take that” aspect are so integral to the game itself. You can purposely block another player or even try to steal the city or road they’re on to split the points between the two of you, or better yet, completely edge them out so you get all the points.
You won’t find yourself fiddling your thumbs too much in the game either. It’s not a game where you’re meant to be pondering what your most strategic move will be either. There’s a great deal of strategy to it of course, but don’t hurt your head too much over it because of how ever changing the map itself will be. That one space you were trying to keep open for the right tile to come along? Well it’s gone now because of what the other player played to block it. You may not even get the draw you think you need either, and end up dealing with what you have. But the real beauty of great design in this game is that there’s always something you can do to benefit yourself in some way. You may get a tile you think you won’t need, but being smart about it, and you’ll end up getting more points from it than that one thing you were waiting for. One of the other things about Carcassonne that’s great is how it still rewards you for anything left on the board even after the game is finished. All those workers still on the map can still be worth points, and can even change the tide of the game in some cases. So be careful with every move you make, because it actually matters.
Splendor (Find it on our store here)
For anyone following our other blogs or our instagram, I think a few of you are aware of how much we love Splendor. We just cannot get enough of this game. It’s our favourite two player game to play at the moment, playing it religiously nearly every weekend. Why? It’s a simple, easy to learn game that has an incredible amount of strategy. It’s honestly a game we always recommend people who want to gear up for the more complex games out there. Splendor is a game that will test your ability to think ahead, as well as how well you can juggle not only what are beneficial moves for you, but moves that will prevent the other player from getting an advantage over you. Most games we play end up playing around 20-30 minutes and it’s perfect for us because after a day of work, we can play a quick game before bed, or even get a few games in a row on a lazy weekend. We always find ourselves coming back for more.
The way you play splendor is by trying to be the first person to reach 15 points. You do this by purchasing cards that have a point value on them. Each card in the game will have a cost (for what coloured gems you need to purchase it), a coloured gem (to represent the discount you’ll get off future purchases once you obtain it) and sometimes a point value. Of course, the more expensive a card is to buy, the more points it will reward you, and the cheaper cards will sometimes reward you with no points at all, but are important to own anyway because of the discount they provide. The way the discount works is that any cards you’ve purchased in front of you will reduce the cost of any future cards by that colour. For example, having four cards with the ruby on it will reduce any cost by four rubies, sometimes earning you cards for “free” essentially. Or even getting the high costing cards at a manageable and reasonable price. What you use to purchase these cards, aside from the actual cards themselves, are chips you collect that are like a currency that come and go in the game. None of the chips you collect are there to stay, as they’ll constantly be leaving your hands all the time. You can collect different colours, two of the same colour (as long as there’s enough in the stack) or gain a wild colour, stringing each move you make into being as efficient as you can.
The thing you can’t get over about this game is just how competitive and cutthroat it can get, having players purposely block one another, stealing gems or chips of colours that are desperately needed.
Whether Splendor is a game as a stepping stone toward the more complex games out there, or as a short, quick game to play regularly, you’ll always find that playing with two is the best way to enjoy this game. You’ll certainly be exercising your competitive muscles each time you play.