Let’s face it, sometimes you can’t get together a whole group of people for a board game. Sometimes you want a quiet night at home with your other half, or an easy game to pick up and play when you catch up with an old friend at a local board game cafe.
Whilst many of the best board games on the tabletop can be played with only two people, many are less enjoyable with a reduced player count. Let's face it, social deduction board games like Werewolf don't really work when there's only one other person to suspect, and many of the best party board games are fun because they allow a whole roomful of people to get involved. But fear not: there is a whole world of two-player-only board games which you can explore and enjoy.
A quick note: we’re going to be focusing on games that you can quickly pick up and play, so no in-depth card games that require learning how to build a Magic: The Gathering deck, for example - or one of the the other top trading, collectible and expandable card games out there. They may be fantastic two-player board games, but the deck construction itself is a huge component if you'd rather spend your time playing than learning how to play Magic: The Gathering.
We also aren’t going to be looking at any games which are good at other player counts; you can play those when you have more friends to hand.
Best two-player board games
Grab your significant other, best friend or lifelong rival begging for a head-to-head showdown and find your perfect partner in some of the absolute best two-player board games.
1. Star Realms
At a glance Star Realms is your typical two-player duelling card game. You each have a certain amount of authority and if you can knock your opponent’s down to zero first then you win! However it’s so much more. Star Realms is a deckbuilding game - you start with a deck of battered and worn-out ships and you use them to buy better ships from the four factions. These ships are not only more powerful, but they can also have faction bonuses allowing you to create massive combos when used together. The beauty of the game comes from tailoring and evolving your own deck to smash the one your opponent is crafting. (In fact, as well as being one of the best two-player board games around, it's one of the best trading, collectible and expandable card games, in our opinion.)
You see that ‘2-4’ on the game box? Go ahead and scratch off the ‘-4’. Santorini is an incredible and absolutely gorgeous two-player board game and a true exemplar of ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’. You have two workers, each turn you choose one to move one space and then build a bit of tower. If you can clamber your way on top of a three-tall tower then you win the game. Sounds simple, but add in an opponent who is actively trying to block you by building towers too tall and you have an impeccable abstract game. Even if you somehow tire of the gameplay then you can add in unique player powers to keep things fresh.
3. Fog of Love
Not all two-player games need to be competitive. Fog of Love puts you in the shoes of two would-be lovers as they explore all life has to offer, from cute chats about hopes and dreams to full blown arguments and trips to the dreaded Ikea. Fog of Love blurs the lines between board game and roleplaying game in the most elegant way. Just like real relationships there isn’t a clear victory condition at the start of the game; as the relationship develops you discover what you want - be it a loving, supportive relationship or a clean exit. Sometimes not everyone gets to be happy.
Sewing may not be the most immediately exciting theme, but then again neither is Tetris. It turns out when Uwe Rosenberg mashes the two of those together you get something spectacular. In Patchwork you create a quilt and you’ll be damned (or darned) if it’s not better than your rival’s needlework. Each turn you’ll spend a combination of buttons and time to add a Tetris-style quilt piece to your board. The crucial thing here is time. It’s always the turn of the player at the back of the turn order track. Spend too long on intricate stitching and your opponent might get several turns in a row.
5. Moon Base
Moon Base pits two rival corporations in control of the moon via the art of overlapping ring placement. Moon Base is a game of serene beauty as you place your stellar halos in the craters of the moon before stacking them over each other to create functional buildings. Each round you will place four rings, but you won’t only be placing your colour. You’ll have to try and place your opponent’s rings in awkward places all while trying to get yours on top. Moon Base is a game with a huge amount of counter-play, with every placement opening up new opportunities to exploit.
The latest card game from the creator of Magic: The Gathering, Keyforge takes the conventions of traditional trading card games and turns them on their heads. You can’t build decks and you can’t hunt for rare cards. You simply buy a sealed, algorithmically-generated deck, learn how to play Keyforge and play with your unique set of cards.
Each deck comes with a algorithmically-generated card list from three of the various factions, meaning every player in the world has a different combination of cards you will literally never see the same deck twice. Even without the ability to customise your deck, Keyforge's gameplay has a ton of strategy in it, from knowing when to fight and when to use your creatures to reap for the precious Æmber which you need to win. Each deck will play differently so every time you open a new one you have to adapt how you play.
Klask is the lovechild of air hockey and table football and is just as easy to pick up and play. Each player has a single piece which they control via a magnet underneath the board. Your goal is simply to get the ball into your opponent’s goal to score points. This is made more complex by the three magnetic penalty pieces which will cost you a point should you gather two. Not to mention the ever-present risk of falling into your own goal. Bridging the gap between board games and sport, Klask even has its own World Championships!
8. Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game
Star Wars has featured some of the most epic space battles in cinematic history. The X-Wing Miniatures Game puts you straight into the famous cockpits of X-Wings and TIE Fighters. While the game has impressive depth and a sizeable competitive scene, the base gameplay isn’t too complex. Most importantly, it really captures the feel of a dogfight. Using the curved movement templates you are constantly trying to outmanoeuvre your opponent, get on their six and dodge asteroids along the way. You even have to worry about G-forces as certain actions can stress your pilots, limiting their ability to fly.
Sometimes wild animals don’t know what’s in their best interest. That’s the moral of the story of Raptor, where a group of scientists have located the last living velociraptor and her five children. The endangered animals are certain to die out in the wild, so the scientists want to sedate and capture the young creatures to repopulate the species. The raptor player wants to protect their babies and eat people. Players will play action cards to achieve their goals. Each card has a unique special action, or can produce action points to be used for moving and sedating/mauling. Which you get depends on the card your opponent uses, so predicting your opponent’s actions is vital.
10. Skulk Hollow
This asymmetric combat game - one of Alex Meehan's favourite games of 2019 - will immediately resonate with anyone who has seen anime series Attack on Titan. One player controls a band of humanoid fox warriors who defend their lands from the other player: a hulking behemoth of stone and fury that comes in one of four different forms. How can the tiny foxes hope to win? By clambering onto the monster and attacking its weak points, slowly wearing it down and cutting of its abilities. But it’s not just a simple case of killing the monster, each creature has a secondary objective for victory should the foxes fail to adequately defend their lands.