A few times a week, I am asked by couples to recommend some two player Tabletop games for them to play. This is a very short, totally non-exhaustive list of (mostly lighter) games that I love to play with Anne, as well as some other games that aren’t her jam, but are still pretty great.
The idea is to take pieces that are basically Tetris shaped, and lay them down on a board, following some simple placement rules. The objective is to use up all of your pieces, or have fewer pieces left than anyone else when you run out of places to put them. It’s super simple to teach and learn, and way more difficult to master than you would expect. There’s a regular Blokus that’s for up to four players, and a version that uses triangles. This travel version is perfect for, well, traveling, and also is specifically designed for two players.
Jaipur is a very simple set collecting card game for two players. It’s portable, and has great replay value because it allows a lot of different strategies to be explored and utilized.
You may have seen us play Small World on Tabletop in the first season. It’s sort of like Risk, but more fun. It’s an area control game, and each player has a fantasy race + special ability combo that changes every game, or multiple times during the game, if they choose. One of the great things about Small World is that it comes with multiple maps in the box, and each map is designed for a different number of players, including a two-player map.
Pretty much any cooperative game will work for two players, or even as a solo game, but I think Pandemic is the best one for couples because it’s so freaking intense. You feel like you’re losing from the first turn, and that’s half the fun of the game. I’m not saying that it lends itself to strip variants, but I’m not not saying that. I should also mention that Pandemic Legacy is fantastic for two players, especially if you want to have the experience of watching a season of a TV show together, only you’re playing it and everyone on Earth is going to die if you fail.
Yes, Sorry! from Milton Bradley. This is the go-to game for Anne and me, because I hate Scrabble. This game is almost entirely random, but there is some strategy if you really want to go that route. It’s great for two players, especially if you want to have a drink or eleven while you play.
Ticket To Ride: Switzerland
Ticket To Ride is a great infection vector for making new gamers, and this expansion is specifically designed for 2 or 3 players. You can technically play any of the TTR games with 2 players, but you run into the problems a large map presents, which (in my opinion) just make the game longer and less fun. So this particular map works well for 2 players, and works with either the original Ticket To Ride or Europe base sets.
Set and Iota
Both are little card games that feature pattern matching and team work. Iota is more competitive, and plays like Set in reverse.
One of my favorite Tabletop games of all time, Takenoko is high variance when you play it with 4 players, but intensely strategic when you play it heads up.
Finally, there is also Magic: The Gathering (duh) and my friend Chris Kluwe’s upcoming Twilight of the Gods LCG. If you want something that’s intense and takes hours and hours to play, Twilight Struggle gets high marks from my friends who play it.
I’m sure there are a lot of other games (tell me in a comment, if you want) that work well for two players, but this is what I can come up with quickly off the top of my head, and I have 23 pages of dialog to prepare for a voice session tomorrow so I kinda have to get back to work.
Play more (two-player) games!!
Edit to add: HIVE! This was mentioned in comments (with a lot of other games that look really fun, but haven’t been played by me) and I need to add it. Hive is amazing. It’s everything you love about Chess and Othello and Go, with none of the things that make those games so difficult for new players. Rich Sommer introduced me to this game one night at a little coffee and pie place in North Hollywood, and what we thought would be a quick cup of coffee turned into like four hours of us playing Hive over and over and over. It’s really awesome. Get the pocket edition, because it’s portable and you lose nothing in the translation.