Chess, checkers, and Scrabble have long dominated the board game industry as not only the best two-player board games, but also as pretty much the only board games that can be played by two people. And although these classic games are timeless for a reason, after decades of gameplay they can get pretty boring. Luckily, thanks to the recent renaissance in the analog game industry — which was brought about, largely, by cult-favorite games like Cards Against Humanity — the competition in this category has finally started to heat up.
Whether you're looking for a game for date night or a way to pass the time your roommate while your stuck inside, below you'll find a plethora of card, dice, and board games that will pit you against your partner — as well as a few that even make you work together — for hours of fun. From word games to strategy games to fast-paced games of chance, these games run the gamut of hilarious to highly competitive. And maybe best of all, every game on this list is cheaper than two movie tickets, and rather than the one night at the movies, this purchase will entertain you for years. Although many of my picks are great games for couples, many of the games on the list also work with larger groups, too.
So break out a bottle of white wine (or a six-pack of La Croix), turn on your favorite tunes, and prepare to keep yourself entertained with the best two-player board games.
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1. A Word Deduction Game That Makes You Work Together With Your Partner
Instead of competing against your loved ones, try working together in this word deduction game. To win the game, you must identify fifteen designated codewords within nine turns. To add to the fun, each player's key card is also packed with assassins, bystanders, and agents that can either detract from your mission or provide additional clues. The addition of mission maps, for longer gameplay, and 11 timer tokens, to up the pressure, make each game a little different from the last. And with over 200 word cards, reviewers say you won't have to worry about this game becoming repetitive.
Glowing Review: "The games are quick so you it's not a huge time investment. The rules are clear and pretty easy to learn. The style of this game is really good for us as we are both Ugly Competitive and this is a game where you're actually playing 'together'. It also fostered some fun conversations afterwards about tactics used/choices made (things we tried that both worked and didn't). We both likes it a lot and agree that this is a 'keeper'."
2. A Cult-Favorite Card Game That's One Of The Most-Backed Projects In Kickstarter History
If over 10,000 reviews on Amazon couldn't convince you that Exploding Kittens is a blast, maybe knowing that this was one of the most-backed projects in all of Kickstarter history can. The sole object of the game is to not draw an exploding kitten card from the deck of 56 cards. While avoiding the explosion is partially luck, the deck is also stacked with playing cards that help you avoid, mitigate, and diffuse an exploding kitten. As the manufacturer calls it, this "kitty-powered version of Russian roulette" is sure to liven up any game night.
Glowing Review: "I tried not to buy this game for so long. I heard all the hype and thought, "C'mon, it's a card game about kittens? I want nothing to do with this and not just because I'm allergic." In a moment of weakness (also known as 'Oh, crud, I don't have much for my kids for Christmas and it is only a week away! Save me, Amazon Prime!'), I hit Add to Cart. [...] Holy macaroni, was it easy to learn and did we ever laugh? The answers are Yes and Yes! We enjoyed it so much, we played again. Then opened the expansion pack and played a third time. [...] Anxiously awaiting the next expansion pack!" — Amazon Customer
3. A Word Game That's Reminiscent Of Scrabble But Way Faster
If you love word games, but hate the complex points system and slower pace of Scrabble, Bananagrams "the anagram game that will drive you bananas" is the game for you. To start, dump out 144 tiles and let each player draw 21 tiles (or fewer tiles with more players). The action starts when a player calls "split" and each player competes to create their own personal crossword grid. Then, players yell "peel" when they run out of letters, forcing every player to add another tile to their pile. The game ends when a player uses all of their tiles and there are not enough tiles left for another "peel." This game gets your brain working in high gear and, in my experience, can sometimes get much more physical than you might expect for a word game.
Glowing Review: "It’s like scrabble but you don’t have to be especially smart. It’s challenging but there’s no triple word scores or anything like that. It’s a fairly quick game. You just play as many rounds as you want to. And just 2 people can play it."
4. A Frontier Game Specifically Designed For Two People And Repeat Play
Unlike most of the games on this list, Rivals For Catan is optimized exclusively to be played by only two people; and for those who are fans of classic Catan, but don't always have enough players this game is especially for you. In fact, it was even designed to reward repeat play by the same two players — so you won't have to worry about getting bored, or feeling like you aren't playing the game to its full potential.
In this game, the objective is to become Prince of Catan using the card hand you're dealt and a little luck with the dice. Throughout the game, you work to develop Catan, a newly settled land, by acquiring resources, creating principalities, and discovering new lands. With cards and a bit of luck thanks to the roll of the dice, players will work to build cities, buildings, ships, and roads to fully explore the undeveloped territories of Catan. It's fast-paced but requires forward thinking and a bit of strategy to win.
Glowing Review: "Perfect way to play Catan with just 2 people. We were recently introduced to Catan and were blown away by how quickly we became addicted to it (despite the overwhelming directions). So we craved a similar experience for those nights in which we don’t have other player around. The directions seem daunting at first, but you’ll have it figured out in one play through. It’s an awesome game and passes the time wonderfully."
5. A Super-Fast-Paced Card Game That Can Be Played In Under Five Minutes
If you dread how long it takes your family to play Monopoly, then We Didn't Playtest This At All was made for you. The ridiculous card game, with over 1,000 reviews, has no official rules, instead you just follow the directions on the cards. Each card offers a new rule, changing the direction of the game and providing even more ways to lose. If you're looking for a game with low-commitment but endless fun, each round of this game will never take longer than five minutes and can even be over in a matter of 60 seconds. Plus, this pick can be great for parties since it can accommodate as many as 15 players.
Glowing Review: "This game is SUPER FUN to play with friends and family! As stated on the box, game play is pretty short (each game will only be a couple of minutes) but there is a huge amount of replay-ability designed into the game. So far I've been able to get at least a good 1 hour play session with just 2 players and with a few more people you could definitely play for a couple hours without getting bored."
6. A Nature-Inspired Game Where You Build The Board As You Play
Hive is, at its heart, a strategy game inspired by insects. In some ways it's very similar to chess, but reviewers say it's much more laid back that chess if that intimidates you. The game's objective is to surround your opponent's queen entirely. Each creature-bedecked hexagonal tile, either soldier ants or grasshoppers, has a different way of moving. A winner of multiple awards and even honored by Mensa Select, this game can be played anywhere as long as there's a flat surface. Plus, it comes backed by a 4.8-star rating.
Glowing Review: "HIVE is simply one of the best 2-player games that I own. The game usually plays in ~10-15 minutes and it takes about 5 minutes to fully teach it to a friend.The best way I can describe hive is like this: It's like a game of chess where the board is created by your pieces, and some pieces can be placed on top of other pieces. [...] Despite the game looking like its made for kids, your strategy can get as complicated as you want it to (like chess). [...] This is my go-to game to bring on a picnic or to a beer garden for some light gaming (it also comes with a nice canvas bag). HIGHLY recommend it. My girlfriend and I play it all the time."
7. A Strategy-Heavy Game You Can Play For Hours
If you are looking for a game you can really sink you teeth into, Twilight Struggle promises three solid hours of gameplay. This cult-favorite cold war game is a two-player, strategy-heavy game that simulates the 45-year war. If you love Risk, you'll love this game, too.
Glowing Review: "If you enjoy games with a lot of strategic thinking and high stakes decision making, this game is for you. Also, if you enjoy games that have historical themes, enjoy. If you are someone who likes fantastical art/ themes and having a bit of freedom to choose your own path, move along. The outcome of this game is very dependent on your choices and the cards you receive. It is intense and a brain burner, but loved by a lot of people- it just depends on what you're into."
8. A Trivia Game That Not Only Tests Your Knowledge But Also Challenges Your Problem-Solving Abilities
Unlike classic trivia games, Wit's End challenges players with a diverse mix of not only traditional trivia questions but also brain teasers and riddles in a range of categories. The objective of the game is to answer each question correctly to move your piece to the summit of the board. This set includes 1,600 questions that cover pop culture, geography, arts, history, and science, and it can be played by two to six players — or up to 18 if played with teams. Just note that this game is intended for players for 16 years and older.
Glowing Review: "Great game. Easy to play and the rules explain themselves. Got this for my gf for Christmas so we can have more stuff to do when we are stuck at home. Just the two of us played the other day and she loved it. Mostly because she won, but also because its just a fun game full of interesting facts and challenging questions. There are soooo many cards and as far as I know its up to date on trivia to at least 2011."
9. A Fast-Paced Strategy Card Game That's Packed With Squirrel Puns
Winning Squirrels!, the nutty game from da Vinci's room, seems pretty easy: You just have to collect five nut cards of the same color. Of course, it wouldn't have almost five stars on Amazon if it was that simple. The game incorporates black attack cards, white defend cards, neutralizing tan cards, and purple wild cards with quirky rules that make the 10 to 20 minutes of gameplay way more fun. Each game has four nut colors, for up to four players, and leaves plenty of room to throw in a few house rules. One reviewer likens it to UNO, only cuter.
Glowing Review: "Lots of fun for 2 players. Have the ability to customize the rules of the game which makes it interesting and fun. Will continue to play!"
10. A Creative And Outlandish Game In Which You Build Baby-Eating Monsters
Bears Vs Babies is another game from the creators of Exploding Kittens, and like its predecessor, it's gaining quite a following. This fun-for-all-ages game is hilarious and highly strategic. Use the cards to build eccentric characters like a salmon in business attire that's armed with burritos. Give your creation anything from arms to armor to prepare them for the infant onslaught. To win, out-build your partner and eat the most babies. For a quick, but quirky game, look no further.
Glowing Review: "I bought this game because my wife and I were looking for something new to play. This game is great for 2-5 people and is fairly easy to pick up. Like anything Oatmeal related, the illustrations are humorous and well done."
11. An Aesthetically-Pleasing Trick-Taking Card Game
The Fox in the Forest is a two-player trick-taking card game that is full of fantasy. It's simple to learn but demands enough strategic thinking that it's still able to drum-up a competitive spirit between players. The artwork on this game is particularly beautiful and the aesthetic adds to its whimsical gameplay.
Glowing Review: "This is a fun little game for two people. It's well-made and has great art. There's a decent amount of strategy involved—deeper than, say, Euchre, but nothing too complex."
12. A Dice Games That Encourages You To Risk It All For the Win
Yahtzee lovers seeking a little more thrill will find their perfect game companion in Playmonster's Farkle. To play, each person rolls six dice for points, with the ultimate goal to have the highest score over 10,000 points. But only certain numbers and combos earn you points. After each roll, you can choose to either bank your points or risk them to roll again. If your roll earns zero points, it's called a Farkle. Get three Farkles in a row, you lose 1,000 points— and likely your chance at winning the game. This game is great fun for all ages and can accommodate any number of players (within reason). Plus, it has a 4.7-star rating on Amazon.
Glowing Review: "What a fun game! Everytime we get together with friends, we play. We take it with us on trips as it is small and easy to pack. We introduce it to our friends and soon they're "hooked!" [...] Two or more can play. Doesn't matter how many, only how long it might take with the more playing. It is fun, it is basically a no brainer so easy to play in the evening if you're tired, but want to do something fun.We've enjoyed many hours with this game and, YES, I would recommend it to anyone."
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