Over the weekend the very talented Duncan Jones asked Twitter a question that made me think about what board games I like to play with my husband. After thinking about it for longer than I probably should have I came up with five games that play really well with just two players; as it’s Valentine’s Day, here are five great games that would make a fun date night and a great alternative to going out. [I’ll be chipping in on a few of these games because Hannah’s managed to pick some of my all time favourites! – James]
5. Lost Cities by Rio Grande Games
Overview – Lost Cities is a two player set-building card game based around the theme of archaeological expeditions to, well, lost cities. There are five “expeditions”, each with its own colour and corresponding deck of cards numbered 2 to 10, with three additional “investment” cards for each. Both players draw a hand of eight cards at the start of the game, then play a card to an expedition each turn before replacing it with one from the draw deck. Once a numbered card is played, only cards of a higher value can be added to that expedition. When the last card is drawn the round ends, and each player scores their expedition by totalling the cards played on it then subtracting 20 from the score. Each investment card on an expedition multiplies that expedition’s score (for good or ill), but once a numbered card is played to an expedition no more investments can be added. Play continues for several rounds, with the highest scoring player after a set number of rounds winning the game.
I love it because – It’s quick and easy to learn, but can involve a lot of strategy. The fact that you can only play cards in order of increasing value means you need to decide if you will commit multipliers to an expedition at the start and reveal your strategy, or risk the other player setting out on it before you get to play them. Also, if the other player has started playing low value cards on an expedition you may want to play a very high value card on it knowing that they will score more negative points than you. This is small and portable, a fab game for a picnic if it isn’t windy and you have a way of noting down the scores for each round.
James says – I played this game an awful lot with Jake when we were working on DreadBall – it’s quick, fun, and we found it a great way to get our brains in gear. It’s a Eurogame through and through, with the players never quite in direct competition, but the way you share a deck means you’re still more than capable of messing with each other’s plans! You need to decide what you’re going to do early on – will you focus on one expedition, at the risk that your opponent will be holding the high-scoring cards for that colour, or will you spread your chances and hope you can bring each one above 20 points? How many investment cards do you play, considering that each one might as well be a huge neon sign saying “sabotage this expedition”? This game is also noteworthy for “The Knizia Effect”, whereby you’re guaranteed that the card you’ll draw each turn will almost certainly have been rendered unplayable by the card you played that turn…
4. Bananagrams by Bananagrams
Overview – Bananagrams is a word grid game where each player makes their own word grid based on the letter tiles they draw. Players start with a certain number of tiles and race to use them all; when one player has fit all their tiles into their grid (or grids!), everyone takes another letter. When the draw pile reaches a set number of tiles left everyone has one last round to finish their grids, the first person to finish their grid is the winner for the round.
I love it because – No matter how far behind you are at the start of this game it is possible to catch up and be the first to finish your grid after the last tiles are drawn. Also, as the letter tiles do not have values you don’t need to search for those long high scoring words or try to place them strategically, you can just use the first words you think of – something that is exceedingly useful when you suck at anagrams as much as I do. Bananagrams is the word grid game for people who don’t like word grid games and it’s masses of fun as well.
Find out more about this game – Official website.
3. Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries by Days of Wonder
Overview – Nordic Countries is an offshoot of the massively popular Ticket to Ride series, designed with 2-3 players in mind. The object of the game is to score points by placing trains along tracks between cities, which you do by collecting cards of the right colour for the route. You can also score points by completing “tickets”, i.e. by having an unbroken line of your trains between the two cities.
I love it because – Ticket to Ride is the game I go to when I want to introduce friends who have only played traditional board games, such as Cluedo and Monopoly, to modern board games; it’s easy to learn, the aesthetics of the game are lovely (you place little train carriages on a map!) and it’s lots of fun. Also, you don’t need to have played any of the other versions of Ticket to Ride to understand how the game works. The Nordic Countries map for this game has been designed for a smaller number of players, and laid out in such a way that you’re bound to want to play in the same areas as each other. This makes it a great date night game if you’re competitive and are happy to show that to your date – you’re guaranteed to have to play a little mean in order to win!
Find out more about this game – The original game is available as an app on iPhone and iPad. Official website. You can see the original version played on TableTop.
2. Carcassonne by Rio Grande Games
Overview – Carcassonne is a territory claiming game where the map being claimed is made as the game progresses. In their turn, players draw a tile to expand the map and decide if they want to place one of their meeples (little wooden tokens shaped like people) on the tile they placed to try to score points. Tiles feature a mixture of fields, roads, cities and monasteries; a meeple placed in a field becomes a farmer, while one on a road becomes a highwayman, and so on. Each position scores points in its own way, and when the last tile is placed the scores are totalled and a winner is declared.
I love it because – This game has it all – a cute design, beautifully simple rules and a whole bunch of strategic thinking. As you build the map, you have the opportunity to manipulate it so that your meeples claim the greatest amount of land and therefore score the most points. Having said that, the gameplay is so good that I have never been annoyed at another player for “taking my space”, despite being super competitive. This is a great date night game for having a laugh while playing a game against your date; you will both enjoy it and someone will get to declare themselves the winner at the end of the game.
James says – Carcassonne is one of those special games that scales to any number of players, but a tête-à-tête is something else entirely. It really sharpens the tactical aspect of the game, but as Hannah says, the game is so elegant and enjoyable that it’s impossible to stay angry with your opponent. (Even when they go out of their way to block you at every turn and put a road tile right next to your almost-complete city so you have to dig out a hard-to-find “city wall and road” piece…) It’s a game that gets better every time you play it, as you find new tricks and tactics, especially when it comes to using farmers. This is another amazing game for introducing non-gamers to modern gaming.
Find out more about this game – available as apps for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices. Official website. I have also been reliably informed by a hobby game store owner that while this is currently out of print, while the game is transitioning between publishers, that most stores should still have copies. [I’ve seen several of the Big Box versions floating around, which contain the main game with about half a dozen expansions – I’m not usually an expansion fan, but in this case they each add something small and exciting to the game, so I’d recommend picking it up if you see it! – James]
1. Pandemic by Z-Man Games
Overview – Pandemic is a co-operative game where players work to stop four viruses spreading across the globe and wiping out the human race. Each player has a role with different special abilities and they need to pull together and use their strengths if they are to stand a chance. Victory is a careful balance between discarding cards to travel to locations to stop diseases building up and spreading, or keeping and collecting those cards into sets to find cures for the diseases. Occasionally an epidemic breaks out, triggering mass panic both in-game and in person. There is no middle ground – the players either win or lose as a group.
I love it because – It’s really difficult to win, and in my opinion co-op games are much more rewarding when you know you’ve been lucky and clever enough to beat tough odds. The game has a great mechanic where infections will keep returning to the same area, meaning you get hot-spots across the board that could flare up and escalate at a moment’s notice. I prefer co-op games for date nights because I’m super competitive and we both have a lot more fun working together to win a game than when I’m grumpy about the husband taking somewhere I wanted, or when I’m doing a really smug victory dance.
James says – This game is tense. At the start, everything seems easy. Fly to Washington and stop a small outbreak? Sure! Set up a research centre in Africa? Why not! Then, just as you’re wondering where the challenge is, an epidemic happens. You realise you missed the impending chain reaction in Europe. Does anyone even wash their hands any more? Little wooden cubes of infection speed across the continent. You wonder how you were stupid enough to waste so much time. Suddenly every decision takes on vital importance. Sure, Lisbon looks like it’s about to go critical, but if you can hold onto the card for a couple more turns you can almost certainly use it to put together a cure. If civilisation lasts that long…
Find out more about this game – Official website. Watch it being played on TableTop. This should be back in print by the middle of the year; in the meantime, check out another amazing Z-Man co-op game in the shortlist below.
I have to admit that it was difficult getting it down to five, so here are the games that made the shortlist and why they weren’t included:
Scrabble – the original word game! Bananagrams just edged into the list over Scrabble because I prefer the mechanic of each player making their own word grid.
Yggdrasil – another wonderful, and very pretty, co-op game from Z-Man, but I only wanted one co-op game in the list and I love how challenging Pandemic is with two players.
Quarriors & Dominion – these deck building games (or dice pool building in the case of Quarriors) are amazing for slightly more experienced gamers, but the universal appeal of the other games edged them out of the list.
Chess & Backgammon – you don’t need me to tell you that these classics are great two player games.
I hope the list gave you some ideas and I’d love to hear what your favourite date night board games are!
Another cracking article, with some great recommendations! If you’ve played any of these recently, let us know your thoughts in the comments section. Also, don’t forget to check out the first part of Battles and Buggies, Hannah’s new series about settling back into gaming after having a baby. Part 2 is due in March – in the meantime, you can catch her on Twitter.