One of the most frequent questions I get at work is “do you have any good games for two?”
Similarly, the internet gaming forums are littered with people asking “what’s a game my spouse/partner/SO is going to like?”
The answer to both these questions is interconnected.
The second question is most often asked by guys looking to get their wives or girlfriends into board games, as if there is one perfect game out there that all women will enjoy, like all you have to do is find the game in the pink box about jewelry, make up, or kittens. Women are not monolith, and there’s no reason they should stick to stereotypically “female” things, any more than men should stick to games about cars, guns, and football.
The truth is there are also lots of people all across the gender spectrum who game, and who have partners who don’t game, and the reasons they don’t game are as numerous as they are, so there is not magic bullet game that will transform your partner into an avid gamer.
If you have a partner that you would like to play more games with you, try exploring two-player games. A two player game, whether it’s a head-to-head competition, or a co-operative experience tells your partner that you want to spend time with them. You aren’t dragging them along to a game night, where you’ll be having fun with your friends, and they are there as an after thought. It’s just you and them, sharing some quality time together.
The game cafe where I work is renowned for being a date destination, so we need lots of good two-player games. Some of my favourites to recommend to couples who are new to gaming are: Jaipur, Quarto, Patchwork, Onitama, The Duke, Yinsh, and Cahoots
Jaipur, by Sebastien Pauchon, is a game of merchants trading and selling exotic goods, like rubies, silks, and spices. Make the most profit and win.
Blaise Muller’s Quarto is tic-tac-toe on steroids. Complete a line of four pieces in which all four pieces share one characteristic in common. But there’s a twist: your opponent picks the piece you must play on your turn, and vice versa.
Patchwork by polyomino master Uwe Rosenberg, is a game about the cutthroat world of competitive quilt making. Players try to earn the most buttons by filling their quilt boards with as many oddly-shaped fabric patches as possible. This game is as tight and mean as a knife fight in a phone booth.
Kris Burm’s Yinsh is Connect 4 meets Othello. Be the first to score 3 points by making lines of 5 of your colour stones, by placing, moving, and flipping stones on a hexagonal grid.
The Duke (by Stephen McLaughlin & Jeremy Holcomb) and Shimpei Sato’s Onitama are both modern descendants of Chess. Capture your opponent’s leader by cleverly manoeuvring your pieces around the grid. In the Duke, your pieces are tiles drawn randomly from a bag and have their move and attack options printed right on them. In Onitama your pieces move based on movement cards. A different set are dealt out every time you play, so it’s a different game each time.
Cahoots, by Ken Gruhl, is like co-operative Uno. Players take turns playing cards of matching colours or numbers onto the discard piles in an effort to complete objective cards. Complete all the objectives before the cards run out to win.
Before Covid, my wife was not my primary gaming partner, but that didn’t stop me from having a number of head to head games in my home collection as well. And since self-isolation policies have been implemented, I’m extra glad to have them. Some of them are nice and light, while others are more complex games for more seasoned gamers. Memoir ‘44, Star Wars Rebellion, Star Wars Risk, Raptor, & Kahuna
Star Wars Rebellion, by Corey Konieczka, is one of my all time favourite games, but it is not for the faint of heart. With a price tag of $100 or more and an average play time of 3-4 hours, Rebellion is an investment, but a worthy one, especially for fans of the films. The Rebels are trying to stay hidden and build up enough galactic support to take down the Empire, while the Imperial player spreads their star destroyers and storm troopers from system to system, aiming to locate and destroy the hidden Rebel base.
For a lighter, faster, take on the Star Wars experience, try Risk: Star Wars Edition, by the team of James D’Aloisio, Austin Rucker, & Craig Van Ness. It lets players re-enact the thrilling climax of Return of the Jedi, the Battle of Endor. If you aren’t a fan of Risk, don’t let the name put you off. Aside from having an assortment of plastic figures and a handful of six-sided dice, this game has nothing to do with Risk.
If you like your gaming more historical in nature, Richard Borg’s Memoir ‘44 allows players to re-enact historical battles from World War II. Which side will earn the required number of medals to win the scenario? Memoir ‘44 is a game where punching Nazis is always the right answer! For a fantasy take on the same mechanics, BattleLore uses the same basic system using wizards and orcs instead of tanks and paratroopers but adds magic-use.
Raptor, from the Brunos Cathala & Faidutti, is an asymmetrical game, meaning the opposing sides have different goals and abilities. One side is a group of scientists trying to capture baby dinosaurs for science. The other side is the mama raptor, trying to keep her babies safe and eat the scientists.
Günter Cornett’s Kahuna is a game about controlling an archipelago of tropical islands. Players play cards to build bridges on the board, and once a player controls the majority of bridges to an island, they control the island.
These are just a fraction of the two-player games on the market, and I haven’t even touched on games that are good for two, but are equally good for more players (Fortunately I wrote about that very topic for the Daily Worker Placement a while ago). So whether you’re on a date at your local board game cafe, or in quarantine with a roommate or life partner, these games are great ways to while away some hours!