With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I thought I would take a moment to answer the question we see most here at 3 & Up: “Do you have any good games for two players?”
That’s a good question! The magic number tends to hover at around four players; it’s the number of ravenous hippos, cardinal directions, and temperaments making up the Ninja Turtles. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that most games get the best mileage out of having a full ensemble of teenage mutants.
Of course, you could meet people at our Monday Meetups…
But let’s get this out of the way: it’s 2017. Having enough friends to fill a two-door sedan is a luxury few of us can afford while juggling our jet-setting glamorous lifestyle. In an era where Facebook and other social media has turned friendship into a commodity, it’s increasingly difficult to find a good group willing to sit for gaming sessions. If it sounds like I’m projecting, it’s because I am.
Anyway, we here at 3 & Up like pulling people together, no matter the number, so I’ve gone through our collection and hand-picked a selection of games befitting a pair, whether romantically involved, friendly, or hostile; I’ve done my best to make sure there’s something for all tastes represented:
Let’s admit it: checkers is played out. Some computer scientists solved the game back in 2007, so with a bit of light reading you can ruin the fun for your friends. Simplicity in game design is something to be admired, but there’s only a certain number of times you can watch your friend chain-jump their way to your end of the board and proceed to wipe you out from behind with their king. We need something that puts all players on an even field.
Cue Kamisado. The game consists of 16 “dragon towers,” eight per player, on a checkered board of 64 squares of eight colors in a regular pattern. Each dragon tower has a color that matches to the squares which determines where it starts on its player’s row. In turns, each player moves their dragon towers any number of squares forward, either straight or diagonally. The winner is whomever moves one of his towers onto the other’s home row.
The twist is that each tower will land on a certain color, and that color determines the dragon tower your opponent is required to move. For example, if Player One moves his tower onto an orange square, Player Two has to move her Orange Tower.
It’s something like an intermediate step between checkers and chess, without requiring a Master’s Degree in Sun Tzu to master. It’s a nice warm-up game, good for oiling up the whetstones of the brain for something a little more complex.
There’s a surprising number of Jack the Ripper board games out right now, and while we unfortunately don’t have the exceptional Letters From Whitechapel (go play Letters From Whitechapel if you ever get the chance, seriously), Mr. Jack is the second-best experience you can have escaping the law after murdering prostitutes. In Mr. Jack one player is the eponymous Jack the Ripper, while the other controls the constables trying to stop him from escaping Whitechapel District.
The game board is a stylized depiction of London’s foggy streets, with lamp-posts, police barricades, and sewer entries providing plenty of opportunities to skulk about in top-hat and cloak. At the beginning of the game, Jack assumes an identity at random, and it is the other player’s job to determine just who it is before he escapes. Over the course of eight rounds each player controls a handful of characters, each with a unique movement ability, and the Constable has to puzzle out who has blood on his hands.
The key mechanic is Visibility, which drives Jack to utilize misdirection and the extinguishing lamp-posts to distract the Constable. With both Jack and the Constable alternating their choices in moving characters, it’s a great example of having to outwit your opponent while puzzling out just who is whom.
The Magic Labyrinth
Every once in a while you come across a game with a really unique concept and the design to back it up. This is one of those. The Magic Labyrinth is a game for 2 (to 4, but I’m pretending nobody reading this has more than one friend) consisting of a multi-level board, some magnets and player tokens, and a bunch of wooden walls. Before the game is started a maze is built in the board with the slots, the game rotated a few times (to throw off the players) and everybody gets a magnet and token. Starting from opposite corners, the players have to navigate the labyrinth and collect tokens to win.
The cool part comes when a player hits one of the invisible walls: the token keeps moving, but the magnet detaches. It’s a little difficult to illustrate, so here’s a picture:
First player to collect five tokens is the winner. I particularly like this game for the innovative way it simulates invisible walls. In the immortal words of the modern-day philosophers Insane Clown Posse: “Water, fire, air, and dirt, freaking magnets, how do they work?”
I might be paraphrasing, but you get the basic idea.
Jaipur is a game about market capitalists hoarding camels in order to secure the most points. There are some other rules, but in my experience that tends to be what players focus on.
No, but really, it’s a game about players going to a market, buying up as much product as they can, and becoming the grand trader for the Maharaja. This is done through exchanging various cards, gathering point chips, and out-witting your opponent. It’s a fun, simple-to-learn game where the competition is more through thinking and outplaying, rather than direct conflict.
Or by collecting the most camels.
This one’s just a little self-serving because this game is beautiful.
Scythe is a grand strategy game featuring some of the best art you will ever see depicting an alternate-history where World War I was fought with giant walking mechs. In the aftermath of the conflict the remaining nations are resettling a devastated countryside, where the possibility of violence looms over their heads like an ever-present smog.
Players play as rulers of various nations, leading their people in establishing some semblance of normal life as the tension grows thick. Playable with 1 to 5 people, you go about placing workers, moving mechs, and resolving encounters across the board.
Getting too far into Scythe could take up this entire post, so I won’t bore you with my rambling about a game I’m enthusiastic about. Just know that if you’re seeking a deep two-player experience with absolutely beautiful art, top-notch components, and mechanics allowing for a fully encompassing experience. Each turn you choose a single action you did not perform the past game, so there’s a bit of planning involved in making sure you out-manufacture your opponent.
Of course, Scythe is the game you should pick if you want to spend as much time learning the game as playing. There’s a reason it’s the only epic strategy game on this list, though most of them are playable with only two players. If you’re looking for something a little more than Risk and are willing to put in the effort, this will reward the effort.
So, there’s a shortish list of games playable for two folks. I tried to keep it focused on games we don’t see played very often here at the Lounge, though there’s always the classics like Guess Who and Operation available.
Or you could make a New Year’s resolution to make new friends and come by Mondays from 7 to close for Meetup Mondays.
Just a thought.