Tabletop for Two

While hosting a game night once or twice a week is ideally the best way to share your enthusiasm for tabletop games, sometimes we just end up having a little game night with just the two of us.  Sometimes that’s by choice, and sometimes our friends’ equally busy schedules conflict, so occasionally a regular game night will get put on a hiatus.  After we started having more and more game nights alone, we decided to build up our collection of two-player games.  There are many games that we own that we have fun just playing as a two-player game, like Eldritch Horror or Pandemic, but we like having a collection of games that are perfectly balanced for two players.  Here are some of the two-player only games we recommend for those nights you’d rather not play an eight-player TI3.

Rivals for Catan

Yep, just like it sounds, this the Catan experience distilled for only two players. While it doesn’t completely capture the essence of hating your friends for not trading with you, mechanically it still comes very close. Two players attempt to build linear colonies of roads, settlements, and cities amounting to 10 points. It differs in that you can add improvements to your settlements and cities to increase the amount of resources you get from the die roll, or increase your military might or trading prowess for the bonus points they afford. When you don’t have the 4 (or 6) players required for a game of Catan, this is a wonderful substitute worthy of the Catan name.

Hive

Hive is another perfect example of a game that is relatively simple to learn, but increasingly complex tactically. Two players have duplicate, hexagonal tiles of differing colors, each with unique abilities based on the insect embossed upon it. The object of Hive is to encircle the opposing player’s Queen Bee piece, with the chief limitation being that the integrity of Hive is always maintained. And by that, I mean that each piece must be in contact with at least one other piece. Moreover, each player must play their Queen Bee to the board by at least their third action.Chess would be the most apt comparison, although there isn’t a board for Hive – the pieces make up an everchanging, fluid play area.

Twilight Struggle

We’ve mentioned Twilight Struggle in multiple posts at this point as a game we highly recommend you play, and we’re going to mention it again because, frankly, it’s just that good. Twilight Struggle is a card-driven, area control game replicating the heavy tension between the American and Soviet forces (and their allies) during the Cold War. Players vie over political influence for control of countries to increase their score – a score on a linear track that ebbs and flows from one player to the other and back again. All the while the DEFCON lowers to a game-ending 1 if players get too greedy militarily. You wouldn’t expect playing cards and moving pieces on a board could be so stressful.

Memoir ’44

Memoir ’44 is a card-driven, area control, combat game with some dice-infused luck. It utilizes scenario setups to replicate historical battles from the varying fronts WWII, from Pegasus Bridge to the Normandy landings. Gameplay progresses by playing a card and activating any units of yours on the field that meet that card’s criteria. Generally, cards will activate a set amount of units either of a particular type or a set number of units residing in a particular region (the board is divided into the left and right flanks and the center). Units can, unless otherwise specified, either move twice, move and fight, or just fight. Fighting involves rolling a number of dice based on how far away the opposing, targeted unit is. Overall, Memoir ’44 is simple and not terribly deep, but by no means not fun. If the game has a detractor, it would be the set up time required to create the scenarios you play.

Pixel Tactics

Pixel Tactics is an 8-bit themed, card-driven strategy combat game, that feels a little like the tower defense genre of computer games. Both players utilize duplicate decks of double-sided cards, one side featuring a unique Leader and the other featuring a supporter. The players each select a Leader to place in the center of their 3×3 grid of a playing area. After-which, players alternate playing supporting characters around their Leader to empower their field and/or attack the opposing field. Last Leader alive wins. Gameplay is straight-forward, and replayability is immense as every card is unique, you’ll likely never see the same Leader twice. Admittedly, I’ve only played Pixel Tactics once, but it seems perfectly acceptable and enjoyable for the $10 price tag.

Netrunner

While still eclipsed by Magic: the Gathering, this Richard Garfield gem is swiftly rising in popularity. Netrunner is very unique in the strategy card game realm for offering strong asymmetric play. Set in a dystopian, cyberpunk future, one player represents the self-serving Corporation and the other plays as the rebellious hacker called a Runner. The Corp player’s goals are to accrue 7 agenda points or to outlast the Runner’s card pool while the Runner needs to hack the Corp and steal those same agendas for points. The cards represent servers and and firewalls for the Corp player, and malicious programs for the Runner. After playing Magic, Netrunner has been a breath of fresh air thematically, mechanically, and for the wallet – Fantasy Flight Games’ LCG model is far more affordable than the collectible, randomized packs Wizards of the Coast offers with Magic.

So, we’ve touched on several games for two players that we own and/or have played a few times. As the gift-giving season swiftly approaches, it seems only fitting to mention a few games for two that we have our eyes on. Jaipur, an economic card game of trading and set collection with an Indian theme (and by that I mean the country India as opposed to the indigenous peoples of North America). It sits atop a few lists of good two player games we’ve come across, and so it sits atop our list of games to acquire at some soon but as of yet undetermined time.

Asante and Jambo both piqued my interest as a returned Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia. These two games feature trading, set collection, and economics not unlike Jaipur. What sets them apart for me, if you haven’t put the pieces together yet, is the African marketplace theme they share. I squealed with delight after finding out they existed and stated rather matter-of-factually that we were going to get one or both of them. Our combined kitchen/living room already has several tokens of memorabilia from my second home in Africa, why not our game collection too?

Cam was a little surprised to hear that I recommend we give Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small a try after my vociferous reaction to regular Agricola. But considering A:ACBaS focuses mainly on the animal husbandry aspects of farming for points and removed the bits about sowing and harvesting grain and carrots which seemed to irritate me so, I suppose it’s no surprise.

I’m sure we’ll be receiving some of the two-player games we have on our wishlist during the upcoming holiday season.  I look forward to giving them a try and writing reviews of them.  If you’ve played them, let us know what you think.  Are there any other two-player only games that you’ve tried and highly recommend?

Agricola – A Farming Game for Non-Farmers

Agricola, designed by Uwe Rosenberg and published here in the US by Z-Man Games, is a German-style (Euro game), agriculturally themed board game for up to 5 players including a solitaire variant. If you’re not familiar with the Euro game distinction, they are often abstracted, low luck, high strategy games with oftentimes simple rules and short to medium play times.
As a basic overview, Agricola is played across 14 rounds, organized into 6 stages. Before the game begins, players are dealt a hand of 7 occupation cards and 7 minor improvement cards that can be applied to their farm. The players take actions, the number of which corresponding to how many family members they have (starting value of 2). There are basic actions like collecting clay or reed, or collecting seeds. Then there are randomized actions that become available as play progresses through each round, such as collecting sheep or cattle or sowing grain. Only one player can take a particular action each round. The object of the game is have the most points, achieved by building the best possible farm, utilizing as much space as possible. It is also important to not have your family go hungry, as players will accrue negative point cards if they are unable to feed their family members at the end of each stage.
Tab was very excited when I borrowed my friend’s copy of the game so we could play. She grew up on a farm, and so was intensely curious as to how the designer would implement crop and animal management in the game. The excitement slowly morphed into an amused frustration. Tab expressed again and again how the mechanics used in the game were next to nothing like actual farming, and would verbally berate the board at multiple opportunities. It became one of the most enjoyable negative experiences of gaming we’ve had, as Tab grew increasingly emphatic that “that’s not how it’s done!” to my continued quips “but it’s a game.”
I am, admittedly, not a big fan of Euro games in general. While fine in low doses, I find the lack of variance fairly off-putting. The first few plays feel novel and engaging, but increasingly become same-y and dull. Agricola doesn’t break the mold, but does what it can to keep you playing with the randomized actions across the stages. Tab, however, is big fan of Settlers of Catan, another game under the Euro cloth, and I’ll assume her take-away was tainted mainly by expectations in the theme. Ultimately, Agricola is fun and challenging game, but past the 4 or 5 plays I’ve had it loses it’s appeal.