© Charlie Hall/Polygon
Settlers of Catan, 7 Wonders and Codenames have come out with two-player variants
Board games are always a fun activity for big groups of friends, but if you live with a partner or roommate, it can be nice to just break out a quick two-player game after work.
Many board game companies have recognized the demand for games that two people can play easily. The publishers of game night favorites like Settlers of Catan, 7 Wonders and Codenames, which have either official or fan-made two-player variant rules, have come out with separate games that are meant to be played by two people. Others like Pandemic and Carcassonne can be played just as well with two people, and sometimes even work better that way.
We’ve rounded up our favorite games to play with two people below. In the mix are cooperative and competitive games, games that play quickly and games that are a little more involved, games that have the option to add more players and games that are specifically designed with two people in mind.
Rivals for Catan© Catan Studios Rivals for Catan, $29.60 at Amazon © Catan Studios Instead of sharing a board, the rivals for Catan build their own territories.
Settlers of Catan is a game night classic, but it just doesn’t work with two people, despite what Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell might lead you to believe. Trading and the robber don’t really function with two players, and the board is too big for competition over territory to really thrive. The card game from the makers of Settlers, Rivals for Catan, is a good alternative for two people.
7 Wonders Duel© Asmodee 7 Wonders Duel, $26.99 at Amazon © Asmodee Combat and trading work a little differently than in 7 Wonders.
7 Wonders is another game night favorite that just doesn’t work with two people. While the rulebook does have a two-player variant, it’s a little janky and only recommended for experienced players. 7 Wonders Duel is a better option if you’ll be regularly playing with two people. The main difference is that resources are laid out in a pyramid instead of in a shared hand of cards.
Carcassonne© Z-Man Games Carcassonne, $31.49 at Amazon © Z-Man Games Connect roads and build fortresses to score points against your opponent.
In Carcassonne, players work together to build a medieval landscape, with tiles that award different points when connected. It can be played by up to five people, but there’s nothing lost by playing with just two. In fact, it’s a little easier to focus and much less chaotic when played as a head-to-head battle.
Pandemic, Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert© Z-Man Games Pandemic, $35.99 at Amazon © Gamewright Forbidden Island, $14.89 at Amazon
Pandemic is by far the most popular of Matt Leacock’s cooperative board games, but any of them work just as well with two people. Pandemic has you working together to eradicate disease epidemics, while Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert players must escape their respective forbidden landscapes. I actually prefer the Forbidden series because it’s the same basic mechanic, just a little more streamlined.
Hive© Gen42 Games Hive, $26.78 at Amazon © Gen42 Games Win at Hive by surrounding the other player’s queen bee.
Hive is very similar to chess, except there’s no game board and the pieces are bugs. There’s still a queen, though. Like with chess pieces, each bug has a different role and can move in different ways. You win by completely surrounding your opponent’s queen bee. It’s a fun, quick game that’s easy to learn but involves enough strategy to stay interesting over multiple replays.
Star Realms and Hero Realms© White Wizard Games Star Realms, $13.15 at Amazon © White Wizard Games Hero Realms, $18.19 at Amazon
Most deck-building games are either two-player-only or best played with two people. Players begin with a basic starting hand and add to their deck from a communal pile, trying to take the best cards before their opponent. My favorites in that genre are White Wizard’s Star Realms and Hero Realms, which are basically the same game. The main difference is the card themes — do you prefer space or fantasy?
Bananagrams© Bananagrams Bananagrams, $14.54 at Amazon © Bananagrams Yell “bananagrams!” when you complete your crossword grid.
Scrabble is always a good choice for two players, but if you’re looking for a word game that’s a little more exciting, Bananagrams takes the Scrabble mechanic and makes it a little more competitive. Rather than taking turns on a single board, Bananagrams players race to be the first person to use all of their letters in a single grid.
Codenames Duet© Czech Games Codenames Duet, $17.67 at Amazon © Czech Games Contact all of your agents without accidentally triggering the assassin.
Codenames Duet is a two-person cooperative version of the popular party game Codenames. The game works best if you know a lot of synonyms — secret agents are concealed by their codenames, which players must guess from their teammate’s one-word clues. Rather than competing against another team, players in Codenames Duet work together to find each of their agents on the board.
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