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10 of the best board games for two players

It’s something of a golden era for board games – crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter have made it easier for people with clever ideas to get them in front of an audience, and quirky new games have turned into massive global hits. If you’re looking for something to get you through lockdown, or your Queen’s Gambit-inspired chess binge is starting to wear thin, look no further than this list of the best board games for two players.

Jaipur

You and your opponent are competing traders in a bustling market in Jaipur, the capital of the Indian state of Rajasthan. Each of you is racing to hawk your respective bounty of jewels, spices and precious metals in order to earn the coveted Seal of Excellence. But getting the maximum cash for your haul will require a sound strategy and perfect timing. The value of each good drops as more of that item is sold while selling multiple items at one time attracts bonus points, leaving players having to strike the balance between selling while prices are high and building a large haul that can rake in the maximum points. Gameplay is fast and varied, with a blend of luck and strategy that lends Jaipur bags of replay potential. Matt Reynolds

Pandemic

10 of the best board games for two players

There’s a deadly virus spreading rapidly across the globe, and it’s your job to work together as a team and fight back. Yes, it might seem a bit macabre to be playing this during an actual global pandemic, but there’s actually something cathartic about pushing back the tide – and watching as the disease recedes across the game board, which is a world map marked with major cities. Coloured cubes represent the spread of four different diseases, and each player takes a different role in pushing them back, in a race against time. There are numerous spin-offs and expansions, including 2015’s Pandemic Legacy, an episodic board game that brings in virus mutations, rolling travel bans, and even a global vaccination effort. It’s almost as if we could have seen this all coming. Amit Katwala

Dead of Winter

This story-telling zombie game is perfect for fans of The Walking Dead or anyone who fancies role-playing hunkering down in one place trying to stretch out meagre supplies while a deadly threat lurks just beyond their doorway. Two (or more) players team up as members of a colony who must make the most of their character’s skills to forage for weapons, medicine and food and hold off the horde of zombies massing around them. Each new turn threatens to unveil a new crisis that will push the colony beyond the brink of survival. The exquisitely bleak card design and challenging gameplay make this an absorbing, if not exactly relaxing, way to spend a few hours. Nothing says ‘pandemic escapism’ like pretending to survive yet another existential threat, right? MR

Fungi

If the markets of Jaipur don’t capture your imagination, you might prefer to take a trip mushroom hunting in the dark woods of Fungi. In this two-player card game players must collect and cook mushrooms in order to turn their culinary creations into flavour points and claim victory. Eight shared cards in the middle of the board make up the “forest” which evolves over time, offering up a new combination of mushrooms as well as extra cards that offer bonus points. Games can quickly develop into tense standoffs as each player tries to figure out which group of mushrooms their opponent is gathering and how much they’re willing to risk to venture into the darkest reaches of the forest in search of the rarest ‘shrooms. MR

Codenames Duet

This two-player version of the popular Codenames is a clever twist on a simple but engaging concept. Players lay out a grid of 25 word cards that represent secret agents and assassins trying to defeat your wily crew. The two players must reveal all fifteen agents without bumping into an assassin. To do this, each player must give a one-word clue that points to cards on the board that can be safely overturned. The trick is giving clues that point to safe cards, while avoiding leading your teammate into an assassin. For example, “ice” could point to the cards for “snow” and “weather” – both of which are safe – but it might also refer to “coffee” which hides an assassin, spelling the end of the game. Players will tie themselves in linguistic knots trying to point towards multiple cards while evading the assassins. MR

Ticket to Ride

10 of the best board games for two players

Like Monopoly before it, Ticket to Ride has spawned numerous geographical and historical variants, but the basic premise is always the same. The game board is a map of a particular region, with different potential rail routes marked on it. At the start of the game, players select cards determining which routes they must build – by collecting sets of matching coloured cards. The simple mechanics quickly through up dilemmas: What’s the best way to get from London to Athens? Should I gamble on building a tunnel, or play it safe and go overland? Should I focus on building my own route, or try and screw over my opponent? AK

Azul

It’s an unusual premise for a board game: you are a Portuguese tiler, tasked with completing your mosaic before your opponent. Each round, you select coloured tiles to match patterns on your playing board and score points depending on their placement. You can play with up to four players, but it works well one-on-one, where scuppering your opponent’s tiling can become as important as finishing your own. You can have fun trying out different tactics, but Azul is suitable for board game beginners, and any strategy gaming experience won’t confer much of an advantage. There’s minimal setup and each game takes no more than 30 minutes, making it perfect for regular lockdown rematches. Victoria Turk

7 Wonders Duel

Fans of the regular 7 Wonders game – or strategy games in general – won’t be disappointed by this two-player version. Like the original, it involves decks of cards distributed in three ‘ages’ that players collect in order to gain resources, build wonders and grow their army. Players can win through scientific dominance, military defeat, or by collecting the most victory points. These different routes to success require players to adapt depending on their opponent’s strategy and mean that each game can turn out quite differently. The initial setup may seem a little complicated the first time you play, but you’ll soon get familiar with the different components. If you’re missing Catan, this is one for you. VT

Carcassonne

10 of the best board games for two players

In Carcassonne, named after a medieval French town, players take turns to place hexagonal tiles which have features of a map: roads, rivers, fields. They can also ‘claim’ each piece of land by playing a follower on it – when the tiles run out, they score points depending on how much land they’ve claimed and what features they’ve managed to construct on it. It’s a fast-paced strategy game that’s a good way of filling half an hour of your time. AK

Scythe

10 of the best board games for two players

Initially sold on Kickstarter, where it raised $1.8m, Scythe has grown in popularity thanks to its intriguing premise. It’s set in an alternate history steampunk version of 1920s Europe, recovering from a great war and divided into rival factions. Players build themselves into economic powerhouses – producing goods for trade, strengthening their military, or building ‘mechs’ – huge diesel-driven war machines. AK

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