Arkham Horror The Card Game
Ramon Mercado via BoardGameGeek | Fantasy Flight Games

The Best Board Games For Just Two People

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I love board games. There are few things as fun as sitting down with a group of friends and learning new rules, laughing together, and competing to win – or working together towards a common goal.

However… playing board games during a pandemic is hard. You can’t exactly be socially distant while sharing cards, rolling the same dice, and sitting in the same room. I’m not going to lie to you, though – even if there wasn’t a pandemic, I wouldn’t be playing board games in big groups. Why?

Well, almost two years ago I moved 500 miles away from my closest friends group to be with my husband. I don’t regret the move – I love our home, our life, etc – but I haven’t made a solid group of friends in the area. I had been planning on starting to ‘look’ for some after we settled into our new house… and then the whole global pandemic took hold.

But I can still play board games

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Even without a big group of friends, I can still play board games. I live with my husband, after all, and believe it or not there are plenty of choices for us to spend a rainy afternoon together. While it’s different from a big group over greasy pizza, it’s still fun.

In some ways, it’s even more fun. Working together with him to solve an escape room or figure out a puzzle is rewarding, and it absolutely brings us closer together. It’s also fun to see how he thinks.

You don’t have to play these with your SO, though. Consider recruiting a close friend in your bubble, a family member, or even a coworker you take lunch with everyday.

Board games are traditionally group activities, sure… but they don’t have to be!

Traditional Puzzles

In my mind, old ladies put together puzzles. I don’t know why, but that’s what I have when I think of puzzles. However, after a particularly rough week, my husband dug out an old puzzle from the closet given to him years before we met and he had never put together.

I was hooked.

We’ve now gone through several puzzles. It’s a great way to relax and unwind after a busy week, and it gives a great sense of accomplishment. He now gives me one on all major holidays – including our anniversary – and we build them on a rolling mat so they don’t take up a ton of space in our living room or dining room.

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I cannot recommend putting on a TV show and putting together a puzzle enough. We do 1000 piece puzzles and they take a few ‘sessions’ to put together, but choose the size you’re most comfortable with! There’s no harm in starting at 300 or 500 pieces.

You can always glue them together afterwards, but you don’t have to – just carefully put the pieces back in the box and store them in the closet. There’s no rule that says you can’t put a puzzle together twice, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve put it together.

While this directly ties into my next point – escape rooms! – Ravensburger makes escape room jigsaw puzzles that are a ton of fun.

An escape room puzzle
Ravensburger via Amazon

This is literally the puzzle we are putting together right now! It’s all rolled up and away from our puppy’s sharp teeth, but we’re about 3/4ths of the way through it.

Put together the room, and then figure out the secret to save the world, or escape with your life, or… whatever the goal is. These are like two in one. They’re also great gifts for couples if you’re struggling with a relatively inexpensive but fun gift!

Escape Rooms

I’m going to admit, much like my previous thoughts of puzzles, for a long time I thought escape room boxes were lame. Like… lame-lame. I also did not like the idea of an actual escape room, because who knows who you’re going to pair up with? It could be awkward, or weird. And there is always that one annoying friend… it just didn’t appeal to me.

But last Christmas, my husband and I were given two escape rooms by a family member. So, we had them – we might as well give them a try.

You guys, escape rooms are actually really fun. We have played through most of the Unlocked! series, and I can strongly recommend The House on the Hill, The Night of the Boogeyman, Scherezade’s Last Tale, and Insert Coin.

On the flip side, we did not enjoy Sherlock Holmes and The Scarlet Thread of Murder or The Nautilus’ Trap. The Holmes mystery was broken, resulting in 15 minutes of frustration and wasted time while we tried to figure out what to do – only to discover the game didn’t give us the correct cards.

The Nautilus’ Trap was fun to a point, but a few of the puzzles weren’t hard – just stupid, and that was frustrating. We ended up pausing the game and watching a playthrough on YouTube to see what we were missing… and discovered the group also struggled with that same part, so it wasn’t entirely user error.

Exit The Game
Kosmos Games

Exit: The Game is probably the box you’re most used to seeing, and that’s because they can be picked up pretty much anywhere. From Target to Walmart, Barnes and Noble and more. We loved The House of Riddles but found The Catacombs of Horror was a bit too frustrating for us. These were our first, though – it’s absolutely possible if we were to go back now, it would be easier!

Our latest pick-up is Mystery House: Adventures in a Box. It features a pretty large box that you slide in ‘cards’. By using an app and exploring the ‘house’, you can investigate what is inside, opening doors, revealing more clues, etc. We have only played one instance, The Lord of the Labyrinth, but it comes with two – and there are expansions you can get that use the base ‘house’.

Mystery House
Cranio International

It’s big and bulky, but that’s what makes it fun. It’s not as portable as some of the Exit: The Game boxes, which you could take with you on a road trip or play at a coffee shop, but it’s fun!

Codenames: Duet

The first time I played Codenames, I had only been dating my now-husband for like… two months, and I was awful at it. We played against my cousin and his wife who had been together for 7 years at that point, so they obviously beat us.

I got better. Eventually.

 Codenames Duet
Czech Games

Codenames is basically a word-picture association game. Using one word clues you need to get your partner to pick the right selections off the board. You need to find the agents, and leave the bystanders – and assassins – alone.

You can play with just two people, but if more show up, Codenames: Duet can expand for more people. You can string together multiple games in a ‘campaign’ of sorts, and it’s great to expand your vocabulary, and get to know how your second player really thinks.

Look, Codenames: Duet is on every list like this, so I’m not gong to gush too much – but it’s a great choice to play with just one other person, and I think it’s a lot of fun.

Carcassonne

Carcassonne can be played with up to 5 people, but it’s just as fun with 2 – and sometimes more fun, depending on your group. It’s set in a medieval landscape, and you build the land as the game goes on by laying tiles down.

Carcassonne
Z-Man Games

Each turn, a player pulls a tile from the pile that gets placed on the board to grow the kingdom. If you pull a field tile, for example, you can lay that field tile on an already existing field tile, and it becomes one big field.

Points are given when things like cities and roads are completed. At the end of the game – when all of the tiles are placed – points are added up, anything ‘incomplete’ gets partial points, and whoever has the highest score wins.

Carrcassonne is considered by many in the board game world as an ‘introduction’ game – a good way for people to ‘dip their toes’ in the world of board games without getting too in depth. Rules are simple and straight forward, it doesn’t take ages to complete, and no one is ever eliminated.

This game is a great choice if you or your second player aren’t sure about board games, if you’re not looking for a big time commitment, or if you want something easy to play without feeling too much pressure.

Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island
Gamewright

Forbidden Island is for 2-4 players, and it was 2010’s Mensa Favorite “Brainy Game”. Don’t think this is hard to get into, though – this cooperative game has to working with your number two to reach a goal.

Each round only takes about 30 minutes, so Forbidden Island isn’t a huge time sink. You gather your ‘team’, explore the island, find the secret treasure, and then make it off before the tides rise too far and you’re stuck on a sinking hunk of land.

This game involves working together and problem solving skills to win, but it’s not hard to pick up and doesn’t take a lot of time to complete. Each character you choose has unique advantages, so choose wisely to make your ‘run’ as fast as possible.

Each time you play Forbidden Island will be a little different, so it can make coming back for a new game again and again fun. The rules are easy enough that even relatively young kids can grasp them, but the game is challenging enough that adults can have a good time.

Azul

Azul
Plan B Games

Recommended by a coworker, Azul is the perfect introductory game – if you have a friend that ‘doesn’t like’ board games, but you do, this is a great way to get them interested.

The game revolves around pulling tiles from a player board and arranging them around the palace – because you’re on a mission to decorate the palace of King Manuel I, who fell in love with Portuguese style tile while in Southern Spain.

Players gain points for how well they lay their tiles, competing full patterns or sets of tiles, and they lose points for wasted materials. After all, a king cannot abide by needless waste. Especially when it’s on his dime.

Every game is different because you can pull different tiles and create different combinations, and it’s easy to pick up and put down. It’s just as fun with 2 people as it is with 4.

Bonus: If you like the premise of Azul but you find it a little too ‘easy’, check out Azul Summer Pavilion. It is like the base game, but a little more complex.

Patchwork

Do you like quilting? Too bad – after this game, you’re going to! Patchwork is made for two players specifically, and has you creating a quilt on your own 9×9 board.

Patchwork
LookOut Games

The rules are super simple. It’s sort of like… quilting Tetris, if you will. You assemble your quilt, and at the end of the game, whoever has the most ‘buttons’ on their board (a button economy, of sorts) wins the game.

The design and art style is super charming, it’s very easy to pick up, and plays very quickly. You can complete a game in about 30 minutes, and each playthrough is unique.

There’s not much to say about this one. It’s adorable, it’s fun, it’s only for two people. Go try it.

Targi

Targi
Kosmos Games

Alright, I’m stepping up the difficulty – and the deep cuts. This isn’t a game people talk about an awful lot, but it’s getting a re-release at the end of the year, and you can still buy the current version online.

Targi is just for two players, just like Parchwork. The goal is basically to trade your way to gold and power while running a desert village. You place your people down on markers to determine the actions that can be done there, while blocking your opponent from trading or doing work there.

Board Game Geek rates this in the middle ground for complexity, and it’s going to take a bit more for you to pick up. Each game will last about an hour, depending on how well you grasp the rules at first, but once you get it down it’s a lot of fun.

There’s nothing better than cutting your opponent off from something you know they need, or making moves to take areas. Targi is complex, fun to play, and great for anyone looking to spend an hour or two playing a game with just one person.

Aeon’s End

Aeon's End
Action Phase Games

Aeon’s End is a fun spin on a deck building game where you’re playing as mages trying to save the last cluster of society from The Nameless, hordes of enemies that will do nothing until everyone is dead.

This is a lot more unique and innovative than the typical deck builder, and it’s a lot of fun with multiple people – up to 4 people can play, but it’s genuinely best with 2.

Working together and planning out your moves is the key to success with Aeon’s End. Don’t get discouraged if your first try isn’t perfect – you’ll have better luck next time defending humanity!

Twilight Struggle

This is a real suggestion, despite how many of you are laughing if you’ve ever seen or heard of this game before. Twilight Struggle is known for being complex and difficult to pick up, but it is actually extremely enjoyable once you’ve gotten the hang of it.

Twilight Struggle
GMT Games

Just for two people, again, you play as either the US or the USSR during the Cold War. The game features actual historical events, comes with over 100 event cards, over 250 color counters, and a giant 24 page rule guide to get you started.

Essentially, it’s like real life – you and the ‘enemy’ are competing for control of the world. It’s a lot to set up, it’s a lot to take in, and it’s not going to be for everyone. But if you like history, you like complex games, or you want a challenge with your second player, this is the game for you.

Arkham Horror – The Card Game

Arkham Horror The Card Game
Fantasy Flight Games

Erin Elizabeth Long talked about this one in both her Board Games You Can Play Solo article and her Halloween Board Games piece, but it’s such a staple choice that it deserves a third mention.

As mentioned in both pieces, this one gets a little bit much. You can absolutely play on your own at first to go at your own pace, figure out the rules, and get comfortable before you play together – or just jump in and figure it out with your gaming partner.

Arkham Horror – The Card Game is a deck building game that is very story driven, and does a great job of immersing you into the world with nothing more than the cards.

It’s challenging, don’t get confused, and I don’t recommend it for players who have never played any sort of game together before – but if you’re patient and you don’t mind learning, at least one of you are seasoned board game fanatics, or you like creepy things… this is perfect.

An argument for Tabletop Simulator

A few months ago my husband picked us both up a copy of Tabletop Simulator on Steam. At $15/each, it wasn’t too expensive – and the choices are incredible.

You can simulate almost any game. Card games? Escape rooms? Full deck building? You can do it!

Is it the same? Of course not. Anyone who tells you it is, is lying to your face. But it’s a lot of fun, and it’s cheap. Tabletop Simulator is a great way to try out a new type of game, pass a few hours with another person, or connect with someone who you aren’t right in front of.

There is absolutely a learning curve, and I still occasionally hit the wrong button when I’m trying to zoom in on a card or flip pages in a rule book.

Tabletop Simulator is also a great way to play with many friends that you can’t be close to. Set up a Zoom call, open up the game, and play with your big group of friends. Yes, this is all about playing with just two – but if you’ve got many you can’t see right now, this is a great option.