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Thursday, 16 October 2014

Awesome Board Games for Two People

We have a lot of games on our shelves that don’t get to see the light of day very often. Most of these are party games that work best with 4+ people, like Catan, Saboteur, the Resistance (which I bought for Gavin last Christmas and we still haven't had a chance to play...) As a grumpy introvert who hates getting out of her pajamas, I'm always on the lookout for games that work great just for two people to play at home. Here are some of my favourites.


Pandemic



Pandemic is one of my all-time favourites. Each player takes a different role in a team of specialists who are trying to cure various diseases spreading across the globe, and should absolutely not be played without at least five epidemic cards in the draw deck. This game is tense. You need to embrace and encourage the tense to get the full Pandemic experience. If you’re not weeping face down into the table whimpering “oh god oh god we’re all going to die”, then you have not experienced the true beauty and terror that is this game.

Pandemic with four players is really great, and should absolutely be played like this too, but I really love how it works with just two players. With only two roles, it might be a better idea to pick your roles more carefully to compliment each others, but we prefer to still pick blind. (Maximum terror, remember?) It’s great playing this with someone on your wavelength, as it’s much smoother co-ordinating your plan of attack across only two people, your turn comes around quicker, and you feel, at least, like you’re making great, efficient progress. (You're probably not. The early stages of this game are great at convincing you that you actually stand a chance.) There’s less shrieking and despair as the various city cards are spread out across everyone’s hands, but with only two hands between you, there’s only room for two cures to be ongoing at one time, really.


Robo Rally



Robo Rally is delightfully chaotic. Each player controls a robot which they must program directions into within a time limit, and without knowing quite what routes the other players will be taking. Basically, chaos ensues. Taking down the number of players to two does reduce the chaos somewhat, but it’s still beautifully frustrating and ridiculous. The lack of other players does allow you to have these slightly more frequent moments of (short-lived) success, which can be pretty gratifying. As the first person to chose their directions flips the timer, instead of everyone else suddenly scrambling to get theirs sorted, it’s just the one other player panicking and slapping cards down, alone in their terror. I kind of like how brutally competitive this makes it.


Carcassonne




Carcassonne is a super classic board game where you’re each basically trying to amass points by claiming castles, paths, fields, and so on. We do own several of the expansions, but we mostly play just good ol’ basic Carcassonne. Can’t beat it.

It’s one of those games with the bizarre dynamic where you can either be in a deadly battle of wills with your opponent, or pretty much off playing your own game almost entirely separate of each other. The best play-throughs end up being a bit of both. There is a slight tendency with only two players to end up doing the latter a little too often, as you’re less likely to get in each other’s way. I find that when we play this, we spend the first 70% of the game quietly building our own empires and the last 30% getting aggressive and up in each other’s business (especially with farmers. Urgh, farmers. I hate farmers. I forget about them and then suddenly BAM those little blue guys lying on their backs mocking me, with their vast point accumulation. Damn you farmers, damn you.)

You play Carcassonne down to the last tile, so with less players, you get to play more tiles. This means you’re more likely to complete that epic castle or path you’ve been going for, which is a great feeling. Or, some asshole steals all the points for your lovingly crafted epic castle at the last minute with a big smug grin. Whatever.


Takenoko



Firstly, Takenoko is very cute. This is important. Gavin bought it for me after seeing it and thinking, “Yes, this is cute, it has a panda, Alice must own this.” I mean, seriously. It’s adorable. Each player is basically aiming to cultivate various types of bamboo, and the super cute panda is your friendly (or frustrating) assistant.

In terms of gameplay, it’s not worlds away from Carcassonne. Each player has various objectives which they are working towards, either secretly or not-so-secretly, and in the process, you can either pass by each other quite amiably, or end up ruining and interfering with each other’s objectives. The board itself is made of hexagonal pieces much like Catan, and there’s a lot of customisability from this which is great for adjusting difficulty levels and compensating for less players.

Another thing I love about Takenoko is that you can have a ninja win. As the other player has no idea what your objectives are, it leads to that wonderful moment where you can slam a card down on the table and announce your win suddenly and obnoxiously. I really like that in a game.


Discworld: Ankh-Morpork




This game is one of Gavin’s favourites, and he's a huge Terry Pratchett fan. I am still a bit of a Discworld baby (it’s being corrected, don’t worry!) so when we first played this a lot of the references went completely over my head. I enjoyed it anyway, so you definitely don’t need to be a fan to appreciate it, but fans will get a lot more out of it. (This isn’t our only Discworld game - we also have Witches, which we’re not sure about, and Thud, which is amazing, but has been denied a place on this list because playing against Gavin makes me so unspeakably angry. He’s very good at Thud. I am not as good at Thud. Losing at Thud is just incredibly brutal, and I am unable to take my losses gracefully. But it is a great game!)

Discworld, again, is great with more players, but works really well with two. It’s another one of those games where you have secret objectives, but unlike Takenoko, it is much more important that the other person or people do not know your objectives, because it will make your life so much more difficult. Facing down only one person obviously creates a lot more focused scrutiny on you! (Are you noticing a pattern here? I enjoy games that make me sweat nervously.) It’s very sneaky. I encourage you to approach this game with maximum sneakiness.

It’s also another with the possibility of a ninja win, which is always great. It's a good feeling to flip over your character card at the end and shock everyone (“but I thought you were Vimes!”) A lot of our sneakier games (Saboteur, the Resistance, etc.) require way more players, so it's great to get a bit of sneaking in with only two of you.

Recommendations for more great two-player games always appreciated, just let me know in the comments!

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