Just Us Two, A Couple Close Gamers Weigh In... Our experiences with 2-player games (couples: husband versus wife)
Diane Close
United States
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Much of the gaming that my husband, Paul, and I do is just the two of us. I come from a checkers and Euchre background, while he played D&D and a lot of computer games in high school and college. I’m a fan of strategy, which I define as planning ahead one or more paths to success, whereas my husband likes tactical, which he defines as responding to the current situation. We prefer to play games that reward strategy (though not too much), yet are still interesting on a turn by turn level, and we’re not adverse to a bit of luck either. If you can wrap all that in a great theme, or nice bits, then it’ll be a runaway best seller with us! We play to have fun, not necessarily to win.

Here's a bunch of games we've played as a couple and how they fared for us... Our comments on these games reflect 2-player gameplay only. We’ll rate our preferences separately: him, her and if the game works well for couples.

Rating legend:
= like it on occasion
laugh = love it
yuk = don’t like it
= neutral

Feb. 8, 2009, edit: This is a snapshot of our gaming days from 2004 to 2006. A lot of these games are still available, so I’ll leave this list open for reading but close it to comments. Thanks, all, for suggesting games like Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries, Race for the Galaxy, and Zooloretto. We definitely do play those now, but they weren’t available back then. I have no plans to update this list with newer games at this time.
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1. Board Game: 13 Dead End Drive [Average Rating:5.70 Overall Rank:5632]
Diane Close
United States
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We play this one on occasion when we’re in the mood for a chaotic yet slightly strategic mayhem-filled game. This one, and its sibling, 1313 Dead End Drive, are mildly good bluffing/racing games. They’re just plain fun to play every once in a while. We love both for their crazy components, though this version had the edge there. Much as I love the vault with the metal pig in the other edition, I prefer this one for its great collapsing chandelier, nicer stairs, falling bookcase and less-cartoonish art. The other edition has the edge in gameplay though. Still, both of these play better multi-player than with just two. With two we often forget the inheritance and simply play to kill everyone! devil

Him-
Her-
Couples- yuk unless you’re really in the mood for this particular type of game, then with tweaks
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2. Board Game: Alhambra [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:310]
Diane Close
United States
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This is a pretty tile shopping and placement game with a solid puzzle aspect. Two players can play using variant with a dummy third player, which doesn't sound good but actually works very well in practice! This is a prettier game than pictures suggest and while there's luck to the card draw (for spending money), there's strategy too as you have your pick of four tiles and/or four money options. The tile-buying, laying and re-designing mechanisms are well-balanced, and this is a fun, lightly competitive game.

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Couples- laugh
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3. Board Game: Labyrinth [Average Rating:6.34 Overall Rank:1240]
Diane Close
United States
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We have a good time with this little puzzle-like game of optimal path-building. It makes a nice filler or light evening game. With two the game is more strategic and less chaotic waiting for your turn. It’s a nice mix of strategy, tactics and luck. You can play it cooperatively or cut-throat, your choice.

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4. Board Game: Arkham Horror [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:141] [Average Rating:7.42 Unranked]
Diane Close
United States
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This one will require playing a few more times before we can really render judgement on it. It takes up a huge amount of room, and is quite fiddly to set up and play. Games can take several hours to play, and can seem relentless at times. Still there’s something there that keeps drawing me back. I love a dark and moody atmosphere and this one definitely has that. It doesn’t play nicely for two players right out of the box, but I plan to spend some more time on it trying out some variants.

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Couples- yuk ; with tweaks, possibly or
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5. Board Game: Around the World in 80 Days [Average Rating:6.58 Overall Rank:1000]
Diane Close
United States
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With 2 players this becomes a simple, straight-up race game and the results are often obvious well before the end of the game. It's not very enjoyable! This game plays a lot better with more players, and with the full complement you can get into some interesting strategic plays too. I enjoy this game quite a bit with lots of players, especially family gamers, but we hate it with just two!

Him- yuk
Her- yuk
Couples- yuk
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6. Board Game: Atlas & Zeus [Average Rating:6.37 Overall Rank:3215]
Diane Close
United States
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We had a blast with this game! The two of you try to blow each other out of the water while minimizing the damage to your own troops. You each have your own draw decks, and this is where luck enters the game. You might not draw the card you need at the right time, so you have to be able to adapt to what's in your hand versus the lay of the board. Most cards can be used to wreak havoc on your opponent, and it's rare you'll be left with a hand you can't use. We feel the game is short enough to overlook this frustration, and we really enjoy the swings of fate. It really does feel like you're being smote by the hands of the gods!

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7. Board Game: Balloon Cup [Average Rating:6.73 Overall Rank:662]
Diane Close
United States
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This game is light, relaxing and fun. You can play it nicely, with the variant that requires you to play cards on your side except in certain circumstances. Or you can play it nasty, where you play bad cards on your opponent’s side. Either way, it can be a deeper game than you’d expect, especially if you play with wild cubes. You have to make sure when claiming the cups that you don't give away enough wild cubes to the other player so that they’ll win better/multiple cups that make you lose.

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8. Board Game: Battle Line [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:133]
Diane Close
United States
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This game is deeper than Lost Cities, mainly because there are more choices. There are a lot more options here, especially if you use the “special powers” cards. The game is more straightforward and tactical without those cards, and more random and chaotic with. You can play it either way. We like the randomness that the special cards introduce. There’s lots of agonizing when and how to commit troops to battle, yet it plays quickly enough too.

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9. Board Game: Betrayal at House on the Hill [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:334]
Diane Close
United States
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We love computer adventure games, starting with the old Zork, and this feels very much like that played out on a board. I also love the dual nature of the storyline with the strategizing required to complete the mission. My husband loves the exploration aspects of this game, as well as the tactics and quick responses needed for the second half of the game We both appreciate the element of luck in this game too. Neither of us like pure luck, but we both find dice can be interesting for their probabilities (rather than their randomness) and a touch of chaos does this game well. We play this using the published 2-player variant where you each run two characters, then whoever turns evil gives up their remaining good character to the other person. This works quite well! We love this one so much, and play it so frequently, that I created special Scooby Doo characters sheets (pictured above) to play with instead of the regular offerings.

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Couples- laugh with tweaks.
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10. Board Game: Blokus [Average Rating:6.99 Overall Rank:367]
Diane Close
United States
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This game is ridiculously good for a game that really only has 2 rules. Simple yet strategic and nicely replayable. For the 2-player version, I like the additional options you have when playing with two colors at once. You can use one color to block and the other to expand. When we want to get really cutthroat we either change the size of the board and play with one color each, or simply get out the smaller version, Blokus Duo. Either way an excellent game!

Him- laugh
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Couples- laugh either version.
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11. Board Game: Blokus Duo [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:529]
Diane Close
United States
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This smaller version of Blokus, meant strictly for two players, can get nasty fast! It's tense right from the beginning, and moves quickly too. It's a cutthroat fun that's over before you have time to get mad, so you always want to play another round. Plenty of room for clever play. Addictive!

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12. Board Game: Blue Moon [Average Rating:6.78 Overall Rank:617]
Diane Close
United States
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We avoided getting this game for a long time because of the card art. We find it juvenile and dumb rather than attractive or artistic, but to each his own. I was finally convinced to try this for the game play alone, and I'm glad I did! It's an excellent dueling game, where each card is unique and where you really have to form a set of strategies but stay open to the tactical possibilities of the moment in order to win. You need to know when to retreat just as much as advance! My husband and I regularly play to a draw and love every minute of it!

So don't let the card art put you off; if you like tug of war games you'll love this one, and every game plays differently! There's never a dull moment. We've played with a variety of the expansion decks as well as the main set and all have been thoroughly enjoyable.

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13. Board Game: Blue Moon City [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:365]
Diane Close
United States
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A quick, easy to play, yet strategic area control and resource management racing game. Light and stressful at the same time with a touch of cooperative play needed to win. Plays faster than we expected, but it’s fun and nicely replayable with the modular board.

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14. Board Game: Bohnanza [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:280]
Diane Close
United States
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We play this game as a 2 player just as much with the regular rules as with the included 2 player rules. It's fun either way and a great filler! It does play better with more, but we think it's fine with just two too.

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15. Board Game: Burn Rate [Average Rating:6.06 Overall Rank:3428]
Diane Close
United States
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Definitely captures the craziness and short-sighted overspending of the dot-com era in a very playable way. Very fun beer and pretzels game for those who lived through the insanity! Game play is a bit too dependent on good card draw, and there can be a runaway leader problem with just two players. Some cards can be too powerful in such a small setting. Plays better with more.

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16. Board Game: Buy Low Sell High [Average Rating:6.19 Overall Rank:2362]
Diane Close
United States
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Fun, light stock manipulation game with typical complex Knizia scoring tacked onto the end. Plays more chaotic with more than two players, otherwise it can be a bit too predictable. Ours is the Motley Fool version.

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17. Board Game: Caesar & Cleopatra [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:1090]
Diane Close
United States
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A nice tactical game of influence and bluffing, with some luck thrown in too. We really like this one and all our games have been tight. Nicely strategic bidding and plays fast.

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18. Board Game: California [Average Rating:6.28 Overall Rank:1780]
Diane Close
United States
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I think the most fun I've had with this game has to be playing with a full complement of testosterone-driven older males. There's nothing more amusing to me than hearing them fret about matching the carpet to the accessories, or musing about which guests would hook up better in real life, or wondering aloud who was doing "it" to whom and where (the biker chick with the professor on the pool table).

This game is more strategic with 2 and more tactical with more. It's a fun set collection frolic that's worth pulling out every once in a while, especially if you've ever lived in the State. Where else can you hear, "Hey, I need that motorcycle for my living room! I was going to put it next to the grand piano, you rat!"

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19. Board Game: Carcassonne [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:108] [Average Rating:7.44 Unranked]
Diane Close
United States
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With just two players, farmer placement can make or break your score. You can play this as a light, relaxing little tile laying game, or get really cutthroat and tense, agonizing over every decision (don’t leave yourself short on meeples!) We play with and without the first three expansions (Carcassonne: Inns & Cathedrals, Carcassonne: Traders & Builders, Carcassonne: King & Scout) and are looking forward to trying out Carcassonne: Die Katharer soon too. We just about always add in the Carcassonne: The River or Carcassonne: The River II expansions, as we find they help limit farmer placement and even out scoring.

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20. Board Game: Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers [Average Rating:7.16 Overall Rank:283]
Diane Close
United States
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Different enough from the original game to make a nice change. Sometimes I'd rather play with forests and rivers than streets and cities. Scoring the meadows is a lot more straightforward. Has a bit of a cooperative element to it with the mechanism of the bonus tiles. “Here dear, let me finish that forest for you!” devil Plays very well as a 2-player game!

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21. Board Game: Carcassonne: The Castle [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:377]
Diane Close
United States
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We avoided getting this one for the longest time as it’s pretty ugly in pictures compared to the original. Add in the fact that nothing needs to line up except paths and we expected some pretty boring gameplay. Boy were we wrong! This game rocks! It’s Carcassonne with shopping! There are lots hard choices. Short term points versus longer term large scoring opportunities, balanced against scoring path optimization for bonus tiles, etc. We love it!

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22. Board Game: Cartagena [Average Rating:6.72 Overall Rank:652]
Diane Close
United States
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This is a fun hand management racing game. You need to play off your opponents' moves. It makes a nice complementary game to Emerald. It plays quickly and is best if you can really get into the mood. “Ah heck, I dropped me rum back in the tunnel. I’ll be right back...” We also refer to the red tricorn hats as “little goudas”. (“Oh no, I dropped me cheese!”) This is a great filler!

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23. Board Game: Castle [Average Rating:6.12 Overall Rank:2144]
Diane Close
United States
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This game gets a fair amount of grief for being too random. It's a light, highly tactical card placement game, and surprisingly it plays a lot like Blue Moon "Lite"! Most of the cards are unique, and you have to pay attention to each and every rule. With only two players the randomness evens out: if you don't have a certain card in your hand or deck, and it's not on the table, then you know where it is! So when and how are they going to use it? And can you come up with a good defense?

We really enjoy this with two! It feels like a big tug of war, or a duel. You get to practice strategy, tactics and bluffing: there's a good deal of plotting ahead, careful decision making and card play, and skill at disguising your upcoming moves from your opponent.

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24. Board Game: Caylus [Average Rating:7.90 Overall Rank:20]
Diane Close
United States
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A lot of people like this game with two, but I think that enjoyment depends on your views on conflict. The movement of the Provost can result in some spectacular "take that" moves that may have you sleeping on the couch that night! It's all about outwitting your opponent to get the choicest moves for yourself while also enlisting the Provost to ruin their plans as much as possible.

We didn't find the learning curve for this game to be very steep, but it still takes a couple games until you understand the mechanics enough to see the multiple paths to victory. I enjoyed the game much more than my husband. For me, Caylus was the area of influence game that I thought Louis XIV was supposed to be, but for my husband it was a bloodbath.

As far as 2-player play goes, I found Caylus to be more enjoyable with more players as the game's more exciting features (like turn order changes) got used more frequently and strategically than with just two.

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Couples- or laugh if you like conflict and deep strategy
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25. Board Game: Chez Geek [Average Rating:5.76 Overall Rank:4021]
Diane Close
United States
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This light, risque humorous game plays better with more people, but is doable and can be fun with just two. You have to watch out for a run away leader problem, and you are very dependent on the luck of the card draw, but there’s still some tactics you can apply with the “visiting” cards. We like to play ours fast, with backstabbing fun. We use M&M’s to keep track of the slack points. The two expansions (Chez Geek 2: Slack Attack and Chez Geek 3: Block Party) are recommended too, though more cards aren’t necessarily what two players want. They do add more choices and fun though if you can get to them. This game lets me do things I would never do in real life! You need to have a certain sense of humor to appreciate the humor here though, so check it out before you buy.

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