There's always going to be a good market for solid two player games. While many of us might enjoy the opportunity to be part of a regular gaming group, not everyone is able to game with a larger group, or at least not as often as we'd like! On the other hand, many of us find ourselves living with a spouse or perhaps a room mate - the ideal situation for pulling out a game that's playable just with two. Such two player games, if they're good, have the potential to get some real mileage!
Over the last few years Gryphon Games have slowly been adding to a series that they've dubbed the Gryphon Two-Player Games series. It currently consists of four titles, all of which are designed to be played exclusively with two players exactly. Some of these are reprints of classics, others which appeared for the first time as part of this series. Here's the complete list so far, which I'll introduce in a little more detail so as to whet your appetite.
1. En Garde (2009)
This game has been around since 1993, and is one of Knizia's better card game fillers. The basic design of this game also lies at the core of David Sirlin's 2011 game, Flash Duel: Second Edition, which has enjoyed considerable independent success over the last year. En Garde as originally conceived by Knizia, is a game about the sport of fencing, and in 2009 it appeared in this great new edition from Gryphon Games that helps give it even more sparkle than the original edition.
The impressive game-play is unlike any other two-player game I've played, in the tug-of-war style battle it offers. Players each place their swordsman - represented by a lovely metal miniature - on the mounted gameboard. Players draw cards from a common deck of cards which contains cards numbered 1 through 5, and play a single card to move their swordsman forwards or backwards. Moving forward the exact distance between you and your opponent is considered an attack which your opponent must parry, otherwise he takes a hit. Players will move back and forth, jostling for position in an attempt to strike the winning blow - an activity which only takes a few minutes.
I don't often see myself praising a Knizia game for theme, but I'm doing it here. Additionally, En Garde is easy to learn, quick to play, and fun. Really, Knizia got almost everything perfect! With the great components of the Gryphon Games edition, I'm very pleased to have this in my collection. If you're looking for a light and clever game with a novel theme and strong bluffing element, you won't be disappointed.
Want to know more? See my full review: A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: The Fighting Little Knizia with the Big Theme
2. 2 de Mayo (2009)
Spanish designer Daniel Val's 2 de Mayo first made an appearance in 2008. To some extent it's a game that defies categorization: Is it a war game? Is it an abstract game? Perhaps it can best be described as a clever asymmetrical cat-and-mouse game for two players, that is soaked with historical theme, full of tension, has simple rules, lovely artwork, and plays quickly (under 30 minutes). I was immediately impressed when I first had opportunity to play and review it shortly after its original release. At the end of 2009 the game was reprinted in an improved edition as part of the Gryphon Games two-player series.
The game-play is themed around the events in Madrid on 2nd of May, 1808, when Spanish civilians rebelled against the occupying French forces. One player plays the French while the other plays the Spanish, and military units on the board are represented by blue and red cubes respectively. Players simultaneously and secretly write orders to determine the movement of their units on a given turn. The Spanish have less units, and have to evade the French to win the game, while the French have the tough task of trying to capture the rebellious Spaniards.
Gamers who enjoy 2 de Mayo will be pleased with the improved components of the new edition, since virtually all the changes are upgrades. Particularly the English titles and more prominent English text on the Event cards are a great improvement. Overall it's a great game, and seeing it appear as part of this Gryphon Games series in a quality edition can only be good for this great little two-player game!
Want to know more? See my full review: A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Scotland Yard for two players and with a twist?
Other resources: new edition overview and a illustrated sample game
3. What's My Word? (2010)
If you are among those who enjoy logic or deduction games, and don't mind playing around with words, you'll likely find a very satisfying game in this box. There's good reason that in 2010 What's My Word? was deemed worthy of a reprint after first appearing almost 40 years previous, all the way back in 1972!
The game-play is highly reminiscent of classic Mastermind, except that players are trying to guess words. But the real strength about Joli Quentin Kansil's design is the scoring system he has implemented in this game. Player's guess words in turns, with the size and location of their guesses being limited by the location of letters on the score sheet that comes with the game. Points are awarded for correct letters in the right position (1000 points) or correct letters in an wrong position (250 points), and from the total score for each guess players must carefully deduce the right letters, their position, and eventually the secret word.
The clever scoring elements that have been added to the traditional Mastermind mechanic help turn this into a deductive word game that really works well. Gryphon Games have done well to release the game not just with a simple score pad, but in an attractive folder that makes for a very pleasing and classy looking package. It's a very good two player game, if you're the target market.
Want to know more? See my full review: A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A classy and clever Mastermind-style deduction game with words
4. Mirror, Mirror (2011)
Considering that this 2011 game originated with the designer being given a bunch of small round mirrors, a bag of wooden balls, a paint tray, and the challenge of a year to turn those into a game, Jacob Davenport has done an outstanding job of creating an enjoyable two-player game.
The objective of Mirror, Mirror is to move pieces (some of the moves are like chess) on the board, and try to capture your opponent's piece that is carrying a red letter - somewhat similar to the idea of capturing the "Flag" in Stratego. The characters all have `letters' on the reverse side, so they're hidden from view, and only one is red. But you can move your pieces - which have these awesome mirrors on them - into a position behind enemy lines so that you can spy on his pieces and see what colour letters they are carrying.
It's best described as playing a speedy and fun Stratego but with mirrors. Some of the mechanics certainly are more reminiscent of Stratego than Chess, but it's on a smaller playing field, and in much quicker game time. Add in a small element of deduction, a dash of tactics with regard to moving and positioning your pieces, a light-hearted and fun theme, colourful and quality components, and that's Mirror, Mirror! While being an abstract game at its core, it doesn't feel at all like an abstract, and is very fun to play and deduce. It also plays very quickly (15-20 minutes), so it doesn't get bogged down with analysis paralysis. Altogether these elements make Mirror Mirror stand out head and shoulders above your average chess-like abstract as a very clever and a novel two-player game worthy of attention.
Want to know more? See my full review: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Imagine playing Stratego with mirrors!
All four games in the series so far have been excellent. They also meet different needs and have appeal for different reasons. En Garde will appeal to fans of bluffing games, What's My Word will appeal to fans of word games and logic, 2 de Mayo will appeal to fans of cat-and-mouse style wargames, while Mirror, Mirror will appeal to fans of family style abstracts. I look forward to seeing what will come next in this series!
Join the discussion: What are some of your other favourite two player games? Have you played any of these titles, and if so, what did you think? If you haven't played any of them, which of these four looks the most appealing to you and why?