I had a chance to spend a few days with some cousins, and that meant some dedicated hours of two-player gaming. Most of the games I discuss here can be played by more than two players, but my reviews will focus on the two-player experience. I'm just going to list them in alphabetical order.
7 Wonders Duel
The base 7 Wonders game is a card drafting game where you're passed a hand of cards, pick one, and then pass the remaining cards on. The cards are then played in various ways to score points.
7 Wonders Duel is designed specifically for two players. The cards are laid out in various formations on the table and the players take turn drawing them, instead of passing hands back and forth. Numerous other adjustments are made, though the core of the game is the same. We both really liked it. I definitely recommend this one.
...and then, we held hands.
This is an odd Kickstarter game I picked up. It's a cooperative game designed for two players. Players are not allowed to speak during the game. Each player has a series of cards in front of them, and together they need to solve certain challenges, moving pieces on the board, eventually getting the pieces to the centre. And they have to do this without getting their partner stuck.
Only had a chance to play this once. We allowed ourselves to speak during the first game. It was relatively straightforward. I want to try this with Adele some time. I think there might be something here.
Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
This is the "good" Azul. The basic Azul is too simple for my taste. Sintra adds enough complexity to make the game interesting while still keeping it simple enough to teach and accessible to gamers of all experience levels.
In this game, players are completing panes of stained glass by selecting pieces of certain colours from a shared central area. Different colours award bonus points over the game, and there are some interesting mechanics that create interesting tension (e.g., the motivation to complete as many panes to maximize cumulative scores balanced with the motivation to surround your ornaments).
The two-player game is very fast. It can be a little cutthroat because you only have one other player to watch. I thought it worked well. I'd definitely play this with kids.
Part of the Kosmos two-player line. Each player has a unique deck of cards. The players fight a series of battles to attract dragons from the board. Once the decks are empty, whoever has the most dragons gets VP. Play multiple hands until someone reaches the target.
There's talk of a reprint. I'm looking forward to the details. I quite like this game, but it can sometimes end in a draw, which is frustrating. We played five games with various combinations of the five races I managed to collect over the years. Tepid thumbs up.
This is a classic two-player card game played with a regular deck of cards. Along with Cribbage, this is a favourite. We played many hands.
Castles of Burgundy
An oldie but goodie. Players have individual estates. Each player rolls dice, which they use to collect resources and complete their estate, earning points. After a fixed number of rounds, the player with the most points wins.
I waited a long time to pick this one up, but I'm so glad I finally did. There's a reason it has remained in print all these years. I think this game is best as a two-player game. I heartily recommend this one.
Players play cards to their tableau, which causes buildings to be placed on a shared board. The cards have various effects based on number of buildings in a space, the type of space it's on, etc. Columns of cards get activated from the bottom up, so you can build an engine. You can also "sacrifice" (discard) cards to use certain powers and get new cards.
Dan didn't love how hard it was to gain resources. While it didn't bother me, I did find that only two players leads to heated competition on the game board. I had a really hard time finding cards I could use. It took a few turns of sacrifices before I finally had a hand I could play. I still like this game, but it has gone down a little in my estimation. I wouldn't recommend this for two players.
This is a relatively simple area control game. There are twelve different races with very different special powers. Each race has cards in the colours of the six continents on the shared board. On your turn you either draw a card from the table or play a set of cards of the same race or same colour. If certain conditions are met, you can place a control marker on the continent. At the end of each age, whoever has the most markers in a continent gets that continent's points. Whoever has the most points at the end of three ages wins. The mechanic that makes this game really work, I think, is that after playing a set, you have to discard all your other cards to the table for others to choose from. It keeps players from hoarding cards, as often happens in Ticket to Ride.
I really like this game. But I really don't like it with only two players. First, the rulebook commits the cardinal sin of putting the two-player setup rules at the end of the rulebook without signalling that fact right up front. And a core mechanic of the game changes with only two players (size requirements of sets is based on total control markers and not just your own). I really didn't like that. I will definitely keep playing this game with 3+ people, though!
Players build towers of various colours and sizes to complete commissions on the board. You get bricks for your towers by selecting cards from an ever-changing queue. Cards to the left are cheaper, and as cards are selected, remaining cards move over. So cards become cheaper, and because of how you pay for more expensive cards, unselected cards become more valuable over time. This is an excellent mechanic.
This one has been on my wishlist forever. Finally it was reprinted and I jumped on it. I'm so glad I did! I really love how the cards move and become more valuable. I can't say I loved playing it with only two players. I can see how much more dynamic it would be with more. I look forward to breaking it out with a larger group. While I wouldn't heartily recommend it for two players, it does work.
Hera and Zeus
Another from the the Kosmos two-player line. It's like Stratego with cards. It's a good filler.
Like the movie Brewster's Millions, players have to spend a fixed amount of money the fastest to win a much larger stash. I don't think this game gets enough love. It's a favourite among some family members. I wasn't sure how it would play with only two players, and I was pleasantly suprised. It worked just fine. Thumbs up.
With the kids I play the Get Set two-player variant that's like the game Go Fish. They seem to enjoy it. It's a great game with kids.