Board games for 2 players aren't a consolation prize if you're short on manpower or willing victims to play with; they're some of the best and most rewarding tabletop experiences out there. Plus, many 2-player board games will fit into a backpack. That's handy if you're looking for something to take with you on vacation.
To get the ball rolling, we've rounded up the best 2-player board games right here. These suggestions are perfect for everything from date night to a competitive head-to-head with friends. They're flexible, too; most board games for 2 players can be scaled up to suit a larger group, and that offers better value for money overall.
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Speaking of which, our bargain-hunting software is regularly updated with the latest deals on board games for 2 players. If there's a discount to be had, you'll find it below.
Board games for 2 players - top 10
What happens if evil wins? You get to find out in Disney Villainous. Allowing players to mess about in a Disney-themed toybox, it's all about giving a classic baddie their happy ending... and screwing over anyone that tries to stop you. Crucially, playing it as a head-to-head board game for 2 players is better than battling it out as a group. It's a more focused experience.
Don't be fooled by that family-friendly theming, either; Villainous is hiding layers of strategy and duplicitous plotting beneath its gorgeous art. That's because each character has a unique objective, board, and playstyle inspired by their movie, so your experience only improves as you uncover new tactics.
What's more, clever opponents can activate heroes specifically designed to scupper their foe's plans. You see, the title isn't just a name; it's a mindset you'll need to embrace if you want to win. The quickest path to victory is throwing a wrench into another player's schemes, and the same is true of its expansions or the Marvel Villainous spin-off. This leaves us with one of the best board games around, and we can't get enough of it.
- Read more: Disney Villainous expansions
Jaipur is the poster child of a good game for 2 players; even though it's the definition of accessible, there's a hidden depth beneath the surface that allows you to experiment along the way. It's delightfully moreish, too.
Putting you in the shoes of a trader from the Indian city of Jaipur, you're challenged to become the best businessperson around and earn an invite to the maharajah's court. How you get there is up to you, though; players have room to test a variety of different strategies, and there are no wrong answers here. Should you buy and trade cheap items quickly, or is it better to chase expensive goods that get you a larger payout in the end?
No matter what you do, be sure to keep tabs on your opponent - the sooner you trade an item, the more points you'll get. That means your foe could beat you to the punch if you wait too long to cash in your wares. The result is an engrossing balancing act, and Jaipur ranks amongst the best card games because of this.
The setup of Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America is terrifyingly relatable, especially now. Deadly viruses are sweeping across the world, and your job is to cure them. No pressure, right?
Fortunately, your characters have unique abilities that will help you out. Some are able to remove multiple illnesses from a space at once, while others can take advantage of bonus moves. Mastering your speciality is crucial for victory, and you'll need to use those skills in tandem with your partner if you want any hope of surviving. This is a board game for 2 players about strategy and cooperation rather than blind luck; teamwork is essential.
Yes, the result is intense. You're battling against the clock and the odds. But that means it's something you can play over and over again without things becoming stale, especially because diseases pop up in different locations every time you start. When combined with streamlined gameplay that makes it a better fit for two players than the standard Pandemic board game or its (many) expansion packs, Hot Zone earns its title as one of the best cooperative board games by a wide margin.
- Read more: Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America review
Despite rewinding the clock to a time of antiquity, this board game for 2 players isn't some dusty old relic. A smaller version of the eternally popular 7 Wonders board game for families, Duel drills down into what made the original excel whilst cutting down on runtime.
Challenging you with raising a city to greatness by steeping it in culture, developing military might, or focusing on technology, there's no shortage of options when it comes to winning tactics. Want to invade your opponent's stronghold and snuff out their civilization through force of arms? Go ahead. Would you prefer to lead the charge on scientific discoveries? That's no problem either. This take on 7 Wonders gives you ownership over its mechanics in a way few other games do.
You'll have to keep an eye on what your opponent's up to, though. Because the cards you need to progress are drawn each turn from a central pile, it's possible for the other player to grab ones you need if they suss out your plan. That means you can't lose track of what they're doing while devising your grand strategy - not unless you want to fall behind, anyway.
King of Tokyo is the perfect game if you want strategy without the effort or time commitment of something bigger. A dice-based adventure inspired by Godzilla and other kaiju flicks, it sees you wrecking a city and hoarding points like a kleptomaniac dragon. In other words, it's awesome.
A light-hearted experience that doesn't take itself very seriously (one of the monsters is a 'Space Penguin', for instance), King of Tokyo has players battling it out to claim the titular metropolis. The longer you stay within its streets, the higher your score. Standing your ground isn't easy, though. Your opponent will be able to attack you while you're downtown, and players in the city can't heal from any wounds they receive. Although you can improve the odds with Ability cards, it's still a matter of pushing your luck. Essentially, you'll wind up playing chicken with your life as you attempt to maximise your score.
No matter who's in the city, Yahtzee-style mechanics keep things ticking along at a steady pace - you simply roll the game's collection of dice three times and choose which results you want to keep (be it health, power, attacks, or matching numbers that'll win you points). This makes it a great board game for kids and frazzled grown-ups alike - it's dead easy to understand.
Even though it's 40 years old, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective still deserves a spot on any list of board games for 2 players. Intriguing, immersive, and challenging enough that victory will make you feel like a genius, it's the perfect choice for anyone who fancies themselves as an armchair detective.
Casting you as a member of the Baker Street Irregulars (a merry band that keeps Holmes up to speed on what's happening in London), you'll work your way through numerous original cases ranging from a mummy's curse to a murder on the Thames. The aim is to solve those crimes before the great detective himself figures it out.
As you'd expect, this is pretty difficult. A strict time-limit doesn't help either. But you won't mind. Each copy of the game comes with a set of props, clues, and case files to work through, and these are tremendously immersive. Indeed, they offer an atmosphere you're unlikely to get anywhere else. Playing in a pair only enriches that mood; it's the best way to avoid a 'too many cooks' scenario where everyone's struggling to be heard.
Although board game RPGs offer an experience you won't soon forget, they can be a headache to learn and are unwieldy beasts that require lots of prep (Gloomhaven is the perfect example). That's why Descent: Legends of the Dark is such a breath of fresh air. Its companion app is one clever cookie; it sorts all the number-crunching and enemy actions for you, allowing players to enjoy the game rather than getting snarled up in rules.
Taking place across the fantasy realm of Terrinoth, this is part one of a long-term campaign where your actions have consequences. Fast-paced combat helps draw you in, but it's that sense of place - sold by cutscenes and dialogue choices - which keeps you hooked. Supported by 40 ridiculously detailed miniatures and lots of 3D terrain, it's the sort of game you can lose yourself in. Playing with two people instead of four allows you to take more ownership of this world, too.
Because the app tells you what happens next rather than making you read through a scenario booklet, Legends of the Dark also provides a sense of mystery that'd otherwise be impossible to achieve. Even though it won't replace a Dungeon Master running the best tabletop RPGs, it's a stroke of brilliance that gives Descent a real selling point over the competition.
In spite of appearances, the Hocus Pocus board game isn't just for families; we were surprised by how difficult it is. A challenging board game for 2 players that kept us hooked, it's a test of your perception, non-verbal skills, and ability to pivot on the fly.
Based on the 1993 Disney movie, it challenges you to banish all three Sanderson sisters - the witches who return to life one fateful Halloween - by dawn. However, that doesn't mean you need to be familiar with the film to enjoy this adaptation. The mechanics alone are strong enough to carry you.
To defeat those witches, you'll need to brew a potion powered by foul ingredients (dead man's toe? Check. Oil of boil? Double check). These fill five slots of your cauldron, and your aim is to match the same color or ingredient type for all of them. Unfortunately, you can't communicate with your teammate about what to put down. Actually, you can't even show them what ingredients you've got in the first place. Instead, you have to ask whether the other player has a specific type or color of card. Seeing as they're only able to answer with "yes" or "no", that leaves a lot of reading between the lines. It makes coming up with a plan tricky as well; your allies might accidentally undo your hard work along the way, so keeping an eye on what they're up to and figuring out their next move via those questions is crucial. That's why we'd say Hocus Pocus is best played in a pair, particularly if you're looking for good Halloween board games - it's slightly less chaotic, allowing you to enjoy the ride.
- Read more: Hocus Pocus card game review
Hold your scepticism for a moment; word game or not, Bananagrams is a stroke of brilliance. It's also the board for 2 players we come back to the most. Besides being oh-so portable, it can be enjoyed with almost anyone, anywhere.
The idea is simple. Each player gets 24 single-letter tiles, and they have to put them into a crossword. When you've finished (which is harder than it sounds, particularly if you get a handful of ‘q’), you have to take another one that's added to the same crossword. The rub is, your opponent's got to take a new tile as well… regardless of whether they’ve finished their own pile yet.
This leads to mounting pressure as your unused tiles grow in number. And because your goal is to be the first person who uses all those spare tiles in the game, it's a race against time to create a crossword that actually makes sense (it's also an example of why it's better as a 2-player board game - it's less manic). Frantic, cerebral, and tense, Bananagrams is a must-have as a result.
Those Exploding Kittens are at it again, and this time they're messing about with board games for 2 players. Which is a good thing, of course. The result - Tacocat Spelled Backwards - is just as ridiculous, easy to pick up, and fun as its predecessor.
The aim of the game is to get Tacocat on your side of the board, but this isn't an exercise in spelling. Rather, it's a battle of wits. Each round starts with someone playing a number card, and their opponent puts down a larger one or must sacrifice the lowest-value card in their hand. This duel keeps going until you only have one card each, and whoever's left with the smallest number overall gets to move Tacocat a space toward them. It's a fast-paced tug of war.
Things really kick into gear when you start thinking about the long game, too; sometimes it's better to put down a smaller number in order to trick your opponent and surprise them with your best card. That offers an opportunity to test out your poker face and really mess with your foe.
Board games for 2 players - best of the rest
It says a lot that Forbidden Island spawned a franchise; the series now includes a visit to the Forbidden Desert and mysterious airborne platforms of Forbidden Sky. The original is arguably best, though. This is a board game for 2 players with serious staying power.
Focusing on teamwork and replayability, your aim is to collect treasure from a sinking island before it's lost beneath the waves forever. (This is Indiana Jones crossed with Atlantis, in other words.) Unfortunately, you don't have long - the tide is rising with each passing moment. As such, you'll need to form a plan quickly and problem-solve as you go.
That's because each player has a special ability to help the team succeed. The Pilot can move to any tile, for example, while the Diver is able to pass through flooded areas. Working out the best way of using these skills in tandem is crucial to victory, offering plenty for you to get to grips with.
It's hard to stand out in the wargaming arena, but Godtear has a good chance of making a name for itself. Thanks to a focus on accessibility and mechanics that have more in common with traditional board games than Warhammer, it's able to offer something unique. Don't have time for chunky rulebooks and labor-intensive miniatures? This is for you.
If anything, Godtear is reminiscent of the Overwatch video game. To be specific, everything hinges around a cast of memorable characters and arcade-like action that never quietens down. Similarly, there's no need to fret about complex rules. Everything you need to know is available on a reference card that can be scanned very quickly, and it's easy to learn. You can be up and playing much faster than competitors such as Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms.
The elevator pitch is every bit as succinct: the gods of this universe are dead, and their shattered remains are falling from the heavens. Anyone who claims those 'godtears' (see what they did there?) will be blessed with magnificent powers, and that's what you're fighting over. It's an elegant, in-universe explanation for why everyone's battling one another. It's a clever way of justifying unusual mechanics, too. Why are objective tiles spreading across the map or teleporting around the board? Magic, that's why.
- Read more: Godtear review
As you can probably tell from its title, this is a quirky little game. Players control furious-looking penguins who must slide around an iceberg collecting fish (e.g. points), but they've got to move fast; the ice is breaking beneath their flippers. Every time they leave a tile, it collapses back into the sea. Thanks, global warming.
That means you've got to be tactical about where you want to go - and when you want to do it. You see, there's plenty of room in Hey! That's My Fish to be a devious git and cut your foes off from their next meal. Just remember, they'll be trying to do the same thing to you. If you’re not careful, you may find yourself trapped on a spar of ice with only a couple of fish on it.
This leaves us with a clever game of forward thinking that’s over quickly enough to let you play a couple of matches in 30 or so minutes. It's must-have for the ruthless among you.
It's easy to underestimate the Ni No Kuni 2 board game. With a friendly art style inspired by Studio Ghibli and the presence of cute sidekicks, you might assume it'll be an chilled out way to spend half an hour. You'd be wrong. This adaptation of the Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom video game is brutal.
A strategy adventure that tasks you with rebuilding your kingdom, Ni No Kuni 2 has a captivating - and unexpected - level of depth that'll keep you coming back. It's also very compelling; the core loop of going on quests, slaying monsters, and using any loot you find to construct buildings is a satisfying one.
Just remember, you can't stop and smell the roses. You're short on time, and the game only lasts for five turns. This ratchets up the tension significantly, particularly due to the fact that your characters have skills and weaknesses you'll need to compensate for. Making the most of each round becomes crucial, so good communication with your partner is the order of the day.
- Read more: Ni No Kuni 2 board game review
More board game guides
Want more suggestions? Looking for something specific? Don't forget to check out our range of other board game guides. No matter whether you're hunting down a beloved classic or something for your next get-together with friends we've got you covered.
Keen to try roleplaying games, on the other hand? Don't forget about the best Dungeons and Dragons books and our feature on how to play D&D online.
- Must-have board games: Everyone should have these in their collection.
- Top card games: Must-have games that are perfect for travelling or parties.
- Best classic board games: Revisit old favorites like Monopoly or Clue.
- Best co-op board games: Why not work together?
- Board games for adults: Choose from a wealth of strategy adventures.
- Board games for children: Get the little ones involved.
Hoping to save some money? Be sure to watch out for this year's Black Friday board game deals and Cyber Monday board game deals in November - it's a great time to pick up those games you've had your eye on for less.