Don't think board games for 2 players are a consolation prize if you can't get enough people together; if anything, they're some of the best tabletop experiences you can have. And because you can sling more than a few of them into a backpack, they're perfect if you want something to take with you on the go or on vacation.
To get the ball rolling, we've rounded up what we think are 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. Many of the best board games are expensive, so being able to save a buck or two along the way is always appreciated.
Speaking of which, our bargain-hunting software is always on the lookout for discounts when it comes to the top board games for 2 players. If there's a price-cut to be had, you'll find it listed beside our recommendations (simply click the button to see the offer). Plenty should be appearing now that the Black Friday board game deals are here; along with more traditional Black Friday gaming deals, all things tabletop enjoy reductions throughout November. Keep an eye on our dedicated guides for up-to-the-minute savings.
Anyway, back to the here and now. Because our writers and freelancers have had extensive hands-on time with these recommendations, you can be sure that the investment is worthwhile. The team at GamesRadar+ spends a great deal of time testing 2-player board games, so you won't ever find us suggesting a product we wouldn't actually buy ourselves.
Board games for 2 players - top 10
What happens if evil wins? You get to find out with Disney Villainous. Allowing players to mess around in a Disney-themed toybox, it's all about giving classic baddies 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. In all our years with Villainous, we've found it to be a more focused, enjoyable experience.
Don't be fooled by that family-friendly theming, either; Villainous is hiding layers of strategy and plotting beneath its gorgeous artwork. That's because each character has a unique objective, board, and playstyle inspired by their movie, so all of them handle differently in use. Playing as a pair gives you space to really learn those ins and outs rather than being swept up by the chaos of a larger melee.
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 the (equally good) Disney Villainous expansions. That leaves us with what might be one of the best 2-player board games ever made. In fact, we come back to it more than anything else. As we mentioned in our review, there's "enough depth and spice to keep you playing for months".
- Read more: Disney Villainous review
Jaipur is the poster child when it comes to good board games 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 don't cash in your wares fast enough. The result is an engrossing balancing act, and Jaipur ranks amongst the best card games as a result.
Despite rewinding the clock to a time of antiquity, this board game for 2 players isn't some dusty old relic. A more focused version of the eternally popular 7 Wonders board game for families, Duel drills down into what made the original excel whilst cutting back its 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 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 the other player is up to, though. Because the cards you need to progress are drawn each turn from a central pile, it's possible for them 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.
The setup for Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America is terrifyingly relatable, especially these days. Deadly viruses are sweeping across the world, and your job is to cure them. No pressure, right?
Yes, the result is intense. You're battling against the clock - and the odds - in an effort to slow diseases as they pinball from one city to another. But because infections pop up in different locations every time you start, that means it's something you can play over and over again without things becoming stale. Similarly, the characters have unique abilities that help players in their quest (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.
As such, Pandemic: Hot Zone is a board game for 2 players about cooperation rather than blind luck - teamwork is essential. 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 (opens in new tab), Hot Zone earns its title as one of the best cooperative board games by a wide margin.
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 damn genius, it's one of the top board games for adults who fancy themselves as an armchair detective.
Casting you as a member of the Baker Street Irregulars (a group 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 experience you can lose yourself in. Tackling it as a 2-player board game instead of questing with four people allows you to take more ownership of this world, too.
Seeing as the app lets you know what will happen next rather than forcing you to trudge through scenario booklets, Legends of the Dark also carries an air of mystery you couldn't achieve in any other way. Sure, it won't match a good Dungeon Master running the best tabletop RPGs. But it's a stroke of brilliance nonetheless that gives Descent a real selling point over the competition.
There's something oddly soothing about this 2-player board game. A serene exercise in fitting Tetris-like tiles together, it's the sort of distraction that's perfect for date night or a lazy Sunday afternoon. It's not overly competitive either, so fallings out will be kept to a minimum.
Your aim is simple: build a quilt before the timer runs out. Fortunately, that process is a little easier in Patchwork than it would be in real life. Players buy patches to slot onto their board with buttons, and this earns them buttons in return. They can then buy more patches that earn them even more buttons. Whoever collects the most buttons at the end will win.
However, there's a catch - certain patches cost more to buy, and each one advances the timer forward a set number of spaces. That means splashing out on a lucrative tile now might limit what you can do later. It's an engrossing push-and-pull that draws you in quickly, and you won't want to put it down once you've got a taste for its smart yet simple gameplay.
King of Tokyo is the perfect game for 2 players 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. Even though 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.
Alright, time out - hold your scepticism for a moment. Despite being 'just' a word game, Bananagrams is still superb. Indeed, we find ourselves coming back to it more often than most other board games for 2 players. That's largely because of its simple yet moreish gameplay, but also due to it being portable enough that you can enjoy it practically anywhere.
The idea powering Bananagrams isn't complicated. Each player gets 20 or so 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 Bananagrams is better as a 2-player board game - it's less manic). Frantic, cerebral, and tense, this 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 one with the same or greater value. If they don't have anything suitable, they must then sacrifice the lowest-value card in their hand and the process starts again. 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. In other words, 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 later. That offers an opportunity to test your poker face and really mess with your foe.
2-player board games - honorable mentions
In spite of appearances, the Hocus Pocus board game isn't just for families; in fact, we're surprised by how difficult it is. A challenging board game for 2 players that'll keep you 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 through.
To defeat the witches, players will 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 figuring out their next move could be 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.
It says a lot that Forbidden Island spawned a franchise; the series now includes a visit to the Forbidden Desert (opens in new tab), not to mention mysterious airborne platforms of Forbidden Sky (opens in new tab). The original is arguably the best, though. This is a board game for 2 players with some 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 (basically, this is Indiana Jones crossed with Atlantis). 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 might just make 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.
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.
What we end up with is a smart game that revolves around forward-thinking, making it a must-have for the ruthless amongst you. And because it's so quick, you can comfortably finish a couple of matches within half-an-hour - a rarity in today's world of bloated board games for 2 players.
Board games for 2 players - FAQ
What are the most popular board games for 2 players?
While it's a pretty subjective matter considering how hard data is to find, we'd argue that the most popular board games for 2 players would include classics such as Ticket to Ride (priced at $40 via Amazon (opens in new tab)) or Codenames Duet (sitting at roughly $14 at Amazon (opens in new tab)). Both have been going strong for quite some time now and have definitely earned their place in the hall of fame, so we'd be very surprised if they hadn't sold equally well.
Similarly, the ever-so-relaxing Wingspan (which you can buy from around $50 at Amazon (opens in new tab)) is always making waves.
However, it's a different story if we're talking average customer reviews. Amazon puts strategy epic 7 Wonders Duel (which costs roughly $35 (opens in new tab)) near the top of the pile, while Patchwork (also $35 (opens in new tab)), and Jaipur (a fantastic board game for 2 players you can buy at around $25 (opens in new tab)) also dominate thanks to extensive positive feedback. We'd certainly agree with the latter, and would add Disney Villainous into the mix as well. In our opinion, it's one of the best 2-player board games ever made.
Battleship (averaging $12 or so (opens in new tab)) dominates both categories, though. This old favorite clearly has plenty of life left in it.
What is a fun 2-player board game?
It's hard to go wrong with King of Tokyo (which usually costs $45 at Amazon (opens in new tab)), Jaipur (available for roughly $25 (opens in new tab)), Hey, That's My Fish! or Tacocat Spelled Backwards (weighing in at $15 (opens in new tab)) if your main requirement is 'fun'. All of these options are a blast thanks to fast-paced gameplay that's both satisfying and easy to learn, so we have no trouble recommending any of them.
What is the top board game to play with 2 players?
In our opinion, the best 2-player board game has to be Disney Villainous (available from Amazon for $40 (opens in new tab)). Besides being very replayable, its clever blend of tactics and skulduggery make it an engrossing way to spend an hour or two. It's also smartly designed and beautiful to boot.
We often see Battleship (which you can buy for $12 or so (opens in new tab)) cited as a good choice as well if you want something more old-school. While it has flaws, it's a family favorite for many and is truly timeless.
Want to let off some steam and delight your guests? Check out our guide to the very best party board games.