I’ve written before that board games are a very social experience for me, as they are for most people. Because of this, I usually associate board games with large groups of people, and the board game industry looks to be agreeing with me. Games of 3-5 or 4-6 players are becoming the norm in most cases, with plenty of games even exceeding those numbers. So when I was given my blast from the past board game set from my Grandpa it reminded me that a number of older games were actually meant only for two players. Games like Battleship, Guess Who, Stratego and even Chess and Checkers all focus on the one-on-one matchup. There are a few newer games, such as 7 Wonders: Duel, which still use a two-player format, but it feels like this type of game isn’t as common anymore. If anything there are more games now that can be played by two players, but can also include 3+ players, such as Castles of Mad King Ludwig.
After recently playing board games of all types over the holidays, I was reminded of some of the benefits of two player board games. While they might not be the best fit for all situations, they can be a lot of fun and have certain benefits that board games for larger groups just don’t have. Here are my top five reasons why you should play two player board games:
1) Easier to get the number of players you need– This advantage seems pretty obvious, but it’s more a testament to how difficult finding groups to play board games with can be at times. I’m lucky enough to have groups of friends who like playing tabletop games, and even I have difficulty finding enough people on a random Tuesday night a
t times. Finding one other person to play a game with you? That tends to be easier. Whether it’s a roommate, a sibling/parent, or a significant other, there are usually people around willing to try a game out with you or open up an old classic.
2) More direct competition– This does not mean to say that games with more than two players don’t have competition. I couldn’t imagine playing a game of Monopoly or Settlers of Catan without forming a grudge match against someone, and even if I don’t there’s enough competition to beat out all players and take the #1 spot. Board games are all about trying to win, so there’s going to be a high level of competition in any type of board game you play. Still, there’s something different about the competitive feel of a two person board game. You are essentially using your skills, wits, and strategy to defeat a single opponent; assuming the player is around the same skill level as you the intensity of that matchup can almost feel palpable.
3) More streamlined game mechanics– This is not always the case, but it seems like rules and procedures for two player games are generally simpler and more streamlined than ones with 3+ players. Adding in more players creates a layer of complexity to a game, because a game designer has to take more factors into account. Sometimes additional rules are created specifically for a larger number of players, to ensure that the game stays fair to all parties playing. In addition, most games with larger groups of players are meant to allow for different scenarios for each party interacting with each other, so the complexity only increases. A two player game is streamlined because a designer can create the game without worrying about the 3+ player effect and can focus solely on the game mechanics of two people going head to head against each other.
4) Great way to catch up with someone– Whenever I visit my Grandpa in PA we always make a point to play a game of Djinn before the trip is over. This has become a tradition between the two of us, and we use it as a time to have some fun and catch up with each other. I tell him about my work, my girlfriend, my plans for the future, and more as he mercilessly beats me in our favorite card game. The same benefit can be found in a two player board game. Sitting down and interacting with another person and learning more about his/her life is great, and a board game can be a great way to facilitate that.
5) Faster playing time– In today’s fast-paced society, an important criteria for a board game is how long it takes to play. Faster does not always mean better of course, but if you’re looking for a game to play that won’t take up your entire evening then odds are high that a two player game will meet that criteria. This is not always true, as there are some two player games that last a long time and there are plenty of larger scale board games that are meant to be finished quickly. Still, with less people in a game to eliminate and/or less people working to achieve a goal, the average playing time for a two player tabletop game is usually less than a larger scale game.
BONUS: Good for date night– This only really works if you have a significant other who likes board games, but a good date night for any couple can be found at the board game table. Board games create interaction and discussion that you don’t get in a movie theater. They are also a cheap alternative to most standard date nights, and are a fun way to make use of your time if you’re staying home rather than going out. It’s not exactly first date material, but it’s a great idea for a nice, relaxing evening with someone you care about. I am lucky enough to have a girlfriend that also likes board games (she’s a fellow blogger, check out http://moviesandmanicures.com/ when you get a chance!) and we played three rounds of Castles of Mad King Ludwig over Christmas. We had a lot of fun and it was a great way to spend time together, so I recommend it for any lovebirds out there as well.
I love 2 player games, but I often find that they are harder for me to break out compared to games that support a higher player count. For example, I love Netrunnr, but that’s a bit difficult to get others into. On the other hand, their are games that support 2 players but just aren’t good as 2 player games. However, a great game of Lost Cities, or something along those lines, is good when I can get it. Great article though, I agree with a lot of your points, just wanted to add my experience.
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I definitely agree, looking back on it my board game experiences are more often 4+ players than they are only two. Still, it’s always great to have other options on the table (no pun intended)!
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Good thoughts. I, too, enjoy 2-player games, especially due to reason #1. Between families and jobs, it’s tough to assemble much of a crew at all. In fact, this is driving me ever more frequently towards solitaire games and multi-player games with solo variants. Otherwise I’d almost never be able to scratch that itch!
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