Looking for the best two-player board games of 2023? Whether you want to battle it out with your partner or finally beat your sibling at something, this round-up of two-player board games is full of engaging options for you to battle it out head-to-head.
While most games require at least two players anyway, if you are looking for the best board games, not all of them work with only two players. Here though, the games in our list are great fun with just two players and won’t impact on your experience.
What’s great about two-player board games is they’re usually quick to learn and easy to play anywhere – ideal for taking on trips and holidays. We’ve picked out something for everyone, from fantasy narratives to logical battles.
Most of the two-player board games won’t break the bank either, but if you do have a specific budget in mind, then you can also check out our best cheap board games for all the lowest-costing games currently available.
For those board game buffs who perhaps already have a solid collection of games, make sure you’re staying up to date with our new board games guide for the latest releases.
The best two-player board games
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You might think a trading game between two people would be a limited concept. But Jaipur has its hooks in the ingenious way it re-creates actual market forces, and tempts you into making a mistake by offering big potential rewards. During play, you collect and sell sets of matching goods but each sale of a particular type of goods brings decreasing returns as items flood the market, so you always want to be the earliest to sell. However, you also get bonus points for selling large amounts of a single good in one go. How far do you dare to stock up before your opponent swoops in and satisfies the pent-up demand before you?
As well as this core tension, Jaipur cranks up the stakes in many other ways. A hand limit also makes collecting too many cards a risky proposition and there's always the temptation to take camels which you can't sell but do let you pick up multiple cards at once. With the pressure ratcheting up each turn, it's down to you to ride the right balance of luck and skill to make a market killing. Here's our full Jaipur review (opens in new tab), which goes into more detail about this miniature classic.
The big draw of Unmatched is slick, fast, one-to-one combat between any fictional characters you can imagine. This box sees King Arthur, Alice from Wonderland, Sinbad and Medusa face off, with players choosing one of the four to play each game. There are alternative boxes and expansions to build out your options, including Unmatched: Robin Hood vs Bigfoot, Unmatched: Cobble and Fog and Unmatched: Jurassic Park pack.
The engine of this miracle is a simple card system where you play from your hand to move and attack on the board. Each character has their own deck, and that's where the magic lies. From Sinbad's voyage card stacking to Sherlock's knowledge of his opponent's cards, it offers incredible variety from very few rules. Yet between all the moving parts, it's a thrilling game of tactical cat and mouse. Our Unmatched: Battle of Legends review (opens in new tab) goes into even more detail about how the game works and why it's so engrossing.
This game's name translates as 'Scots kill', and is themed around Scottish clans fighting for territory control (though you can find effectively the same game as Battle Line: Medieval if you prefer knights to kilts). It's not a game that feels like battling but is more like multi-hand Poker where you won't lose any money. Players select cards from their hand to play into one of nine table positions. You're trying to build up a better Poker-style meld of three cards on your side than your opponent can manage. Once you've done so, you win that position and if you win five of the nine, you win the game.
What's great about the game is that when you play a card you can rarely be sure you'll ever finish the meld you're aiming for. Instead, it's all about playing the odds, trying to bluff while knowing your opponent might actually have the cards you need in their hand. It's enough to make your palms sweat, and for extra tension, there's also a deck of one-shot power cards to mix things up. Here's our full Schotten Totten review (opens in new tab), to explain more about why its head-to-head puzzle is so satisfying.
The original Codenames was a breakout hit. In it, you laid out a grid of 25 word cards. Then, one player on each team took a secret pattern card showing which words 'belonged' to each team. They had to give one-word clues, trying to tie as many of their cards together in that one clue as possible, while their team-mates tried to guess which they were. It was a hilarious yet taut dance of trying to guide players to the right cards with minimal information, but where a misstep could reward your opponent or even lose you the game instantly, like walking through a minefield.
That box also included a co-operative variant, which has been brilliantly refined and improved on to make Codenames: Duet for two. Now, both players take turns giving clues to each other and the game's aim is to avoid three deadly assassins hidden in each grid, which mean instant failure if guesses. By giving both roles to both players, Codenames: Duet doubles the fun and manages the rare feat of being even better than the original.
Another two-player game that’s evolved from a huge hit game for more people, 7 Wonders: Duel is quite different from its predecessor. In both games, the aim is to collect a tableau of cards that represent a growing civilisation. By matching and building on sets of cards, you gain points for your technology advances, military strength and so forth. In the original, much of the fun was had in selecting cards from a draft, where each player picked one from a hand and passed it around the table.
That’s no good with two, so instead there’s a clever pyramid where players pick cards from the bottom row, slowly revealing the cards in the tier above depending on what you choose. This neat idea ensures the game retains the tension of the draft while becoming even faster and more exciting. You'll need to make wise decisions with just two of you: pick the wrong card and your opponent will snaffle up the one you really wanted. Players also have three possible ways to win so you'll have to keep your wits about you which is a real mental challenge.
We know that a WW2-themed squad-level infantry combat game isn't the most appealing game here in theme or design, but give it a chance, because it's kind of brilliant. Undaunted is a magical game that brings to life the heroism and tension of hedgerow firefights with just a few pages of core rules and an hour of your time to play. There is a little more to it than that, but more complex rules are introduced gently over 12 scenarios. At first, you can dive into a simple version of the game; by the end, you'll be co-ordinating scouts and snipers, mortars and machine guns like a seasoned veteran.
The engine of this sorcery is that you control your squads via a personal deck of cards that you play through over and over, shuffling again when you run out. Cards correspond to squads on the board, and you can only order a unit to do something (move, attack, capture a point) when you have one of their cards to play. You'll also add cards into your deck during the game, still matching the units you have – when you do so, it's like ordering re-enforcements or bolstering morale. You're literally making it so that these squads are able to do more! But as units are hit by fire, cards matching that square get removed not only from your hand but the entire game.
Cards play becomes an unlikely but effective stand-in for all sorts of issues facing real-life combat commanders – cards for the right squad not coming out are like communication issues; get all your cards for one squad out in one hand and they'll be able to move and take out enemy solders left and right, like a genius general has just turned up personally to give the key orders.
At the same time, players have to balance making their decks work with tactical action on a tile-based board – you won't be looking to eliminate enemy soldiers, but instead to achieve objectives, so combat is only one part of what you're thinking about. Strategy and tactics, excitement and simulation all stack together in a quite brilliant whole.
Klask looks like a miniature game of table football or air hockey. Which it kind of is: the aim is to use your on-board piece to push a little ball into your opponent’s goal. However, instead of controlling the piece directly, you guide it with a magnet underneath the board. Already this adds a fun extra challenge to the air hockey concept, as well as hiding your moves from your opposite player.
But the real kicker in Klask is the magnetic obstacles on the table. Get too close and one will attach itself to your playing piece, making accuracy much more difficult. Attract another and you’ll lose the point. Together with the ever-present risk of an own-goal, they make every match a fast-paced tightrope walk, dangling between speed and sureness.
The unusual theme of giving gifts to Geishas to win their favour is an excuse for some luminous art and a compelling game of risk and number-crunching. Each turn, players can take one of four actions one time each. Two of them hide cards: one as a secret gift to a Geisha, the other to carry two cards over to the next turn. The other two involve picking gift cards to show the other player, letting them give some while you give the rest.
Gifts automatically go to their matching Geisha, and the player who gives the most gifts to each Geisha wins their favour. The secret and public aspects of gift-giving set up a fascinating tension each round where you try to plan ahead with limited information. But for those who are keeping track of the numbers, forcing your opposition to give a useless gift is a special satisfaction.