Sunday, July 17, 2011

Recommendations for 2-player board/card games

One of my friends asked me for game recommendations, and I think I'll post my response here in public, so that all may "benefit" from my pretensions at gaming sagacity. My friend is looking for a game that:
  • Takes 30-60 minutes to play
  • Works well for 2 players, though more is nice
  • Avoids common party-game antics (singing, charades, dancing, icebreakers, etc)
  • Is not a heavy strategy game
  • Does not have long turns
  • Does not have a war or fantasy theme
    Additionally, they already own a few mainline Eurogames, and are looking to branch out away from the bean-counting and efficiency-maximizing focus of those games, toward something more whimsical and luck-based. This being the case here are my recommendations, starting with those that closest fit what I believe match the criteria, with the caveat being that these are restricted to game I personally have played as 2-player games:

    (My first recommendation would be Carcassonne, but they already own it. Moving on...)

    1) Ticket to Ride, with the USA 1910 expansion: While purchasing both would set you back about $60, this is the holy grail in meeting the above criteria. The "Big Cities" variant included in the 1910 expansion turn the game into a tight 2-player experience that takes about 45 minutes. Turns often take less than 30 seconds, the theme is light, and the set-collecting is moderately luck based. The only downside is that it it a light Eurogame, and thus there is point-scoring done to determine the winner. However, there is not the ruthless emphasis on efficiency that is often present in Eurogames, and so it is much less competetive-feeling (and less math-filled) than other Euros.

    Additionally, if you have more people than 2, you can always add in the rest of the destination tickets and play the 3-4 player versions. I can honestly say that I have played this game with at least 20 different people, and have yet to meet someone who didn't enjoy the experience.

    2) Jaipur: It's an inexpensive card game for two, where you are competing to become the personal merchant for the local maharajah. This competition is based on collecting sets of cards and then selling them to the market, with the focus being on the tension between getting paid more for the first goods of each type sold in the round and getting bonuses for selling larger sets of identical goods. A typical game lasts about 30 minutes, and it's light enough that it doesn;t require intense thought and concentration for most actions. You can find a detailed review here. The only real downside is that it's limited to two players.

    3) Dominion: This is a somewhat heavier card game for 2-4 players, which I covered a bit here:
    In this game, players are feudal lords of a few small estates, scheming to enlarge and enrich their respective "Dominions" by whatever means possible. Each player starts with a deck of ten cards containing three estates and seven coppers. During gameplay, players have the opportunity to purchase from 10 different piles of kingdom cards, which contain things like moats, smithies, markets, thieves, or witches. When cards are purchased, they go directly to the player's discard pile, and then eventually get shuffled into their deck. They can also purchase copper, silver, and gold (which are later used to purchase bigger/better things) or they can go straight for purchasing estates, duchies, and provinces, each of which is worth victory points. The game ends when three stacks of cards (or the stack of Provinces) run out, and the player whose deck has the most VPs wins. Since the game comes with 25 stacks kingdom cards, of which only 10 are used each game, the replayability is excellent. This game is fairly light and plays quickly, but is a great deal of fun. Simple enough that just about anybody can play, but deep enough to be fun for everybody. This game works for 2-4 players, and work well (if differently) with any of those numbers. There are many expansions available; none of them are necessary to enjoy the game, but if you like Dominion, you'll probably want to pick one or two up eventually.
    I'll add a couple of notes to address specific concerns. Typical games last 30-45 minutes, maybe an hour with 4 players. The theme is pretty standard medievalist fluff, but does stray a bit into era-appropriate fantasy and war, with witches and curses, militias and watchtowers. The theme is, however, rather pasted-on, and so I think this shouldn't be an issue, as it doesn't feel anything like a war game. It is a bit efficiency-focused, as one must have a strategy around which one is building the deck, but it's pretty light.

    4) Innovation: This is one I'm hesitant about including on the list, because it will either be a hit, or will bomb badly. I'll link to a review here - please read that, and then I'll add my notes here. It typically runs 60-75 minutes, so it's a bit long for the criteria, but not outrageously. It is very chaotic and luck-driven, but also manages to feel pretty intense, so I'm not sure how they'd feel about it. I will note that it currently holds the record for most "plays per dollar spent" of any game I own, most of which were 2-player games with my wife.

    Other games I might recommend, that don't fit the criteria quite as well, but I enjoy as a two-player game:

    Pandemic or Forbidden Island (too much thinking, too little luck)

    Stone Age (standard Eurogame, so too much bean counting)

    At the Gates of Loyang (long turns, too much thinking and bean counting, too long of a game)

    Race for the Galaxy (efficiency focused, steep learning curve)


    ADDENDUM:

    I just remembered another good two-player game - Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League. I suspect the theme would amuse the original advice requester, as it's a German pulp scifi adventure from the heyday of space opera. The game itself is a light pick up and deliver card game with a substantial luck element and a misguided view of how orbital mechanics work (but that only bothers me). I'd probably put it #4 above Innovation. It's cheap, quick to play, and not too intense. Unfortunately, it is only for two players.

    To be honest, I've heard good things about most of the Kosmos 2-player line, but this is the only one I've played myself.

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