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9 best two-player board games that are competitive and fun

Work as a team or go head-to-head in these games that require skill, strategy and maybe a little bit of luck

Martha Alexander
Thursday 08 April 2021 16:04
<p>From traditional classics like Chess to off-the-wall innovations, the market for board games is large and varied</p>

From traditional classics like Chess to off-the-wall innovations, the market for board games is large and varied

Sure, big rowdy board games full of interruptions and participated in by people with varying degrees of interest are fun, but there’s something particularly exciting about the intensity of two-player combat from the comfort of the kitchen table.

From traditional classics like chess to modern and often off-the-wall innovations, the market for two-player board games is large.

Most two-player games require a certain level of strategy or skill and the odd one will come down to chance. Or, of course, it could have a decent mix of the three.

Other games are epic marathons and some could be made for those who like to play by the “a good game’s a quick game” adage.

So, as big board game players, we wanted to see which ones were the best. All the games featured here work brilliantly with just two people – but many can accommodate more players, should the occasion arise.

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How we tested

Testing with two players only, we wanted to see games that were well made both literally and in terms of the efficacy of their rules. We took note of how long it took for players to understand the object of the game and how best to achieve it. Measuring fun or satisfaction isn’t always easy, but any game that ended with both parties agreeing to immediately start another was considered a triumph.

The best two-player board games for 2022 are:

  • Best for creativity – Azul: £29.99, Onbuy.com
  • Best for movie buffs – Blockbuster & chill: £13, Bigpotato.co.uk
  • Best for maths geniuses – Harry Potter wizard chess set: £34.99, Ryman.co.uk
  • Best retro game – Four in a line: £7.49, Ryman.co.uk
  • Best conversation starter – Wavelength board game: £29.99, Ryman.co.uk
  • Best for embracing your mean streak – Rats to riches: £15.29, Onbuy.com
  • Best for intergenerational players – Beat the parents: £12.99, Smythstoys.co.uk
  • Best for word nerds – Scrabble: £15.88, Onbuy.com
  • Best classic game – Backgammon: £19.99, Amazon.co.uk

Azul

Best: For creativity

Rating: 9/10

Budding interior designers, this is your moment. Or your 30 to 40 minutes, as this is how long it takes to play a game of Azul, where the aim is to decorate the Royal Palace of Evora with colourful tiles.

Players, in their role as the king’s artisan tile layers, each collect tiles, which are inspired by Moorish ceramics before earning points based on how expertly they have organised and arranged them. Players will lose points for wasting supplies. And the player with the highest score wins.

Although this can be played with up to four players, we can confirm that a two-player dual is highly competitive and super intense. Poor planning or shaky strategy has nowhere to hide. What we especially loved about Azul is that each player must create something aesthetically beautiful in order to win. This is a rare feature in a board game – and we’re here for it.

Blockbuster & chill

Best: For movie buffs

Rating: 8/10

This two-player game will put your knowledge of films and cinema to the test, but, and here’s what makes it unusual, you are playing together in order to beat the game.

If you’re anything like us, you’ll be instantly thrilled with the packaging which is in the exact shape and proportions of a traditional VHS – complete with a cardboard slide-off cover. That this is considered a “retro vibe” will be slightly mortifying for anyone born before 1997. But the game itself is bound to impress all generations.

Gameplay seems pretty straightforward. You will, as a pair, be challenged to list films within a certain category – for example, movies with ghosts. But be warned, it has a habit of sneaking up and landing you both with late fees which can kill your chances of victory. We found you needed to read the rules really carefully at first – it isn’t the simplest thing to explain or understand. However, once you get going it’s a quick-moving game perfect for movie buffs.

Harry Potter wizard chess set

Best: For maths geniuses

Rating: 8/10

Chess is arguably the most famous of all two-player games (and last year gained a renewed surge of popularity after Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit series). It requires a great deal of intelligence, concentration and forward planning. Those with a natural aptitude for maths usually make very good chess players.

This set is Harry Potter-themed, specifically from the giant chess game in The Philosopher’s Stone which might not please purists but we think is a brilliant way of getting younger players into the game. What’s more, it’s lovely quality and of course totally functional.

Legami Vintage Memories four in a line

Best: Retro game

Rating: 8/10

A different sort of board game, four in a line is a vintage two-player game that we found came with a hit of nostalgia. We loved the wooden frame and the retro aesthetic. The premise is so simple: you just need to get four of your coloured counters in a line – be it horizontally, vertically or diagonally – before your opponent does. It might sound easy – but it’s not!

Wavelength board game

Best: Conversation starter

Rating: 7/10

This looks like a beautiful machine found in a cartoon science lab. It turns out that Wavelength is hard to describe – it’s such a strange concept. You need to try to find a specific but hidden point on a spectrum by guesswork and discussion. This makes for a pretty intense experience given the aim is to read each other’s minds and guess abstract quantities – like hot or cold. The closer players get to the “bullseye” the more points they score.

What we will say is that while this is technically a game that can be played by two, we think it works best when more people are involved. This is because the beauty of Wavelength is the scope for heated discussion.

Rats to riches

Best: For embracing your mean streak

Rating: 8/10

Thieving sewer rats might not be the chicest premise to anything, but we have to admit that this game of strategy, skill and a bit of luck makes for moreish fun. Players are rats who must steal whatever they can get their paws on in a bid to elevate themselves into a better class of sewer.

What we loved about this is that you get to be the very worst version of yourself: you must scheme, lie, cheat and swindle your way into a better life and a bigger sewer. You must sink others in order to swim yourself. It’s a game for anyone who fancies being Machiavellian for a while. You can play with up to five players but when played with two the heat really turns up.

On a practical level, the board is built into the box which was a nifty design perk – there’s nothing worse than having to navigate too many contents.

Beat the parents

Best: For intergenerational players

Rating: 7/10

This is the ultimate trivia game between the generations. Parents must answer questions that kids are likely to know the answer to and vice versa. There are also physical challenges including who can most successfully fly a paper aeroplane, so it isn’t all cerebral.

We played three games with one adult in her thirties against a child aged eight. The child won every time. Adults beware: you’ll need to brush up on your science. Overall we found this to be great fun – but considering younger children might find some of the questions a bit of a struggle, we would definitely say it’s one for children aged eight and over.

Scrabble

Best: For word nerds

Rating: 9/10

The ultimate board game for word nerds for almost 100 years and with 150 million sets sold worldwide, Scrabble works brilliantly as a two-player game. The competition is more intense and the play speed is quicker.

In basic terms, each player needs to create the “best” words out of letter tiles – you each begin with seven – and place them across the board. However, each letter has a different value and each place on the board offers a different number of points. So, it’s not always about having the longest words; it’s about how to best use what you have.

It’s a game of skill, intelligence and a little bit of luck. Prepare to accuse one another of making up words and count how many times you each say “I’m looking that up”.

Backgammon

Best: Classic game

Rating: 9/10

Versions of backgammon have been around since 3000BC, so it’s arguably one of the best two-player games of all time. It’s so addictive you’ll easily lose entire evenings, weekends and holidays to the task of moving all of your counters off the board – thanks to skill and luck – before your opponent.

There are hundreds of different versions of backgammon sets out there – from antique beauties costing hundreds of pounds to pocket-sized travel sets – but this 14-inch wooden set gets our vote for anyone new to the game, or on a budget. It’s a neat little set, so will travel easily and while it couldn’t be described as an heirloom piece, it is a brilliantly functional set.

The verdict: Two-player board games

Azul had us hooked and wins the day for us: it calls for both creativity and logic. Players get sucked into a fantasy world of their own making which is really rare in a board game. You can’t beat Backgammon as far as addictive, competitive two-player games go, while Blockbuster and Chill gets our vote for light-hearted pop-culture fun.

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For more gaming fun, read our review of the best puzzles for both kids and adults

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