Tabletop games aren’t just for big groups. The best 2-player board games offer some of the hobby’s absolute finest experiences – whether you’re going head-to-head with a pal, or joining forces to beat a shared challenge. We’ve played dozens of these fine-tuned two-player games, and this guide names the absolute best of the bunch.
Picking favorites is hard, as the 2-player space contains some of the best board games ever made – and inevitably there’s crossover with our favorite board games for couples. But we reckon there’s something for everyone on this list, ranging across genres, themes, and complexity – from lightweight, funny board games to complex strategy board games that’ll engross you over multiple sessions. They won’t cost you a bomb, either.
The best two-player board games are:
- 7 Wonders Duel – best 2-player board game overall
- Forbidden Desert – best for board game newcomers
- Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 – best for a lasting campaign
- Star Wars: Rebellion – best grand strategy face-off
- Splendor – best for financial skulduggery
- The Castles of Burgundy – best historical theme
- Race for the Galaxy – best empire building game
- Battle Line – best rules-light strategy game
1. 7 Wonders Duel
The best 2-player board game overall is 2015’s 7 Wonders Duel.
The two-player, standalone variant of its much-acclaimed big brother, 7 Wonders Duel will have you building a glorious civilisation to stand the test of time. Mixing card drafting and resource management, you’ll be expanding the scientific might of your empire, while bolstering your military to destroy your opponent’s settlement once and for all.
Duel shines for its player interaction. Instead of simultaneously choosing cards before passing their hand to the adjacent player (as in the original 7 Wonders), in Duel players pick cards from a shared central pool.
You’ll have to work your way to the most valuable cards at its centre, taking a risk on face-down options, while trying to snatch the best picks from your opponent. It’s thoroughly engaging and strategically deep, without being overwhelming.
For a full explanation, read our 7 Wonders Duel review.
2. Forbidden Desert
The best 2-player board game for newcomers is Forbidden Desert.
A super straightforward cooperative board game, Gamewright’s classic Forbidden Desert is perfect for those new to tabletop gaming . In this exciting treasure-chasing adventure, you’re challenged with recovering a legendary flying machine from an ancient desert city.
Band together with your team of explorers to excavate its crumbling halls, but don’t dally. If you take too long to recover the machine’s components, you’ll become trapped in the deadly sand below.
Its rules are simple enough. On each turn, you’ll move your pawn around a grid of tiles, before performing a few set actions. That could be picking up a part of the flying machine, revealing a face-down tile, or sharing valuable equipment with a fellow player.
Everyone takes the role of a different adventurer, granting you unique abilities, which you’ll need to pool together if you’re to make it out of the city alive. Once you’ve mastered the game, try upping the difficulty for a new challenge.
2. Pandemic Legacy Season 1
The best 2-player game to play a longer lasting campaign is Pandemic Legacy Season 1.
Matt Leacock’s acclaimed disease-fighting board game Pandemic is one of the finest games ever made; this legacy board game version, released in 2015, takes all the best parts of the original title and adds a tantalising, engaging story that persists and develops between games.
Your team of specialists must race around the globe to fight infections, conduct research, and administer cures before a bevy of plagues overwhelms you. Well-paced and highly intense, this is a game of close calls.
Played on a central map, you’ll be moving a pawn from city to city, before taking several actions each turn in an effort to suppress the spread of the virus. Make sure to leverage your specialists’ unique abilities in coordinated team efforts, though, because random ‘epidemic cards’ will spread the disease at the most inopportune times, handing you a fresh outbreak to contend with.
Where Pandemic Legacy ratchets things up is its persistence. Your decisions, successes, and failures, will follow you through your campaign. Characters will die, cities will perish, and new mechanics will be introduced throughout your playthrough, keeping you on your toes. It all adds a sense of gravitas to your situation, while lending the game an appropriately apocalyptic atmosphere. This is Pandemic at its best.
4. Star Wars: Rebellion
The best 2-player grand strategy competition is Star Wars: Rebellion.
If you’re looking for a two-player board game and are a fan of George Lucas’s galaxy far, far away, you could do little better than Star Wars: Rebellion. A wide-ranging strategy game that captures the epic conflict of the original trilogy, Rebellion plunges you into an intergalactic game of cat and mouse. One player commands the brave Rebel Alliance to sabotage the Emporer’s will, while the other will take control of the swarming imperial fist to route the rebel scum.
Players take turns assigning missions to military forces spread across an intergalactic map. The Rebels will be looking to complete objective cards to secure victory. The Empire, meanwhile, must defend against the attacks and search for the rebel base. If they can locate and destroy the hideout, they’ll claim victory.
Packing reams of cards, mounds of tokens, a chunky rulebook, and over 100 miniatures, Rebellion can appear intimidating. This is no Risk, and you’ll likely have to refresh your understanding of its rules throughout your first game. But its rhythm of play is fantastic. Recreating the cinematic moments of the Star Wars franchise – as vast squadrons of starfighters battle in space, or legions of Stormtroopers invade a rebel stronghold – its asymmetry inspires moments of pure joy.
The best 2-player game of financial skulduggery is Splendor.
This competitive two-player board game sees you try your hand at playing the gem market, challenging your thriftiness as much as your greed.
On each turn, you’ll pick up a variety of precious stones that can be used to purchase valuable ‘development cards’ from the middle of the table. Costing different amounts, and spanning several colours of gems, you’ll need to think carefully about how to spend your resources if you’re to snap up the best cards available.
The trick is to find a balance. Purchase a card as soon as you have the funds, and you might miss out on a future windfall. But wait too long, and your opponent may already have taken the best picks available.
Splendor is a game of speculation, but not only one for the commercial marketeers of the world. Fast-paced and constantly engaging, you’ll be looking to inflate your own wealth while curtailing your opponent’s portfolio. A perfect mix.
6. The Castles of Burgundy
The best history themed 2-player game is The Castles of Burgundy.
This dice-rolling tile board game has you build your very own medieval princedom, full of colorful tokens and French aristocracy. You’ll be looking to expand your settlement by picking up tiles from a central pool. But you can’t just go adding fields, castles, and taverns haphazardly. Each building is numbered, and only buildable after scoring the required dice roll that turn.
Selling itself on its mix of luck and strategy, The Castles of Burgundy does a fantastic job of randomly determining your action options, before handing you the reins to make the best of the situation. Study the options at your disposal to make solid judgements on how best to go forward, and curse yourself later for missing something of vital importance.
If you love dice games, but want a bit more meat and theme, this particular goblet of fine French wine is bound to be to your taste. Be prepared to handle lots of finicky tokens, while internalising the rules of its various components. Do that, though, and you’ve got a game that will appeal to keen strategists and casual board game players alike.
7. Race for the Galaxy
The best 2-player empire building game is Race for the Galaxy.
What’s more exciting than building a galactic civilisation? In this engine-building card game, you’ll lead an empire from nascent spacefaring to solar dominance, as players take turns playing cards to expand the base of their empire.
Each turn follows a set phase order, in which you’ll play cards from your hand to grow your civilisation, balancing immediate gain with long-term profit. But don’t dally, the first player to reach a certain stage of technological advancement will be crowned the winner.
Bear in mind, Race for the Galaxy is tough on the old noggin. Be prepared to learn its thorny rules that span many intricate processes. Once you do, however, you’ll be treated to a superbly refined board game of civilisation expansion, that’s extremely quick to set up (far quicker than many other games in the engine-building genre) and can be done and dusted in little more than half an hour.
8. Battle Line
The best rules-light 2-player strategy game is Battle Line.
Played using a single deck of cards and a rulebook that’s only a single A4 page in length, Battle Line might be the best representation of a rules-light, strategically-deep card game. The work of celebrated designer Reiner Knizia, and first published by old-school wargame powerhouse GMT Games in 2000, this is a little box with big pedigree.
You and your opponent will take command of belligerent armies skirmishing for control of nine battlefields. If you can create the strongest formation on each location, you’ll win the game.
Its cards are split into six suits and numbered one to ten. Each turn, you’ll place a card from your hand onto a battlefield. If you can place three cards on a single battlefield that meet the requirements of a formation – which match normal poker hand rankings, such as three of a kind, or flush – you’ll claim it for yourself. But if your opponent creates a higher ranking formation, victory will be theirs.
Extremely simple in operation, Battle Line provides endless scope for strategizing. You could spend half an hour on one turn, as you furiously count cards and weigh up the probability of creating one formation over another. Or, play it as a quickfire card game that can be completed in less than half an hour. This game caters to everyone.
There’s even two historical-themed versions to choose from – the reimplemented 2017 Medieval edition above is our favorite, but the 2000 original, themed around Alexander the Great, is fantastic too:
Not found what you seek here? Not to worry – we’ve got more. If you’re after something perfect for a romantic twosome, try our guide to the best couples’ board games; or, if you’d rather beef up your overall gaming experience, you might enjoy our guides to the best gaming tables and board game storage options. For now, though…