Couples’ board games: the best board games and card games for couples

Our guide to the best couples' board games and card games for date night - including Azul, Splendor, Pandemic, Jaipur, and more

Best couples' board games - photo showing a player's hand moving tiles and pieces in a game of Carcassonne

If you’re looking to spend some quality time with your beloved, picking up a doozy of a couples’ board game is a superb way to deepen your connection while having unadulterated fun. The very best couples’ board games and card games have a surprising ability to strengthen your relationship while also putting it to the test, pitching you and your significant other into a tense board game tug of war as you battle for a win.

Putting aside, for the moment, the potential for passive aggression or even heated competitive arguments, playing games together strengthens communication skills and creates great memories. It’s also a perfect date idea – especially during a global pandemic, when your options for a romantic evening excursion are otherwise limited to essential supermarket trips and walks round the block.

Thanks to 2020’s Coronavirus lockdowns, more and more couples (and flatmates) have found themselves taking their first dive into the world of board games, or else taking the opportunity to share their favourite games with one another. However, with so many options on the market, finding your next boxful of two-player tabletop fun, frolics, and DIY couples counseling can be a long hunt.

Here’s our list of the best two-player board games and board games for couples, offering suggestions for both new and seasoned gamers to liven up their next date-night activity.

The best couples’ board games are:

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7 Wonders: Duel

Purchase: Amazon

When you can’t travel for an exotic, romantic getaway, what better alternative than a city-building resource management game for two? 7 Wonders: Duel is the two-player version of Repos Productions’ leviathan 2010 board game, putting couples in a tight race to build the most advanced civilisation and gather the most points.

Tons of variation and replayability make Duel a solid choice

Players will run through three eras, jostling to secure a win through either military or scientific development. You will also need to start building your four allotted Wonders, meeting all prerequisites, gathering resources and playing mind games. Rather than choosing cards simultaneously, as the original 7 Wonders had you do, players take turns picking face-up and face-down cards from a central collection. You’ll have to work your way to the resources you most desperately need, hoping they aren’t snapped up by your opponent first.

Although tallying up your points at the end of a match can sometimes  be a bit of a mood killer, 7 Wonders: Duel makes up for this minor annoyance by offering tons of variation, and replayability, in each game. It’s a solid choice for repeat game nights, and is sure to keep you coming back for more.

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Regularly hailed as one of the finest two-player board games of all time – and rightly so – Michael Kiesling’s Azul is a game that authentically delivers on that old cliché: a feast for the senses. The gorgeous, patterned tiles are endlessly pleasing to the eye, clack together satisfyingly in their bag, and give the game a calming energy – even when your partner has just beaten you three rounds in a row.

Azul casts you and your opponent(s) / life partner(s) as rival interior decorators, vying to impress the King of Portugal with your breathtaking five-by-five-tile wall designs. You’ll take turns choosing your desired tiles from shared pools, then using your picks wisely to create the highest-scoring, matching patterns you can. Better patterns mean more points, and the player with the most points wins. It’s quite the epitome of the ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ mantra that so many modern board games strive for.

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Like some others on this list, Azul has become such a riotous success that it’s spawned two sequel-slash-expansions: Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra, and Azul: Summer Pavilion – both of which provide an fresh aesthetic flavour, and some minor twists on the key formula, built around the same gameplay core: drafting beautiful tiles to complete patterns.

Easy to learn, but much deeper than it looks, Azul deserves a spot on every shelf – and its combination of arresting aesthetics, creativity and tactile fun makes it a super-accessible, low-stress game for casual nights in.

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Purchase: Amazon

This two-to-five-player board game is a stone-cold classic, known and beloved by many. Carcassonne is an incredibly easy-to-teach tile-laying game, and an excellent ‘gateway game’ for couples relatively new to the board game hobby.

Even after 21 years, this game is hard to put down

You’ll be placing down tiles that depict parts of cities, roads or abbeys, building up a map of southern France with each successive turn. As you try to gather territory, you can cooperate, or purposefully muck up each other’s building efforts, claiming areas to block your opponent.

There’s something incredibly involving about physically placing down tiles, while bantering with your partner, making Carcassonne an excellent couples’ bonding choice. No matter if you choose to play together, or a bit dirty, this game (even after 21 years) is hard to put down. It’s still one of the ultimate go-to board games for first date shenanigans.

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Purchase: Amazon

One of the best cooperative two-player board games you can find, Codenames: Duet is a frequent favourite for many couples. The two-player spin-off takes all the best elements from the Codenames series, and squeezes them into a sleek, faster-paced team-effort structure.

As in the original Codenames, players must work together to decode messages, giving each other one-word clues to safely identify hidden field agents, while avoiding the deadly assassin.

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Handed a grid of cards, each labelled with a single word, players will take turns providing clues, trying to hint at which of the cards laid out in front of them represent their friendly agents. But you’ll need to move swiftly. With only nine turns to find all 15 of your compatriots, you’ll need to hint at multiple cards with a single clue,  linking the disparate cards together with whatever tenuous connection you think best.

The game comes with 200 new cards, and a campaign option that adds a fair bit of replayability. The united effort to win, as well as the fun wordplay puzzle mechanic, makes Codenames: Duet a winning choice for any pair of partners in their date night activity.

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A masterpiece that works just as brilliantly as a two-player board game as it does with a larger team, Pandemic is rightfully called one of the best gateway games. The idea of preventing a deadly virus from killing the entire human population doesn’t exactly scream relaxation or romance in today’s news climate, but look beyond that and you’ll find a rewarding cooperative board game.

A rewarding cooperative board game

You’ll work together to minimise the spread of global infection, build research centres, and eventually administer a cure for the virus. But do so quickly, before it spells doom for the planet. Each player is assigned a different role, and brings distinct abilities to the table: some are adept at moving across the board quickly, others treating areas rife with disease, while some are better at quashing outbreaks.

This is no easy game, mind. It can be punishing to new players, as random events disrupt your carefully laid plans, and disease build-ups overflow into neighbouring countries. You’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed with the sheer scale of the pandemic, and be hanging on by the skin of your teeth by the game’s end. Even better, the game scales nicely with more players, so once you and your partner have become masters, invite some friends over for a new challenge.

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Throw yourself into the fury of a head-to-head quilting competition with Patchwork, a two-player tile game that’s halfway between Tetris and a nursing home (we mean that in the best way possible). You’ll be competing to create the finest, most commercially valuable quilt by snapping up stray patches of fabric and needling them together.

The central tile-grabbing mechanics are simple enough. Each turn, you’ll be handed an array of oddly-shaped patches, which you can purchase if you pay their cost in buttons. Once yours, you’ll be able to add the patch to your quilt to expand the burgeoning blanket. Take care, though, and be sure to arrange your patches tightly. The tiles won’t fit together neatly, and if you don’t think ahead, you’ll soon find that your glorious design is full of holes.

Tactical nous: Read our list of the best strategy board games

Some patches carry valuable buttons, too, which you’ll need to expand your quilt and earn points at the end of the game. Grab only those patches that fit snugly in your design, and you’ll soon run out of buttons; but let your greed get the better of you, and you’ll have a quilt so full of holes that you’ll be the embarrassment of the town.

Patchwork’s mix Tetris-like tile placement and push-your-luck button grabbing does well to combine visual excitement with forward planning. Not tough on the noggin, and quick to play, it’s a great pick for couples after some breezy tabletop gaming.

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Hive Pocket

Purchase: Amazon

Hive Pocket is a battle of wits and a great alternative for two players who love Chess, Go, or other abstract strategic games. By laying down hexagonal tiles decorated with different creepy crawlies, players compete to surround their opponent’s queen bee, without breaking up the pattern of tiles already placed down.

Hive Pocket, the portable version, is too damn cute

Each bug tile has its own moves and rules, and every play will leave you and your partner obsessing over possible new tactics – as well as all your previous mistakes. However, like Chess or Go, Hive Pocket is one of those games you either have the feel for or you don’t, making it a useful temperature test when picking out a couples’ activity. If you and your significant other do get a taste for it, though, Hive will prove as addictive to you both as sweet, sweet nectar to a bee.

We’ve chosen to highlight the travel version, Hive Pocket, partly because its simple, compact design lends itself to the on-the-go tabletopper , but also because it includes the mosquito and ladybug expansions for even more tactical flavour.

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Another entry in the friendly-commerce style of head-to-head, two-player board games, Splendor makes you a thrifty gem merchant, intent on sweeping up the most valuable stock. You’ll be picking gems and buying buildings to earn prestige. Earn enough, and you’ll win the game.

Each turn, you can choose to collect gems from a central pool, use those precious stones to purchase a point-scoring building, or reserve a site to buy in the future. You’ll have to balance your budget, trying to accumulate wealth quickly enough for future spending, but not waiting too long before all the best plots are sold to your opponent.

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Be sure to gain a variety of gem colours so you can snatch up any building that comes available, but don’t spread yourself too thin, or you’ll lack enough capital for the perfect purchase. If you’re lucky, a passing noble might stop by your residence, offering some prestige of their own.

Simple mechanics make Splendor a breeze to jump into, and opportunities to block your opponent’s carefully laid plan provide more than enough moments of (loving) aggravation. Plus, depending on how hard you want to think, a full playthrough can take no more than half an hour. Solid and simple

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Arkham Horror: The Card Game

Possibly the best horror game to grace the tabletop, Arkham Horror: The Card Game combines the greatest elements of cosmic Lovecraftian literature into a rollicking adventure. Become an investigator on the twisted streets of Arkham, and unearth the phantasmal peculiarities that lie within its belly. Your foes will be insidious, your findings incomprehensible, and the dangers that lurk in the abyss will test your sanity. But your journey will be fabulous.

A great pick if you love interactive storytelling

Each player takes the role of an investigator concerned with some mysterious happening in the city of Arkham. Journeying from location to location, you’ll investigate your surroundings, defend yourself from all manner of vile creatures, and progress through the scenario’s breadcrumb trail of clues towards its conclusion. As much a game of survival as action, it does well to capture the psychological fantasy of the Cthulhu mythos in suitably cosmic narrative adventures.

With a sizeable rulebook, this isn’t a game to quickly pick up and play. Be prepared to spend an evening on each adventure, and when you’ve mastered the basics, delve into the game’s light RPG elements to create a character-specific action deck. Even better, your choices will have permanent effects on later scenarios, adding a lovely element of persistence to the world. A great pick if you love fabulously interactive storytelling.

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Imhotep: The Duel

Purchase: Amazon

Each taking the role of one-half of Egypt’s most famous power couple, you and your partner will rule as either Nefertiti or Akhenaten.

This quick, tactical two-player board game pits the two rulers against one another as they strategically unload six barges, in the hopes of retrieving building materials and other tiles.

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The game is a less aggressive version of the original Imhotep, making it a better-balanced and more couple-friendly choice than its older brother. It feels casual enough for a light-hearted date but tactically deep enough to fully absorb players into a semi-competitive race, as you strategically place down pawns to gather those precious tiles.

Imhotep: The Duel strikes that fine line of being just right for any mood and temperament, all the while offering gorgeous aesthetics and easily-grasped mechanics.

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We get it – it’s been a long lockdown. You’ve eaten nothing but takeaway pizza and breakfast cereal for over six months, you’ve forgotten what grass looks like, and you and your partner are full of more pent-up aggression than a pair of rival silverback gorillas trapped in a phonebox. Luckily, there’s a way to vent that need for rapid, high-energy conflict without the need for punch-throwing!

You can knock out a quickfire skirmish in three quarters of an hour

Enter Godtear – a compact, easily-learned two-player skirmish wargame that has you command a miniature fantasy champion and their team of minions in fast and furious close-quarters battles against the hated foe. There’s very little downtime, and the game’s mechanics (while pleasingly varied between different champions, and their respective retinues) reward speed and aggression above all. No surprise, then, that you can knock out a satisfying match in a tidy three quarters of an hour.

There’s two core sets available, with two basic warbands in each – but the game really comes into its own when you beef up your forces to the recommended three champions (plus minions) on each side – so once you’ve got the hang of things, it’s worth picking up a couple of expansions to embiggen your battles. But frankly, Godtear earns its place here because you can get a lot of your miniature bloodlust out using only the one core set. Give it a try; we reckon you’ll come away calmer for it.

If you want to get more to grips with this quickfire hex-board battler, check out our full Godtear review right the hell now!

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Purchase: Amazon

The uncompromising wilderness of market trading might not be your first preference of theme when spending an evening in with your partner, but Jaipur’s colourful setting, and streamlined, push-your-luck gameplay, will have you both joyously profiteering like any good investor. A competition to gain the Maharaja’s favour, this well-loved two-player board game (and renowned gateway game) pits you and your partner against one another, to buy, sell, and exchange your way into unbounded riches.

What makes Jaipur so brilliant is its simplicity. On your turn, you may either buy or sell – that’s it. Exchange cards from your hand for those revealed in the central marketplace, as you try to nab the most valuable goods, or collect any high-scoring camels that might wander into the bustling town square. And when you’ve accumulated a hefty portfolio, sell the goods for profit, discarding cards in exchange for valuable tokens.

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But Jaipur’s financial incentivisation gets a little juicer. You’ll get bonus rewards for selling multiple goods of the same type at once, encouraging you to bide your time, and accumulate a fat stack before selling. But, as the game progresses, the value of highly demanded goods will fall, pushing you to hawk your growing portfolio as quickly as possible. Players face the eternal struggle that meets all investors – do sell I now for an immediate reward, or wait out the market, in the hope of a bigger return?

Quick to set up and a breeze to play, with matches lasting no more than half an hour, Jaipur works through its intuitive turn-to-turn gameplay. Although you’ll be focusing on amassing your own wealth, the changing central marketplace, and dynamic value of goods, add an element of player interaction. You’ll be breathing a sigh of relief when your opponent leaves that essential card in the market for you to claim next turn, or be left to watch in horror as their exchange halves the value of your own hand. Simple, but addictive.

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Rapid, dynamic, and three-dimensional, Santorini is a competitive puzzler that caters to all the daring stratagems or lazy plays that you’re willing to give it. Quick to grasp, this board game works so well for its physical presence. Don’t worry about reading a thick rulebook or remembering the various stages of turn-taking, everything is clearly laid out in front of you.

Block-by-block, you and your partner will build towers, reminiscent of the gleaming white buildings of the titular Greek island. Move workers across the gridded board, and place each storey, one at a time, in adjacent squares. If you’re able to construct a three-storey building and reach its summit, you’ll be the winner. But, should your partner place a dreaded dome over your creation, you must begin all over again.

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Santorini is a game of dynamic bait and switch. Trick your partner into thinking you’re beelining one tower, while creating another on the opposite side of the board. Play is smooth and simple – perfect for anyone new to the tabletop, or put off by sprawling strategy games.

And, when you’re confident of your tower-building skills, throw in God Cards to grant each player a special ability. You might be able to move workers two spaces instead of one, place blocks from a greater distance, or add another worker to the board. They radically shake up the game, and the huge number of potential combinations keeps things fresh.

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Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan

Purchase: Amazon

GMT games’ runaway hit Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan, set in 1600, is a seven-week campaign designed for two players. Each player must battle for supremacy as either Ishida Mitsunari, defender of an heir, or Tokugawa Ieyasu, Japan’s most commanding feudal lord.

The components perfectly capture the feudal Japan aesthetic

Over the course of the 14 turns, players move their block units, use cards to engage in combat, and pay for movement to increase their impact score. With mechanics for loyalty challenges, sieges, and the different instant-win conditions for each player adding some balanced complexity, Sekigahara adds up to a great couples’ strategy game.

It’s also a fantastic production; all its components are of first-rate construction and perfectly capture the aesthetics of feudal Japan. If you are a couple that’s into wargames or interested in world history, this is really a title worth your attention.

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Twilight Struggle

Purchase: Amazon

What’s more romantic than the threat of nuclear war? Twilight Struggle is a well-known, loved, and infamously complicated two-player board game. Set during the Cold War, the Soviets battle the USA in a tug-of-war for control of territories across the globe.

Gameplay is separated into three phases, offers tons of difficult decisions and even has a Defcon track measuring the impending threat of mutual annihilation, making Twilight Struggle feel like a vast, moving story that neatly simulates the ideological tension between the two countries.

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The complexity and depth of Twilight Struggle have rightfully made its name as one of the best two-player board games of all time.

If its reputation or gameplay don’t convince you of its date-night capabilities, just remember that a Cold War (while possibly leading to global devastation) is basically just another way for some good old fashioned strategic flirting.

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War of the Ring: Second Edition

Purchase: Amazon

War of the Ring is a revered giant among two-player board games, and with good reason. But this one is definitely not for the faint of heart. A complex, expansive two-player wargame, it’ s a perfect fit for experienced couples with plenty of free time, but – and we mean this – it ain’t for everyone.

Because, at its crux, War of the Ring succeeds by being an ingenious yet punishing experience, that will keep you and your partner coming back for more, even though the last game left you gibbering, scarred husks, and your living-room floor covered with orcs.

After tasting defeat you will find yourself obsessed with ways to win

In the battle of good versus evil, players fight for control of Middle-earth, moving forces (and/or hobbits) across a detailed board that will, in itself, be a visual pleasure to any Lord of the Rings fans. Its complexity and hard tactics may seem like too much at first, but soon you’ll realise these features make the game fun for partners.

After tasting defeat you will find yourself obsessed with calculating different ways to win, staying up at night thinking about all the moves you could have tried to defeat Sauron’s forces, and ever more optimal ways you could (and should) have made your partner struggle harder.

If you can push through the first playthrough, and grasp the in-depth rules, there’s no better game than War of the Ring to shackle couples together as they continually puzzle out new ways to fight their way across Middle-earth.

Best couples' board games - photo showing the playbook, map, and tokens from the Washington's War board game by GMT games

Washington’s War

True, old-fashioned wargaming is often intimidating and hard to introduce to new people; however, if you find that special someone willing to give it a shot, Washington’s War is a superb choice for your first foray into counter-based campaigning.

This card-driven board game, set during the American War of Independence, lets players battle as either the British or George Washington’s revolutionary forces. Mechanically, it isn’t too complicated, and, with a little guidance, can be easy to pick up and understand.

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The asymmetry of the opposing sides gives enough variation and balance to make each playthrough a distinct and satisfying fight for area control.

With tons of ‘ops’ cards, a few special events, well-done dice-driven combat and five cards that can give the war a totally different ending date at any time, Washington’s War keeps you on your toes. All in all, it’s an ideal title for any couple looking for an introduction into wargaming.

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Purchase: Amazon

Probably the most addictive new board game on the market right now, Watergate throws you and your partner into one of the biggest scandals in American political history, represented in straightforward, yet very tense tug-of-war-style gameplay. One player plays as the Nixon administration, scrambling to conceal their dirty deeds, the other as The Washington Post on a mission to expose Tricky Dick to the eyes of the world.

Not only is this an incredibly streamlined game that’ll grab you straight away;  it’s also a brilliantly-produced, atmospheric experience that does a good job of capturing the 1970s setting. The linen-finished cards, spider-web pinboard and characterful artworks featuring the big names of the day will be appreciated by any history-loving couples.

Watergate is a short, simple and consistently enjoyable game that we’re prepared to bet will have many players hooked after their first round.

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