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The best two-player card games

From the silliness of Exploding Kittens and Throw Throw Burrito, to the deep, dark Arkham Horror, these are the best two-player card games.

Two player card games laid out in a triangle formation, these are Rivals for Catan, Throw Throw Burrito and Codenames: Duet.

Two-player card games are a huge staple of the gaming world. For hundreds, nay, thousands of years, people have enjoyed the simple pleasure of sitting back with a friend and playing cards long into the night – it’s fun, it’s intimate, and it’s the kind of gameplay that’s accessible for almost everyone. Read on for recommendations of the very best.

Of course, some of the best card games of today are very different to the games of the ancient past, and there are countless new takes on the two-player card game format that evoke laughter, tell stories, and generally create quite a vast range of alternative experiences. While two-player board games are often thought of as offering more depth, that gap is thinning – card games have more to offer these days than ever. From the zany pleasures of Exploding Kittens, through to the nuanced strategy of Rivals for Catan, we’ve gathered together a broad selection of some of the very best two-player card games.

These are the best two-player card games:

Two-player card games - Exploding Kittens box and contents

Exploding Kittens

Isn’t it fun playing with kittens? And wouldn’t it be more fun if one of those kittens were secretly a bomb? These are the questions which we imagine game designers Elan Lee and Shane Small asked themselves when they were workshopping the ideas behind Exploding Kittens.

In this card, each player is dealt a hand of cards, each of which portrays comical characters that evoke different effects. For example, one card, called ‘Attack’ depicts a rather hirsute man whose back hair is attacking an innocent passerby. The result, you may ask? The other player has take two turns in a row, increasing the risk that they’ll draw an Exploding Kitten from the deck, and subsequently lose the game.

But drawing an Exploding Kitten doesn’t always mean that you’ve lost – some cards can ‘defuse’ the kittens, allowing you to put them back to the bottom of the draw pile. It’s such an easy-to-grasp game and takes about fifteen minutes to play, and while it’s great for two people, you can also get a version for up to nine players as well.

Two player card game, Throw Throw Burrito tucked into its box.

Throw Throw Burrito

Throwing food at people is fun, but unfortunately, you can’t do it in public without wasting good burritos and/or getting arrested. That’s why Throw Throw Burrito was invented: to allow people to satisfy their burrito throwing desires without anybody getting hurt.

While that is a joke, it is actually true that this is a game about throwing burritos at each other. You and your opponent both take turns drawing cards, with the goal of getting three of a kind, but if one of you plays a burrito card then you both have to throw your squishy burritos at each other in order to steal points. It’s good, clean, ridiculous fun. Also worth checking out is its companion game, Throw Throw Avacado, the two of which can be played together in a ‘combo game’.

Two-player card games - Hand to Hand Wombat box

Hand-to-Hand Wombat

We’re jumping the gun ever so slightly here, because Hand-to-Hand Wombat hasn’t actually been released yet, but based on what we’ve seen so far, it looks amazing. Exploding Kittens launched the Kickstarter for it recently and it described the game as “a combination of thumb-wrestling and mind-wrestling”.

Based on the precedent it set with Throw Throw Burrito and Exploding Kittens itself, we’re really looking forward to this one. In it, you play as either a ‘Good Wombat’ or a ‘Bad Wombat’ and you don’t know who’s who.

Good Wombats work to build towers, while Bad Wombats work to tear them down – and if you break it down, hasn’t all of history been about good people (or wombats, if you will) trying to create wonderful things in the world, while bad people (or wombats) try to destroy them for their own gain? Books will be written on the wombat theory of history. 

Two player card game, Arkham Horror, boxed on a white background. It's box art shows 1920s style detectives.

Arkham Horror: The Card Game

Based on the stories of H. P. Lovecraft, Arkham Horror: The Card Game allows you to embark on a card-based investigation into unknown eldritch horrors. Set in the titular Arkham, you and your partner in card gaming will be working together in a game that can last up to two hours.

This one has a lot of nuance to it, and with multiple player characters to choose from, you might find games varying drastically depending on who you and your partner play as. It’s a wonderful way to become immersed in the Cthulhu mythos, helped in no small way by the beautiful artwork on each card. 

Two-player card games - Codenames Duet box

Codenames: Duet

Fancy yourself a bit of a sleuth? Then we recommend you give Codenames Duet a try. This is another co-op game and in it, you and your partner are spies on a top secret mission to locate 15 other agents within a crowded city.

It’s a good relationship-building game because you know the agents your partner needs to contact and they know the agents you need to contact, so you have to communicate that information to them indirectly without actually saying who it will be. It’s kind of like the superspy, co-operative version of Who’s Who. 

Two player card game, Rivals for Catan, boxed on a white background.

Rivals for Catan

Catan, of course, is one of the most well-respected board games in the gaming world. Rivals for Catan takes the settlement-building gameplay of its older sibling and turns it into a card game experience and it works tremendously well.

As you acquire gold and resources, and start trading, your settlement will grow and it’s for you to decide the path you wish to walk – do you want to expand the boundaries of your cities? Or maybe you want to recruit heroes who’ll keep your communities safe? It’s a game of strategy and cunning and it’s for you to decide how you want to cultivate your land – but will you or your rival ultimately come out as the ruler of Catan? 

Two player card game, UNO Pride, boxed on a white background.

UNO Pride

Everyone knows UNO, surely. It’s the classic game where you race to get rid of all of your cards as quickly as possible by matching them against the numbers and colours of the cards on the discard pile. Then, once you’re down to your last card, you have to shout “UNO!” as loud as possible.

This is the special UNO Pride edition, which features rainbow colours and was made in partnership with The It Gets Better Project, an LGBT-focused charity. As part of this partnership Mattel, the game’s creator, donated $50,000 to The It Gets Better and have said it wants to “champion diversity in the toy aisle” so if you buy this, you know you’re supporting some actual good in the world and showing there is a demand for more diverse games. 

Two-player card games - Sushi Go Party tin

Sushi Go Party

Were you reading about Throw Throw Burrito above and feeling sad that there’s a burrito-based game, but not one based on your one favourite food: sushi? Well, boy howdy, do we have good news for you. Sushi Go Party is all about the sushi and this game is sure to get your mouth watering.

In this game, it’s your job to prepare sushi meals and you pass the sushi box back and forth between you and the other player, each of you adding new cards, which represent new components of the meal. The goal is for you to earn points by creating winning sushi combinations – and with over 181 cards included, there’s room for tons of variety from game to game.

So those are our choices for the best two player card games. Looking for more recommendations? Check out our guides on the best family board games.