Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Saturday 5 August 2017

Over-thinking by the Yellow Meeple:- Top 10 Two Player Only Board Games

We started this blog with a focus on two-player games and games for couples, but then ended up finding ourselves playing with lots of different groups of gamers and playing many multi-player games too. However, we still get plenty of time for gaming at home and therefore we have lots of 2-player only games. We find that they can be especially good when we're travelling as many 2-player only titles have a small footprint too.

Of course, there's plenty of games that support more players that also play well with two and sometimes play best with two, but the focus of this list will be the games that only play two (excluding the fact they may also have a solo variant).

   10. Fields of Arle is definitely going to be the largest game on this list. We get it to the table quite infrequently because it is one of those huge boxes of worker placement goodness from Uwe Rosenberg. I considered the recent two-player Caverna game - Cave vs. Cave for this list, but I decided that Fields of Arle is just much more satisfying to me and once you've got it set-up it doesn't take much longer than an hour to play. What I enjoy about this particular Uwe Rosenberg title is the way that it splits the options into manageable chunks - there's some actions available in the summer phase and others in the winter.

   9. Jaipur is a really solid set collection game featuring camels, and very importantly, a camel with a pet panda, or 'Panda Camel' as he's affectionately known in our house. The game has a quite simple concept where you collect cards in different sets and judge when to cash in the set for different value chips. The earlier you can cash the cards in, the higher value chips you can claim. As it is just a two player game there's the opportunity to ensure that you're not giving your opponent everything they want and keep track of whether they're in competition with you for different sets. Jaipur is quite a simple game, but it plays really quickly and it's one we keep coming back too, especially on holiday.

Lost Cities is probably the oldest 2-player game we own and is definitely a bit of a Reiner Knizia classic. The concept is very simple in terms of building up numbered cards in ascending order to gain points, but the push-your luck aspect of betting heavily on a colour or choosing to take a risk and start a column in a certain colour keeps me coming back to this game. It's not as much of a hit with Amy but I can get both my Mum and my Dad to play Lost Cities with me and still really enjoy it.

   7. Trambahn is definitely a favourite of mine and not Amy's, primarily because there can be a big influence of luck-of-the-draw and I seem to have all of the luck whenever we play. There are some similarities with Lost Cities in the way that you try and build ascending runs of cards, but the game is more complex with the way in which you can influence the timing of the scoring rounds for each colour, the fact that the cards are dual use so you have to decide if you'd rather use them for money or as train carriages and the different multipliers you can buy. It does scratch a very similar itch to Lost Cities, but Trambahn is reserved for use with gamers in our house as it can cause some frustration when you teach it for the first time.

   6. 7 Wonders Duel is the 2-player version of the classic drafting game 7 Wonders, which for many people has overtaken 7 Wonders in popularity. I think I would still rather play 7 Wonders with the right number of people, but since we often play at home with two-players 7 Wonders Duel definitely adds something to our collection. Although the theming, symbology etc. are the same as 7 Wonders, the way in which you draft cards from the centre of the table really changes how the game plays as you risk offering your opponent different opportunities.

   5. Patchwork is actually no longer on our shelves having been replaced by the multiplayer games Cottage Garden and Barenpark. I really enjoyed the game but similar multiplayer games are just more versatile for our collection. Patchwork is a satifyingly quick puzzle that you can teach to almost anyone but that I actually found quite difficult to get good at - you really need to strike the right balance in terms of the size of tiles you choose to buy,  their cost in time and the number of buttons printed on them. I now play a lot of Patchwork on the app and I'm confident I've got a lot better at the game and I'm confident I would beat Amy if we ever played a physical copy again.

   4. Ravens of Thri Sahashri is one of our newest games and we've been a  bit addicted to it since our first game. It's a really challenging cooperative card game, with so many rules in an admittedly badly written rule book. However, once we got our head around it (and even before that point when we were blindly playing bits wrong) we were just determined to beat it and hone our skills, teamwork and unspoken communication. Once we won our first game the rules got harder and now we need to try again to get our first win on the second level of difficulty. It's not got a lot in common with Hanabi, but for us it is working as the next step up for two players in terms of getting inside each others head and testing your logic.

   3. Tides of Time was the first time we were able to try drafting with two players. Since we really enjoy drafting, this was exciting. Tides of Time is drafting at its most simplistic - you are literally passing cards back and forth, trying to meet different set collection objectives, which very depending on the cards you've previously drafted. There's plenty of interaction in the game too, with definite key moments where you decide whether to help yourself or hinder your opponent. It's really small with just an 18 card deck (tarot size with beautiful artwork), a couple of tokens and a score pad so this game has travelled everywhere with us since we bought it on a holiday in New York.

   2. Dice Masters appeals to be because it essentially uses deck-building mechanics, except that you're using dice instead of cards. For me, the super hero theme of the Marvel set we own holds no appeal, so the game ranks this highly for me purely due to mechanics. It's quite unlike me to enjoy the fact that you have to build your own 'deck' (CCG style) before the game begins by selecting characters, but the limitation of only selecting 8 characters and the fact that combos are very obvious means that I will happily to this to create my potential dice pool for the game. Luck definitely factors into the game, but there's a certain amount of mitigation you can make for it and the game is quite quick, lasting only around 30 minutes, so I'm never too upset if I lose due to bad luck. We haven't played the game so much recently and now I'm eager to get Dice Masters back to the table.

   1. Star Realms is my number 1 two-player game because it does a great job of deck-building for two players. Yes, you can play a four player game with two packs, but I've tried that once and it worked very badly for us. Star Realms is for two, or one when you're playing on your own against the AI in the fantastic app. The game has you building a deck in a very standard way, using damage to reduce your opponent's health and money to buy more cards for your deck. It's pretty standard, but some great card combos and the ability to build bases really elevates this game. We bring it out fairly often, even though my app plays far out number our plays of the physical game.

We actually try not to have too many two-player only games in our collection - it's much better for us to have a game that plays great with two but also great with 3 or 4, but we're always on the look out to try new things. There are two things that don't work well for us in two player games though - chess variants (Amy always wins) and very confrontational games (I get too annoyed). 

Please use the comments section below to recommend us more two player games - have we missed any of your favourites?

For those interested, here's the list of every two-player only game we've tried, so you can tell what didn't make the Top 10!
Twilight Struggle, Santorini, ...and Then We Held Hands, Raptor, Serengeti: A Race for Life, Baseball Highlights 2045, Jaipur, Targi, Trambahn, Caverna Cave vs Cave, Fields of Arle, Tides of Time, Tides of Madness, Hive, Dice Masters, Star Realms, Lost Cities, 7 Wonders Duel, Ravens of Thri Sahashri, Android Netrunner, Patchwork, Fairy Tale, Morels, Onitama, The Duke, Pentago, Tatsu, Hanamikoji, 1st & Goal, Memoir 44, Starship Catan.

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