Inspired by Chess Month, this is a listing of games that only cater for two players (or that you think are at their very best with two) with quick summaries. I will Wikify this opening post, so please feel free to contribute!
At Least a Bit Chesslike
Hive (John Yianni): hex board formed by the pieces you play.
Onitama (Shimpei Satou): 5×5, 5 pieces each, moves restricted by cards.
The Duke (Jeremy Holcomb, Stephen McLaughlin): 6x6, place wooden tiles, different moves shown on each side, flips to alternate once played.
Not Really Chesslike
Air, Land & Sea (Jon Perry): play cards to win in multiple theatres of war, or retreat to limit your losses.
Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn (Isaac Vega): deck construction, duelling wizards who summon creatures, feels a lot like Magic with most of the big problems fixed.
Baseball Highlights: 2045 (Mike Fitzgerald): cancel your opponent’s hits, enhance your own, upgrade your team deck between minigames.
Castellan (Beau Beckett): dots-and-boxes with multiple piece sizes and plays limited by cards.
Star Realms (Robert Dougherty and Darwin Kastle): a duelling deckbuilder. Some find it simplistic; Roger calls it stripped down to the essentials.
Talon (Jim Krohn): duelling star fleets on a hex board, quick play and innovative design.
Morels / Fungi - Out-mushroom your opponent (somebody improve this description, please : )
Also not Chesslike; but Old and Good
Hanamikoji - agonising I split you choose card duel to contract the best geisha’s to your restaurant.
Mottainai - Chudyk’s multi use cards distilled to 20 minutes of brutality which is exceptional as a head to head swim through chaos.
Lisboa - to veer wildly off the previous feels this is a kitchen sink heavy euro. At 2 the strategy and tactics are strong and being zero sum benefits the area majority aspects and trims down the variables with some of the boosts for those who prefer a more manageable decision space.
Jaipur - Like the platonic ideal of a set collection game.
Raptor - Both the Brunos coming together to create the best dinosaur game available (IMO)
Odin’s Ravens - Super simple race game. Maybe a bit too reliant on drawing good cards.
Okiya - Bruno Cathala again. Kind of Noughts and Crosses with more rules.
The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena - Kinda complicated (with a few easy to forget rules), but very interesting. Unsure how to describe it
Consentacle - If Fog of Love involved less talking. And one of you was an alien.
Dice Masters - No link as there are so many different flavours. Based on Quarriors. Somewhere between CCG and a deckbuilder. But with dice instead (except there are still cards).
Long Live the Queen - Rolling dice to maneuver your characters into the right positions so you can use their abilities to attack your opponent. Like head-to-head Machi Koro/Space Base.
Thunder & Lightning - Laying down cards in a formation to counter your opponent’s cards while trying to make them churn through their deck and reveal a certain card.
Haven - Similar to T&L, but with an area control objective instead.
7 Wonders Duel - I don’t quite think this deserves being ranked as the 16th best game ever. But it’s pretty all right.
A few I own but haven’t played yet:
Tea for 2 - Super simple deckbuilder.
Opale - Formerly “Dragonheart”, now underwater. Playing cards to take other cards that give you points.
Ice Team - Bear chess.
And a shout out to the Adrenaline: Team Play DLC expansion for managing to turn something that should really only work at higher player counts into a really nice 2-player game.
War Chest is mostly chess, but with a bagbuilding engine driving it, and zone control as the primary win condition. Units are unique as in chess, but they are drafted each game. It also supports 2v2 play.
Fox in the Forest is my favourite two player game.
I would make a case for condotierre It scales great down to two.
@RogerBW - Whoops, I edited your post, not sure if I was just meant to post a reply… anyway, that’s how The Duke snuck on there!
Twilight Struggle is not listed? Or is it too obvious…?
Mijnlieff - Advanced Noughts & Crosses
Patchwork - A kind of engine/quilt-builder based on tetris and buttons.
Codenames: Duet - A smart twist on the clue-giving word-guessing Codenames formula, where each player sees a different side of the grid card, with different-but-intertwined requirements on the two sides.
Klask - Like tiny Air Hockey for your table top, but with a lot more magnets.
Innovation is probably best at 2. A crazy powered Chudyk card battler
Memoir 44 is a simple to learn WW2 game which is enjoyable.
Flick Fleet silly, dexterity space duel
I didn’t list Twilight Struggle because I’ve never played it (nor am I likely to). But everyone’s welcome to edit their suggestions into the first post.
Not got my laptop to hand, but I’ll try to find a moment tomorrow to add the following to the wiki:
Agricola: All creatures big and small a tight, tactical two person worker placement game about breeding animals.
Undaunted: Normandy WWII war game using a clever combination of deck building and simple combat mechanics. Comes with campaign to play through.
Akrotiri Tile laying game, building islands and trade routes.
Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North plays up to four but best at two. Combination of tableau building, worker placement, engine building all in the aim of building the best settlement and pillaging/conquering islands.
Targi see the SUSD. I have a hard time describing this one (kind of tableau building but not really, sort of worker placement but not). It’s a great two player.
It will come as a shock to nobody when I say:
Android: Netrunner - An asymmetric battle of strategy, with as much or as little bluffing as you want to have in it. Deep and incredibly filling.
I’d say it is a 4-6 player game, it doesn’t shine at 3, and it barely functions at 2. Arguing that it is best at 2 seems very odd to me.
Agree. Condottiere is best with people balancing each other. 2 player is just whoever won the random card draw.
In this regard: Im very curious on how Ghent works
Gwent? It kind of works in the Witcher games as a distraction where you always win against dumb AI. As a competitive game, I’m not sure. It certainly has a lot more going on with bluffing and pushing and knowing when to play and when to hold. More like Battle Line than Condottiere in feel.
For Chess-like, I would add Santorini to the list. Try to get one of your two pieces on top of a three story structure before your opponent, but you can build domes over the top to cap them and make them unusable.
Patchwork for a nice time making a quilt and collecting buttons.
Jaipur is our go to for a quick two player game. Definitely a bit of luck involved, but still has interesting decisions to make.
I have not played it at more than two, but Arboretum is a beautifully cutthroat card game of making paths of trees, but only being able to score them if you have the highest total value of that species of tree still in your hand. Nothing like watching your opponent heavily invest in one species while you have a high value card or two in hand, knowijg they won’t be able to score it. Of course, that then limits the number of cards in hand that are useful for your own paths. Just a really great game.
Again, have not played at more than two players, but Unmatched has quickly become one of my favorite games. I love the way it really feels like a duel between the two players, trying to lure out your opponent’s defemse cards on weak attacks, so you can pummel them with your good ones. Plus, the fighters are just a lot of fun to play!
2 player is how I play it the majority of the time.
Although there is certainly randomness on the draw, as you both know the cards it develops into a Poker/sizing each other up, do they have the key/ are they going to use scarecrows to withdraw. The randomness can be overcome a bit by making your opponent waste their hand on an inconsequential territory.
It may just be that i’ve Played it so much the Meta has offset some of the issues.
This may be a different thread, but a category I struggle with is medium to heavy weight games that play as well with 2 players as they do with 3-5.
This is a great thread though, circumstances dictate we’re playing a lot more 2 player. Hanamikoji is very much in my sights