The wood paneled game room on the JoCo Cruise is luxurious. It’s not just the bottomless cauldron of coffee or the terrible pizza on demand, but the truly luxurious experience of being able to find fellow players to join in on a game at nearly any hour of the day or night. The early risers start conquering kingdoms over breakfast, the afternoon and evening gamers overflow to other floors of the ship, and late night gaming morphs into morning. There’s more people checking to see what the maximum number of players are for a game than struggling to find the minimum. Luxurious, right?
But we don’t live our lives on cruise ships, and it’s often a challenge to find enough people to play your favorite game on the spur of the moment. Over the last few years, Jenn and I have built up a roster of games we enjoy playing with just two players… and when we helped plan the gaming track on JoCo Cruise 5 this year, we put together the “It Takes Two” Event to share some of these games with our fellow Sea Monkeys. A stellar group of Helper Monkeys, volunteers and game designers abducted from vacation made the whole event possible by teaching these games.
We wanted to share the list of games from the event both for those Sea Monkeys who attended but couldn’t remember the name of a new favorite… and for anyone else who’s interested in learning a new two player game.
Do you have a favorite two player game that’s not on this list? Let us know in the comments below!
Two players work together to build a castle… but each player wants to seize control of the best courtyards. In Castellan each player uses a set of castle walls and a deck of cards that determines what pieces can be played; the challenge is to claim the most territory by the time the castle is complete. A typical game of Castellan lasts 45 minutes.
Invented nearly 40 years ago, Cosmic Wimpout is a classic press-your-luck game using five custom dice. It’s simple and easy to learn, and can be played in under ten minutes; the design allows even a losing player a last hope for a come-from-behind victory. While the basic game is very simple, there’s an assortment of variant rules that add complexity; some of the more popular rules can be found here.
It’s the French Revolution, and everyone’s trying to get a head… or as many of them as possible. Each day there’s a line of nobles heading for the guillotine; you want to use your tricks to rearrange the line to ensure that you end up with the best nobles in your basket. Will you manage to end up with the head of Marie Antoinette, or will you be stuck with the heads of the lowly piss boy – or worse, the beloved Hero of the People?
In this strategy game, players shape a board as they place their insect forces, achieving victory by surrounding an opponent’s Queen Bee. Each piece has its own unique move; for example, soldier ants can scurry to any position on the edge of the hive, grasshoppers leap over opposing forces, and beetles clamber over other pieces and immobilize them. It’s a simple and elegant game, and the pocket version is very portable – but it’s certainly a game that makes you think. A game of Hive generally takes 10-20 minutes.
In Jaipur you assume the role of a trader seeking to amass wealth through careful trading of goods and camels. On your turn, you can either claim goods from the market in the middle of the table, or sell goods from your hand… but you can only hold onto a certain number of cards at a time. Will you hold out to try to get the most valuable combinations, or buy and sell as quickly as possible? Will you invest in camels or ignore the mangy creatures? Jaipur is a simple, fast game but has enough strategy to make every round unique.
Looney Pyramids are a set of versatile tools that can be used to play a vast assortment of games. There’s even a handy searchable community wiki where you can find instructions for over 300 different two player Pyramid games that vary in complexity and length of play. With so many games to choose from, you’re sure to find something you enjoy! At It Takes Two, Kristin Looney taught people to play IceDice, Launchpad23, Treehouse, Pharoah and Pink Hijinks.
In Lost Cities two explorers compete to explore the farthest reaches of the unknown. The deck of cards is divided into five suits – one for each of five expeditions – and it’s up to each player to decide which exotic locales to explore. Every card has a value, and once you play a card of a particular expedition – a 5-point arctic exploration card, for example – you can’t play a lower value card. As such, it is a game of strategy and patience as you try to decide which expeditions you want to commit to, and how long you should wait for the right card before committing to a journey.
A “new classic card game,” Pairs is simple, fast and fun. It uses a unique deck, and beyond basic Pairs there are many variants you can try depending on the experience you’re looking for and the number of players you have available. At It Takes Two, designer James Ernest taught the two-player bluffing game Regent; you can find rules for Regent and nineteen other variations here.
A huge hit in the JCC5 game room, Splendor place you in the role of a Renaissance gem merchant struggling to gain prestige. Gather chips and invest in valuable mines as you hope to lure nobles to sample your wares. While Splendor supports up to four players, it is an excellent game for two.
This science fiction game blends the deckbuilding feel of Ascension with the direct conflict of Magic: The Gathering. Assemble and improve your fleet of ships and bases, and hold off your enemies until you have the power to crush them. It’s fast and simple, and each of the four factions within the game enhance a different style of strategy, allowing you to pursue different paths each time you play.