While you may have fond memories of the whole family gathered around the Monopoly board, getting increasingly passive aggressive about the ownership of Park Lane, the stereotype that board games are only for large groups is massively outdated.
There’s now a wealth of excellent two-player board games for couples and other smaller households that still offer plenty of competitive, strategic and above all else entertaining play.
Whether you’re looking for a quick round of cards or something much more in-depth to while away a rainy afternoon, we’ve spent hours (and hours, and hours) trialling the best board games for two players.
We rated each game on how easy they were to pick up, how compelled we felt by the premise and how many times we found ourselves returning for “just one more round”. We also looked at the quality and design of the board and pieces, and how well they held up with repeated plays.
A lot of these two-player board games can also accommodate three, four or more players if you wish, making them a valuable investment for when guests do come to visit and you want to expand your circle of competitors.
But for now, here’s our pick of the board games for two that are definitely worthy of a spot on your shelf.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism acrossThe Independent.
Ticket to Ride Europe
Best two-player board game
Ticket to Ride has a cult reputation in the world of board games, and with good reason. The premise is that you use coloured trains to connect various routes around the world (or in this case, continent) and score points to compete against other players. The challenges? You can only use certain spaces when you collect cards of the corresponding colour, and someone might beat you to the route you want. Out of all of the games we’ve tested, this is the one we’ve played the most – it’s challenging without feeling overly complicated, and also has a turn-of-the-century vintage design that only adds to its charm. If you already own it and love it, we also highly recommend the larger and more complex Rails and Sails edition, which introduces boats as well as trains.
Buy now £20.09, Amazon.co.uk
Best for cooperation
Most two-player board games require you to work against your opposition, but the beauty of Pandemic is that it actually encourages you to work together, rather than play as rivals. You begin by “infecting” various cities across the globe with a selection of tactile coloured cubes, and then assume roles with special abilities to help you clear them before they become too widespread. It may feel a little on the nose given the current climate for some, but if you can look past the relationship to reality, it’s really satisfying to have a project to strive through together.
Buy now £28.00, Amazon.co.uk
Best two-player card game
Not a “board” game per se, but think the traditional Monopoly board, scaled down into playing cards with a much faster-paced format. There’s no long game here, quite literally – the winner is the fastest player to collect three sets of properties, so one game can take as little as ten minutes, but various spanners are thrown in the works by cards that allow you to swap and steal from your opponent. We’ve played Monopoly Deal with at least three other couples who have then gone on to purchase it for their own collection. It’s surprisingly addictive stuff.
Buy now £4.97, Amazon.co.uk
Best if you love chess
Hive uses a series of black and white hexagonal tiles featuring various insects that you use to create a playing field. Like chess, each bug has different movement patterns, with the ultimate objective to surround the other person’s “queen” (bee) with your pieces. It does take a few runs to get your head around each symbol’s various powers, but once you’ve got it down it’s just a case of how cleverly you put them to use. Want to give it a trial run before fully committing? Pick up the more affordable and compact pocket version instead.
Buy now £37.33, Amazon.co.uk
Best logical game
Thanks to its simplistic styling and fantasy theme, it would be easy to dismiss Labyrinth as a two-player board game for children only, but we’ve played with lots of adults who took to it instantly as well. With the aim of finding your way through a maze and collecting various objects, it’s easy to get on board with the concept, but here’s the catch: with each turn, a player slides a new piece onto the board, thereby removing another – in short, the whole maze moves every single round. It’s fiendishly tricky, as you have to think ahead to plan your journey, but not so difficult as to be annoying rather than entertaining.
Buy now £17.99, Amazon.co.uk
Best two-player game for children
Dobble is basically snap with the volume turned up: each round card features pictures of various items, and it’s your job to find the ones that match the fastest. Adults can of course play this too, but the instantaneous nature makes it particularly appealing to younger players, especially as there’s five different ways to play the game using the same kit, which prevents boredom setting in after a couple of repetitive rounds. Buying this edition with the Great Ormond Street Hospital logo makes no difference to the actual product, but means your purchase also includes a donation to their children’s charity, which is a nice touch.
Buy now £12.95
Best for families
The Carcassone box boasts that more than 12 million copies have been sold so far. From just a few run throughs, it’s not hard to see why. Using cards to create an ever-widening map of the French city, you place “meeple” in various areas to earn points, progressing their careers as they become knights, monks or farmers, and conquering the biggest possible patches of land as you go. It’s recommended for ages seven and up, so very young children may find it slightly too complex and not quite exciting enough to hold their attention, but everyone from there will likely become quickly invested. One game takes about 30 minutes, so it’s not too taxing time-wise, either.
Buy now £27.99, Amazon.co.uk
Best for quick play
If you’ve ever played table football or air hockey, you’ll know how to play Klask within seconds of taking it out of the box – but that doesn’t mean you’ll be any good at it. Each player must use a magnet under the board to control their piece and defend their goal, as their adversary attempts to score points by shooting the ball towards the opposite end. The addition of “biscuits” – magnetic dots that attach themselves to your playing piece if you get too close to them, and ultimately cause you to lose – adds another fun yet frustrating layer. This is also a brilliant game to play with bigger groups, tournament style, as all ages and abilities can get involved.
Buy now £41.64, Amazon.co.uk
Best for puzzle fans
Patchwork is a rare find as it’s specifically designed for two players only, unlike many other board games that offer pairs a scaled-back version of the main game, so you know you’re enjoying it to its maximum potential. It’s a speedy set-up: simply take a blank quilt pattern and spread each piece of “patchwork” in a circle around the board (you do need a reasonably big table for this). From there, it’s a case of filling as many squares on your board as possible – think IRL Tetris – with additional points up for grabs for collecting buttons. The artwork and premise might feel a little stuffy, but the gameplay is anything but.
Buy now £22.57, Amazon.co.uk
Best looking game
Jaipur was one of the most beautifully designed games we tested – the vibrant colours and illustrations mean it would be a lovely gift for your favourite game-loving couple, as well as a great investment for yourself. Aesthetics aside, it’s a compelling race to buy and trade goods at the market, supported by your camels but thwarted by the other player, who’ll be working to buy items like jewels, precious metals and fine fabrics before you do. The outcome is part luck, part skill, but win or lose, you’ll enjoy the ride.
Buy now £19.44, Ebay.co.uk
Best two-player word game
Obsessed with Scrabble? Bananagrams is an excellent and much faster and more frenzied alternative, comprising a soft banana-shaped pouch filled with the same type of tiles. Use these letters in your initial draw to build a crossword, but don’t rest easy – once you’ve completed it, you must yell “peel” and everyone has to take another letter from the remaining pile in the centre, which must also be worked into their structure in a way that makes sense (cross your fingers for lots of vowels and “S”’s). The game ends when all of the letters in the middle have been used, and the winner is crowned “top banana”.
Buy now £15.00, Amazon.co.uk
Best advanced two-player board game
A word of warning: we had to watch a half hour YouTube tutorial before even attempting this game, and as it can be played by more than two people, taking it on as a duo is even more complicated than the original. However, once you’ve finally grasped the rules, gameplay is actually reasonably fast, and the more you play, the more you understand how to play to win. In short, the goal is to build and develop an ancient civilization through three different ages, using resources like stone and glass to create buildings and attractions. Get to grips with the various symbols and strategies, and you’ll be on your way to hours of genuine if not slightly brain-frazzling fun.
Buy now £36.07, Amazon.co.uk
The verdict: Two-player board games
Ticket to Ride Europe is the two-player board game we’ve found ourselves going back to time and time again above all others, it’s really compelling and is just long enough to fill an hour or so without feeling overbearing.
However, if you’re after something speedier, Monopoly Deal is a great investment for just £5, and portable enough to take out and about to the park or on picnics. Pandemic is another good choice for more collaboratively-inclined couples.
For more gaming fun, read our review of the best puzzles for both kids and adults