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The best two-player board games to add to your collection

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Settlers of Catan, 7 Wonders and Codenames have come out with two-player variants

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Pandemic: Legacy board showing several disease cubes and a few cards for dealing with them. Charlie Hall/Polygon

Board games are always a fun activity for big groups of friends, but if you live with a partner or roommate, two-player games can keep you occupied even when its just the two of you.

Many board game companies have recognized the demand for games that two people can play easily. The publishers of game night favorites like Settlers of Catan, 7 Wonders and Codenames, which have either official or fan-made two-player variant rules, have come out with separate games that are meant to be played by two people. Others like Pandemic and Carcassonne can be played just as well with two people, and sometimes even work better that way.

We’ve rounded up our favorite games to play with two people below. In the mix are cooperative and competitive games, games that play quickly and games that are a little more involved, games that have the option to add more players and games that are specifically designed with two people in mind.


Unmatched

Box art for Unmatched: Battle of Legends Vol. 1 Photo: Restoration Games/Mondo
Sinbad, his duel swords raised over his head, faces off against Medusa in a round of Unmatched, from Restoration Games and Mondo. Both miniatures feature a dark ink wash to bring out their highlights. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Restoration Games, known for sprucing up out-of-print board games, teamed up with the pop culture collectibles company Mondo to build Unmatched. The easy-to-learn tactical fighting game pits legendary heroes against each other, from Alice in Wonderland to the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park. An upcoming expansion adds Bruce Lee into the mix. Each hero has different strengths and weaknesses, which makes it a lot of fun to play over and over again with different pairings.

Buy Unmatched: Battle of Legends Vol. 1 here: Mondo | Restoration Games | Amazon
Buy Unmatched: Robin Hood vs. Bigfoot here: Mondo | Restoration Games
Buy Unmatched: InGen vs. Raptors here: Mondo
Pre-order Unmatched: Bruce Lee here: Mondo


Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right

Root box art Photo: Leder Games
Gen Con 2018 — Wooden pawns from Root, each with adorable printed facial features. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Don’t let the adorable aesthetic fool you — Root is a serious asymmetrical strategy game. (But yes, it’s also seriously cute.) Each player takes on a faction of woodland creatures with a unique worker placement mechanic. In a two-player game, birds from the Eyrie attempts to wrest control of the forest back from the industrious Marquis de Cat. A third and fourth faction, the guerrilla Woodland Alliance and opportunistic Vagabond, can be added as well.

Buy Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right here: Amazon | Leder Games


Rivals for Catan

Box art for Rivals for Catan Catan Studios
Components of the Rivals for Catan gameplay Catan Studios

Settlers of Catan is a game night classic, but it just doesn’t work with two people, despite what Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell might lead you to believe. Trading and the robber don’t really function with two players, and the board is too big for competition over territory to really thrive. The card game from the makers of Settlers, Rivals for Catan, is a good alternative for two people.

Buy Rivals for Catan here: Amazon | Barnes & Noble


7 Wonders Duel

Box art for 7 Wonders Duel Asmodee
Components of the 7 Wonders gameplay Asmodee

7 Wonders is another game night favorite that just doesn’t work with two people. While the rulebook does have a two-player variant, it’s a little janky and only recommended for experienced players. 7 Wonders Duel is a better option if you’ll be regularly playing with two people. The main difference is that resources are laid out in a pyramid instead of in a shared hand of cards.

Buy 7 Wonders Duel here: Amazon | Barnes & Noble


Carcassonne

Box art for Carcassonne Image: Z-Man Games
Components of Carcassonne gameplay Image: Z-Man Games

In Carcassonne, players work together to build a medieval landscape, with tiles that award different points when connected. It can be played by up to five people, but there’s nothing lost by playing with just two. In fact, it’s a little easier to focus and much less chaotic when played as a head-to-head battle.

Buy Carcassonne here: Amazon | Walmart


Pandemic, Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert

Box art for Pandemic Image: Z-Man Games
Components of Forbidden Island Image: Gamewright

Pandemic is by far the most popular of Matt Leacock’s cooperative board games, but any of them work just as well with two people. Pandemic has you working together to eradicate disease epidemics, while Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert players must escape their respective forbidden landscapes. I actually prefer the Forbidden series because it’s the same basic mechanic, just a little more streamlined.

Buy Pandemic here: Barnes & Noble | Target | Walmart
Buy Forbidden Island here: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Buy Forbidden Desert here: Amazon | Barnes & Noble


Hive

Box art for Hive Image: Gen42 Games
Components of Hive Image: Gen42 Games

Hive is very similar to chess, except there’s no game board and the pieces are bugs. There’s still a queen, though. Like with chess pieces, each bug has a different role and can move in different ways. You win by completely surrounding your opponent’s queen bee. It’s a fun, quick game that’s easy to learn but involves enough strategy to stay interesting over multiple replays.

Buy Hive here: Barnes & Noble


Star Realms and Hero Realms

Box art for Star Realms Image: White Wizard Games
Box art for Hero Realms Image: White Wizard Games

Most deck-building games are either two-player-only or best played with two people. Players begin with a basic starting hand and add to their deck from a communal pile, trying to take the best cards before their opponent. My favorites in that genre are White Wizard’s Star Realms and Hero Realms, which are basically the same game. The main difference is the card themes — do you prefer space or fantasy?

Buy Star Realms here: Amazon
Buy Hero Realms here: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Walmart


Bananagrams

The banana-shaped bag for Bananagrams Image: Bananagrams
Bananagrams tiles lined up in a grid Image: Bananagrams

Scrabble is always a good choice for two players, but if you’re looking for a word game that’s a little more exciting, Bananagrams takes the Scrabble mechanic and makes it a little more competitive. Rather than taking turns on a single board, Bananagrams players race to be the first person to use all of their letters in a single grid.

Buy Bananagrams here: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Walmart


Codenames Duet

Box art for Codenames Duet Image: Czech Games
Gameplay components for Codename Duet Image: Czech Games

Codenames Duet is a two-person cooperative version of the popular party game Codenames. Secret agents are concealed by their codenames, which players must guess from their teammate’s one-word clues. Rather than competing against another team, players in Codenames Duet work together to find each of their agents on the board.

Buy Codenames Duet here: Amazon