The 7 Best 2-Player Board Games and Card Games for Lightweight PvP

For quick but tense games that you can play with just two players, you really can’t beat these board games and card games.
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As I’ve gotten older, I find it harder and harder to get a group of friends together for game night. Because I’m busy and they’re busy, schedules rarely line up, and it turns out that we’re lucky if we can meet up once or twice a year, if that. So, I’ve learned to love and embrace lightweight two-player games that can be whipped out and played at a moment’s notice—no large group gatherings required!

What counts as “lightweight”? Well, my rule of thumb is a game that can be taught in under 5 minutes and played in under 30 minutes. That rules out the bigger boys like Gloomhaven and The Castles of Burgundy. I also value portability, so say goodbye to box hogs like Dominion. And this is about head-to-head PvP, so games like Pandemic won’t be making an appearance.

Ready to go? Here are the best lightweight two-player PvP card games and board games that you should really consider for your collection!

1. Onitama

Average length of one game: 15 minutes

Onitama is the ideal game for gamers who want to like chess but hate chess. Both players control five pieces: 1 Master and 4 Students. The game is played on a 5×5 grid and the goal is to capture the opponent’s Master, or move your Master onto the opponent’s Shrine. Here’s the twist: you play movement cards to move your pieces, and once you play a movement card, it goes to your opponent—and each game only uses five of many movement cards, so there’s tons of variability across games.

Buy Onitama on Amazon

2. Hive

Average length of one game: 20 minutes

Hive is another chess-like game for people who hate chess, but whereas Onitama might turn you away because it looks a bit like chess, Hive is sure to draw you in because it looks so unique. There’s no “board” here—the hexagonal game pieces become the board when played. Each piece represents a type of bug, and each bug can move a certain way, such as the Grasshopper jumping over adjacent pieces. The goal is to surround the opponent’s Queen Bee piece. Really fun, even if you lose all the time like me!

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3. Kingdomino

Average length of one game: 15 minutes

Kingdomino might just be the most fun tile-laying game I’ve played. Each round, you take turns picking from a batch of tiles and adding those tiles to grow your kingdom. Here’s the twist: each tile has a unique value, and whoever picks the least valuable tile in one round goes first in the next round. The tension lies in deciding whether to strike this round or setting yourself up for the next round. The official 5×5 kingdom size is fun, but I recommend trying the 7×7 variant on BoardGameGeek for something a little more strategic.

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4. Hanamikoji

Average length of one game: 15 minutes

In this game, players are vying for the favor of different Geishas, where each Geisha has a preferred Item and is swayed toward the player who offers her more of that Item. It’s a bit similar to games like Battle Line and Lost Cities, but what sets it apart is its simplicity and elegance. Each round only has four turns, and each of the four turns is different, forcing you to decide between which Items to play when, without giving away too much information or opportunity to your opponent.

Buy Hanamikoji on Amazon

5. Coup

Average length of one game: 15 minutes

The official two-player variant of Coup is notoriously bad, but the ultimate two-player variant for Coup turns this game of blind bluffs into one with a surprising amount of strategic depth—for a lightweight two-player game, at least. It’s the perfect mixture of decision making, social deduction, planning ahead, and deception. Tense!

Buy Coup on Amazon

6. Patchwork

Average length of one game: 30 minutes

Patchwork is a game where players take turns buying irregularly shaped tiles and fitting them together to produce a quilt. Tiles are bought using buttons, which are earned in various ways, but buttons are also worth points at the end. Empty holes in one’s quilt also detract from points at the end. It’s a race to see who can craft the best quilt and collect the most buttons before time runs out!

Buy Patchwork on Amazon

7. Squadro

Average length of one game: 20 minutes

In Squadro, players each have five pieces placed perpendicular on a grid, and each piece can move a certain number of spaces per turn, but only in a line across the grid. The goal is to get your pieces across the grid and back—but if your piece is overtaken by the opponent, it goes back and needs to restart. The twist? Some pieces move quickly going across the grid but slowly on their way back, and other pieces vice versa. It’s simple but surprisingly tactical, and perfect for a quick round of clashing minds.

Buy Squadro on Amazon

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