The 7 Best Two-Player Board Games for Chess Haters

Did you only manage to convince one friend to come to game night? You better have at least some of these games on your shelf.

Board games are a great way to get away from a screen while still indulging your nerdy side. That said, sometimes it can be tough to get a whole group together for a game night. If only one friend is around, it might be tough to get excited about yet another game of chess or checkers.

Fortunately, we’re in the middle of a board game renaissance of sorts, so there are plenty of two-player games. Some of these are even kid-friendly, so you can keep them handy for when you don’t want to play Go Fish again.

1. Lost Cities

Designed by legendary German game designer Reiner Knizia, Lost Cities is a card game that is easy to pick up and play. That doesn’t mean that the game is shallow by any means, as the more you play the more you’ll find deeper strategies.

Setup time is extremely quick, as is putting it away. The latest version includes a new expedition, adding to replayability.

Buy Lost Cities on Amazon

2. Star Realms

If you’ve been looking to introduce a friend or family member to deckbuilding games, Star Realms is the perfect gateway drug. The entire box can fit in the palm of your hand, and it’s quick to set up and start playing.

Veterans of deckbuilders might find Star Realms a little lacking in complexity, but that’s why it’s great for introducing people to the genre. You can also add more copies to expand the game for more players.

Buy Star Realms on Amazon

3. Forbidden Island

Playing board games with family members can be tough. You don’t want to let your nephew win, but you don’t want to tear them to pieces either. That’s where cooperative board games come in handy. Whether you win or lose, you’re doing it together.

Forbidden Island will put your strategic and problem solving skills to the test. If you get hooked, there are also sequels in Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Sky.

Buy Forbidden Island on Amazon

4. Hive

The box for Hive lists it as a “game crawling with possibilities.” As that phrase and the game’s name hint at, the game is based around bugs. It also uses a unique concept.

As you play the game, you create the board. This means there is very little setup time. This helps add to replayability as well, as you’re potentially playing on a new board every time you play.

Buy Hive on Amazon

5. Onitama

Onitama is extremely quick to pick up and play. You can learn everything you need to know in a few minutes, plus games are quick to set up and frequently take 10 minutes or less to play. That said, like the best games, you’ll never truly master it.

Like chess, it’s essentially a game of military tactics. Unlike chess, it has a striking art style. Unlike some other games here, this is a strictly two-player game.

Buy Onitama on Amazon

6. Hanamikoji

Not every game needs to be an hour-long affair or even 30 minutes. For those times when you’re looking for something shorter, Hanamikoji is the perfect game. It’s even great as a “filler” game between two longer games as a palate cleanser.

This game is quick to set up and easy to learn, but still has the tension we all love from bigger, longer games.

Buy Hanamikoji on Amazon

7. Carcassone

If you’re even remotely interested in board games, you’ve probably at least heard of Carcassonne. There’s a good reason too. Since this is a tile-laying game, there’s very little setup time but you’ll get more than 30 minutes of game time.

Later versions of the game have a redesigned rulebook to make learning the game easier, which makes it even easier to recommend.

Buy Carcassone on Amazon

Looking for More Board Games?

If you haven’t found anything on this list that speaks to you, fear not. We also have a list of awesome single-player board games, and all of those games work with two players as well.

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  1. “palate cleanser”, not “palette cleanser”, especially given Urban Dictionary’s definition for the latter.

  2. Thanks for this list, Kris—and for mentioning setup times, appreciated.

    I second Peter’s extra choices—incl Cribbage!

  3. Star Realms is pretty cool. I enjoyed the way Onitama played as well for something abstract/similar in general ideas to chess. I still want to play “The Duke” when I get a chance, but haven’t had time/opportunity yet.

    For a long time, we passed time w/ Cribbage for a 2p game. Cheap, easy, fast. But wanting some variety led us into looking at more modern games like Ticket to Ride, Dominion, etc.

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