SALT LAKE CITY — From the outside, two-player board gaming might not look like the most glamorous way to spend an evening.
It doesn’t have to be a dull, emotionless outing. Instead, you might find it a fulfilling, exciting experience you’ll want to repeat night after night.
With the rise of modern board games over the last two decades, there are many options for friends, discerning gaming couples, families and complete strangers. You don’t just have to stick to the two-to-four-player standards, because there’s a world of games optimized and built solely for that two-player experience.
Here are 10 games of varying styles, themes and lengths to kick off your next two-person game night.
"7 Wonders Duel"
30 minutes playing time
Through three ages of history, you and your opponent work against each other to each build the strongest, most robust empire. While it’s tempting to think of "7 Wonders Duel" as a smaller version of the hit drafting game "7 Wonders," realistically, this is a finely tuned two-player game with a completely different feel to the way it plays. It stands on its own extremely well.
"Fog of Love"
1–1.5 hours playing time
One of the most unique board games released in the modern tabletop era, "Fog of Love" is a cooperative game in which each player is one side of a romantic relationship. You start with a first date and end with either a successful or unsuccessful relationship, and because each player has secret goals, you're cooperating without full information. Meet both your and your opponent's happiness goals and you'll have a happy relationship. This one will get couples talking about deep, serious subjects you probably won't expect game night to prompt.
20–30 minutes playing time
Not every game has the most spectacular thematic presence, and "Lost Cities'" artwork will certainly not call to mind the remains of empires long gone. But it is a quick, brain-burning game in which you play sequential cards in the same suit for points while balancing the cost of "embarking" on that suit. Not knowing what’s in your opponent's hand or what’s left in the deck means you’re taking some significant risks. Embarking on an expedition in one suit costs you points, so if you miscalculate, you’ll end up in a points deficit that you might never recover from.
30 minutes playing time
One of the real joys of modern board games is that there's a broad range of themes with compelling gameplay. "Patchwork" is a great example of that trend: You compete against another person to construct the best quilt by picking up Tetris-style pieces of varying sizes, which are spread around the board. Fill your quilt board first and you just might win. It’s one of several tile-laying puzzle games from legendary designer Uwe Rosenberg that also include "Cottage Garden," "Indian Summer" and, soon, "Spring Meadow."
15 minutes playing time
One of Utah’s top game designers, Tim Fowers, is probably best known for "Burgle Bros." and "Paperback," but "Fugitive" is easily his best game for two. "Fugitive," an asymmetrical deduction game, pits an agent against a fugitive trying to escape after a heist. The fugitive secretly maps out their path, while the agent has to try to figure out his or her path. Each game takes about 15 minutes, so you’ll have plenty of time to try both roles.
45–60 minutes playing time
This Kickstarter-backed game from local designer Jeff Beck is one you’ll want to watch for since it doesn't come out until March 2019. In "Getaway Driver," you move around the board as either the getaway car or the police force chasing down the getaway car. Just like "Fugitive," it lives in the same universe as "Burgle Bros.," but it takes the gameplay in a completely different direction.
20 minutes playing time
Some games are thematic because they really portray what they’re aiming to represent through gameplay. Other games have a theme that is basically just decoration. This is one of those games. "Santorini" is thematic in its visual display of the competitive puzzle, which takes its visual cues from the picturesque city of Santorini, Greece. Here, you build the city's unique architecture and try to reach the top of the city while ensuring your opponent doesn't get there before you do.
"Bohnanza: The Duel"
30–45 minutes playing time
Growing, trading and selling beans isn’t the most exciting theme for a board game (unless you're a bean farmer, in which case, enjoy) but among games of negotiation, there are few better than "Bohnanza: The Duel." A take on "Bohnanza," the 1997 classic from German game designer Uwe Rosenberg, "Bohnanza: The Duel" is a two-player game that pits two players directly against each other, and it introduces a bluffing element in the original. The player who sells the most stacks of beans and completes the most bonus cards wins.
"Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective"
1–4 hours playing time
While this isn’t a game that’s strictly for two players — you could play with one or you could play with a room full of people — "Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective" is a fully cooperative game with no board, no cards and no player pieces. Instead, you’re given a selection of newspapers, interviews to conduct and a map. You better bring your own note paper, though, because if you want to beat Sherlock Holmes to solving the case, you’ll have to put your deductive logic skills to good use. If you can solve the mystery in fewer steps than the famous detective, you'll win. True to form, you really shouldn't count on winning. Instead, focus on simply getting the right answer — that's satisfying enough.
"A Few Acres of Snow"
1–2 hours playing time4 comments on this story
A bit of a different game on this list, "A Few Acres of Snow" is a deck-building war game with a substantial learning curve. It can take up to two hours to play, and the art is very dry. However, the game does provide a tense battle between two sides, and you'll have to fight for dominance over North America. Taking place during the conflict between the British and the United States in the 18th century, each side plays with a distinct set of cards they use to build their decks through the game. Each side battles throughout the game until one player captures the other’s capital.