One of the hard, sought-after gems in our hobby is that perfectly balanced, two-player game. After all, many of us game frequently with a spouse, lunch buddy, or child for which standard, 2-6 player titles just don’t seem to really “fit” well – despite that “2” on the box. Multi-player titles might scale well, but opinions will vary wildly. Personally, thanks to its board configuration, I don’t think you can go wrong with Small World in that department.
While I do play two-player games, those sessions are in the minority for me. That said, I’ll always first recommend Cribbage. This traditional card game (with scoring board!) is a bit clumsy to learn at first. But if you have patience, it will reward you with a fun experience. The three phases of discarding to the crib, pegging, and showing are all separate parts, yet interconnected in a manner that your decisions in one will affect the other two. This creates smooth and tense game play which is affected by both strategy and luck of the draw. A good indication of its strategic nature, typically experience will win. With that and its mathy scoring, my kids are not keen on Cribbage right now. Not for having me tried, though!
One two-player game that does hit our table frequently is Jambo. This title pits two African traders against each other in trying to buy low and sell high six different types of wares. There are cards that let you buy and sell, of course, but also ones that give you bonuses, allow you to manipulate the rules, and to even attack your opponent. The rules are very simple, game length hits that “just right” mark for a two-player session, and the artwork is attractive. It’s not perfect. But it has a very good mixture of luck, strategy, flow, and interaction.
How about your two-player sessions? Do you shoot for the traditional card games? Do you prefer games designed only for a pair? Or do you like standard, multi-player titles that scale well for two? What do you say?