If you and your partner are on the lookout for new games, I researched the top board games for couples currently on the market and have narrowed it down to 12 games – from the lunch break games, right down to those that consume the entire evening (or life).
Table of Contents
Click on a name on the following list to jump straight to that part of the article:
- 7 Wonders: Duel
- Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
- Pandemic Legacy
- Ark Nova
Introduction to Top 12 Board Games For Couples in 2023
Board games can be a very rewarding and immersive experience. And who best to share that experience with than someone you know very well and have similar life interests – your significant other?
Living together makes setting up a board game much easier since you don’t have to arrange for a visit, get ready, travel, etc. Small board games can be played in under 30 minutes, so you two can squeeze those in just about anytime.
The same goes for those epic-long games – the two of you are more likely to find hours together, over trying to arrange for your friends to come to visit every time you want to play. You can even leave the board set up and continue the next day. Let’s not forget, that it is a lot easier to spark an interest and teach playing to one person than a bunch of them.
Another aspect you should not overlook is the chance to bond. Modern life is fast – jobs and kids take a lot of our time and often we forget to spend some quality time together. Board games force you to communicate, share experiences, and laugh together.
In the research process, I have considered the following factors:
- Captivating and immersive experience. After a long day of work or taking care of the kids, a little escapism is more than welcome. Feeling like you are right in the middle of the board is what we’re looking for, not an abstract chess-like experience (click here if you’re into that: 10 Best Abstract Board Games).
- You’ve probably chosen your partner on his/her personality and character, therefore you want the game to be engaging. Discussions, cooperation, debate, and having a good time are what we’re after, not taking long turns in silence.
- Cooperative play is favorable, but not mandatory. Competitive play is fine too, providing it induces engaging gameplay, not knife-edge competition, where you end up going to bed with a bitter taste in your mouth.
- There are quite a few board games available with dating and sexual themes. I have left these out on purpose – they will have to wait for a dedicated article or you can discover them on your own.
- Finally, the list inevitably has a personal tone to it. There are games I like more and games I like less, and inevitably, it does affect the list in a way.
Following is the list in order roughly from the simplest board game to the most complex. In the brackets, you will find time to complete an average game and the overall complexity of game mechanics. Some games are designed specifically with 2 players in mind, others can be played with more players, but are included because I believe it’s with 2 players, that they are at it their best.
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(15 minutes, very easy)
Kingdomino is set in a fantasy realm right out of a fairy tale. You are one of the kings trying to expand your land around your castle. You do this by placing domino-shaped tiles around it.
By game mechanics, it’s one of the simplest games on our list. Players select dominoes, that have various terrain types depicted on them. Dominoes are pre-drawn from a deck and laid face-up on the table and players must choose which one to take every turn – the order in which they take tiles is determined by tiles they took in the previous turn. Tiles are numbered and if you took the strongest tile previously, you will pick last in the next turn.
My Realm Outscores Your Realm!
The goal is to build a 5×5 (or 7×7 for a 2-player variant) landscape grid with those tiles. In the end, terrain types are scored based on the number of same-type tiles connected and bonus crowns on them. The player with the most points wins.
The gameplay is fast, but besides competing to select the next tile, there is no direct player interaction. That is why I recommend a 2-player game so that the wait time is minimal, you can play several short games in succession, and can utilize the full 7×7 grid.
(20 minutes, easy)
Another tile-placement game. In Patchwork two players are trying to build a patch of cloth on a personal board (9×9), using tiles of different types and sizes.
How to play Patchwork?
Before the game starts, tiles are laid out randomly in a circular shape and a marker is placed on a designated place in that circle. Every turn, a player can purchase one of three patches placed clockwise of the marker. He must pay the required amount in currency (buttons) and move the marker to a new spot in the circle.
He can then place the patch on his grid (anyway he wants) and must advance his time token by the number on the patch. Buttons are used as currency, and each tile has a cost to place. Currency is gained by passing a button yield marker on the time track marker board.
The gameplay is a mix of trying to fit the tiles nicely together, while keeping track of your money, calculating how much to spend and how much you will get back from it in the future. As the players move on the time track marker board, they can also earn special tiles that add to the variability.
When both of the players reach the end of the marker, the game ends, and scoring begins. The player with the most points wins (obviously).
(30 minutes, easy)
We’re not done with tile-placement board games just yet. Carcassonne is “only” two decades old and has become a classic already. Players build landscape features like cities, farms, roads, and cloisters. Then they earn points by placing their meeples strategically on them.
You can read more about Carcassonne here.
The game especially shines in two-player mode, as you have more influence over the board and can focus on both building and obstructing your opponent, much more so, than with more players.
The base game is cheap and easy to get into, but the game demans an expasnion or two, to fully shine. If you can, get one of the Big Box collections.
(30 minutes, easy)
The game of Jaipur is set in the middle-ages in the Indian city of Jaipur. You are one of the traders in its busy marketplace, trying to earn the privilege of being invited to the Maharajah’s court. The artwork is a particular highlight in Jaipur, as the captivating imagery makes you feel right in the middle of a hustling Indian marketplace.
Jaipur is a resource trading game purposely made for 2 players.
How to play Jaipur?
The playing board is divided into three areas:
- your cards,
- opponent’s cards and
- market cards in the middle.
Each turn you have options to
- take cards from the market,
- sell cards or
- swap between yours and the market’s cards.
The goal of the game is to make money by selling three, four, or five cards of the same resource (silk, gold, silver, etc.) and to make more money by doing that than your opponent.
The gameplay is fast and is a blend of tactics and luck. I wish luck would play a slightly lesser role, but you can’t have everything, I guess.
8. 7 Wonders: Duel
(30 minutes, medium)
We’re staying in card games’ territory, but we’re traveling a couple of thousand years back in time for our next game. 7 Wonders: Duel is like its big brother, a civilization-building game, which you do by building a tableau of cards in front of you.
Your civilization will try to win the game by military might, scientific advance, or (if neither of those happens) victory points.
Players draw cards from a display of face-up and face-down cards in the middle of the board. The stack is organized in a way, that every time player has an option of several cards and subsequent cards are revealed on the spot. A wise drawing of cards means a player can sometimes take a bonus move and take two.
Drawing cards, you will build your portfolio of resources, which are used to draw subsequent cards, build buildings, or mighty Wonders. Elements of set-collecting and engine-building are the mechanics behind it. Wonders provide special abilities and only 7 can be built, meaning one player always falls short.
Besides cards, resources can also be bought from the bank for coins. The price increases, if your opponent already has that resource.
How do you win 7 Wonders: Duel?
Military victory can be achieved by acquiring military cards and moving the military marker closer to the enemy capital until it reaches it. At certain positions of the marker, you receive extra bonuses.
For the scientific victory, one must collect six of seven different scientific symbols, found on cards.
Since the game is designed with 2 players in mind, it offers a lot of strategic options. The game’s longevity can be vastly improved with the excellent Pantheon expansion or the more recent Agora expansion. Or both (although I prefer the game without expansions).
(45 minutes, medium)
One of the cliches of high fantasy is sneaking into a dragon’s lair and snatching the goods from right under his fiery nose. Clank! cranks this cliche to eleven and makes fun of it along the way.
You’re a thief, looking to get rich. The dungeon is full of riches, but you won’t have the time or health to get all of it. You need to carefully plan your way in and out because the dragon is wide awake and his attacks will only get stronger.
Mechanics-wise, Clank! is a tasty blend. You base your actions on your deck, which dictates how many movement points you get, how many attacks, how much skill to buy new cards, and how much noise (clank) you generate. More noise, more chance for the dragon to attack you!
Your deck will grow stronger and thicker during the game and every time you purchase a new card you’ll feel like a kid who just got a new toy.
Then, as the game progresses and you snatch a few artifacts from the beast, its attack will itnesify. Here’s where the push-your-luck element kicks in. Do you stay in the dungeon for a while longer, trying to grab some more loot? Or will you be too late and die on the way out? Timing your escape perfectly is very challenging and almost an art – and also what makes Clank! super exciting.
Although Clank! works with higher player counts too, I prefer it at two, because of the reduced wait time. There are also numerous expansions available, as well as the repainted Clank! In Space!, Clank! Legacy or the newest Clank! Catacombs.
(30 minutes, medium)
Nature-based themes are always a hit with the female audience. It’s no wonder Wingspan, a highly popular game from 2019 was designed by a woman.
Each player is a bird enthusiast (an ornithologist). You’re trying to build your display of birds in various habitats. There are 170 bird cards available in the base game (even more with expansions), all with lovely illustrations. It’s apparent from the start that looks are a strong feature of Wingspan, with other components following that lead.
The birds come in all shapes and sizes, but most important for the game are their habitats, food preference, and special abilities. You see, as you settle your birds in their homes, you can start activating their powers and you must always activate an entire row.
Therefore, your aim is to create a synergy between the powers, the needs of future birds, objective cards, and round goals. This creates an interesting puzzle, which has just the right amount of challenge to test you, yet not overwhelm you.
A perfect blend of accessibility and strategic depth, together with the stunning appearance make Wingspan perfect for any home. Don’t forget about its educational value!
5. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
(2 hours, medium)
It’s time to put your competitive side away for a while – we have sailed into cooperative waters. Murder has just happened and it’s up to you to solve the mystery. You will be traveling around London freely, interviewing witnesses and possible suspects, and looking for clues.
Sherlock Holmes is a (sort of) interactive book board game. There are ten cases to solve and each case is open-ended. What that means is that you can put as many hours into a case as you want (usually it takes 2 to 3 hours per case) to explore it in detail and then check up with Sherlock himself, to see what you got right and what you’ve missed.
What makes the game stand out are the brilliantly written cases and the cooperative gameplay. You will make notes, discuss, argue, and decide where to go next together. I’d even suggest not reading the solution until the next day, so you can bring the game away from the table, think about it during the day, dream it during the night and discuss it further the next day. It’s one of the best board game detective experiences on the market.
Sherlock and his large family of games
But there are only 10 cases, what about after that? After that, you are done, but it’s not a problem, because 10 cases are more than plenty of games. Also, there are several editions available as well, all highly rated:
- Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures
- Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders & Other Cases,
- Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Carlton House & Queen’s Park,
- Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Baker Street Irregulars
The only negative I have about Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective is that the narrative is not interactive. Since the material is pre-written, there is no option to choose your answers or methods of interrogation or exploration. You can only choose where to go, and read that paragraph. But looking at the big picture, that is a minor issue.
If you two love a good detective story or ever dreamed to be Poirot, Columbo, or Sherlock, this is a must-buy. Especially good for couples, because you can “play” the game even when you’re not sitting behind the table.
4. Pandemic Legacy
(1 hour, medium)
We’re still in cooperative waters, our next candidate on the list offers much more death – potentially killing the entire population of the Earth!
In Pandemic, players play a group of scientists, explorers, and doctors, trying to stop the spread of 4 highly infectious diseases and find the cure for each of them. The entire world is your playing field as players travel city to city and diseases spread.
How to play Pandemic?
Each turn, players can (depending on available action points):
- move to the city they have on their cards,
- treat diseases and
- draw new city cards.
Each character also has a special ability.
You play against the game itself, as it’s constantly trying its best to hinder your progress by outbreaks and epidemics – these cards are hidden among the city cards you must draw each round. You never know when you will be hit again, which creates a lot of suspense and pressure among the players, who are working together to find the best moves to counter the game.
Fortunately, different difficulty settings exist, but I suggest rather playing higher than lower. There is no shame in losing, but the experience will be much more intense and pristine.
Leave your Legacy
The legacy edition consists of 12-24 (depending on how successful you are) scenarios long campaign. They are connected with a story and your decisions affect the game world and change it for future games. New rules and components are introduced, and your character gains special abilities and traits (not only positive!), but the board will also be altered with stickers, and some components (and characters) are even destroyed for good.
The Legacy edition upgrades the original recipe and produces a well round-up an memorable experience. There are 3 Pandemic Legacy games available: Season 1, Season 2, and Season 0. The latter is the newest edition. I would suggest starting at the beginning, with Season 1.
(2 hours, complex)
If you love fantasy role-playing games, this one is for you. Gloomhaven is the top 1 board game on many lists. Each player plays their own unique character with a special set of skills, abilities, and agendas, just like you would in a video RPG, or D&D.
Working together with other players, you will explore the world, clear the dungeons, improve abilities with experience, gain loot, and unravel the story, depending on the decisions you make.
In the process, you will create a unique and ever-changing world (it’s a campaign/legacy board game, after all). This process is made of scenarios (each taking about 2 hours playing – ideal for one sitting) and there are more than 90 included. Most of the time you will be fighting monsters of all sorts and exploring dungeons of all sorts.
There are very complex game mechanics running behind all this – a combination of card play, equipment and special abilities of each character. The game has a steep learning curve – but it gives one of the best board games experience in return. Its high price tag is well justified by everything that is in the big box (and there are a lot of things in there) and the hours of enjoyable quality gameplay you get out of it.
Hundreds of hours have gone by
If you have like-minded friends that can come over to you multiple times for extended periods (and you’re willing to host them), then congratulations. But having a partner, with whom you can play a game every evening, is much more likely, that’s why Gloomhaven is on this list. There is also the single-player mode (which is very good), but that’s never going to be the same kind of fun.
If all this seems a bit too much, but you’re still looking to hop into the Gloomhaven universe, I suggest starting out with Jaws of the Lion, a prequel, which does a great job at introducing new players to the gloomy city. You can take on the big game later, and the sequel, Frosthaven (available at the end of 2022), later still.
(60 minutes, medium)
Being an English nobleman at the height of the Victorian era wasn’t easy. While the empire offered many business opportunities, your home life was preoccupied with managing your social status. Ensuring a suitable spouse for your children, earning a reputation among fellow nobles, hosting luxurious activities, and inviting prestigious guests. But you can’t do all that by yourself – you need proper staff employed, starting with Butler and all the way down to the Hall boy.
Obsession is all about this narrative experience. You and your staff will host thematic activities (i.e. Political Debate, Tennis Match, Admiring the Horses) and you’ll choose who gets invited so that the favors they bring will benefit your family. Perhaps they will acquaint you with a reputable colonel, give you an extra guest card, or provide you with information about foreign investment, resulting in monetary gains for you.
The game mechanics are a mixture of worker placement and hand management and are relatively easy to grasp, resulting in smooth gameplay, that allows you to focus on the stories that emerge during it. The end winner is determined by a combination of several factors: your estate, guests, total reputation, staff, how you fared at courtships, and so on. A good family is good ad everything, I suppose.
Obsession is an absolutely beautiful work of love and if works such as Downtown Abbey or Sanditon mean anything to you, you will have a blast with it.
1. Ark Nova
(2 hours, medium-heavy)
To win, you need to cater to both the visitors (adding animals and other attractions), as well as the experts, through conservation projects. Only when both tracks meet is the end game triggered.
The game is driven by a clever action-selection mechanism – the longer an action is unused, the stronger it becomes. The thickness of the animal deck is comparable to Wingspan, but the game itself is much more complex. Building pens is a spatial tile-placement puzzle while completing conservation projects requires you to collect animal icons, which in itself requires a steady source of income, pens, and other prerequisites.
Despite all the connected mechanisms, the gameplay is surprisingly smooth as you only get a choice of several actions each turn. But combining these into a powerful sequence is both demanding and satisfying at the same time.
Arko Nova is a big game and rightfully one of the hottest in 2021, 2022, and 2023. The only big downside is the long playing time and a large table presence – that’s why I prefer to play it with two players.
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