Let’s assume you have been together with your significant other for quite a while, you know yourself pretty well and have similar interests. Board gaming is one of them and you are on the lookout for new games. I researched what are 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).
Living together makes setting up a board game much easier, since you don’t have to arrange for a visit, get ready, travel etc. Short board games can be played in under 30 minutes, so you two can squeeze those in just about anytime.
Same goes for those epic-long games – the two of you are more likely to find hours together, over trying to arrange your friends to come 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 one person than a bunch of them.
In the research process, I have considered 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 (a game like Hive).
- 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 is what we’re looking for, 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 theme. I have left these out on purpose – they will have to wait for a dedicated article or you can discover them on your own.
Following is the list in the order from the most simple board game to the most complex. In the brackets, you will find time to complete average game and the overall complexity of game mechanics. You can find my personal recommendations in the conclusion. 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 is best.
Disclaimer: Beside every game, there is a picture with an affiliate link to the Amazon page. If you click on the picture/link and buy something, I may earn a small commission, no extra cost to you. This does not affect my reviews, however. I always try to be as objective as possible. In the end it’s your choice if you buy something or not.
(15 minutes, easy)
The simplest game on our list. Players select pre-drawn dominoes, that have various terrain types depicted on them. 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 and the player with the most points wins.
Gameplay is fast, but beside 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.
(20 minutes, easy)
Another tile-compiling game, in Patchwork two players are trying to build a patch cloth on a personal board (9×9), using tiles of different types and sizes. Buttons are used as currency, and each tile has a cost to place. It also has a button yield, which you get each time you pass a marker on the time track marker board.
The gameplay is a mix of trying to fit the tiles nicely together, while keeping track at 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, just to spice things up. When both of the players reach the end of the marker, game ends, and scoring begins. Player with the most points wins (obviously).
(30 minutes, easy)
We’re not done with tile-compiling board games just yet. Carcassonne is “only” 18 years old and has become a classic already. Players build a landscape features like cities, farms, roads and cloisters, and earn points by placing their meeples strategically on them. You can read more about it here and here, as I have already dedicated several articles to this game.
Game especially shines in two player mode, as you have more influence over the board and can really focus on both building and obstructing your opponent, much more so, than with more players.
(30 minutes, easy)
Jaipur is a resource trading game. A purpose 2 player game, each of them is a trader in the Indian city of Jaipur, trying to earn the privilege of being invited to the Maharajah’s court. Artwork is a particular highlight in Jaipur, as it makes you feel right in the middle of a hustling Indian marketplace.
Playing board is divided into three areas, both yours and opponents cards and market cards in the middle. Each turn you have options to take, sell or swap cards. 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 as much money by doing that, as possible.
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.
7 Wonders: Duel
(30 minutes, medium)
Staying with card games, but we’re traveling a couple of thousand years back in time for our next game. 7 Wonders: Duel is, like it’s big brother, a civilization building game. Game can be won by military might, scientific advance or (if neither of those happen) points.
Players choose to draw cards from the stack in the middle. Stack is organized in way, that every time player has an option of several cards (sometimes hidden). A wise drawing of cards means a player can sometimes take a bonus move and take two.
Cards can be built (as buildings), used to build (as resources), construct wonders or discarded for coins. Wonders provide special abilities and only 7 can be built, meaning one player always falls short. Besides with cards, resources can also be bought from the bank. The price increases, if your opponent already has that resource.
Military victory can be achieved by acquiring military cards and moving the military marker closer to enemy capital, until it reaches it. At certain positions of the marker, you receive extra bonuses.
For 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. It lacks a bit in the longevity, as you will learn all the cards soon and that will make the game a bit stale and predictable. It’s a great game playing from time to time, but for a more regular play, consider the Pantheon expansion.
(45 minutes, medium)
Akrotiri is focused on exploring the Aegean sea in the classical Greek times. Players seek ancient Minoan temples, holding several maps (cards) in their hands. Find 6 temples and win.
The genius trick here is, that the position of the temples is not predetermined. Instead, players try to recreate the situation depicted on the map by laying the tiles and terrain features. When successful, they can then place the temple on the map.
Besides laying the tiles, second component of the game is hauling and selling resources that you find on islands by spending action points. Resources change their coin value, depending on how many are in play – coins are used to buy all those maps needed to “find” the temples.
The gameplay mechanics of this game are really easy to understand, but there are a lot of things to consider during the game and you really feel like you brain is working overtime, considering all the placements of the temples, how to spend action points, which resources to sell and taking into account your opponent’s actions and options: what will that mean for him, how will he react, where to block him from building and so on and so on.
It’s not the lightest game on the list, but it’s perfect for two thinking players dueling it out. From time to time you forget the theme as it kind of feels like chess.
(45 minutes, medium)
I don’t think Scrabble needs much introduction. Build words using your seven letters, place them on the board and score points, depending on the value of your letters and board bonuses.
What makes the game special in two player mode, are the extra options each player is given. While in 3 and 4 player game, the focus is on creating words, the 2 player game becomes much more tactical. Coming up with words is still important, but focus is on playing the board and the other player.
Having a great word does not help you much, if it opens the triple score for you opponent. Or reversed, should your opponent make a mistake in opening a triple score for you, you must make every effort to take it, even if it means using the lesser word. Or if you get a rare letter … make sure you capitalize it on that x3.
The trick is to open the board just as much, so you can place your words and block opponent from placing them. End board reflects this tactical play in a much more “artificial” words and letter placing, than a more natural 3 or 4 player game would.
I find these tactical options highly enjoyable and with 2 player game luck playing much less of a factor, this is an ideal word-chess game. Especially recommended if you’re both into books and crosswords and are similarly skilled (or it may not be much fun for the always-losing partner).
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures
(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 an (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 per case) to explore every case in detail and then check up with Sherlock himself, to see what you got right and what you missed.
What makes the game stand out are the brilliantly written cases and the coop 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 further the next day. It’s the best board game detective experience on the market.
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 game. Also, there are other editions available as well.
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 minor.
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 players, because you can “play” the game even when you’re not sitting behind the table.
(1 hour, complex)
Still in cooperative water, 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. Entire world is your playing field as players travel city to city and diseases spread.
Each turn players can move, 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 it’s best to hinder your progress by outbreaks and epidemics – these cards are hidden among the city cards. You never know when you will be hit again, which creates a lot of tension 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 (everyone dies anyway), but the experience will be much more intense and pristine.
(2 hours, very complex)
If you love fantasy role-playing games, this one is for you. Gloomhaven is top 1 board game on many lists. Each player plays it’s own unique character with special set of skill, abilities and agendas.
Working together with other players, they will explore the world, clear the dungeons, improve abilities with experience, gain loot and discover the story, depending on the decisions they make. In the process they will create a unique and ever-changing world. This process is made of scenarios (each taking about 2 hours playing) and there are more than 90 included. Most of the times you will be fighting monsters of all sorts exploring dungeons of all sorts.
There are very complex game mechanics running behind all this – too complex for the scope of this article. Let’s just say this game requires a lot of dedication and study just playing the game – but it gives one of the best board games experience in return. It’s 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.
If you have like minded friend(s) that can come over to you multiple times for extensive periods of time (and you’re willing to host them), then congratulations, but I think it’s a bit of a stretch (or you’re already playing D&D). Having a partner like that is much more likely, that’s why Gloomhaven is on this list. There is also single player (which is ok), but that’s never going to be the same kind of fun.
Twilight Struggle: The Cold War
(2-3 hours, complex)
Grand strategy game for two players. As the title suggests, it’s set in the second half of the 20that century, and you play as one of the two superpowers: USA or USSR.
Game is played on the world map and players strive to spread their influence (of freedom or of socialism) and control over the countries. Unlike Gloomhaven or 7th Continent, this is not a campaign game. Entire game can be played in under 3 hours, until one of the players has won.
Players take turns – for a maximum of 10, when the game ends (if neither wins sooner). Each turn, player draws an event card, which are based on historical events. Based on cards, player has three options: increase their influence in the country or adjacent countries, realign influence or attempt a coup – to remove opponents influence and increase his own. Realignments and coups rely partly on dice rolls, which is a bit of a shame.
If the card is associated with the opponent, you can still go through with the event (if you think it’s beneficial, of course) or attempt to advance in the Space Race.
Scoring is based on the influence (presence, domination and control) in regions. Not all regions are equally valued – controlling Europe wins the game outright, for example.
Twilight Struggle: The Cold War is an excellent two player game, combining elements of Risk with event cards and other game elements. Thanks to event cards, game is somewhat historically accurate and has plenty of strategic options. I’d recommend this to fans of the era, as it captures the spirit of the Cold war very well.
The 7th Continent
(20 hours, very complex)
Last game on the list is also easily one of the most colossal and ambitious that I have seen. The 7th Continent is an exploration board game, where you go explore a newly discovered continent in attempt to lift a curse. World is based on early 20that century, but enriched with fantasy elements.
The continent is discovered by many hundreds of terrain and event cards. You build the terrain, decide where to go, what to do, discover different events and decide how to react to them (considering the traits and equipment of your character), and unravel the story.
As the name suggests, the new world is gigantic to explore (it’s called continent, not island after all) and the game can take a lot of time to finish, so it’s not for the casual player. It even has the save game feature, but it can take up to half an hour to remove all the elements properly (and then another half to set it up again). I’d suggest buying a spare table instead.
It’s not an easy game by any standards. There are lot of factors to consider (even basic needs like shelter and surviving) and (permanent) dying is not uncommon. You can always start fresh of course, and thanks to massive number of cards, experience will always be slightly different.
I unfortunately haven’t had the chance to try the game yet, but others reviewers report of a fantastic experience, unlike any other. Especially praised are the first few hours of exploring, when everything is still fresh, untouched and you discover something new every time.
Just like Gloomhaven, The 7th Continent has a single player mode, which is fine as last resort, but sharing the awesome experience with someone you really care about will be a much more unforgettable journey.
First, I must congratulate you for making all the way through this massive article. I hope I gave you some ideas (I definitely gave myself plenty) and introduced a game or two, that you weren’t acquainted with before. I promised my personal favorites, and here they are, bolded:
- For a relaxed competitive gameplay: Kingdomino, Patchwork, Carcassonne, Jaipur.
- For a more engaging competitive gameplay: Scrabble, Akrotiri, 7 Wonders: Duel, Twilight Struggle.
- For cooperative saving of lives: Pandemic, Sherlock Holmes.
- For an epic adventure: Gloomhaven, The 7th Continent.
There are, however, no bad games on the list (what would be the point of including those?) and you can’t really miss with any.
Any comments and feedback on the topic (do you agree/disagree, what is your personal experience with games on the list) would be highly appreciated. Please, leave them below.