If you and your partner 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).
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
- Twilight Struggle: The Cold War
- The 7th Continent
Introduction to Top 12 Board Games For Couples
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. You can find my 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 its best.
Besides every game, there is an affiliate link to the Amazon page. If you click on it and buy something, I will earn a commission – I am a member of the Amazon associates program.
(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 it here-review of Carcassonne and others, as I have already dedicated several articles to this game.
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.
(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 beautiful pictures make 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.
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.
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 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.
(45 minutes, medium)
Akrotiri is focused on exploring the Aegean Sea in classical Greek times. Players seek ancient Minoan temples, holding several maps (cards) in their hands. Your goal is to find 6 temples to 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 tiles and terrain features. When successful, they can then place the temple on the map.
Besides laying tiles, the second component of the game is hauling (by actually placing them on tiny ships and moving them) 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.
A lot of strategic depth
The gameplay mechanics of this game are really easy to understand, but there are a lot of things to consider during the game. You will feel like your 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 – slightly abstract, but still immersive enough.
(45 minutes, medium)
I don’t think Scrabble needs much introduction. You 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 games, the focus is on creating words, the 2 player game becomes much more tactical. Coming up with words is still important, but the 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 your 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 on that x3.
To “Quone” someone
The trick is to open the board just as much, so you can place your words and block the opponent from placing theirs. 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 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 other editions available as well, all highly rated:
- 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.
(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 (everyone dies anyway), 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, your character gains special abilities (not only positive!), but the board will also be altered with stickers, and some components (and characters) even destroyed for good.
There are 3 Pandemic Legacy games available: Season 1, Season 2, and Season 0. The latter being the newest edition. I would suggest starting at the beginning, with Season 1.
(2 hours, very 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 its own unique character with a special set of skills, abilities, and agendas, just like you would in a video RPG, or D&D, back in the days.
Working together with other players, they will explore the world, clear the dungeons, improve abilities with experience, gain loot, and unravel the story, depending on the decisions they make.
In the process, they will create a unique and ever-changing world (it’s a legacy board game). 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 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. 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 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, that you can play a game with 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 you’re looking to hop into the Gloomhaven universe, I suggest starting out with Jaws of the Lion, a prequel, that does a great job at introducing new players to the gloomy city. You can take on the big game later, and the sequel, Frosthaven, later still.
Twilight Struggle: The Cold War
(2-3 hours, fairly complex)
A grand strategy game for two players. As the title suggests, it’s set in the second half of the 20th century, and you play as one of the two superpowers: the USA or the USSR.
Game is played on the world map and players strive to spread their influence (of freedom or socialism) and control over the countries. Unlike Gloomhaven or 7th Continent, this is not a campaign game. The 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, a player draws an event card. Those are based on historical events. Based on cards, the player has three options:
- increase their influence in the country or adjacent countries,
- realign influence or
- attempt a coup – to remove the opponent’s influence and increase his own.
Realignments and coups rely partly on dice rolls, which adds an element of unpredictability.
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.
“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.” Winston Churchill, 1946
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, the 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, medium-complexity)
The 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 an attempt to lift a curse. The world is based on the early 20th century but enriched with fantasy elements.
The continent is discovered by many hundreds of terrain and event cards. You explore the terrain, decide where to go, what to do, discover different events, 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 a continent, not an 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.
New Land is Vast and Tough
It’s not an easy game by any standards. There are a lot of factors to consider (even basic needs like shelter and survival) and (permanent) dying is not uncommon. You can always start fresh of course, and thanks to the massive number of cards, the experience will always be slightly different.
I, unfortunately, haven’t had the chance to try the game yet, but other reviewers report 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 care about will be a much more unforgettable journey.
Note: 7th Continent is currently out of print, but a new edition has already been announced.
I hope I gave you some ideas and introduced a game or two, that you weren’t acquainted with before. I promised my personal favorites, and here they are:
- For engaging competitive gameplay: 7 Wonders: Duel.
- For cooperative crime-solving: Sherlock Holmes.
- For an epic adventure: Gloomhaven.
And the best out of the lot? 7 Wonders: Duel.
There are, however, no bad games on the list (what would be the point of including those?) and you can’t miss with any on it.
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Any comments and feedback on the topic (do you agree/disagree, what is your list, or experience with games on the list) is highly appreciated. Please comment below.