While a lot of games can be played as 2-player games, there is a small group of games that does 2-player particularly well. There are a lot of great 2-player games that aren’t getting mentioned because these games are all games where 2-player is either the only option, or the best option. They’re listed in no particular order, and updated periodically (last update: Feb 2019):
Made strictly for head-to-head action, and made extremely well for that purpose. 7 Wonders Duel is probably the best of the strategic, strictly 2-player games I’ve played with multiple game phases and multiple paths to victory all in a condensed, fast-paced package.
I’m only adding this to the list in 2019, but like 7 Wonders Duel, this is a 2-player version of an already great game (Caverna). It’s a fun worker placement combined with engine builder, for which I’ve got a full review. If you’re willing to go deep on strategy and theme, this is one of the best 2 player games around.
Although this is not strictly a 2-player game at all, it probably works best as a 2-player game. It’s a game where you face the same main puzzle and have limited interaction with other players. Therefore, a 2-player game plays as well as any other, but without the downtime between turns.
I actually really like RFTG as a multiplayer game, where the strategies are different, but I think it’s best as a pure, 2-player game. This is especially true playing on the computer, where you don’t have to deal with shuffling, reshuffling, getting chits for resources, etc. It is also famously divisive, having resulted in not one but two friends declaring himself an ***hole and CageyBB famously saying that you can’t appreciate the game until you’ve played it at least 200 times. I think it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played, 2-player or otherwise. It’s so highly strategic. You really have to commit quickly to a strategy and get it up and running in a few turns, and execute it before the game concludes. It is similar to, and a predecessor to Puerto Rico, my all time favorite game, only faster, and better as 2-player where I prefer multiplayer Puerto Rico.
The name suggests it’s something beyond what it is: A really elaborate, clever and outstanding 2-player card game. You can learn the rules in about a minute but spend hours playing back and forth, yet also feeling just enough like you’ve dug up some old cities.
I like Stone Age for 3 and 4 players, but it’s a great, highly strategic and dynamic 2-player game and at its best in that format, in my opinion, and the only way I think it should be played in tournaments. With any number of players, it’s a classic, gateway game of working placement and making strategic choices.
As I stated in the review, it’s not a game that stands on its own, but if you’re already a fan of Dinosaur Island, this has enough of that theme in it to make you feel like you’ve got your island and dinos going. Unlike many of these games, it’s specifically designed for 2 players, so it plays optimally.
A staple of the 1670 group, an oldie but such a goodie I have to mention it. While Star Wars Minis can essentially be played with any number of players, the game is at its best, in my opinion, as a 2-player chess match. This is also how it is played in its most serious tournament events.
I’d be remiss if I left out the 2-player game that has been getting the most time in our groups lately: My own MMA-fighting game, in large part because I’ve needed the feedback. But, obviously, I wouldn’t make a 2-player game that I didn’t think was very entertaining, and it is. This is the main warmup game for both playing groups this blog represents, a light “take that!” game that we have had a lot of fun with., as we are both mma/fight-loving groups. Now it’s time for everyone else to find out about it.