Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Two for Games and Games for Two

by Ward Batty

There are several reasons why two-player games are so appealing. First, you only need to round up one other person to play. Second, your chances of winning increases (in theory) to even. Most importantly, a two-player game is a more intimate experience, with the attention focused exclusively on your opponent's actions. This would seem to make playing such a game an ideal passtime for couples, but it can be hard to find a two-player game that works well. The classic two-player boardgames are, of course, chess, checkers and Go. Most of these are too confrontational and reward one type of thinking too much to be fun for both parties.

The good news for couples that enjoy games is that new games for two are being made available all the time. A nice feature of a number of these games is they are not as confrontational or as tactical as, for example, chess. Somebody will be better at the game, but there's enough of a luck factor so both players have a chance to win. So here are some recommendations of some two-player games that are especially good for couples. These are, of course, also well suited for any two players as well.

First is Lost Cities by Reiner Knizia and published by Rio Grande Games. You might not think that a two-player game themed around jungle exploration would be a hit with the ladies, but it is. The core of the game play is something like competitive solitaire. All the players? melded cards are up, as are the top card in the discard stack for each suit, so there's lots of information available, and one crucial piece of information missing. In a favorite ploy of Mr. Knizia, which he utilizes in a number of his games including Lost Cities, players must play first and then draw a new card. Not knowing what that card will be really turns up the "game tension." The game unfolds with a bit more excitement and suspense than it would if players could draw the card before deciding what to play (the standard for most card games). You play through the deck only once, so the game lasts 15-30 minutes.

Another good game for couples is the Mystery Rummy series by Mike Fitzgerald and published by U.S. Games Systems. It might seem odd that a series of rummy games about Jack the Ripper, Jekyll and Hyde and the Murders in the Rue Morgue would have female appeal, but let's remember who watches CSI. In the case of Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper, players are trying to discover the true identity of the famous murderer. The game begins with a body and the scene of the crime. Evidence will accumulate in the form of melds, against one of the six suspects, but alibi and evidence cards can change the course of the investigation. Eventually, the Ripper is identified or escapes. Players score points for cards played. A game is played over several hands.

My final recommendation of a two-player game that's especially good for couples is Balloon Cup by Stephen Glenn and published by Rio Grande Games. This is an easy to learn game that has an appealing theme of air balloon races. Players play cards in an effort to win the colored cubed placed on each of five small boards. There are two twists that really "elevate" Balloon Cup (couldn't help myself). Depending on which side of each small board is face up, either the highest or lowest number combination of cards are needed to win, so both high and low cards are useful. The second twist is that players may play cards on their opponent's hand as well as their own. The first player to win enough colored cubes to claim three balloon cards is the winner.

These games should be available locally at a specialty game shop. Even if the shop doesn't have the game in stock, many are happy to special-order them. Your local store is a great place to learn more about these great games. Online, I'd suggest going to Google, click on Froogle and search for the game by name. For those in search of two player games that are more tactical and confrontational, I'll have some suggestions in a future column.

Photo credits. Lost Cities ©Betsy Ross, used with permission. Mystery Rummy ©U.S. Games Systems. Balloon Cup ©Rio Grande Games.

Ward Batty is a long-time game-player who has been with the same weekly game group for over twenty years. "I understood there was a pension." is his excuse. He writes a monthly column on the business of board games for Comics & Game Retailer magazine and has written articles and reviews for The Games Journal, Scrye, Knucklebones and Games International.

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