Well, Hello There!
As RAMSTAR Games continues working on Hivernation, and our marketing plan evolves and grows, I’ve been learning about what makes “great two-player games” great. In my quest for knowledge I have put out polls on social media, listened to podcasts, and even reached out to people on Board Game Geek to have virtual chats about two-player games. I’ve conversed with people across the United States, from France and the Netherlands as well. Two-player game enthusiasts have been truly accommodating! And the great thing about them is I only had to ask.
As part of giving back to the community that has been so welcoming and given us the opportunity to join AND create the fun, here is my list of 5 things that I’ve learned about two player tabletop games that makes them great!
1. CONTINUOUS ENGAGEMENT
While on a Zoom chat with Kathleen out of Texas, I had a bit of an epiphany moment. She told me that she mainly plays two-player games because of the continuous engagement she gets from playing with only one other person. Turn around time in a two player game is quick; no sitting around waiting for five other people to take their turns. Ah ha!
This was something that I had never given much thought to since our gaming group is only 3 people strong and play time is never significantly hampered by any of us. She was surprised when I told her that I’d never thought of that, but this is why we reach out and ask questions!
Stephan, a gent I had the chance to chat with out of France, found a similar appeal in two-player games. His game of choice was GO, and he related that when he played the game casually or at a tournament, down time between turns was spent trying to anticipate what his opponents next move would be. Stephan never took a break while playing GO; for him, that was one of it’s attractions.
2. STREAMLINED MECHANICS
I’m going to make a statement that you probably won’t agree with but: In a well thought out two-player game, there isn’t a lot of room for filler. Don’t get me wrong, there are many solid, two-player games which have robust mechanics and complicated game play. For Kitty and I, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion would be a good example of this. Of course, JOTL isn’t strictly speaking a two player game, but the creators have created rules to make two-player games possible. We play it all the time and do our best to follow all the rules. 😉
However, it has come to my attention that the best games specifically designed for two players are the ones that keep their mechanics succinct, on point, and limited to what is really necessary to play the game.
A great example of this is our friends game Sinoda. If you haven’t read my write up where I gush about it, you can find that here. Created by BS Games, Sinoda is the epitome of streamlined mechanics. There are essentially only two: move a die or rotate a die. That’s it. And therein lies the strength of the game. The moves are so easy to remember, you spend your time focusing on the game and your opponent rather than reading the rule book over and over.
It is its abject simplicity that makes Sinoda so good!
3. QUICK SETUP
Let’s face it, the bigger a game gets and the more people who can be added to it, the more cumbersome the set up can become. A good case in point is Firefly. While I love the game, and I think it plays as well with two as it does with more, setting up the game requires an acre sized table and takes forever to setup. Some nights, when Kitty and I have the bug to board game, facing something like Firefly is a total turn off.
That is the beauty of games designed for two people; they have a tendency to take little to no time to setup. A couple of really good examples of classic two-player games with easy setup are Chess and Checkers. And one could argue that quick setup is one of the reasons that they’ve endured the test of time.
On our journey with Hivernation, one of the unexpected bonuses of our box design is its assistance in quick setup. We initially wanted to go with a seven compartment tray and push the hexagon theme in the packaging—six hexes in a ring with a seventh in the center almost like a flower. After we scaled the game down to make the packaging more concise for shipping, we settled on four compartments for the hex tiles. But again, after receiving new information, we went back to the drawing board and consolidated the tiles into 3 compartments to continue streamlining the packaging for shipping reasons.
The upside of this is that each compartment will hold 20 tiles. “How is that an upside?” you might ask. Well, 20 is the number of tiles each player gets when beginning a game of Hivernation. This makes it super easy to keep the game organized and set out when it comes to the table. One compartment of tiles goes to player one. Another goes to player two. And the specialty tiles have the third compartment; deal out three and get playing. Easy! For us, and other fans of two player games, that’s a big win!
4. MORE GAMES IN LESS TIME
Something else that was related to me as I queried people about their love of two-player games was the idea of getting in more games in less time. Billy out of upstate New York clued me to this one.
Something he really liked about two-player games was the speed at which he could get games to the table and played in short order. Both he and his wife love board games, but they lead very busy lives and with a baby on the way their lives are about to get more complicated! The ease at which a tw- player game can be played and then replayed when the two of them only have half an hour to sit down together was one of the strongest selling points of what games made it to the table in his household.
5. WONDERFUL INTIMACY
Of course, I consider this to be the strongest aspect of any great two-player game: intimacy. And I don’t mean the l’amour kind of intimacy either. I mean the kind of communal, societal intimacy that comes from being involved in an engaged activity with only one other person.
Everyone that I’ve chatted to about two-player games has said the same thing. The best two-player games help to develop a sense of intimacy between the players even if your opponent is not a friend. Stephan, the GO player from France mentioned this. Billy from upstate New York mentioned this. In fact, of all the people I’ve spoken to or polled, everyone has stated this very thing— two player games bring them and their friends / spouses / enemies closer together.
One only need watch the recent Netflix series The Queens Gambit to see how intimacy plays into the world of Chess. And again, I don’t mean the physical dalliances that the main character Alice Harmon gets up to (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). I’m speaking to the studying she does of her opponents, reviewing their past games, their wins, their losses, their habits and then ultimately, sitting across the table from them and playing them directly. The community that comes out of direct competition is amazing!
The smile she gets and the handshake she receives from Vasily Borgov in the final episode says it all. Although they may have been competing against each other, the intimacy of the game has made them friends. That is the ultimate power of two-player games!
For now, that is all.