Abstract German Checkers. I’m not sure how else to elevator pitch what Yinsh is about. Yinsh is generally considered to be the best of the Kris Burm games, a series of German abstract dueling games. It’s a simple abstract game that can be explained in seconds and involves rings jumping over circles on a grid. The pieces are gorgeously simplistic and the game offers a very satisfying brain burner. The rules have a simplicity closer to checkers but can provide a brain burner closer to chess.
Fact or Fiction the duel. A remarkably simplistic game with a surprising amount of depth. Hanamikoji will charm anyone with the fantastically stylized art, bright colors and simple rules but will also keep any gamer around for the interesting puzzle it presents the player. The old formula of “Play a card on a line” gets shaken up with 4 interesting actions that must all be taken each round exactly once. The amount of hidden information will have people calculating probabilities and grimacing as they try and decide whether to take a chance on a play or not. It’s a remarkably quick experience that is fit for any occasion two players can get together.
3. Fields of Arle
The size of this game probably held it back a bit on this list. Fields of Arle competes in the bloated category of “More Agricola!” yet still manages to stand out in my mind long after playing. It takes a tried formula and spins it enough to create a puzzle I feel like owning. It’s much less interactive than the other games on this list but that makes it unique in the 2 player only category of games. It’s one of the better games to reach for when the main event game is needed for two experienced euro gamers. It’s an incredibly niche experience but it stands out all the more those times it hits the mark for what 2 players are looking for.
I’m breaking the rules here a bit. While Technically not only for 2 players, it really should be. This isn’t even a game that is “Best” at 2 players, it’s one I consider “Should” only ever be played at 2 players. It’s a fantastically charming grid game where pieces are moved around in an attempt to build towers and ascent to the pinnacle. Asymmetric god powers keep the game fresh and the production values and artistic charm to the experience. This would all be just window dressing if the core gameplay didn’t offer such a satisfying and thought-provoking set of decisions. It all comes together to give one of the most complete two player experiences that is over so quick your night might turn into a series of “just one more game”.
1. Air, Land & Sea
The new king of the 2 player small box. Air, Land and Sea takes Hanimikoji’s amazing gameplay and strings together rounds into a grand campaign that feels like an epic story. The core “Battlelines” style game of trying to win theatres is mixed up with an ingenious withdrawal mechanic that gives less points to your opponent the earlier you withdraw from a losing position. It makes every decision feel tense and gives a weighty epicness to any fight that goes down to the wire. The art is superb and the unique card abilities give it that little extra crunchiness that more veteran games would have craved. I can’t think of a better opener or finisher during a game night between two people.