I started compiling this list to point out some outstanding board and deck-building games that the general public may not now about. In my own personal experience it is a little harder to get these games to the table as you usually need to find “gamers” that are serious about their games to play 2-player only games. These are not in order of rank but I am sure there is some bias in there as to preference. This is by no means a definitive list or the “best” top 10, simply 10 games I have played that I happen to love.
I am sure there are many people who would expect Magic: The Gathering to be on this list but I have very little experience with it as I never wanted to take out a 2nd mortgage to be able to play the game and keep up with it.
For those new to board gaming, I have included the Board Game Geek rank so you get an idea of where the games sits in relation to who all the board gamers voted on it. Board Game Geek is the top website for all board games so make sure you check it out to research games and get a good idea before you spend your money.
1. Android: Netrunner “Android: Netrunner is a two-player Living Card Game™ set in a dystopian, cyberpunk future where monolithic megacorps own and control the vast majority of human interests. While corporation players try to score points by advancing their agendas, they have to guard their intellectual properties from the elite and subversive hackers known as netrunners.” – Fantasy Flight Games
Simply one of the best deck-building games if not the best I have come across. The asymmetrical Living Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games gives this deck-builder a truly unique feeling as both players have completely different goals, decks and feel as compared to other deck builders where everyone is basically building very similar decks. The re-playability factor never ends with this game, the theme is heavy and really works with this game. It is set up to provide an all around pure and true gaming experience which is rare in any style of game. Well done Fantasy Flight!
Board Game Rank on BoardGameGeek.com – #5 http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/124742/android-netrunner
2. Mage Wars “What would it be like for Mages of vastly different schools and philosophies of magic to come together in an arena and fight to the death? How would an Illusionist battle a Druid? Or a Warlock fight a Beastmaster? Or a Priestess fare against a Wizard?
Mage Wars pits powerful Mages against each other in deadly arena combat. Each Mage uses his own fully-customizable book of spells to achieve total victory over his opponent. Summon mighty creatures to do battle in your name; cast powerful spells to attack your foe and thwart his every plan and strategy; use hidden enchantments to turn the tables and rule the day; adorn yourself with mighty weapons, armor, and arcane artifacts – all of this and more awaits you in the arena of Mage Wars!” – Arcane Wonders
Mage Wars is an absolutely fun deck-builder that allows each player to actually pick which cards are going to be played each turn instead of drawing cards hoping for the right cards to make effective and powerful combos happen. The strategy factor as well as the theme really shine here as you “feel” as though you are doing battle with another player and the choices are so numerous. The re-playability factor again is very high and with expansions the game keeps getting better and better. Definitely a must have and an experience which is what we are all looking for isn’t it?
Board Game Rank on BoardGameGeek.com – #30 http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/101721/mage-wars
3. Twilight Struggle “Now the trumpet summons us again, not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are – but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle…” – John F. Kennedy ”
“In 1945, unlikely allies toppled Hitler’s war machine, while humanity’s most devastating weapons forced the Japanese Empire to its knees in a storm of fire. Where once there stood many great powers, there then stood only two. The world had scant months to sigh its collective relief before a new conflict threatened. Unlike the titanic struggles of the preceding decades, this conflict would be waged not primarily by soldiers and tanks, but by spies and politicians, scientists and intellectuals, artists and traitors. Twilight Struggle is a two-player game simulating the forty-five year dance of intrigue, prestige, and occasional flares of warfare between the Soviet Union and the United States. The entire world is the stage on which these two titans fight to make the world safe for their own ideologies and ways of life. The game begins amidst the ruins of Europe as the two new “superpowers” scramble over the wreckage of the Second World War, and ends in 1989, when only the United States remained standing.
Twilight Struggle inherits its fundamental systems from the card-driven classics We the People and Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage. It is a quick-playing, low-complexity game in that tradition. The game map is a world map of the period, whereon players move units and exert influence in attempts to gain allies and control for their superpower. As with GMT’s other card-driven games, decision-making is a challenge; how to best use one’s cards and units given consistently limited resources?” – GMT Games
The mother of all 2-player games Twilight Struggle is a deep strategy game that oddly enough isn’t all that hard to pick up for most people and lends itself to being widely playable by any type of gamer. While it is a “war game” per sey, not in the traditional sense and certainly not a complete time sink like many of them can be. This game is fun, historical, easy enough to grasp but also gets deeper the more you play it lending for a great re-playability factor. This game is rated the #1 game by gamers and deservedly so. It scratches many an itch and thematically it’s awesome!
Board Game Rank on BoardGameGeek.com – #1 http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/12333/twilight-struggle
4. Horus Heresy “On the thirteenth day of Secundus, the bombardment began…
In the greatest betrayal the universe has ever known, the Warmaster Horus – once humanity’s greatest general, now corrupted by Chaos – has turned against the Emperor and hurled the Imperium of Man into ferocious civil war. The galactic conflict has risen to its climax. The Warmaster’s ruinous legions have assaulted Holy Terra itself, the Emperor’s seat. Here the fate of humanity hangs in the balance during the greatest military campaign ever seen.
In the Horus Heresy board game, this legendary battle unfolds across the razed plains of Terra and in the frozen orbit above. Deadly fighting ranges from the Emperor’s golden Inner Palace to Horus’s flagship, the Vengeful Spirit. Taking the side of either traitor or loyalist, two players control either fearless Space Marine legions or deviant Chaos Space Marines, mighty Titans, Imperial Armies both loyal and traitorous, and a fearsome array of other units, including the Emperor and Horus themselves.” – Fantasy Flight Games
Obviously this game is dripping the Warhammer 40k theme all over it. With 6 scenarios including a “new player” one it is a good game to get into these style of big box war games. With lots and lots of great components, good strategy and great theme, this is a fun Saturday game day experience. I still need to get more games of this under my belt as well but so far so good!
Board Game Rank on BoardGameGeek.com – #579 http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/63543/horus-heresy
5. Call of Cthulhu “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.¨ – H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature
Welcome to the world of the Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game, a world based on the weird fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and his literary circle. In this world, conflicts rage between cosmic powers who want the world for their own unfathomable purposes and the human agencies dedicated to stopping them. The weird world of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos has drawn in fans for more than eighty years, with its richly painted themes of suspense, adventure, and the eerie unknown.
Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game is fully immersed in this world and what is more, places you, as a player, in control of some of the facets of that world.
Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game is a rich, dark and mysterious game that falls directly in line with other Arkham Horror series games from Fantasy Flight Games like Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness and Elder Sign. I recently did a review of this game here so please check it out for my thoughts!
Also stay tuned for a new game release from this universe called Eldritch Horror by Fantasy Flight Games!
Board Game Rank on BoardGameGeek.com – #410 http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/40270/call-of-cthulhu-the-card-game
6. Warhammer: Invasion “The Old World, a land of immense kingdoms, epic quests, and fierce battles, seethes with ancient rivalries. Bitter enemies face off against one another on blood-soaked fields of battle, as each race seeks to rise to dominance of the Old World. The clanging of sword against axe, an all-too-common sound, barely drowns out the anguished wailing of the suffering masses. Massive Iron-clad Orcs rage war against everyone, including themselves. Dwarfs wield massive hammers against the foul spawn of Chaos. The Empire engineers calculate building walls and fortifications to repel invaders, and the armies of Chaos pour forth from the Northern wastes to wreck ruin on all.” – Fantasy Flight Games
Warhammer: Invasion is another deck-building game from Fantasy Flight Games that has a unique feel and mechanic to it. One of the reasons so many of Fantasy Flights games are on this list is that don’t act like most typical deck-builders and have a lot of depth to them and this one is definitely no exception. You don’t have to have any knowledge of the Warhammer universe to play these games I certainly didn’t when I started playing them and it always a great way to discover a new universe of science fiction and fantasy. This game is very well done and like all the others on this list, it is strong right out of the box expansions or not.
Board Game Rank on BoardGameGeek.com – #170 http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/47185/warhammer-invasion
7. A Few Acres of Snow
“A war fought at the edge of two mighty empires. For over one hundred and fifty years Britain and France were locked in a struggle for domination of North America. Thousands of miles from their homes, settlers and soldiers were faced with impenetrable forests, unpredictable American tribes, and formidable distances. Despite these obstacles they were able to engage in bitter warfare, with the British ultimately taking the prize of Quebec. A Few Acres of Snow is a two-player game that allows you to recreate this contest. You can change the course of history by your decisions.
A Few Acres of Snow takes an innovative approach to the subject, using cards to represent locations and manpower. As the game progresses you add to your selection of cards, increasing the range of actions available to you. There are many strategies to be explored. How quickly should you build up your forces, do you employ Native Americans, what energy should be expended on your economy?
The game is about more than just fighting – you must successfully colonize the land to have a chance.” – Treefrog Games
A Few Acres of Snow is a game from superb game designer Martin Wallace. This game is a mix of deck-building and a traditional board game. While being a war game in theme it is also an economic game balanced with manpower and area control all mixed in one. A fun treat with no room for error as it can cost you dearly and I am still learning it the hard way lol. With a real depth of strategies this game is a must have for any serious gamer.
Board Game Rank on BoardGameGeek.com – #98 http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/79828/a-few-acres-of-snow
8. Balloon Cup/Pinata
“In Balloon Cup, the players compete in several short balloon flights (hops) to collect the colored cubes associated with each hop. When a player has collected enough cubes of a given color, he earns the trophy card for that color. Players may even trade 3 otherwise useless cubes for 1 they can use. The first player to earn 3 trophy cards is the winner! Each player has a hand of eight balloon cards. The players play their balloons on mountain or plain hops. Players play their high-valued balloons on the mountains and their low-valued balloons on the plains. Players usually play their balloons on their side of the hops, but winds (and cunning) can cause them to play on their opponent’s side, a move that can ruin their opponent’s plans.” – Rio Grande Games
Balloon Cup is a great, fast 2-player game that easy enough for kids to grasp easy and great for date night as well. There is much more strategy than you realize at first in this game and for the non-confrontational friends, this one hides it pretty well although the whole game is confrontational but it doesn’t seem as brutal in this game. Unfortunately Balloon Cup is out of print but thankfully Rio Grande Games has re-released it in a new form called Pinata. Check out my review of it here.
Board Game Rank on BoardGameGeek.com – #98 http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/5716/balloon-cup
9. Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures
“Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game is a tactical ship-to-ship combat game in which players take control of powerful Rebel X-wings and nimble Imperial TIE fighters, facing them against each other in fast-paced space combat. Featuring stunningly detailed and painted miniatures, the X-Wing Miniatures Gamerecreates exciting Star Wars space combat throughout its several included scenarios. Select your crew, plan your maneuvers, and complete your mission!
Whatever your chosen vessel, the rules of X-Wing facilitate fast and visceral gameplay that puts you in the middle of Star Wars fiercest firefights. Each ship type has its own unique piloting dial, which is used to secretly select a speed and maneuver each turn. After planning maneuvers, each ship’s dial is revealed and executed (starting with the lowest skilled pilot). So whether you rush headlong toward your enemy showering his forward deflectors in laser fire, or dance away from him as you attempt to acquire a targeting lock, you’ll be in total control throughout all the tense dogfighting action.” – Fantasy Flight Games
Who didn’t dream as a kid of flying an X-wing fighter in a dog fight with a Tie fighter? Well now you can! In this miniatures game, Fantasy Flight Games brings us a very simple system to relive your childhood dreams and many missions to accomplish as well. Great fun in a short time and the game is never the same so the re-playability is through the roof! One of the coolest games to come out in 2012 and it shows no sign of slowing down with new expansions coming out. A Star War fanatics must have let alone any board gamer.
Board Game Rank on BoardGameGeek.com – #98 http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/103885/star-wars-x-wing-miniatures-game
10. Tide of Iron
“Tide of Iron is a game of World War II tactical conflict for two to four players. The components in this base game allow players to simulate the dramatic struggle that took place between American and German forces in Northern Europe during the years 1944 and 1945.
Tide of Iron is a Scenario-based game, with the available forces, objectives, map, and victory conditions being set by each given scenario. It features loads of plastic figures, including soldiers, equipment, heavy weapons, and combat vehicles, cards, dice, cardboard markers, and modular game boards that will represent the customizable terrain of this scenario-based wargame.
The twelve double-sided map tiles, plus the dozens of included terrain hexes, allow for limitless potential combinations, and each scenario can be enhanced by special rules, objective markers, troop allotments, and other variations. The only limiting factor is your imagination!” – Fantasy Flight Games
Tide of Iron is another out of print game unfortunately but you can find it online used. This is a great war game that while not simple, is easier by far to learn and understand than most war games I have come across. An afternoon burner for sure, this game isn’t going to play in 90 minutes but for those that love in depth games with lot’s of strategies, to relive scenarios of WWII and theme o’plenty than this is the game for you. While I am sure there are many war gamers who won’t agree with me, this is my favorite historical war game of all time so far.
Board Game Rank on BoardGameGeek.com – #98 http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/22825/tide-of-iron
Honorable Mentions: San Juan, Lost Cities, Kaijudo, Magic: The Gathering, Memoir ’44