Playing board games with your significant other is great. You learn how each other think, you adapt to each other’s way of thinking, you share a confined space (the board) and interact with one another on a deeper, mental, and playful level than you ever would if you just turned on the TV. Learning about each other, developing an awareness and intuition of your partner’s psyche, building lines of communication to strengthen your bond — it’s all good.
I mean… I guess I can imagine a scenario where one of you is a poor sport and the experience goes sour, but let’s just assume you’re nice people for the sake of this conversation.
So what makes a good game for couples?
Must play well with just 2 players, obviously.
You’re going to be looking for games that play well, or at their best, with 2 players. This doesn’t mean you can only consider 2p-only games. There are a ton of games where they specifically designed some slight variations in the rules or setup to make a great 2p experience, but the game still allows for higher player counts. Most of our favorite games can be played with more (though some actually get worse with more players at the table). Let experience be your guide.
Pro Tip: Each board game is listed on BoardGameGeek, and a community of thousands suggests the optimal player count for any given game.
Cooperative games are a great choice
This is probably one of the best choices for couples, simply because cooperative games reinforce your relationship by building a sense of teamwork. You’re partners in life and you’re partners in the game. How well you communicate and work together to solve problems is directly linked to how well you succeed in the game and in real life.
Beyond that, all of my advice on How to Choose a Board Game still applies.
My favorite couples games
Fast & Light
You don’t have a ton of time, maybe you’re tired, you don’t want to think too hard, but you still want to play something together. A breezy game to give you some time together at the end of the day or something to play at a bar or at a picnic. These games fit into a busy life where bigger games can’t.
Jaipur – A quick and clever little card game where you’re competing to be the best trader in the Maharaja’s court. You pay close attention to what’s on offer at the market, what your partner wants, how many cards they have, where the points are, and when to grab those camels! Lots to think about for such a small game, but each round only takes 10 minutes. Best of 3 rounds is the winner. Widely regarded as “The Best Game for Couples, period.”
Morels – You’re walking through the forest gathering wild mushrooms. Whoever collects the most of each type and cooks them up in the most delicious way is the winner. The quaint and whimsical artwork sets the relaxing mood. This is a card drafting game where you balance risk and reward while paying close attention to what your opponent is collecting. One run through the deck and you count up your points.
Escape: The Curse of the Temple – This is a real-time dice-chucker where you only have 10 minutes to escape from a collapsing temple. You place tiles as you play, building the map of the temple as you run around looking for mysterious crystals to unlock the door to get everybody out! You play alongside a 10-minute soundtrack where every few minutes a gong goes off and you have to run back to the central atrium or you lose one of your dice, handicapping you for the rest of the game. It’s fast, chaotic fun, and the production quality is fantastic. I sold this game because I just couldn’t handle the stress! 🙂 I may buy it again now that I have kids. My board game preferences are evolving and I’m starting to reconsider games I previously rejected.
Other Games of Interest (haven’t played, but hear good things):
The Sweet Spot
Games that aren’t too long and are light enough that you can chat while playing, but still provide an interesting amount of depth. Games that open up like a flower the more you play them, revealing deeper strategies over time. These games are addicting because they’re a potent mix of enticing and approachable without the time/energy commitment of heavier games.
Carcassonne – Our first love. This is the game that got us into board gaming as a hobby. We played this game so many times in a row that we just left it on the kitchen table, never bothering to pack it up and put it away because we knew we’d play again the next night after dinner. The more you play, the more you find. It opens up like the petals of a flower. Once you master the base game, you can add the Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders (the two “essential” expansions) to make this game perfect. Beyond that, there are tons of other expansions to explore if you can’t get enough. We’ve played this game more than any other and we still love it to pieces.
Taluva – A gorgeous, abstract game where each tile you add erupts a volcano, raising the topography of the island out of the sea to create the map as you play. Build your settlements wisely. Expand into neighboring regions. Erupt a volcano and let the lava flow down over your opponent’s huts (or your own!). There are so many hidden tricks in this game that it doesn’t feel like an abstract game to me. It feels like I’m building an island paradise and erupting volcanoes all over the place. Every time I talk about this game I want to play it again.
Kingdom Builder – Every time you play this game it will be a different puzzle to solve — different landscapes, different victory conditions, different bonus actions. On your turn you draw 1 card that tells you which terrain type you’re allowed to build on. You look at the map and build on that terrain. It sounds too simple, but it isn’t. This game is all about mitigating risk and making clever choices to set yourself up for victory. It wasn’t until after our 6th play that this game suddenly clicked and we saw the game within the game. I love when that happens. It means we found a good one. Every time we get this game out we play it twice in a row. Very few games since Carcassonne have caught our attention so quickly and ratcheted up so many plays in such a short time as this game has.
- Glen More – (out of print) – You’re a Scottish chieftain building your village and growing your clan. Grow fields of barley, fell trees from your forests, recruit new workers, and distill as much Scotch whisky as you can! I traded this game away and have had thoughts about it ever since. It packs a lot into a 45 minute playing time, but after 10 or so plays it started to feel samey, the artwork didn’t pull us in, and my wife wasn’t in love with it. It’s an interesting sort of engine builder where you want to fire off chain reactions of production and conversion within your village. Jumping ahead on the time track to take a valuable tile just means your opponent gets to take her sweet time picking up everything you jumped over. There’s a lot of game in this small box. The designer is reportedly working on a new version of this game. I may give that a try when it comes out.
Other Games of Interest (haven’t played, but hear good things):
Games that take a little longer, closer to 1 hour, and require a bit more focus. You’re flirting with the boundary between family games and “gamer’s games” here. But if you’ve been having fun and want to level up the difficulty a schmidge, these are some great options.
Pandemic – Remember what I said about cooperative games? In this game you’re working together to cure the world of four deadly diseases. You can’t learn how to beat this game without learning how to work together and communicate. This is our second-most played game. The variable setup and variable character roles keep the puzzle fresh and interesting every time you play. If you fall in love with this game, you’ll want to add the On the Brink expansion for extra roles to play, a fifth disease, the virulent strain challenge, and the mutating disease challenge. If you really love this game, you should seriously consider Pandemic Legacy Season 1 – where each game of Pandemic results in permanent changes to the board. Your decisions have longterm consequences and the story unfolds over the course of 12 game months. It’s …really, really good. There’s a reason it’s ranked #1 on BoardGameGeek.
Akrotiri – Build up your Mediterranean shipping business by picking up and delivering goods, exploring the archipelago, funding your archaeological digs, and discovering forgotten temples. You place a tile on your turn to expand the map of islands in a different way every time you play. Finding lost temples is a really nifty puzzle that twists your brain around in a very weird way. Race your opponent to excavate 6 temples and have the most successful shipping business to win. All this in only 45 minutes!
Glass Road – You’re in the Black Forest in Germany running your glass and brickworks, cleverly harvesting the land around you, upgrading your buildings, managing your resources and anticipating your opponent’s actions. The card play in this game is incredible! If you successfully anticipate your opponent’s card, you deny them their bonus action. If you manage to play a card your opponent doesn’t predict, you get twice the benefit! A very thinky, smart, heavier game that doesn’t take too long. There’s some real meat on these bones.
The Main Events
You’ve got ample time, energy, focus, and determination. You’re in it for the long haul and want something large, thought-provoking, challenging and grand. It might take a little more time and effort to learn how to play some of these games, and it takes a little more time to play them, but the juice is worth the squeeze. There’s a lot to enjoy in here with many layers to these onions.
Caverna: The Cave Farmers – Raise your family of dwarves. Cultivate the forest and fields outside your cave. Dig deep into the mountain to find ore and rubies. Add to your cave complex, forge weapons and go on adventures, and work to improve your farm. Whoever has the most impressive homestead wins. This game is just fun in a box. Building up your farm, breeding sheep and boar and donkeys and cows. Growing wheat and pumpkins, mining for ore and rubies. You can go in any direction in this game and find a viable path to victory. It’s a sandbox. Play how you want to play. And at the end of the game, even if you lose, you still have a pretty awesome farm and cave complex that you built and get to admire. Very satisfying to play.
Keyflower – You’re establishing a settlement in the New World, bringing in immigrants to help create the economy of your little town. What a beautiful game — visually and mechanically. I fell in love with this on our very first play. It takes at least one play to understand the timing involved, but as soon as that game ended, it was as if I could see clearly the beautiful vista ahead of me. So much depth to explore, so many nuances and strategies and tactics. There is a rich tapestry of game mechanisms, all beautifully interwoven and perfectly balanced. This game plays well at all player counts. I can’t wait to play this again.
Dungeon Petz – You’re a family of imps running a pet store where you raise baby demons and monsters so they can grow up big and strong. You sell them to dungeon lords who put them in their dungeons to protect their loot so that adventuring heroes will have demons and monsters to fight, obviously. Except that caring for baby monsters is really hard! You’ll be gathering food and feeding them, playing with them, upgrading their cages, improving your business, calming their temper tantrums, containing their magical farts, and cleaning up poo — lots and lots of poo. There’s a lot of moving parts, but it’s a lot of fun, rich with theme, and the artwork is funny and gorgeous.
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective – (soon to be reprinted as Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective – The Thames Murders and Other Cases) – Sherlock Holmes is too busy and needs you (Wiggins) and Watson to take on a few cases. You are presented with a brief introduction to the case, given the day’s newspaper, a phone book, and a map of London. That’s it. Figure it out!
OMG this is my favorite game ever. There are 10 cases in the box and they just released an expansion where you’re hunting down Jack the Ripper! We’ve spent hours on a single case, took a break, and came back to it a week later. This game will accept as much thought as you want to put into it. We gave up on trying to beat Holmes. We’re just trying to solve the case!
I’ve never played a game that was more immersive than this. It’s so satisfying. I can’t recommend this game highly enough. If you and your partner are at all interested in mysteries or solving crimes, then buy it. You’ll work together, brainstorm, hypothesize, consider new ways of thinking, come to agreements, succeed together and fail together.
Light a fire, pour some wine, and get lost in Victorian era London. The game is afoot!
- Agricola – Caverna’s older sibling. A much harsher, punishing game where you struggle to bring your agrarian family out of the Dark Ages by working your farm, raising a family, and improving your home. We played a ton of Agricola, but got rid of it because the ever present need to feed your growing family was too stressful and started to feel like work. I do miss the variable setup with the cards, though and think Agricola is probably the better of the two. If Caverna had a variable setup, I wouldn’t have any second thoughts.
- Archipelago – Not at its best as a 2p game, but it’s just so pretty! When we play 2p, we play nice and just explore the islands and work to build up our settlements. Whenever someone triggers the end of the game, we count up the points. It’s a relaxing sail on a beautiful sea. Sigh.
- Dominant Species – You are one of 6 species vying for dominance before the looming Ice Age. Survival of the fittest. Adapt your species, control the food supply, drop glaciers on your opponent’s head. My wife chose this game and still wants me to keep it even though we haven’t been able to play it much. It is the heaviest (and meanest) game I own, where you basically punch each other in the face for a few hours and then see who is left standing when the Ice Age hits. It’s a beautifully designed game. Elegant. Sophisticated. Balanced. An incredible achievement. I do not feel worthy of this game. It makes my brain melt.
- Troyes – (in between print runs) – You are a wealthy family in the city of Troyes vying for influence and dominance. Compete for religious favor, military prowess, and economic strength. There’s a lot going on and it was difficult to learn how to play, but once we did, we got good at it. It’s pretty mathy with lots of optimization and efficiency and conversion calculations. I think this is a beautiful, amazing game. It’s clever and unique and challenging. It’s unlike anything I have ever played and I regret selling it. I can cite one fault in the game — the iconography is not intuitive. Having to consult the rulebook to decipher each card pulled me out of the theme and frustrated me. But I sometimes think about buying this game again. It’s that good and nothing has come along since that does what it does quite the same.