If it’s not super obvious by now, most of the gaming I do is with my husband, Stephen. While we do have a weekly game group, and meet up with friends some weekends, most plays we rack up in any given week/month/year are just the 2 of us. So, a big consideration for us when buying games is 1) does it play 2+, and 2) does it play well at 2?
For me, there are a lot of things I love about gaming at just 2, which I’ll talk about here. For most games, (that are 2 minimum) it is my preferred player count. However, I’ve also seen barriers with gaming at 2, which I’ll also point out. (Strap in, it’s gonna be a long one).
SPEED – I tend to take pretty quick turns, in general, in most games, and so do most people that I’ve ever played with 1 on 1. But, even when one of us hits a point of AP prone-ness, at least we know, while waiting for the other to finish, that our turn is next. Something I hate about larger player count games is waiting for 4 other people to make decisions between each of my turns, especially if I can’t really play too far ahead (i.e. if the game/board state fluctuates too much between turns). It makes me quickly start to lose interest in a game that otherwise might be enjoyable. I just get bored if I don’t have much to do, and then if my turn is particularly quick, I feel like I waited a long time to do not very much. A recent example where I felt this was in Sailing Toward Osiris at 5 players.
TIME – Moreover on speed of turns, there’s overall game length/time. A game that’s 30 minutes per player, for example, becomes a vastly different time frame at 2 than at 4 or 5. I’m someone who prefers to play a single game for 45 minute – 75 minutes max, it’s just my ideal game length. Playing at higher player counts, can make a game that claims to be 60 minutes, take upwards of over 2 hours, and that just isn’t for me. Again, I just fall out of the experience and would rather bow out and do something else. So, playing with less players is more optimal for me because it means I can finish a game in less time, and then get more stuff to the table.
LESS GETS MORE – Besides having your turns more often, some games give you more player pieces/actions when you play with less players (usually at 2) which is something I’ve come to like a lot because it makes me feel like I get to do more/explore more areas of the game. Some good examples of this are Stockpile, and Five Tribes.
GOING ON THE ATTACK – This actually falls into the good and bad parts of gaming with more vs less. On one hand, when you play a battle/attack-y game with only 2, there is only 1 person to attack, so it feels fair; no one is going to accuse you of ganging up on them because there is no other option. On the other hand, if someone gets out really far ahead, it can result in a runaway leader because there is no one to help the person who’s doing worse attack that leader, so having a 3rd or 4th player would be beneficial in that case. Related to that, there’s no “teaming” in 2 player games, meaning there’s no one who can gang up on a player just for the sake of doing so, which can be nice when you’re the player people tend to gang up on even when you’re not winning (Sorry, Stephen).
DUMMY PLAYERS/VARIANTS – Overall, I am not big on “dummy players” (usually for 2 player games) and specifically 2 player variants. In my opinion, if your game has a 2 player variant, do not put “2-x players” on the box, put “3-x players” or “3-x players with 2 player variant.” Both of those give me the appropriate amount of information when shopping for games if I’m looking to play at 2. I’m very passionate about this point specifically, as a mostly playing at 2 person. I understand the rationale for trying to accommodate more players, but it just feels like false advertising, and it’s so disappointing to be excited about a game only to find out the 2 player rules are separate and the game isn’t quite the same. I’ve found a few dummy players that work okay (i.e. Between Two Castles) but the vast majority are either annoying to upkeep, or just get in the way in a less enticing way than another player would.
Overall, player count can be a tricky thing, and not every game plays well at every count, even if that count is listed on the box. Some games are better with more, some better with less, and even that is entirely subjective. In all of these examples, there are outliers; everything is always going to come down to the specific games/players/circumstances, and it’ll differ for everyone’s experiences. The bottom line is, whatever count you enjoy games at is valid, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. ✌️
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