“Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone.” – Octavio Paz
I don’t buy fighting games for home video game consoles anymore. I bought Street Fighter IV for the Playstation 3 some time ago and had myself a nostalgic blast. It’s been sitting in the case ever since. When I first bought it, my head filled with memories of a carefree adolescence. A few friends and I might spend a night passing around the controllers, talking trash, making jokes and living the life that no adult can ever return to. (For the record, yes, I know that these games can be played online, but I am a stickler for human presence.) I thought that I could recreate those moments, however, adulthood has other plans. Careers, schooling, young children, household responsibilities and any number of other factors prevent us from just picking up the games for a night. This dilemma is slowly being corrected by raising a pack of nerdlings captured in the wild to be game board lovers, but they take FOREVER to cultivate! Years!
I run into many of the same problems with board games. You put out some calls, and people are busy. Game enthusiasts all, but life gets in the way. It’s worse in some ways with board games, as not many of them have great one player versions. You get another on-board, your trusty significant other, and then you’re looking at your games that are good for two….and coming up dry. No Battlestar Galactica. No Agricola. (my girlfriend hates it) (I know, right?!?) No Settlers of Catan. Now, this said, I’m perfectly willing to concede that it might be my own collection that is lacking in two player games. There may well be many fantastic ones out there, and I’m hoping that if you know about some, you’ll share with the class. I’ll talk about my own meager collection here and maybe pick up a few ideas.
I picked up Balloon Cup specifically because it was a two player game. In it, there are four tiles, that depending on which side is face up dictate whether high cards or low cards will win the points on them. The points are color-coded and determine which color cards can be played for that tile. For example, a tile might have 1 red cube and two yellow cubes on it, and the face showing on the tile is a picture of some rolling plains, meaning that the lowest score takes the points on that tile. At this point, it sounds like the game would be entirely based on luck of the draw, but it’s a little more complicated. Each player is assigned a side to determine winners of tiles, but either player can play cards on either side of the tile. Essentially, this forces decisions on what is more important, playing cards to further your own agenda, or to hinder your opponent. Unlike most games where this is a losing proposition, in Balloon Cup, it is a valid strategy because you only have one opponent. In order for points to be collected, all card slots must be filled, matching colors of cubes to cards in an exact ratio, so if you’ve made it impossible for your opponent to win the tile, they are unlikely to play any more cards on that tile, which will force you to fill up all remaining slots by yourself if you want the points. The points are used to buy different colored trophies, of which there are only five. This adds a racing element to the game. Balloon Cup is easy to learn and doesn’t take a lot of time to play or clean up. It’s decently fun, but I can’t see a situation where I’d be chatting it up with my fellow nerds about a rousing evening of Balloon Cup.
There are many classic two player board games, Backgammon, Stratego, Othello, etc., and Chess, which I couldn’t really get away without mentioning. I myself am not a fantastic chess player. I enjoy the game, but many of my friends enjoy it more. They play it more frequently, and some even study it, read books by experts and play competitively. While competitive game play is not something I am a stranger to, chess has never called out to me in that regard. I’m an amiable amateur. The last time I won a game of chess against one of my better friends, I think it was because he just assumed that he could play lazily given the gap between our skill levels. Chess is a great game to teach kids. It strengthens memory and observational skills and is almost synonymous with forethought. As teenagers, my friends and I actually made AD&D characters (Second edition – THAC0, baby.) (Yes, this was the depth of our nerdery) for each piece and went to war with them. When your Pawn moved to capture my Knight, odds are, he was going to find himself woefully outmatched. In retrospect, maybe we should have given some kind of bonus to the capturing piece, some element-of-surprise bonus or something. While fun, this was entirely impractical, took way too much time and threw the game way out of balance. It was a decent idea though, to breathe nerdy new life into a classic game one I had fond memories of, which is why I was so happy to pick up Knightmare Chess. Knightmare Chess is in essence, a deck of cards that adds all sorts of fantasy nonsense to the game. Cards will make pieces explode, taking out nearby pieces. There are cards that make pieces teleport to other locations on the board, cards that combine pieces, etc. It’s the same idea we had as kids to spice up chess with a dose of high fantasy, though done in a much more concise, elegant format. Chess is on the schedule to teach the kids, and this will not be far behind.
A lot of collectible card games (CCGs) are best played at two player as well. I’ve spent more than a few nights up until dawn playing games like “Magic: The Gathering” (or Nerd: The Nerdening as my girlfriend (who enjoys the game) likes to call it), Warlord: Saga of the Storm and Legend of the Five Rings. All of which are great games, all of which are topics for another time. What are some of the better two player games you have found?