RPG Board Games For 2 Players

Our Top Face To Face Recommendations

Trying to pick a decent 2 player RPG board game out of the hundreds of available choices can feel like an adventure in itself.

But which games are actually best for just two players out of the hundreds of options out there, and which are going to fall flat?

Our recommendations for the best RPG board games for 2 players are:

  • Arkham Horror: The Card Game
  • Mage Knight
  • Tainted Grail
  • Gloomhaven
  • One Deck Dungeon

I’m going to outline five very different games and highlight their strengths and weaknesses, so I hope that by the end of the article you’ll have a strong idea of what might work for you.

Arkham Horror: The Card Game Is A Good Starting Point

arkhamhorrorcardgame

It might seem odd to recommend a card game as a great role-playing game for two players, but Arkham Horror: The Card Game does much, much more than you would expect.

Its publisher Fantasy Flight has always been exceptional at getting rich themes across in little more than decks of cards – I’m thinking of Lord Of The Rings: The Card Game especially here – and they have surpassed themselves with this design.

It’s a cooperative game in which players work together as investigators trying to defeat the nasty goings-on in Arkham and the alien plans of Cthulhu.

Even if the theme doesn’t grab you – and I must admit that it has never grabbed me – this is a game with some really meaty and complex decisions that reward thoughtful gamers.

Unfortunately, Fantasy Flight card games are often tricky to play correctly as they rely on triggering lots of keywords in exactly the right order and at exactly the right time, and Arkham Horror: The Card Game is no exception.

As a result learning the game can be a very frustrating experience, but if you stick with it there are rewards to be unearthed.

The trick is to take it slowly and carefully and expect to make mistakes – just don’t sweat the small stuff.

I also need to mention that Arkham Horror: The Card Game is an LCG – a Living Card Game for which additional packs are released at set intervals.

If you like the game then you can pick up these extra packs and add scenarios, investigators and cards which can open up the world immensely, but they can also turn it into an addictive money sink, so beware.

However, it’s also a game that relies a great deal on deck construction, putting together a deck before playing, so having a large pile of cards from which to pick can be very worthwhile, and if you enjoy thinking about games in the intervals between playing them then this could fit very nicely.

It’s also designed specifically to be played either solo or with one other person, so if you can get through the learning process then this is a great place to start.

There’s a full two-player playthrough in this video by All Aboard which will get you over the initial hurdles and give you an idea of whether it might work for you.

 

Mage Knight Is For Deep Thinkers

mageknight

Mage Knight is a complex and sprawling game, and you need to be aware that the rules are intricate and detailed before you consider adding this to your collection.

In the game, each character is a Mage Knight (what else?) and they set out on adventures by choosing which of the many scenarios in the rules they will undertake.

The characters in this game are not as strongly defined as those in, say Arkham Horror: The Card Game, but they do still feel quite different from each other.

That’s because each character begins the game with a unique deck of cards, and they will gradually develop that deck as the game goes on by buying cards with stronger abilities and filtering out the weaker ones.

Mechanically this makes Mage Knight a “deck builder” (a game in which you build your deck as the game progresses) but it is a really complex take on what can sometimes be a rather straightforward mechanism.

The choices in Mage Knight are crunchy and deep, and success or failure really comes down to how you play your cards and in which order, because your choices can be very limited.

The game comes with dice that generate mana, but there is less randomness in the game than you might imagine, which makes your wins all the more tasty.

The components in Mage Knight are really impressive, and it’s quite easy to find yourself lost in the world it creates and really begin to feel that you are exploring a tough and forbidding environment.

The game also comes with cooperative and competitive scenarios, which means that there is a pile of stuff to explore in just the basic box.

However, as I said at the start, Mage Knight is a complex and intricate beast, so it’s definitely not recommended for beginners, and the depth of the choices means that it works particularly well at low player counts, so it’s ideal for two, whether working together or against each other.

Just remember that even seasoned gamers can struggle with it, but if you take your time, play the learning scenario and don’t rush then you too could be storming castles, recruiting villagers and defeating dragons with or against a friend.

3 Minute Board Games will tell you all you need to know in this 3 minute video.

Tainted Grail Is For A Longer Campaign

taintedgrailavalonfigures

Where Mage Knight is self-contained and plays out in single scenarios, Tainted Grail is a sprawling design of exploration and discovery.

The characters are multi-dimensional and have many different attributes that you need to look after, even including hunger, but they can all be developed in subtle and intricate ways.

As you might expect, they can also equip various items and become more powerful as the game progresses, although this process can sometimes be a little on the slow side, so Tainted Grail is a project to be played over several sessions.

The map is revealed gradually by adding cards to the tableau as your party explores from a central location and you’ll have encounters, make discoveries, and deal with tricky choices.

There is also an element of the old choose-your-own-adventure books, as players are often directed to certain chapters in the narrative booklet that comes with the game, in which the story is contained.

Paul Grogan of Gaming Rules gives an overview of how to play in this video.

While Tainted Grail is less complex than Mage Knight in terms of its core mechanisms there is a greater sense of adventure in the game thanks to the narrative that flows through it.

Mage Knight’s character development is confined to a single session so that each play is self-contained, while Tainted Grail is ideal if you are going to have the same group of players together over multiple sessions.

Tainted Grail works particularly well with two players, and the box contains more than enough material to keep a couple of gamers occupied for a very long time indeed, so although it is expensive it does offer good value.

Once you’re finished with it you might well want to begin to explore the expansion, so if Mage Knight sounds too intimidating but you still want an epic experience for two players then Tainted Grail is an option worth considering, despite the price.

Gloomhaven Is An Epic Experience

2playergloomhaven

You can’t mention two player RPG board games without mentioning Gloomhaven.

It’s a sprawling epic of a game in which players take various characters through a massive campaign.

These characters will develop, retire and sometimes die, and there are dungeons to explore, enemies to fight, events to deal with, towns to fortify – as close as you can get in board gaming to a living, breathing world.

Although it is a complex game with an intimidating set of rules, playing it essentially comes down to choosing a couple of cards for each action, using the top half of one and the bottom half of another, and everything else riffs off that core mechanism.

Because of the amount of admin that the game requires it works well with two players, and that player count also makes it easier to get to the table regularly, which you’ll need to do to get the most out of it.

There is an option for using the game to set up random dungeons, but for the full RPG experience you need to put in the hours, but what you get out of it is massively rewarding.

However, if the thought of around two hundred hours of the same game brings you out in a cold sweat then you can always try Gloomhaven: Jaws Of The Lion, which is a lighter and shorter version of the game, designed for people new to this world.

So think of this as a double recommendation – Jaws Of The Lion for medium-weight gamers and Gloomhaven for the hardcore.

Here’s an enthusiastic video review of the two player Gloomhaven experience by Board Games For Two.

 

One Deck Dungeon Is Light And Short

onedeckdungeoncampaigncard

All of the above recommendations are quite involved in gaming terms, so I wouldn’t recommend any of them for complete beginners or for those who are dipping their toes into the water.

The complexities of an RPG board game, with its characters, events, world, enemies and so on, mean that there are usually several mechanisms at play, which up the amount of admin that players need to do.

Thankfully there are some lighter options out there, as long as you are happy to compromise on some of the elements that are traditionally in an RPG.

One Deck Dungeon is a particularly good lighter choice for two players although, as its name suggests, it takes place in a single dungeon rather than in a created world.

Having said that, what it does with a single deck of cards and some dice and tokens is impressive, and it’s designed specifically for one or two players, so feels just right at this player count.

MyklSkeleton will teach you how to play in this video.

The deck acts as the dungeon and also as the game timer, and players open doors and then either encounter what they find or sneak around obstacles.

The different coloured dice represent your characters’ Agility, Strength, Magic and Heroic attributes and need to be assigned in various combinations to defeat enemies and gain rewards.

While you can play One Deck Dungeon as a self-contained game, to get the RPG elements up and running you need to use the campaign elements in the rules – if you click on this link you’ll find them on page 24.

Unfortunately, there is little more to the campaign than running through the game multiple times while trying to defeat all of the bosses in as few plays as possible, but at least there are options when levelling up your character, so it does genuinely feel as if they are developing.

The base box comes with five heroes, but there is also One Deck Dungeon: Forest Of Shadows which adds some new elements and may be played on its own or even combined with the base game.

One Deck Dungeon takes the cycles of dungeon exploration and levelling up and pares them down to their essential elements while still presenting meaningful choices, and it’s a great lighter choice for two players, even though your characters will never feel quite as developed as those from the other games I’ve recommended.

You’ll Get Out What You Put In

Most of the recommendations on this list are fairly complex, and that’s because of the nature of RPGs themselves.

If you want a game that’s going to mimic the creation of a believable world without a gamesmaster then it’s going to have a lot of mechanisms ticking away under the surface.

For that reason, if you are new to games or you just want a lighter experience I would recommend One Deck Dungeon, even though it is only just an RPG.

For self-contained games, something like Mage Knight is a winner, but if you want ongoing campaigns then any of the other three choices are going to be well suited to two players.

Arkham Horror: The Card Game does wonderful things, but can turn out to be very expensive if you want to keep up with the regular releases.

Tainted Grail and Gloomhaven are proper campaign games, though, the closest to genuine RPGs on this list.

Tainted Grail has a genuine sense of adventure, but you might well find yourself wanting more when it’s done.

Gloomhaven, on the other hand, will see you running multiple characters through an epic story, and it’s all in one box.

So which one should you choose?

If you want something light…

  • One Deck Dungeon and/or One Deck Dungeon: Forest Of Shadows

If you want something with meaningful character creation, but not too complicated…

  • Arkham Horror: The Card Game with expansions as desired

If you want exploration and character development but not a campaign…

  • Mage Knight

If you want something with a strong sense of exploration and story…

  • Tainted Grail

If you want strong characters and a massive adventure all in one box…

  • Gloomhaven

…but if Gloomhaven feels like too much…

  • Gloomhaven: Jaws Of The Lion
Complexity Play time (roughly) Together or against? Style Campaign Self-contained plays?
Arkham Horror: The Card Game Medium 1 hour Cooperative Deck construction and card play With expansions Yes
Mage Knight High 1 to 2 hours Cooperative/Competitive Deck builder, card play, map movement No Yes
Tainted Grail Medium to high 2 hours per session Cooperative Map movement, choose your own adventure Yes, expansions available No
Gloomhaven High 2 hours per session Cooperative Dungeon crawl, multiple characters Yes Possible with random dungeons
One Deck Dungeon Low 45 minutes Cooperative Dice placement dungeon crawl Yes, but basic Yes

 

Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.
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Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.

About the author

James Declan discovered board gaming via a one hour sesh trying to escape Forbidden Island with his daughter and has never looked back.