13 December 2023
Board Game player counts can be a barrier to getting the games to your table. We've pulled a selection of flexible games that can be brought out at (almost) any player count, so whether you're partying with a group or chilling on a quiet game night, there's something in the mix for you.
It’s always a good idea to have some two player games in your collection, but why split shelf-space between games for groups and experiences for two? Get yourself an escapade that will cover both! With an increasing number of games making bold claims about wider player counts, it can be tricky to know which actually have the flexibility to pull this off. Whether you're after a duel of wits, a team-based tussle or a free for all scramble, these games play just as well at two as they do at higher player counts.
Watson and Holmes
2-7 players, 60min
A competitive investigation game, Watson and Holmes scales impressively well. What’s more, adding new players barely adds anything to the time it takes to play. In each round players travel to different locations to read different accounts of the mystery and note down clues in the race to solve it. Who gets to visit which location is decided via an auction mechanic, with players placing bids on the location they’d like to visit next. At higher player counts this phase becomes heated, as players bid to be the one to visit some dingy London alley or accost a butler. Whether you’re playing with two or seven players, the game’s mysteries remain just as enjoyable to solve. Whilst the auctions are less exciting with two players, you are compensated with more action for your character instead.
1-5 players, 90-120min
One of the major hits of 2021, this hybrid of deckbuilding and worker-placement game claims to support one to five players. In order to drop the game to one or two players, an app is used to fill out some of the empty seats with dummy players. Sometimes a dummy player can be a gimmick that hiding the reality that a game doesn’t really work with two players, Risk being a classic example of this. In Dune though, the use of an app adds more life to the role, without being too complicated. In fact, it’s pretty straightforward compared to the autonomous players seen in games like Pax Pamir or Root: Clockwork. It does a great job of adding wrinkles to the two player game ensuring competition for worker placement spaces.
Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest
1-6 players, 60–90min
Freed from out-of-print purgatory, this gorgeous new edition of Libertalia is a treat. It’s a chaotic game and the joy is trying to chart a course through it. As a sky pirate, you’ll send a member of your crew ashore each round to queue for loot. Every crew card has unique abilities that will affect the outcome of the loot queue. With fewer players you can scheme with greater confidence as you’ll have a much clearer idea of which crew might be played. As you add more players, attempting to solve the chaotic puzzle becomes more hopeful than calculated. The two player game is an interesting duel, but with six, the fun comes from seeing the crew queue resolve and the chain reaction of expressions around the table as booty is grabbed or plans are shattered. So, different experiences to be had, but satisfying in pleasingly different ways.
Galaxy Trucker, 2-4, 30-60min, £39
As I’m sure many NASA and Soviet scientists would attest, racing someone to build a spaceship can be stressful, and they didn’t have to do it one handed back in the sixties. Another classic that’s just had a reprint, Galaxy Trucker sets players racing against the clock to build spaceships from a shared pool of component tiles before they’re kicked out into the void of space. The frantic and tactile puzzle of the construction phase and the schadenfreude of watching a meteor cut your friend’s ship in half during the flying phase is just as chaotic and enjoyable with two players as it is with three and four (or five with expansions). Whilst there is likely a little more amusement with more players – plummeting from first all the way to fifth place is a touch more dramatic, after all – the core game experience of building a terrible ship and seeing it systematically destroyed always holds up.
Oriflamme & Oriflamme: Ablaze
2-5 players, 45min
Strangely, this is the second game about queuing on this list. Oriflamme sees a cast of medieval characters added to a queue before their abilities are resolved in sequence. Archers pick off people at the other end of the queue, thieves steal from those they’re standing next to and ambushes are sprung. Oriflamme Ablaze offers an even wackier set of roles to the table that can be played stand alone, or for the best experience, combined with the original game. Though the boxes say three to five players, the designers have released a ruleset online for two players. Playing double-handed, you get to add two cards to the line each round. What the mode loses out a little on surprises, it makes up for with a greater degree of control that allows the combo potential of some cards to be explored further. Trading a touch of breath for depth isn’t a loss, just a change of perspective.
2 or 4 players, 45min
From the same designers as the hit Undaunted series, War Chest takes the similar deckbuilding (in this case bag-building) elements but shrugs off the historical theme and asymmetry for a more streamlined and abstract war game. With only four units to command and a very compact play space, it can feel like a fantastic battle in a teacup. The impact of each action escalates as one player nears victory, and each new hand drawn will bring either satisfaction or despair as your earlier bag-stuffing decisions come home to roost. Learning to master the tempo of the game and getting to grips with each of the sixteen unique units keeps the game fresh and it will rarely go back in the box without being played at least twice.
Written by George Barker