What’s a Great Two-Person Game?

Thanks to Dan J. in Perth, Australia for this week’s topic: What’s a great two-person game?

I know of so many great creative group games—whether it’s something like hearts or poker or a big ordeal game like Pictionary or Charades—but most of the time, we’re not with a group. More often we’re in a two-person situation—a couple, two roommates, two people traveling together, etc.—and when it comes to two-person games, there’s a shortage of well-known great options.

There are the classics, like Chess, Checkers, Scrabble,1 and Backgammon, but those rely on having certain equipment and a similar level of experience to be fun. And I often find the two-person card games I know to be kind of mindless and boring. We need more options, so let’s mine the community here. What’s the two-person game you have the most fun playing? It can be a well-known game or something you made up, and it can be a board or card game, or something totally different.


Tim’s Answer: One good one I often come back to is Ghost. The disclaimer here is that Ghost is best used in a time-killer, multi-tasking situation—two people hiking, driving, cooking, etc. It’s not something you’d usually sit down together to play as the central activity. But in those multi-tasking instances, it’s a fantastic option. It’s challenging, it can still be fun with differing skill levels, and conveniently, you don’t need any equipment at all—just two humans. It’s a famous game, and there’s a good chance you’re already well-acquainted with it, but here’s how it goes:

Two people2 alternate saying a letter, and together, they begin to spell a word. The key is that you have to be working towards a real word (proper nouns and weird Scrabble words don’t count), but you can’t complete a word, or you lose. One key rule is that, at least the way I play, two and three-letter words don’t count, so the first three moves are “safe” and only on the fourth move can someone lose by completing a word. So a simple example:

Player 1: S
Player 2: Q
Player 1: U
Player 2: A
Player 1: S
Player 2: Is fucked. The only playable letter is H, and that completes a word.

When a player loses a round, they get a “G.” Then you play again (alternating which player says the first letter). When a player loses for the second time, they get an “H.” And so on, and the first person to get a G-H-O-S-T loses the game and the other player is the winner.

Another rule is that if one player doesn’t think that the last letter played by the other player creates any possible words—i.e. he doesn’t believe they’re working toward a real word anymore, he can “challenge.” When you challenge, the other player has to be able to say a real word they’re working towards. If she can, she wins the round and the challenger loses. If she can’t, she loses and the challenger wins the round. So for example:

Player 1: S
Player 2: Q
Player 1: U
Player 2: A
Player 1: G
Player 2: Challenge
Player 1: Squaggly
Player 2: Not a word. You lose.

Challenging can also be used as a trap. If you know a word your opponent doesn’t, you might lure them into challenge, especially if you kind of act all silly and resign-y when you say the last letter, and then you can say the word you have in mind and win. So:

Player 1: T
Player 2: R
Player 1: A
Player 2: I
Player 1: Is fucked. N, T, or L all complete a word, and if she’s a weirdo who knows the world traipse, she’s still fucked because she’ll say P, Player 2 will say S, and she’ll have to say E and lose. But—Player 1 does have a shot. She can say P and hope Player 2 doesn’t know the word traipse. If that’s the case, Player 2 will challenge and Player 1 will say traipse and win.

Only other unwritten rule is to not be a dick and do something like this:

Player 1: L
Player 2: L

The only possible word is llama, and it means Player 2 has an automatic win anytime Player 1 starts with an L. Rather than force all Player 1s to avoid starting with L, I just play that it’s illegal, or at least bad form, to follow an L with an L. Along those same lines, it’s a good idea not to study the dictionary too hard to find other llama-like traps, because it’s the one good way to ruin this excellent game.

I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of Ghost, but I want more, and so does Dan J. in Perth—so let’s hear some ideas.

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  1. Scrabble is by far my favorite two-person game.

  2. It can be played with three or four people as well, but I think two people is more fun.

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