Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game Review

Legendary deck building board game using Marvel super heroes

One of the games that I've been most eager to try over the last few months has been Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game.

In Legendary, you are assembling a team of superheroes in order to thwart a Mastermind (super-villain), and his dastardly scheme!  (After all, this is comic book based.)  In order to do this, you will create a "villain deck" that contains a few piles of villains, henchmen, bystanders, and scheme twists.  You will also create a "hero deck" that contains a few different superheroes.  Each turn, you will reveal the top card from the villain deck, and (if it is a villain), then it will push all of the other villains along the board; and then it will be leering at you, threatening the city - and thus a great target for being punched in the face.  After flipping a villain card, you will play the cards from your hand in order to purchase more heroes or to attack villains (or the Mastermind).  The villains you defeat go into your victory pile, whereas heroes you acquire go into your discard pile (to be shuffled in and drawn later in true deck building fashion).  Play continues like this until the heroes have defeated the Mastermind four times or (theoretically) the Mastermind has completed his evil scheme (which basically doesn't happen).  After the players defeat the Mastermind, whoever has the most victory points in their victory display is the winner!

So, the first thing that I will mention about Legendary isn't a pro or a con.  It is simply this - don't play this game as a cooperative game.  When playing games that are semi-cooperative, some people (and by "some people" I mean "I do this, and so I assume everyone else does") are tempted to play the game in a strictly cooperative fashion.  For example, I do this with Castle PanicDon't do this with Legendary!!  Basically, the game just isn't hard enough for this to work.  Legendary needs to be considered a competitive game with a potential chance that everyone collectively loses.  But, really, the game is generally tense at the beginning, but by the end of the game the heroes completely obliterate their foes (in my experience).  I have managed to lose this game one time, but it was a fairly artificial loss.  The scenario was a countdown - you lose once a certain number of scheme twists are flipped over.  And, when playing, I was playing on the hardest combination of settings - with three extra scheme twists and with the Mastermind having five extra strength.  So, I simply wasn't able to defeat him before the time ran out (part of this was also due to my selection of heroes).  After this, I played another scenario and won easily, with the only threat being that the villain deck might have run out before I had won.  (The villain deck is pretty small in a solo game, and if the villain deck runs out, it's officially a "tie".)  So, I reiterate - don't play this as a cooperative game.  I was very excited that this was cooperative.  Don't fall into my trap.

Loki card from the Marvel deck building game Legendary
Loki - with obvious evil intentions
Now that I have gotten that little disclaimer out of the way, let's start in on the pros.  The first pro is that the game is superhero based - and is specifically based on my favorite set of superheroes (I've always been a much bigger fan of Marvel than DC).  Admittedly, I probably would have absolutely no interest in this game if it weren't for the licensing.  Yet, I think that Legendary has done a good job of making the game have a bit of a comic book feel.  Everyone will vary on how "thematic" they believe the game to be, but I enjoyed the different schemes that you could play, with each one representing how the Mastermind was attempting to take over the world.  They helped the game feel somewhat thematic while also adding some additional replayability to the game.  (Granted, there are some other things that are absolutely wretched from a thematic perspective, like the Deadpool cards that you play that causes a villain to capture a bystander.  Really?  My hero is encouraging the villains to capture innocent bystanders?  Doesn't seem very heroic.)

The next pro that I have for Legendary is that there are two sets of cards available - the villains that you can fight, and the heroes that you can buy.  In mechanical terms, Legendary is very similar to Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer. (Yes, that is a link to my review of Ascension.  And, yes, that was one of my very first reviews, so don't judge it too harshly.)  I thought that Ascension was fine, but I was constantly frustrated that the cards that you had to choose from seemed to always be the opposite of what I needed - if I had money, then they were all monsters; if I had the ability to fight, then there weren't any monsters.  Legendary has fixed that with something insanely basic - there are two tracks.  There are always heroes to purchase (and I mean "real" heroes, not generic upgrades, though a "SHIELD Officer" is also available).  There is also at least one villain card that is flipped on the start of each turn - so, generally there is someone that you can fight.  (It is possible that a scheme twist or innocent bystander is flipped, in which case you might only be able to fight the Mastermind.  That's a rare situation, though.)

Though I really enjoy many of the aspects of Legendary, I still have a few cons.  My first one is this - the game is very reactionary.  As I have played the game more (I've now played around 7 times), I've realized more and more how much of your strategy is decided for you by reacting to what cards are present.  You can hope to have an ongoing strategy, like chaining tech heroes together, but you can only buy what is in HQ on any given turn.  And so, at least some of the strength of each player's deck will be based on what cards were available when it was their turn, and if those cards happen to work together.  But, the game isn't only reactionary when it comes to purchases - you are also reacting to which villains are threatening the city.  There might be turns where you have a lot of fighting power, but the only villains available are enormous, and so your turn is completely unproductive.  And the player that follows you may flip up a tiny villain that they can obliterate and get a bonus for doing so.  I would like a bit more control over my destiny than I often feel that I have in Legendary (but again, I felt like I had much more control than I did in Ascension).

Iron Man, Wolverine, and Nick Fury from Marvel's Legendary deck building game
Heroes and Villains - living near each other... for now
The other major con that I have for the game is that the setup and tear-down are excessive.  For each game, you have to select a Mastermind, a Scheme, a certain number of Villain groups and Mastermind specific Henchman group(s), count out some Scheme Twists (based on the Scheme) along with a certain number of Bystanders (based on number of players).  Finally, add in some Master Strikes.  Then, shuffle all of these (except the Mastermind and Scheme card) together to form the Villain deck.  Also, grab several Hero decks and shuffle them together.  Also, assembled each player's starting decks.  Then, once the game is over, you have to sort all of these different shuffled piles back into their original groups - and what makes this worse is that the Villain cards have different art on them.  (The Hero decks all have the same art, but with different colors; some people wish everything had different art, others wish everything had matching art.  You can't please everyone on art apparently.)  So, setting the game up and tearing it back down are not trivial tasks.

Overall, I give Legendary an 8.0/10.  I enjoyed the game, and I've honestly played it more than any other game that I've tried recently.  Unfortunately, I think that it may be reaching the end of it's gaming lifespan for me (I can't tell yet).  I'm actually fairly curious to see what will be added in the upcoming expansions, and whether they will breathe new life back into the game for me.

If you're interested in Legendary, you might also check out Sentinels of the Multiverse, Star Wars: Living Card Game, and Friday: A Solo Adventure.

Il Vecchio Review

Il Vecchio board game in play

A surprise little game that I was asked to check out recently is Il Vecchio.

At it's heart, Il Vecchio is a worker placement game.  Each player starts with four workers on the board, and the goal is to get victory points ("build up your family's influence to take over Florence").  Players alternate taking actions in the game, and each turn you can do one of the following: collect goods, take over a province (get points and a once per game bonus), take a Florence tile (either gain a bonus for the rest of the game, or get a tile that helps you score based on certain criteria), add a new worker to the board, or "stand up" your existing workers (allow them to be used again). At certain times during the game, placing a worker on a province or on a Florence track will cause an "Il Vecchio Event" to occur - these are game-wide events that are generally negative; but they also serve as a countdown mechanic until the end of the game.  Once a certain number of Il Vecchio events have occurred, then the final round will be triggered, and then players will compare victory point totals to determine the new ruler of Florence!  (Of course, if you truly want to rule Florence, you will have to convince the people of Florence that playing a board game was truly authoritative and that, like with the Sword in the Stone, now that you've won it, they should all submit themselves to you - good luck with that...)

The most unique element of Il Vecchio are the "middlemen."  In order to perform most actions, a middleman token must be present.  Then, to perform the action, you lay your worker down, collect whatever goods you get as a result of the action, and then move the middleman to the next matching spot on the board.  Alternatively, if you play a Bishop, then you are able to take an action without a middleman being present - and without even having to lay down your worker.  I consider this mechanic to be a pro for a couple of reasons.  First, I like that it is unique.  And, though "unique" does not necessarily mean "good" (let's face it - there are lots of mechanics that could be in games, but that were left out because they're awful); however, in this case, the mechanic actually works.  Secondly, I like that this mechanic forces you to make some interesting decisions about which actions to perform, and the order that you perform them.  Sometimes, you may not desperately need a certain resource; however, if the middleman is present with your worker, you can collect that resource easily, without having to track it down later.  So, should you go ahead and forgo what you "need" for what you can easily collect?  Sometimes that is the best course of action; but most of the time the choice at least presents some nice tension!

Il Vecchio board game by Tasty Minstrel Games mid-play
Two sided board - both sides are the same, except color
The next pro that I have for Il Vecchio are the bonus tiles that you can gain in Florence.  Specifically, I like that they can be really stinking awesome.  For example, one of the different "collect goods" actions allows you to collect either two Carriages or two Bishops.  (Carriages allow you to move to any place on the board for free - generally you have to pay one coin per town that you move, and this moving is done as an optional first step in most of your other actions.)  This action can be good at the right time.  However, one of the Florence bonus tiles allows you to take a Carriage and two coins every time you collect Bishops.  So, now, instead of just collecting two Bishops, you collect two Bishops, one Carriage and two coins!  Keep in mind that if you use a Bishop then you don't need a middleman and you don't lay down your worker.  So, you could conceivably do this action every single turn - thus collecting hordes of treasure to lord over like a greedy dragon!  Fortunately, you don't win by having the most money - so, again, this tile is great, but doesn't break the game.  And, likewise, there are many other Florence tiles that are very powerful.  I like that the game gives you essentially "superpowers", and that one of your goals in the game is to maximize the benefits that you receive from your superpower.

The final pro that I will mention for Il Vecchio is that in the last round of the game, you get to perform a double turn.  Alternately, you can pass on your entire double turn to receive two victory points.  I like both that you get to have a double turn and that you can pass on it.  This prevents you from having to be quite as close to completing your current objective when the game ends.  It also keeps you from being caught "out of position" when the game is triggered.  For example, because of how the laying workers down mechanic works, if you only got a single final turn, then you may not be able to do anything simply because all of your workers are lying down.  However, since you get a double turn, you can stand them up if needed before trying to move them into Florence or a province.  Conversely, since you have the option of passing on your final double turn, you get to weigh the value of taking those two extra moves.  I don't know how many other games I've played where I spend my last turn doing something trivial to help win a tie breaker.  In Il Vecchio, if you don't have something useful to do, you can simply move on and collect a couple of victory points.

different bonus tiles from the board game Il Vecchio
Can you guess what these do?
However, though Il Vecchio surprised me with a lot of really fascinating game play, I can, of course, find something to complain about.  My biggest complaint?  The iconography is far from intuitive.  Now, I'm not going to say that the iconography is "bad", because quite frankly, it's not.  Once you understand what the various pictures are depicting, it actually does make sense.  However, when you're first playing the game, you will have no idea what various things are trying to tell you.  Expect to be passing the rulebook around for much of your first few games (or any game with a new player) as you try to decipher the various bonuses that you might receive.  And, with this instruction passing, the game will occasionally slow down when you are waiting on a player (generally because you impatiently handed them the rulebook and continued playing without them, but then it got back around to their turn before they finished deciphering all of the hieroglyphics from their tiles).  This con isn't a huge inconvenience, and is (I think) a result of trying to keep all of the components language independent.  Regardless, it is a nuisance in your first few games.

Overall, I give Il Vecchio an 8.5/10 (which may be one of my most overused scores).  Ultimately, I enjoyed my time with the game and was very happy that I wound up playing it.  I don't know that it will become a permanent fixture in my theoretical ideal game library, but I would highly encourage you to check it out if you're ever presented the opportunity!

If Il Vecchio sounds interesting, you might also check out Glory to Rome, Kingsburg, and Village.

I would like to thank Tasty Minstrel Games for providing me with a review copy of Il Vecchio.

Terra Mystica Review

Terra Mystica board game by Z-Man Games

An insanely popular game right now is Terra Mystica. So, when I was offered an opportunity to try it out, I gladly accepted.

In Terra Mystica, each player represents a fantasy race that is attempting to expand.  Unfortunately, only one habitat is viable for them to build upon, and so they must regularly terraform different parts of the world in order to spread out.  The game is played over six rounds, and in each round players first collect income, then they alternate taking actions, and finally, they collect bonuses.  The different actions can include terraforming and/or building  a dwelling, improving their shipping, improving their skill at terraforming, upgrading a structure, improving on one of the "cult" tracks, taking a "power" action, taking a "special" action, or passing for the round.  Each of these actions requires a different combination of workers, gold, and priests.  And many of these actions will give you victory points as you perform them.  At the end of the round, each player has the chance of gaining additional bonuses (like free terraforming actions) based on how far he has moved along one of the cult tracks.  At the end of the sixth round, players get extra points based on how far along they have moved on each of the cult tracks, and also for how many connected structures they have.  Whoever then has the most victory points is the winner!

My first pro for Terra Mystica is all of the different races.  And, I especially love the fact that each of the races is truly different.  There are 14 different races in the game, and though they can all perform the same actions, they each have strengths and weaknesses for you to exploit.  Some races will be able to upgrade structures very inexpensively, but will not have many workers that they can collect.  Others can move quickly up the cult track by allowing other players to gain "power" (something I haven't talked about yet).  One race is amazing at shipping, and can easily connect structures that are significantly far apart, whereas another race can convert money into victory points (and back) in order to give them the flexibility to do whatever they need on any given turn.  Now, with this pro, I will freely confess that, though the races seemed balanced when I played, I have not played the game enough to authoritatively say whether or not they are all balanced or if one of the races might be better or worse than some of the others.  Regardless, the different races in the game make it a much more enjoyable experience and help each game to feel unique.

Player board mid play for Terra Mystica board game
Player board showing resources and power pools
The next pro that I have for Terra Mystica is "power."  There are a few different ways that you can gain power in the game - either by collecting it as part of your income, or when an opponent builds (or upgrades) a structure adjacent to you.  When your opponent builds a structure that is adjacent to you, you have the option of gaining power equal to the "power level" of your adjacent buildings.  But, this power comes at a cost - you lose victory points equal to the amount of power gained minus one.  (So, if I gain three power, I lose two victory points.)  And, to track power, you have three "bowls."  When gaining power, you first move power from bowl one to bowl two; then, if bowl one is empty, you can move power from bowl two to bowl three.  When spending power, you spend it from bowl three and move it back down to bowl one.  This is a very interesting mechanic, because you can start spending power as soon as it is in bowl three - but if you do this, then you will make yourself wait a bit longer before you can "recharge" any power back into bowl three.  Alternatively, you can wait until you have a bit more power in bowl three so that you can do several power actions before recharging.  Ultimately, it still takes the same amount of power, but you have control over when the power is available to you.

The last pro that I will mention for Terra Mystica (there are several others that I'm skipping) is that I like the rewards of upgrading - and for that matter, I like the balancing of resources all together.  Based on what buildings you build, you get different resources.  If you build a lot of dwellings, then you will get a lot of workers; if you build trade houses, you will get money, and if you build temples, you will get priests.  However, each time that you upgrade a building, you return the previous building to your player board - and thus you lose whatever bonus you had for the returned structure.  So, if you upgrade a dwelling to a trade house, then you will no longer receive a worker, but you will start to receive money.  The upgrades that I especially like are upgrading to temples/sanctuaries, and to strongholds.  When upgrading to a temple (or sanctuary), you get a "favor" token.  These tokens give you bonuses in the game and can help you in a plethora of ways.  The strongholds, however, unlock something different for each race.  So, some races will do extremely well if they can build their stronghold quickly, whereas others will do fine building their stronghold on the last turn of the game.  The strategies that go into what to build, or when to upgrade, are critical decisions that will influence you in a number of ways.

Terra Mystica board during a game
These structures will now peacefully co-exist
Now that I've covered some pros, there is one thing that you should be aware of about Terra Mystica before moving on to cons - there is no direct conflict in this game.  From reading through the summary and such, I was really expecting that I would be directly engaging my enemies more in this game.  But, that is not the case.  There are definitely ways to affect your opponents - building dwellings where you see that they are planning to build, surrounding them with your own structures, and selecting various actions that they may be planning on taking.  But, with all that said, once you successfully build something on the map, it is going to stay there - your opponents will not be able to remove it.

Now that we've come to the cons section of Terra Mystica, there is only one con that really jumps out to me.  There is a lot going on in this game.  And, to a certain extent, you will probably ignore a fair amount of it, based on which race you are.  In the games that I have played, most players have never taken at least one of the different available actions.  For example, if you use the Engineers, then you will build a lot of bridges, and will probably never improve shipping.  Conversely, if you are the Mermaids, then you will very rarely have a reason to build a bridge.  Depending on your strategy, you may also never choose to improve your ability to terraform.  Now, some people may actually see this as a positive, as you have the ability to make different choices from one game to the next, and you aren't forced to do the same thing every time.  However, it makes me wonder if the game could have been a bit more streamlined, and thus played a touch faster.  This isn't a major problem with the game, it is simply something that I think might have been able to be improved.

Overall, I give Terra Mystica an 8.5/10.  I enjoyed my plays of the game and, though it is a bit longer than I normally prefer, it is a game that I can see myself continuing to play and explore.

If Terra Mystica sounds interesting, you might also check out Caylus, In the Year of the Dragon, and Notre Dame.

I would like to thank Z-Man Games for providing me with a review copy of Terra Mystica.

Call of Cthulhu: The (Living) Card Game Review

Call of Cthulhu living card game in play

Since I really enjoy Living Card Games (or LCGs), for today's review, I tracked down a copy of Call of Cthulhu: The (Living) Card Game.  And, for the purposes of this review, I will be writing about the game system, but will also be focusing on the core set, to let you know how well the basic game plays without buying expansions.

In Call of Cthulhu, each player is attempting to explore various stories that they have heard about.  At any given time, there will be three stories on the table that you may commit characters to investigate.  Once a player accumulates five "success" tokens on a story, they immediately claim that story, and once they claim three total stories, they have won the game.  However, to get to that point, players must alternate in taking turns.  Each turn consists of several phases, starting with making a character sane and readying all of your other characters and resources.  Then you draw two cards.  After drawing cards, the active player may select a card from his hand to turn into a resource.  Next, the active player can exhaust resources in order to play characters, attachments, and events.  Finally, the story phase begins.  In the story phase, the active player commits their characters to various stories, and then the other player may respond by committing his characters.  Next, each story resolves.  When resolving a story, the players have four different struggles - terror, combat, arcane, and investigation, and then the overall story is scored.  Each of the first four struggles compares the corresponding icons that are located on committed characters.  Whoever loses a terror struggle has a character go insane, the loser of a combat struggle has a character take a wound (and probably die), the winner of an arcane struggle gets to ready one of his committed characters, and the winner of the investigation struggle gets to place a success token on the story.  Finally, with whatever characters are still alive and sane, the players compare total skill on the story.  If the active player wins, he gets to place a success token - if he wins and his opponent's skill is zero or less (generally because they didn't play anyone there), then he gets to place an additional success token.  Play alternates like this until one person acquires three stories.

Cthulhu figures from card game
All these do is marked your drained domains
So, before breaking down my thoughts on Call of Cthulhu, I should probably make you aware of something.  Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game, like Arkham Horror, is set in H.P. Lovecraft's world of Cthulhu.  I haven't read anything about this mythos, nor is it something that I care terribly much about.  Honestly, in general, I don't care much about horror themes.  So, my thoughts on this one will be based about the game and how it plays.  I'm sure that someone that enjoys this theme will have a different opinion on it - they may love it more because they like the theme and the artwork, or they may dislike it because they think that the theme wasn't applied well.  Either way, it seemed important to let you know where I'm coming from on this review.

My first pro for the Call of Cthulhu card game is that I really like how resources work in the game.  Resources are based on "domains."  To start the game, you take three cards that aren't being used, and place them face down to form your starting domains.  Then, you draw a setup hand of eight cards.  You keep five of these cards, and you place the other three (upside down) under your starting domains.  Then, each turn during your resource phase, you have the option of adding an additional card from your hand to one of these domains.  When playing cards from your hand, you must be able to "drain" a single domain with at least as many cards as the cost of the card in question.  Additionally, at least one of the resources must match the faction of the card being played.  I really like this mechanic.  First, it prevents you from having to draw specific resource cards (like Magic: The Gathering), but allows all of your cards to be dual use.  Second, I like that there is an opportunity cost to gaining resources.  Presumably, every card in your deck is useful (though this is more true when you build a deck than when you use a starter deck).  Thus, whichever card you are using as a resource was a card that was intentionally selected to go in that deck.  And, instead of getting to play it, you now bury it as a resource.  I enjoyed this balance quite a bit.

Yog Sothoth card from Call of Cthulhu LCG
Though powerful, rare to actually play
My second pro for Call of Cthulhu was that I really liked the different struggles on the stories.  To me, this is really where the strategy of the game lies.  And, yet, in my experience, there weren't very many turns in which both players committed characters to the same story, and where all of the different struggles occurred.  Instead, it seemed that your opponent having certain characters would deter you from participating in different stories.  For example, if (as the active player) if your opponent had a character with terror icons, but you did not, then you would realize that if you committed a character to a story, then they would be able to counter and drive you insane.  Now, if you were able to commit to several different stories, this might be worth doing, but if you only had one or two characters, you would be better off waiting.  Then, if you played a character with combat and willpower (willpower means that they cannot go insane), then suddenly you have turned the tables.  If you keep that character ready, then you will be able to ignore your opponent's terror attack, and respond by killing them in combat.  I thought these different elements were neat, even if they did wind up turning into a large game of "chicken" more than actually causing direct conflicts.

Now, before getting into the cons, I will mention one thing that I was surprised by about Call of Cthulhu.  The game is really short.  I realize that this will not always be the case - it will depend on what cards you use (and draw), and the skill of the players.  Yet, in all of the games that I played, I don't think any of them lasted ten turns.  Many of the characters in the base set have the investigation icon, and often it seemed best to leave stories unopposed (because otherwise the character you would defend with would become insane or be killed), and thus there would be many turns in which a player would score three success tokens on a story (or even several stories) in a single turn.  That many success tokens can make the game go very quickly.  So, some of the really cool cards that are in your deck (like Cthulhu himself), may never get played because their resource cost is so high.  One of the cards in the game costs eight resources.  He does powerful things, but you would have to put all of your resource cards into a single domain for seven turns in order to play him - and the game would also have to last seven turns in order for that to happen.

card from Call of Cthulhu living card game
Playing this greatly tips the game in your favor
Now for the cons.  I didn't find any of these cons to be detrimental, but they are definitely still worth mentioning.  First, some of the cards in the base game seemed to cause one player to (essentially) instantly win.  The cards are very powerful, but I hesitate to say "overpowered" because I haven't played it enough to make that judgment, and because I know of cards in the base set that can counter them.  But, if you aren't using the faction with that counter card (or don't draw that card immediately), then there won't be much you can do.  For example, one of the cards (when committed to a story) inflicts a wound on every other character committed to that story.  Well, if you keep him for defense, then you will basically be able to kill off all of your opponent's characters that they commit to a story each turn.  This will give you a major numbers advantage, and probably win you the game.  There are ways of countering him - driving him insane, or taking away his text.  But, if the person who plays them also gives them terror icons, then they can no longer be insane, and instead they just wreak havoc all over their opponent.

The other con that I have for Call of Cthulhu is fairly common for customizable or living card games.  There is a lot of ambiguity.  It would have been really helpful if the rulebook had a glossary, or at the very least an index.  There are some rules that are buried in unexpected places, and with the number of different cards wording things differently, it would be nice to easily look up what an "ability" is - does this include passive abilities, or just triggered abilities?  Instead of putting a glossary (or index) in the back of the rulebook, they included seven pages of advertisements for other Cthulhu products (with the back of the rulebook being an ad for The Game of Thrones living card game).  As a player, I feel that this space could have been used more productively.

Overall, I give Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game an 8.0/10.  I thought the game was enjoyable, and that people who love the theme could really get into this one.  I was glad to get to play it, thought it wound up as my least favorite of Fantasy Flight's living card games - but that is more of a testament to how good the other games are than a knock against this one.  And, since I'm only willing to invest in a few of them, I will probably pass this one along in a trade in the future.

If you are interested in living card games, make sure you check out Android: Netrunner LCG, Star Wars LCG, and Lord of the Rings LCG.

Top Ten Two-Player Games - Spring 2013

Sometimes you only have one friend.  (Hey, it's better than not having any, right?)  Regardless of whether you are looking to play a game with your significant other, your best friend, or some person that you just met, there is a time and a place where you need a good two-player game.  So, here's my list of current favorites.

Here are the rules: it's a two-player game.  Not 2-4, not 2-6, not 1-2.  Two player.  That's it.  With that said, let's get to my...

Top Ten Two-Player Games


10. Jab

Jab: Real Time Boxing is number 10 on the top ten two player games
Real Time Boxing
Not every game has to be deep and strategic in order to be a lot of fun. And, Jab is a great little real-time game when you're looking for something quick but engaging. It can be a bit of a problem when you and your opponent aren't evenly matched, so it might be best to pick one person that you play Jab with and reserve it for them.

9. Arimaa

For some reason, abstract strategy games tend to be two-player. I could have easily made a list of two-player games simply consisting of them (but, if you want that, you should really check out my top ten abstract strategy games). Regardless, Arimaa is a great game in it's own right, and I would be remiss to not include it.

8. 1960: The Making of the President

Well, in the United States, we currently have a two-party political system. And, we've had it since well before the 1960's. And so, it's only natural that there should be games made about this very important aspect of our country. Whether you find actual politics fascinating, or are somewhat apathetic about them, you still might find 1960 to be a fun game.

7. Game of Thrones: The Living Card Game

So, at this point you may be throwing a flag and pointing out that Game of Thrones: The (Living) Card Game states that it is 2-4 player. Yes, you would be right, and so this game technically breaks my criteria. Yet, in my opinion this game was designed as a two player game with rules for additional players tacked on later (like with Magic, Star Trek: CCG, and many others). Regardless of that, Game of Thrones is a fabulous game where you are constantly struggling back and forth with your opponent in a number of different "challenges". Since I first tried this game, I became hooked and just wish that I played it more.

6. Hive

Sixth best two player game is Hive
Hive has beautiful Bakelite pieces
Returning to the abstract strategy genre, Hive makes an appearance on the list. This could honestly be considered a low position for Hive, as it could easily have beaten out most of the games above it, depending on when I put this list together. When I think about two-player games, Hive is one of the first that comes to mind, and is one that I enjoy sharing with others.

5. Jaipur

Jaipur can be considered the "significant other specialty." (Yes, I just made that term up.) Of all the games on this list, I think that this is the best one for playing with a "non-gamer" spouse. Sure, some of you may be married to people that love to play games just as much as you do. However, the more common scenario seems to be marriages in which one person loves to play games drastically more than the other. For these situations, I think that Jaipur may be an ideal game to play with your special someone.

4. Dvonn

The #1 game on my abstract strategy list only manages to make #4 on this one. This one was hard for me to rank, as abstract games feel so different than "traditional" strategy games. In fact, when I first thought about this list, I completely neglected all of my abstract strategies - then remembered them and had way too many games. So, as a happy medium, I've added the three you see - with Dvonn being the top representative of the genre once again.

3. Star Wars: Customizable Card Game

The game that truly shows that each of these lists is based on my own opinion and not any indisputable facts is definitely Star Wars: CCG.  This game has been one of my favorites for an incredibly long time. Though the game hasn't been in print for years, and I dislike the collectible format of the game, I still find the game itself to be amazing, and I get excited when I find new people that I can play the game with. (Don't worry - I have plenty of cards. You can make a deck with my collection, and then we can play!)

2. Summoner Wars

One of the best two player games to come out in the last few years is Summoner Wars. Though I don't play it as much as I'd like (isn't that the story of this entire list?), I have continued buying every expansion as they come out because I know... some day.... I will play it more! And at that point I will have dozens of factions that I can use.

1. Twilight Struggle

Really, did this surprise anybody? I'm guessing no. As I said in my review, Twilight Struggle is enough fun to tempt me to give up this site so that I can dedicate more time to playing it instead of to learning new games. Though not flawless, it is an immaculate tug of war that epitomizes what a two player game can be!
Best two player board game
The winner!!

Honorable Mention:

This top ten list really had a lot of titles that I was sad to whittle away. I could have easily justified including Star Wars: The (Living) Card Game or Android: Netrunner, but I didn't want to list too many Living/Customizable Card Games. I was also shocked when I didn't have enough room for Jambo. A few others that just barely missed the cut were Dungeon Command, Mage Wars, and Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation. Finally, Crokinole, which would have been my lone dexterity entry, only missed the cut because of the technicality that it can be played by two or four players.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the list - feel free to add comments about what you think I missed, where you agree, or some games that I should try out! And, if you like top ten lists, you should also check out my Top Ten Cooperative or Solo Games, Top Ten Lunch Games, and My Top Ten Most Played Games