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March 4, 2015 / Jett

Board Games and the Two-Player Misnomer

Every board game has a limit in terms of how many players it supports. At a certain point, a game isn’t going to work at all if there are too many or not enough players present. Player count isn’t a binary thing either, as games oftentimes degrade to a certain degree before they completely fall apart. Over the last few years, many of the games I’ve played struggle with supporting two players. I’m fine with games that don’t work well in pairs, though I find it alarming and disingenuous how many games in the marketplace claim that they support two players when they really shouldn’t.

Off the top of my head, Blokus is one of the most egregious examples of misleading player counts. It’s a phenomenal 4-player game, but with two or three players, Blokus sucks. Without a full set of four players, the remaining players need to control multiple sets of blocks. This becomes particularly problematic with three players, as each one takes turns placing blocks for the unoccupied set of blocks. It’s a half-baked solution that isn’t fun to play while undermining the intent of the game. If you want to play Blokus and only have two players, your best bet is to actually play Blokus Duo, which was specifically designed to support that many players.

Solely based on the games I’ve played since I got into the scene, Blokus is far from the only game to suffer from a misleading two-player recommendation. There are times towards the end of King of Tokyo where only two players are left standing, which makes for a frenetic race to the finish. However, starting the game with two players undermines most of the intended pacing and conflict to the point where both players speed towards victory or death. Coup advertises the fact that it works with two players, though these matches oftentimes end in two to four moves that take place over the course of 20 unsatisfying seconds. The gameplay in Sushi Go! falls apart so much with only two players that alternate rules involving a dummy player are included just so that the game can meet the recommendations on the box.

I totally get it from a business perspective. Two players is a common player count, and board game publishers don’t want their games to be left on the shelf because of this. Technically, in all of the above cases, they’re not wrong in saying that they support two players. However, the the two-player experience in these games and many others is so degraded that it breaks the core experience to the point of it not being fun anymore.

I also get it from a design perspective. It’s hard to design games that scale for every conceivable player count. At a certain point, trying to design or modify a game to support two players undermines what the game could be if designers could simply make their games with ideal player counts in mind.

However, I wish publishers were more upfront about this. Not sure how you tell people that your game kind of sucks with only two people without losing sales, but it feels disingenuous to me for publishers to fudge the truth. Savvy gamers will go to Board Game Geek for the suggested number of players, though I’d much prefer some sort of solution on the box that better informs players what they’re getting into.

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