Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Adaptations For Two Players

The few games I’ve been playing lately are 2-player games, just me and hubby, which led me to think of the different ways that games handle 2 players.

Reduce the playing area. Very few games simply shrink the playing area to force interaction between players. La Citta and Samurai are the only games in my collection that use this technique although Attika, with its build-the-board tile-laying style, starts out with fewer tiles to accomplish the same thing. No other adjustments are needed to retain the feel of the game.

Adjust the number of pieces. Many games use a different number of pieces for each player depending on the number of players but the purpose can differ: Torres gives each player more blocks to build castles which forces the 2 players to interact, while Hansa reduces the number of goods tokens to shorten game play to a reasonable player-to-time ratio.

Adjust playing area & pieces. Through the Desert combines a smaller board area with fewer pieces to keep the 2-player game tight and competitive. Medieval Merchants combines a truncated playing area for 2 players with a reduction in earnings and costs depending on the number of players.

Shadow player. Alhambra uses a 3rd player in the 2-player variant to add competition to this area-control game while Kardinal und Konig (Web of Power and China) has a 2-player variant which adds a shadow player that the 2 players fight to control.

Play 2 colors. When all else fails, each player can control 2 sets of game pieces to simulate a 4-player game. In some cases, the scores are added together to determine a winner and in others the winner is determined by comparing each player’s lower score.

No change. Often no change is needed for 2 players to enjoy a game but a more forceful style of play is required as in Magna Grecia and Tigris & Euphrates. On the other hand, maybe even these great games could benefit from a smaller playing area which would ensure confrontation between players.

It’s interesting to see the different ways that games accommodate the number of players; most of the time it works but sometimes it doesn’t. When a game plays as well with two as it does with four or five, for me, it’s like finding the prize in a box of Cracker Jacks.

Until next time, keep the flies out of the butter.



Ryan Walberg said...

My number one favourite 2-player adaptation is Ra. It's just as interesting with 2 as it is with 3 or 4.

huzonfirst said...

Very nice and comprehensive article, Mary. Another method that is sometimes used is to alter one of the mechanics. My favorite example is Ticket to Ride, which cleverly restricts the double paths to only one player in the two and three player game. This effectively reduces the playing area and forces more conflict without having to change the board at all.

I'm also pretty sure that some of the newer games use a two-sided board to handle this. I know China does, but this is only to allow the game to be played with three players.

I'm usually suspicious of multiplayer games which claim to be playable by two. In most cases, the rules have to be perverted so much that I don't like the end result. I hate games in which players each take two colors; this seems so ludicrously artificial that it destroys the playing experience. Dummy players are usually just as bad for me. I'd much rather play a game meant for two than try to shoehorn a loved multiplayer into a two-player package.

Having said that, there are some multiplayer games that work very well with two players and, as you say, it's always a delight when you discover them. Games that achieve this particularly well for me include Puerto Rico, Tikal, Goa, E&T, Louis XIV, San Juan, Can't Stop, Hacienda, and all the Ticket to Ride games. Tikal plays great with any number, but the biggest surprises for me are PR and Goa--the former, because the standard game relies so much on anticipating opponents' actions (the two-player game has a very different feel than the multiplayer one) and the latter, because you'd never expect an auction game to work so well with two.

ekted said...

2p playability is very important to us as well. My favorite 2p variants (ones that work surprisingly well) are: Tongiaki, San Marco, and Rheinlander.

Philippe said...

The recent Elasund is another good example of 2p adaptation by reducing the size of the board.

ekted said...

Also, Ingenious.

Sanjay Subrahmanyan said...

Lowenherz scales to 2 players very well by retaining the 3rd player's pieces on the board. Bohnanza has an excellent 2 player rule set that we enjoy a lot.

Net_Lemming said...

My fav 2 player game is Age of Steam. We each play two seperate railroads and best combined score wins. Keeping the money, etc. separate is challenging at first but gets easy with time.

The big question, do I have one great RR and one bad one or try to build to average ones???