competitive board games for couples

Best Board Games for Couples: Competitive and Strategic

In Lifestyle, Relationships by Kelsey Nimmo

You know how it is. You wake up, do the day, feel exhausted, crash in front of the TV or your phone, and head to bed. Repeat repeat repeat. Especially in the days of pandemic when your reserves and patience are lower.

But how does this impact your relationship? Probably it’s not great. Lucky for you, you’re in the right place! There are so many great ways to improve your relationship or marriage with only a small change in behavior. One of these ways is to start switching up your evening routine.

Hopefully you’ve already read my article about how board games can improve your marriage — and if not, definitely go do that because all of this will make more sense.

There are some wonderful unique benefits to playing games together that not only can help you relieve stress, but also create some meaningful connection between you and your partner.

The type of connection you had when you first started dating.

But we aren’t talking about the games you grew up with. No, those won’t do the trick. Long-term relationships require long-term seeking of new activities to do together and new ways to keep things exciting.

The Game of Life that you’re in now (especially during a pandemic) can get you into real Trouble if you don’t spice things up sometimes. And you might feel Sorry if you don’t try some new games (like the ones below, or these favorite cooperative board games for couples). So it’s time to look into Uno mas way to connect.

See what I did there?

A lot of people are talking about Ticket to Ride lately (or maybe you’ve heard of Catan or Carcassonne) and while these are good options — and definitely closer to the type of game I’m referencing — they don’t play very well with only two players. Meaning they aren’t as engaging, strategic, or competitive.

There are 9 great benefits to playing board games togetherbut which type of game is really important. So forget about the ones you’re imagining in your head and check out these suggestions below. I’ve included some links to Amazon, but if you live near Kalamazoo please support our local game store, Fanfare.

Competitive Board Games

While I love me some cooperative games, battling against each other (playfully) in some pretty cool themes sometimes takes the cake. For board gamers out there, some of these (as well as the next list for avid gamers) might be referred to as “Amerithrash” games. In no particular order:

  1. The Fox in the Forest
    We gave this game to a bunch of friends and family couples for Christmas because it is such an easy and accessible game. It’s basically a two-player euchre, which all of us Michiganders love. The twist? You can’t win too few tricks or you lose, but you can’t win too many or you’re “greedy”. This also used to be one of our favorite breakfast date games (back in the day when going out for breakfast was a thing).
  2. Unmatched
    I found this one based on a suggestion from an employee at our local game store as a birthday present for my partner. Normally we research games ahead of time but this one was affordable enough (and sounded interesting with all its fun characters) so I just went for it. It’s a simple battle game with fun characters like Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Alice in Wonderland, Medusa, and King Arthur (to name a few) who move around the board chasing each other and attacking/defending with cards that offer some fun surprises. It has very easy game play, hardly any set up, offers some tactile pleasure with its little plastic figurines, and is a great gateway game. There are also a lot of fun expansions — collect them all!

    Watch how to play Unmatched
  3. Hive
    We used to keep this game in our car as it was our favorite for breakfast dates (in the pre-pandemic world). It is very similar to chess except that your pieces are all different types of bugs with different types of movements who are all trying to surround the other person’s queen bee. My partner loves chess… I hate chess but love this game.
  4. Dice Throne
    This one is very similar to Yahtzee. You pick a character and roll dice to create different attacks against your opponent. It’s pretty simple, the tactile pleasure of rolling dice is fun, and there are also cards that upgrade your attacks and defenses.

    Watch how to play Dice Throne
  5. Super Fantasy Brawl
    Think a slightly more intense Unmatched. This is a battling game with more characters in a larger arena, plus different win conditions and more game mechanics. It’s a great gateway game and was one of our favorites (until we discovered Skytear — see below).

    Watch how to play Super Fantasy Brawl

If you’re looking for other competitive games, here are some suggestions:

  • Cairn
    Another chess variant but with a little tic-tac-toe built in. The board changes as you play and the replayability is actually pretty decent for such an easy little game.
  • Hero Realms or Star Realms
    Both of these are deck-building card games where you’re creating your own deck but also occasionally attacking your opponent and trying to tear down their defenses to defeat them. I prefer Star Realms but my partner prefers Hero Realms. We don’t play either of them very often anymore because we prefer more strategy but they still are both entertaining.
  • Mokuru
    A unique dexterity game where you are trying to perform different movements with a little… cylinder? Think yo-yo battle but with a stick.
  • Quarriors
    This was our very first dice game — and we still love it! Eventually we moved into Dice Masters (which is like Magic the Gathering but with dice) but Quarriors remains my favorite. You’re “deck building” but with dice (technically called “bag building”) and creating an army of dice to use in battle against each other.
  • Sushi Go
    This is a super easy game where you are collecting different types of sushi and creating specific combinations. It’s similar to gin rummy.
  • War Chest
    Another strategy game where you draft a few characters and spawn them on a battlefield to defeat each other. I’m not really sure how else to describe it… just play it. We like to play this one while watching movies because it doesn’t have a ton of interaction or strategy but is still very fun. Also we discovered we were playing it wrong for the first two years. Pay attention to the rules, people.
  • Vast
    This is the first asymmetrical game on the list (kind of, although I guess Unmatched and Super Fantasy Brawl might count as asymmetrical because your characters do different things). For this one, you really do different things, which means you can’t really learn from watching each other play. You each have distinct characters with unique abilities, movements, and goals. I like the Crystal Caverns version and especially enjoy that the rulebook suggests good combinations of characters for two-player games. (If you end up liking Vast, we love Root even more — but it doesn’t play as well with only two players.)

For Avid Gamers

Okay. If you’ve been playing board games (or tabletop games) for a while, you can probably handle these. If you’re new to the board game world, you can try your hand at the first one on this list (it’s very similar to Super Fantasy Brawl but more complicated), but you may want to wait on the rest. There’s nothing more frustrating than not understanding how to play a game. Trust me, I know.

These games again fall under the “Amerithrash” category. You’re battling each other (with the exception of Spirit Island where you’re actually collaborating). There is a lot more strategy in these, their play time is longer (probably 90 minutes for an average game — perhaps 2-2.5 hours for a first play-through), and they include a lot more variety in game mechanics and components.

With that said, we choose to play these in most of our board game evenings and feel they are the most fun, the most engaging, the most intellectually stimulating, and create the most connection for us. And even if the long play time sounds intimidating, once you get the hang of it, after a two-hour game stint you’ll want to play another one!

All of these play great with two players and also work well with more.

  1. Skytear
    If you or your partner like to play MOBA (multi-player online battle arena) games on your phone or other console, this is the game for you. This is tower defense meets Magic the Gathering where you are trying to destroy your opponent’s towers, keep them from spawning more minions, and also try to deal as much damage as possible to the characters. It’s very similar to Super Fantasy Brawl but has the option for deck building.

    This one became an instant favorite for us because it combined my partner’s love of MOBA games (Heroes of the Storm and Smite) with my love of board games and interaction. We played the first handful of times without the deck building (just using the sets that came with the characters) and I think this was a helpful way to learn before we knew what we were doing.

    Watch how to play Skytear
  2. Spirit Island
    How can I describe the awesomeness of this one? This is our all-time favorite game (although I might say that about these last three) and is ranked #13 in the world. It’s also the hardest game I’ve ever learned how to play. Each player is a different creative spirit (beautifully illustrated and poetically described) that is trying to defend an island from invaders (you know… us humans with our industrial ways).

    It is a true asymmetrical game, meaning each character plays entirely differently and might need a few playthroughs to know what you’re doing. The first three times we played, I became so frustrated that it wasn’t very fun. But after watching some strategy from a friend who was more familiar with the game, I understood it much better and the theme, art, strategy, replayability, and asymmetry all became pretty addicting.

    The big tip that kept me from running this game over with my car: Start on your own “panel” on the island board and just try to manage the invaders on your own piece of the island. If you can’t handle it, ask your partner for help and see if they have any tricks up their sleeve to take down some of the invaders. This creates a little parallel play action combined with collaboration — and it’s pretty good teamwork.

    Watch how to handle the big learning curve with Spirit Island to give you motivation and keep you interested
  3. Too Many Bones
    Ranked #50 in the world, this was the game we played for two hours almost every evening when we lived without a TV for 10 months and were learning to fall in love again. It is an asymmetrical, dice rolling, cooperative battling game where you are both working together against “baddies” to strengthen and upgrade your character and get through the story.

    The games are long — says 60-120 minutes but I think we regularly played 90-120 minute games (partly due to my own “analysis paralysis” where I don’t always know exactly what I want to do on my next turn). Our favorite part of this game is still probably all of the components. The materials are very high quality (technically even waterproof) and in one playthrough, you’ll get to keep your hands engaged with cards, dice, and poker chips. Also, the art is really fun.

    Watch an entertaining review of Too Many Bones
  4. Cloudspire
    Created by the same makers as Too Many Bones (Chip Theory Game) but with an entirely different concept, game play, and what I think is more replayability. In my opinion, this one also gives more tactile pleasure because while you are using fewer dice, there is a much larger “board” (it’s actually a series of neoprene mats) to move around. Each player is a community of creatures battling to defeat each other’s “fort” or base. The terrain is ever changing both between games and within each game. It’s also another asymmetrical game that takes some getting used to but once you get the hang of it, you’ll love it!

    Oh, and for sure splurge on the miniatures expansion pack because this adds some great visual and tactile pleasure to the game — plus you can paint them and they turn out looking pretty cool! Different “factions” (communities) that you can play each have different abilities and play styles. The most creative one (in my opinion) allows you to grow larvae in the earth and hatch it — making your creatures more powerful… and also cooler. Spires fire!

    Another great part of Cloudspire? There is an entire book of cooperative and solo play options.

    Watch how to play Cloudspire

If you’re an avid gamer looking for other games, here are some more suggestions:

  • Dwellings of Eldervale
    This one combines a lot of different game mechanics, has some awesome tactile pleasure through cards, plastic figurines, and abundant replayability through an ever changing and expanding “board.” I’m not really sure how to explain what I like about it… maybe it’s that it has a little bit of everything. A little parallel play through tableau building, a little resource management, a little battling, and even a little cooperative play (if the monsters are real scary). This one definitely plays more competitively with more than two players but is still a fun adventure either way.
  • Etherfields
    One of my favorite concepts or themes but pretty challenging to learn — and the game itself even tells you the rules don’t exactly matter. In this creative game, you’re exploring a dream land (solo, two, or more players) in almost a “choose your own adventure” style. There is a great storyline you’re following and lots of choices. Another favorite part of this one is that you can “save” the game so that you can pack it away and pick up where you left off next time you’re ready to play. Works beautifully as two players and I think wouldn’t feel as cool or intimate with more (although I haven’t tried it).
  • Terra Mystica
    Ranked #16 in the world on, this is a much better version of the well-known Catan. It plays decently with two players (although is definitely better with more) but is still a favorite and deserves to be on the list. My biggest complaint? The game was created in 2012 back before board games boomed as big as they have now — and the rule book makes it pretty clear. It’s a little confusing to first understand the rules and play through so watching how to play Terra Mystica first is definitely helpful.

If these sound interesting but a little too intense, there are also some good “gateway” board games for couples that will help you get into tabletop gaming in a less intimidating way.

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