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Playing Board Games Two Handed

Playing “two-handed”, isn’t that how most of us play board games?  If you’ve made your way to this page you’re probably wondering what it actually means to play board games this way, how to do it, or if it’s even necessary.

Playing Board Games Two Handed

What does playing Two Handed Mean?

Two-Handed, double-handed, multi-handed?  We should probably come up with a better word for this as a group, but all this means is to play the game as two players would.  Most often this just boils down to you playing as two different characters in a single game.

This doesn’t mean it only applies to solo gaming though, it can sometimes also make playing board games with just two players a better experience.  So while this is something you most often hear about in solo-board gaming, it’s not limited to those lone wolves in the hobby.

Playing Two-handed in Cooperative Games

This technique is most commonly used in cooperative board games as opposed to competitive.  It would be extremely hard to maintain balance between players in competitive games due to so many new variables and the ability to play off of yourself.  It would ultimately make for a less satisfying game and add a lot of length for no reason.

Playing two-handed in cooperative games comes with a lot of advantages though.

  • It allows for more variety.  The ability to use more characters, cards, etc per game often provides a better experience.
  • Allows you to adjust difficulty better.  A lot of cooperative games either get easier or harder with more players, so being able to play with a variety of player counts allows you to play at your preferred difficulty.
  • Lets you play games that weren’t necessarily designed for the player count you have available.  This means you can play board games solo that weren’t designed to accommodate this or play a game that’s meant for four players with only two.

Some of the best examples of games that work great when playing two-handed are Pandemic, Arkham Horror, Spirit Island, Marvel Champions, Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle, and Gloomhaven.  We personally never play Pandemic or Hogwarts Battle without playing double-handed (4 characters total), as it makes both games so much better.

If you do decide to play two-handed with two players, if it wasn’t already obvious, it’s usually a good idea to alternate your turns.  This reduces the downtime between players and allows you to get into the mindset of your other “hand” and prepare for that turn, making the game flow much more smoothly.

Disadvantages of Playing Two-Handed

Playing this way does come with some problems though and won’t be suited for each and every board game.  In our opinion, a game that is suitable for this style of play has to have just the right amount of complexity, and of course that’s dependent on the players themselves.

If a game is too complex, playing two characters will be too much in terms of thinking and upkeep.  Some of the games can be so overwhelming playing two-handed that you’ll lose track, make mistakes and it just won’t be fun at all.

This method will also likely increase the length of the game, so it’s important to decide if it’s worth playing this way.  Often the experience can be much better, but that’s not always the case, so you’ll have to experiment and figure out your favorite way to play each particular game.

Another thing, even though you’re simulating a board game with more players it’s just a fact that it won’t be the real thing.  Playing most of these games with real players will always have its obvious advantages, such as being more social, fun, and varied.

A lot of the other disadvantages can be diminished by how familiar you are with the game though.  If you know the game like the back of your “hand” (or both hands), then adding a second character won’t be that mentally taxing or add too much time to the game.  

Three Handed, Four Handed, Multi Handed or Even More?

Playing Board Games Multi Handed, Four Handed, Triple Handed

Some may argue that some games are capable of being played with even more hands per actual player.  In our opinion, two-handed is where the line should usually be drawn.  Any more it takes so much work from the player and there’s likely an alternative game that would be better suited to your player count.

There are a few games though where playing four-handed actually does work well and is the best way to play. The game we’ve had experience with where this is the case is Narcos. This is usually a one vs. many game but the player downtime is too long and play is unequally shared between players when playing with the full 5 players.

When one player controls one side, and the other player controls all four of the opposing factions the game flows much better and is pretty decent. This is just one example of where four-handed might be the best way to play.

The Future of Playing Board Games Two-Handed

If we’re honest, playing two-handed is actually just a workaround for us and others to play and experience more board games in a wider variety of ways.  As board games become more advanced, especially technically, we can envision a future where this workaround is no longer required.

If we look at some of the newer games like Dune Imperium, which uses an automa (artificial player) that works extremely well, it is not that unlikely that automa and artificial players will become good enough that we won’t need to play two-handed (if we don’t want to). 

Dune Imperium Automa Artificial Player

This is especially true for digital implementations of board games, where you can already play against artificial players (not typically with).  Someday instead of pretending we’re two different players, maybe instead will just be playing alongside a pretend player.

Sure you’ll be giving up sole control of your success in the game or not but isn’t that what “cooperative” board games were designed for, for players to work as a team?  Does it matter to you whether your teammate is yourself or an artificial player?

Hopefully, this post has helped you learn a little bit more about playing board games two-handed.  Ultimately, you’re going to have to experiment with each game to decide whether playing this way works for it and your preferred method


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