Number Five Best Board Game for Couples and Bestest Buds – Exit: The Game
If you fancy something a little more narrative than what we’ve discussed so far, the Exit series of escape rooms in a box are genuinely very special. To be fair, I haven’t played all of them but the ones I have played were notable for the generosity of their design, coherence of their puzzles, and the robustness of the way in which they presented them. They play up to four players, and really there’s no upper limit. Two seems to be the sweet spot though where the task is challenging enough to consume an evening and yet fair enough that you’re in with a good chance of success. Also if you fail to solve the room you can pledge to take that secret with you to your relative graves. With any more than two people an equivalent death pact requires the arrangement of a legally cumbersome tontine.
It’s impossible to talk too much about how the games work without spoiling them – each is its own blend of puzzles and while there are some shared conventions the puzzles can encompass everything from ‘spot the difference’ to scrabble skills. To talk about why the puzzles are so good is to strip away the secrecy and intrigue that makes them a joy.
The only downside here is that these are ‘one and done’ experiences, and since many of the puzzles involve some degree of destructibility of the box contents you can’t even pass it on to other people when you’re done. Any of them are cheaper than a date night at the cinema though and a good deal more involving.
Number Four Best Board Game for Couples and Bestest Buds – Concordia
Concordia is an excellent game in almost any circumstances, but it’s also one of Mrs Meeple’s favourites so it’s been very well road-tested at this point at the two-player point. It scales nicely because it comes with a dedicated two player map, but to be honest even playing with the larger map is a fun all of its own. Concordia is just great, is the takeaway here.
The theme is pretty dry. It’s the usual guffins of trading silks and whatnot in the Mediterranean. That’s a setting so tired that it’s suggested by the auto-complete of my phone when I text someone about board games. Look past that though and you’ll find one of the most satisfyingly smooth gaming experiences in the world. Every part of it meshes beautifully together into an elegant design that contains absolutely nothing that doesn’t have to be there, and everything that does. It’s a bigger, heavier game than anything else on our list but don’t let that put you off. There’s magic to be found in this box, even if you wouldn’t believe it from the cover.
Number Three Best Board Game for Couples and Bestest Buds – Innovation
A number of the games that we’ve discussed here are notable for their passive aggression – Patchwork, Arboretum and so on all have a nastiness to their core that never actually bubbles over into directed vindictiveness on the table. That’s what Innovation is for – a game of pointed, directed competition that lets you bully your opponent with such joyful joie-de-vivre that it’s borderline cruel. Innovation is the game for those psychotic despots that can’t afford to buy an American election at the current going rates.
You play the part of some grand animus of civilization, directing your empire to develop new and exciting technologies so you can use them to strip away the accomplishments of everyone around you. While Innovation supports as many as four players, the rowdy nature of its stochastic play makes it better suited to a two-player count. That’s where it feels more like a duel as opposed to an undisciplined and farcical bar-room punchup. There are moments here where you get to let your inner Machiavellian genius loose. With a flourish of cards accompanied by the introduction of a new innovation you change the entire world in which you and your opponent battle. Imagine suddenly bombing someone back into the stone age and then taking away all their stones. Innovation is full of moments like this and it’s a perfect way to start the argument you’ll be having later that evening.
Number Two Best Board Game for Couples and Bestest Buds – Jaipur
Jaipur was, for a long time, Mrs Meeple’s favourite game. I had it as my #8 in our Top Ten of 2017, but it basically got utterly beheaded by another game over the twelve months that followed. Nonetheless, it’s still a staggeringly good game for couples and bestest buds. What I admire the most about it is that it’s an auction game that works at two players, and before I sat down to play I might well have argued that was an impossibility. How can an auction be fun if only two people are involved? It turns out… by doing what Jaipur does.
Not only does Jaipur make a success out of a difficult mechanism, it does it with all the electric energy I imagine coruscates through an Indian marketplace. You can practically hear the chaos and hubbub of vibrant trade, even if it’s just you and someone else playing in comparative silence. There’s something about the design of Jaipur that makes you feel like you’re being pulled and pushed in all directions while haggling aggressively over the price of a camel. Given how small the box is, I’m amazed they managed to fit all of that inside in it.
Number One Best Board Game for Couples and Bestest Buds – Hanamikoji
Number one was always going to be Hanamikoji – not just the best two player game I have ever played, but one of the best games full stop I have ever played. It was #4 on my Top Ten of 2018 and its position somewhere on that list is assured for 2019. Assuming we have time to do one of those given we’re moving to Sweden in December.
I’m not sure even where to begin explaining why Hanamikoji is so wonderful. Partially it’s the art – Maisherly Chan is probably my favourite board game artist and it’s because of work like this. It’s just gorgeous to look at – big, beautiful cards in lovely, understated palettes.
Partially it’s the design of the game – a tug of war driven by the ‘I cut, you choose’ mechanism that makes birthday parties such a fraught affair for people with a sweet-tooth. The rules are staggering in their simplicity – to the point you can barely believe there’s a game contained within them.
But really, what it comes down to is that there is no other game that has made me agonise more over every single decision I make. There is a genius in the core of Hanamikoji that means no matter what you do, both you and your opponent will come away from a turn feeling like you got the roughest possible end of the stick inserted in the roughest possible parts of your mind. Journalists often say that they’ve obtained balance in coverage when both sides of an issue are equally upset. On those grounds, Hanamikoji is a perfectly balanced game and it will give you such exquisite agony that you might well never want to stop playing.