The Kosmos 2-Player Games
Robert Rossney
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Since 1996, Kosmos has been building an increasingly impressive line of two-player games that are easy to learn, fast-moving, elegant, and, with one exception, physically beautiful and interesting to play. Seven years and twenty games into the series, it seems like it's time for an appreciation.
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1. Board Game: Flowerpower [Average Rating:6.60 Overall Rank:2423]
Robert Rossney
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An underappreciated gem. This game is simple, fast-moving, and cut-throat, and it rewards skill a lot more than seems to be the case at first. One of my very favorite games.
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2. Board Game: Lost Cities [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:294]
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Yes, it's simplistic, yes, you could play it with a regular deck of cards (or two), yes, the board is unnecessary. And you know what? It's a terrific game. It's easy to learn, fast-moving, and addictive.
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3. Board Game: Hellas [Average Rating:6.22 Overall Rank:2276]
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A taut, intense two-player game of exploration and conflict with extremely elegant rules and a lot of tension. This game gets better every time I play it. Franz-Benno Delonge's best design yet.
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4. Board Game: Hera and Zeus [Average Rating:6.52 Overall Rank:1407]
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This game's a treasure. It offers a lot of the depth and complexity of a collectible card game without being, well, a collectible card game. It's a little daunting to learn (the cards' effects aren't printed on the cards, an unfortunate side-effect of internationalizing the components) but well worth the effort.
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5. Board Game: Babel [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:1042]
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Complex, challenging, and ruthless. With the exception of Druidenwalzer and possibly Kahuna, the strangest of these games. Yet another Uwe Rosenberg card game where the cards have suits but no ranks.
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6. Board Game: Starship Catan [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:810]
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People who complain that German games aren't strongly themed should play this one: you get to explore space, establish trade routes, defeat space pirates, colonize planets, discover alien races, and improve your chance of success in all these endeavors by researching better technologies and building up your starship. Surprisingly elegant, considering how much stuff to do there is in this game. One possible drawback: much of the time (but far from all) your decisions are fairly obvious.
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7. Board Game: Elk Fest [Average Rating:6.18 Overall Rank:2488]
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A silly little dexterity game. Except, well, it's not that silly. The midgame develops tactical situations that are quite a bit harder to analyze than you'd expect from a game where you have to keep wooden moose's feet dry.
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8. Board Game: Catan Card Game [Average Rating:6.76 Overall Rank:737]
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A love-it-or-hate-it game; a great deal of your ability to succeed at this game comes from how good you are at remembering what's in each of the stacks of cards after you've looked at them. I love it, myself, but it's definitely not for everyone. Vastly more interesting than the boardgame, though, and a worthy first game for this series.
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9. Board Game: Odin's Ravens [Average Rating:6.68 Overall Rank:1067]
Robert Rossney
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Remarkably deep race game with some very elegant and interesting mechanisms, particularly the turn-a-card-180-degrees effect. This will probably move up the list as I play it more. Be sure to get the rules errata; it's crucial to play with the correct Magic Way rules.
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10. Board Game: Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation [Average Rating:7.21 Overall Rank:414]
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Wonderful, taut game of bluff, surprise, card management, and jockeying for position. It does seem to usually play out to a guessing game in the last couple of moves, which is why I don't rate it higher. But that could be my problem, not the game's.
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11. Board Game: Heave Ho! [Average Rating:6.26 Overall Rank:2957]
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A likeable, fast-moving game with a lot of surprises. There's something missing, though -- this seems like it should be more fun than it ends up being.
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12. Board Game: Tally Ho! [Average Rating:6.12 Overall Rank:2481]
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Cute and interesting game, but marred by an entirely random setup that only creates interesting tactical situations if you're lucky.
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13. Board Game: Caesar & Cleopatra [Average Rating:6.44 Overall Rank:1431]
Robert Rossney
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This is a good two-player influence game, but at the end of the day it's still a two-player influence game, which means it's more about outguessing your opponent than anything else. There are those who love that sort of thing, and if you're one of them, this is for you.
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14. Board Game: The Rose King [Average Rating:6.82 Overall Rank:994]
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This is a little arid. Applying red and white roses to the opposite sides of the markers doesn't disguise how starkly abstract the mechanics are. Not a bad game, but it doesn't grab me.
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15. Board Game: Die Pyramiden des Jaguar [Average Rating:6.13 Overall Rank:3301]
Robert Rossney
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This has its moments, to be sure. It's fast, it's cut-throat, it's got a couple of surprises in store. But there's something strangely unlikeable about it. It's a relentlessly mathematical game, one that's mostly about planning out the best way to sort things numerically. That just doesn't inspire. (And yes, I know the same could be said about Lost Cities.) This gets pretty good ratings, though.
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16. Board Game: DruidenWalzer [Average Rating:5.95 Overall Rank:4465]
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This game's just weird. It's a sort of Mancala variant, only instead of sowing seeds in pits you're moving cards clockwise (or counterclockwise, which just makes it harder) around the board. I can't really say that I've had fun playing it, though it's certainly an interesting and original design.
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17. Board Game: Kahuna [Average Rating:6.66 Overall Rank:913]
Robert Rossney
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Another game I'm not so sure about. Do the contrary mechanics and counterintuitive decisions add up to a good game? I can't say, and I haven't really been inspired to find out.
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18. Board Game: The Reef [Average Rating:5.72 Overall Rank:6660]
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The graphics are lovely (and funny), but the game is just not all that. And there are those that find the amount of fiddling required to keep all the cards on the table maddening.
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19. Board Game: Lord of the Rings: The Search [Average Rating:5.06 Overall Rank:15213]
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This seems promisingly nasty the first couple of times you play it, but it's sadly forgettable. It can be improved with some rules tweaks, but it's just not that good a game.
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20. Board Game: Finale [Average Rating:5.78 Overall Rank:8682]
Robert Rossney
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Now here, on the other hand, is a game that actually stinks. The graphics are ugly (the player portraits are REALLY ugly), the game mechanism is inelegant and uninteresting, it offers few interesting decisions, and it's not even a good simulation of soccer. (At the rate red cards get handed out, you'd think the players drifted in from Australian rules football.) Of the 20 games in this series, this is the only one I regret buying.
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21. Board Game: Lord of the Rings: The Duel [Average Rating:5.92 Overall Rank:3951]
 
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This is a bit dry, but it does seem to get more interesting with repeated plays, particularly as you figure out effective ways to use the magic cards. The components are just silly, especially since so much work went into making the bridge, and so little went into designing the board so that it would be useful. The energy track is too small, and key information that should be printed on the board -- how far you advance after a round depending on how much you won by -- is buried in the rules.
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22. Board Game: Dracula [Average Rating:6.21 Overall Rank:2493]
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An undistinguished game. Nothing about this game is particularly bad, but neither is nothing particularly good. There's a not very interesting memory element, a random setup that doesn't seem to create very much tension, and a whole block-your-opponent game-within-a-game that still doesn't make the game interesting. The cards are illustrated in vibrant browns and greys.
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23. Board Game: Crocodile Pool Party [Average Rating:4.35 Overall Rank:15242]
 
Robert Rossney
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As with Tally Ho, it's a game where your pieces start the game face down and you turn them face up to discover what they really are. Unlike Tally Ho, it's not at all fun or interesting. It's not clear to me that there's any reason to do anything at all except turn all your pieces face up as your first six moves. I suspect that there is actually a game in here for people who like maneuver-oriented abstract strategy games, but I'm not sure why such a person would be buying Kosmos 2-player games.
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24. Board Game: Blue Moon [Average Rating:6.73 Overall Rank:877]
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An outstanding game. Those who dislike the overproduction of Lost Cities will find plenty to gripe about here, with the unnecessary board, the unnecessary dragons, and the unnecessarily large cards. But I'm not complaining. This is a beautiful game in all senses of the word. Gameplay is usually tense and focused (though of course bad draws or bad play will lead to the occasional blowout), and full of interesting choices, particularly as you get familiar with the cards that are in your deck. This offers the complex mechanics, asymmetrical gameplay, and expanadability that good CCGs provide. I'm a big fan of Knizia's Scarab Lords (his first pass at the two-player CCG-that-isn't-a-CCG), but this is better.
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