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Subject: 2 Player Game with Minimal Theme rss

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This is my first post on BGG.

I'm starting to get into the hobby; however, I don't have many people to play with. I will occasionally get the family together for a game, but the majority of the time it's just my girlfriend and I. The problem is, she's very turned off by theme.

Example 1: I bought Elder Sign thinking that the dice throws would remind her of Yahtzee enough to enjoy it... She wouldn't even try it. No monsters or mythical creatures for her.

Example 2: I bought Forbidden Desert because she enjoys Pandemic. Her quote after looking at it was, "I like a straight forward game, not one where I'm trying to get out of a fake desert!" I am still convinced that once I get her to play it she'll enjoy it.

Example 3: I bought Codenames and although she does love the game, she has actually complained about the secret agent theme being "dumb and unnecessary."

I'm trying not to give up on the idea that I can collect a decent amount of games that she'll play with me. Can you please suggest a game that is light in theme (or has a theme that can be overlooked by her), and is enjoyable with 2 players? If I can solo it bonus points, but certainly not required.

For reference, here are her 3 favorite games:
-Sushi Go!
-Codenames
-Patchwork

Thanks in advance.

 
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K S
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You might be looking for Abstract Strategy games, for which there are plenty of good 2-player options. Hive Pocket is a very popular, simple, inexpensive and easy introduction to the category. It's kinda like Chess in that different pieces have different moves, and the only "theme" is that the different pieces are indicated by very simple illustrations of different bugs. If that's too much "theme", then you may want to have a look at the GIPF Project games; I haven't played them myself, but I know they are quite popular and I think they are basically themeless.
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John
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I assume you're going to check with her before buying a game? Your first two examples sound like they could have been avoided by asking her if she liked the look of the game before you bought it.
 
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I didn't feel the need to check with her on either because they are solo-able. I can play those games by myself, but I was hoping that she'd want to join in as an added bonus.
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John
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Abstract strategy sounds like a good plan, but I'm not sure how similar they are to her 3 favourite game. Here's some abstracts I enjoy:

+1 Hive Pocket
Connect Four (underrated in my opinion)
Pentago
Kalah (Kalah)
Hey, That's My Fish! (this has a theme)

Some other games with no or little theme:

Red7 - card game
Hanabi - co-op card game where you can't see your own cards
Lost Cities - card game with easy to ignore theme
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John
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kirkowitz wrote:
I didn't feel the need to check with her on either because they are solo-able.

Ah, fair enough
 
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George Louie
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Some good 2 player games with minimal theme:

Niya
Jaipur
Targi

Games that support more than 2, but play well with 2 players:

Splendor
The Castles of Burgundy
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John Burt
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How does she like Lost Cities? If she likes that, then you might consider Arboretum. The theme is very innocuous, yet pretty. It may be hard to find right now, but I think there's a reprint coming in the next week or two.

I wonder if she would accept a mild farming theme, such as the mid weight Agricola (or even better: Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, which is unfortunately out of print, though there's an app version available).

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival and Splendor are light weight abstract set collection games with pretty themes.

San Juan (second edition) is one of our favorite light weight card games. The theme (colonizing Puerto Rico) is very mild. There's an app for this game.
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Caleb
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One new one that's just coming out in the next few days is Agamemnon which has a Greek Trojan War setting but is very abstract - the setting merely serves to provide some nice, minimalist and classy artwork.

I second Lost Cities - it's a great game and the setting is basically just an excuse for some nice artwork, it would work perfectly well as a completely "unthemed" game ala Uno.
 
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Luke Jaconetti
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You can never go wrong with Backgammon as far as I am concerned. Another one I would suggest is Coin Age, which is an area control game, and the closest thing to a theme that it has is coins, which you use as the game pieces, and form the punny names on the maps.

Good luck!
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Nathan T
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Battle Line is a PHENOMENAL strategic and lightly competitive 2-player game. The rules are so simple, and it's especially great as a gateway game because it's so familiar to anyone who's played rummy. It only takes about 15-20 minutes to play, and you generally want to play at least 3 times in a row. It was introduced to me by a friend, and I can't even tell you how many people I've seen purchase the game after playing once. To me, this is probably the best game to buy for a couple.

Splendor would be a decent 2nd choice. Neither of these games are thematic.
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Harv Veerman
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Wanted to suggest Patchwork.

Going to suggest The Rose King, Favor of the Pharaoh (strip the theme, no problem here).

+1 for abstracts, +1 for "let her try before you buy."
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Jeff Johnson
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These have minimal or no themes:

Dominion
Crokinole
Splendor
Jaipur
Carcassonne
Battle Line
Love Letter
Hive
San Juan
Hanabi
Ingenious
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J R
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Can't Stop is a great abstract dice game that is a huge step up from Yahtzee.

If you want to experiment with different abstract strategy games, there are lots of really good ones that are playable on ordinary equipment. Focus and Bashni are playable with little more than a checkerboard and stacking checkers. You can play Hex or Mudcrack Y with a printed board and some colored pencils.

If you like both stacking and connection mechanics, you might look at Tak, which should be coming out early next year. Pyramid Arcade also has a lot of abstract games—Homeworlds may be too thematic, but probably not Martian Chess. There are just so many great little abstracts to try—I have an idiosyncratic love for Ataxx, Camelot, Slither, and Focus. Go is the deepest game, but takes quite a dive to make it through the steep learning curve; shogi is a really interesting game if you like chess.

You can find lots of these on Geeklists like checkers as a game system, go-ban as a game system, stacking games, or piecepack games.

As for card games, Haggis is my favorite 2-player card game (although Sedma is also good). Battle Line is excellent but may have too much theme.

I don't get to play these much with my wife, who does not like combinatorial perfect-information strategy games. There is just no blaming the dice if you lose, and someone always loses.
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Alexandra M
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How long have you two been together? Do you have any idea why she hates theme so much and is so resistant? Figuring out why she hates it and getting into that might be the key to figuring out what she would like.
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J R
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I don't know about the OP's wife, but in a game with a really pasted-on theme (like many eurogames), the theme can be so thin or irrelevant that it's more of a distraction to the game than something that enhances it.

For me the theme has to be really immersive to be worth having at all, which too often needlessly complicates the game. I do like games like Twilight Struggle or Freedom: The Underground Railroad where the rules complexity and theme actually have a purpose. It seems like she's OK with Pandemic, so maybe something with a more serious theme would appeal to her.
 
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Federico Federico
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Hey, most of the recomendations are there. but Ive found Matcha to be a very nice 2 player games with beautiful art and a theme just cute enough (Its about making the best tea ceremony).
 
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Daniel
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Please investigate games by Reiner Knizia
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Simona Dostalova
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Does she really dislike anything with theme? Isn't it more wanting to play more "normally" themed games (Pandemic)? If that is so, I would recommend these few:

Quadropolis - city building game
Twilight Struggle - USA vs. Russia during Cold War - real life events
Evolution - have the most prosperous species (it was featured in Nature as the best boardgame simulation of evolution )

+ the abstract strategy games suggested above should work too
 
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Kevin Shillinglaw
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Onitama, Lost Cities, Zen Garden, Tides of Time.
 
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Phillip Harpring
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Tides of Time - 2 player card drafting game with theme that's completely tacked on. If she likes Sushi Go, I think this is a good bet.

Rolling America, Qwixx - good dice games with zero theme.
 
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dave Snell
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Cockroach Poker has a completely pointless theme but very nice cards, and is a lot of fun.

The Castles of Burgundy and Battle Line both have wafer thin theme with a great game underneath. In truth, you could probably stick to most of the major Knizia titles and be golden
 
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Thanks everyone for your thoughtful insight. Truthfully, I think she and I aren't exactly sure why she likes some games but not others. When I originally posted this I (obviously) was thinking it was theme that is off-putting to her, but now I'm not so sure. I did notice that one thing all of her favorite games have in common is simplicity. Not necessarily in strategy, but in how the game plays. For instance:

Sushi Go! - Pick a card and play it.
Codenames - Say a word or guess (a) word(s).
Patchwork - Move forward or pay for a piece.

Thanks to some of your comments, I think I'm realizing that she doesn't "hate" theme... it's just that gameplay mechanics are much more important to her. She wants to play something because she enjoys the gameplay and choices, not because she's being immersed in a story, battle, etc. (That's not to say that I can't appreciate that aspect of the game even if she won't.)

As stated above, I think she prefers games with simplistic gameplay, but some depth in the consequences of the choices. She admittedly hates complexity in rules. The more fiddly the game, the less likely she is to enjoy it. The longer it takes me to teach her, the smaller the chance that she's giving it a shot. She wants something that's easy to play, but still provides strategic depth.

Hopefully this helps drill things down a bit, and thanks again to everyone for their recommendations!

Note: The more I think about it, maybe it's just "lighter" games she enjoys. I know (if from nothing other than instinct) that she wouldn't enjoy Twilight Struggle, Hive, Go, Castles of Burgundy, etc... Maybe I'm actually not any closer to figuring out her tastes in boardgames. *sigh* From all the recommendations so far I think that Hanabi, Splendor, Jaipur, and Love Letter are the ones that have the best chance. I will confirm this with her before my next purchase.
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Nathan T
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kirkowitz wrote:
From all the recommendations so far I think that Hanabi, Splendor, Jaipur, and Love Letter are the ones that have the best chance. I will confirm this with her before my next purchase.


Looks like you've pared this down pretty well, but just as a warning if you haven't played it, I find Love Letter extremely lackluster as a 2-player. I have it but we almost never break it out with less than 4. I mean the primary win condition is based on player elimination, so you end up a with a lot of really truncated and unsatisfying hands when your single opponent is eliminated. People may disagree with this but just thought I should let you know.

Pretty much everything else people have suggested are surefire winners though! Good luck!
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Freelance Police
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Tile games, number games, and word games often have no theme. Ingenious and Qwirkle come to mind. No Thanks! is a fun number game.
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