Drafting Games That Work With 2
Updated: May 2, 2022
The game I'm designing, has card drafting as a main mechanism. This isn't always a mechanic best associated with 2 player games for a number of reasons. Passing a large number of cards between just 2 players means you end up seeing the same ones several times and there is often a heavy focus on preventing your opponent from getting what they want, over choosing the cards you want yourself.
There are several drafting games that work well at 2 player, and most on this list are actually designed solely for this player count. Whilst designing Wildlife Garden, I looked into what makes these games stand out to me, to help inspire my own design.
Tides of Time
This is the most traditional drafting game on this list, which really boils the drafting mechanic down to its purest form. Two players are trying to build the empire with the best synergy of monuments, each card having a suit (including jazz hands) and a scoring objective that usually requires some combination of these suits. Once all cards have been drafted, players score and then choose one card keep out in front of them and are forced to allow one to be swept away (by the tides of time you see). The rest are returned to your hand and players draw two fresh cards, and this process repeats for three rounds at which point the player with the most impressive marvels of architecture (and highest total score) wins.
Why it works at 2?
Tides of Time keeps the hand sizes small, meaning you aren't forced to see the same cards again and again, while still allowing players enough time to form a strategy. This couples well with allowing only a single card to be kept round to round, to prevent having your key card being taken from you having too much of an impact.
It's also a game that is over in a speedy 15 minutes, so while there can be a focus on 'hate drafting', any misgivings from your opponent taking your Molehill (yes that's a card), are quickly forgotten about as you begin the next game.
Circle the Wagons
Circle the Wagons is a 2 player card game, one of Button Shys wallet range. 15 cards are spread out in a circle, with the remaining 3 cards being flipped up over to create three objectives. The cards are split into 4 quarters, with each having a symbol and a colour. It is up to the players to create a town in front of them, with points being awarded for your largest group of each colour, and how well you have met the objectives, happy cows don't want to be near the snow cards for example.
You draft cards by first selecting a starting card, and then your opponent selects another card along the circle. You then get every card they decide to skip to add to your own town. This means if you see a particularly appealing card a few steps away, going for it gifts several other cards to your opponent. This almost feels like the opposite of hate drafting, balancing how nice you want to be to get the cards you want.
Why it works at 2?
Each of the 18 cards is unique, so seeing the same card multiple times is not an issue. It really forces you to weigh up how much a card is going to benefit you, versus providing your fellow player with more cards to build up their town. While for a given set of objectives some cards are more useful than others, nearly all cards are of benefit to you.
This forces you to care about what your opponent is doing, which I always look for in a 2 player game, without allowing you to actively disrupt their plans without at least providing them with lots of cards in return. With 18 different objectives, each game feels fresh, and no two towns ever look the same once you've finished, which is admirable for such a small game.
Jaipur is one of the most popular 2 player card games created, and was my first game in the hobby so will always have a special place in my heart. At its core this is a set collection game, with players collecting goods cards from a shared marketplace and trading them for money, with bonuses given for selling goods first, or selling large sets which creates a lovely dilemma right out the gate.
Camel cards provide a little wrinkle into this, as players can trade any number of camels for an equal number of any other cards from the market, and camels do not count towards the tight 7 card hand limit. When a player takes camels from the market however, they must take every single one, at which point they are all replaced, potentially by lucrative new goods cards. In our house this has become known as the 'camel refresh', the fear as your pick up 4 camels to reveal diamond and gold cards ready and waiting for your gleeful opponent.
Why it works at 2?
Often games with a marketplace of cards can suffer at 2 players, the market can become stagnant due to the lack of changes between player turns. The camels force regular impactful changes in the market, and forms a mind game between players. You want camels, as they are great for trading later, but will potentially give your opponent some delicious options on their next turn.
With so few rules, Jaipur creates a tension between players that never feels mean, but you never stop caring about what they are doing throughout the entire game. Having a full set of cards ready to trade when your opponent gleefully trades in just two leather boots to skim the highest point tokens leaving you to collect the dregs never ceases to create equal parts frustration and joy at the table. All this over some silk scarves and pots of spice!
Fields of Green
Fields of Green, a game about creating an efficient farm tableau, implements a new drafting mechanism at the 2 player count. After choosing a set of 6 cards each from 4 different piles (representing different areas of farm building), these are shuffled together and 6 are dealt out to form a kind of market. Players take turns taking a card, with the set being refreshed after every 2 cards.
Why it works at 2?
This form of drafting keeps the market fresh, allows players to have a degree of control over what they will be adding to their farm whilst keeping a level of uncertainty that is present in the best drafting games. Each card had multiple uses, so players are never left with card that they cannot use, preventing severe the hate draft. Its great that a separate drafting mechanic was added for two players, which accounts for the popularity of the game at this player count.
Honourable Mention : 7 Wonders Duel
One of the most popular drafting games, 7 Wonders, is about creating an ancient civilisation through clever card synergies and keeping a keen eye on what players either side of you are up to. This is a good example of a game that suffers at the 2 player count, for the reasons given above.
Hence the release of its little brother, 7 Wonders Duel. An innovative drafting mechanism, since borrowed by other games like Fluttering Souls. A pyramid of cards if laid out, in alternate rows of face up and face down cards. Only face up cards with no other over lapping cards can be taken, with the face down cards being revealed when nothing is left on top of them. Whilst the 'take that' style cards did put me off this in the end, the way in which players have to dance around revealing potential powerful new cards to their opponent is a great, and at the time was an exciting new take on the drafting mechanic.
Food for thought
These are just some of the games I think work well at the 2 player count, let me know in the comments what other games have great two player drafting mechanics, I'd love to hear you opinions!
In summary I believe the following are key to using the drafting mechanic in a 2 player game:
Prevent market and hand stagnation, ensure the choices players have are always changing
Ensure players care about each others actions, without making taking what they want more productive than following your own plans
Give player a degree of choice as to what they will be drafting, but keep a element of uncertainty
Make sure all cards always have a use regardless of the situation
These are subjective points that I will be bringing into my own game, One Last Job, let me know what you think makes a good 2 player drafting game? Sign up below to get more updates on my progress.