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Games Spotlight 2017 #1 - Two Player Games

Shawn McCarthy
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Calgary
AB
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Introduction - Why two-player games?
There are a few main reasons to explore two player games... first, and probably most common is the practicalities of only having one other person to game with. Maybe you're trying to introduce your spouse to RPGs or keep playing between the times when you can gather a larger group. The second main reason is intentionally playing games designed for two players - often two specific roles or just two people on a similar path, and of course the traditional GM + Players paradigm, but scaled back to a single player.

Creativity through limitations
How can you make a traditional game 'work' when there's only one player, and presumably one character?
Most games that look like D&D are based on having a few complimentary class roles - a fighter, magic user, healer, thief - so how can we get around that?
The same goes for different non-fantasy genres, too - space sci-fi gets tricky without a pilot, and a pilot probably doesn't have the same kind of training in trade or weaponry as a diplomat or a soldier. Solving these assumptions is one way to approach two-player gaming.

And if we step away from that style of ensemble-cast game, what new doors do we open? What kind of stories really do work best with two protagonists, or a dance between one pro- and one antagonist?

Two player gaming gives us quite a few ways to explore those questions!

Specifically Two Players
There is going to be some inevitable overlap here, where games that are written for two players could actually scale up with minor tweaks; likewise, especially in these first two groups the role of GM is often softened. So don't worry too much about the distinction - the first batch of games will feel more like traditional RPGs, that's all.
GM + PC
Beast Hunters
Mars Colony
Murderous Ghosts
Scarlet Heroes
S/lay w/ Me
World vs. Hero
A Scoundrel in the Deep


Two players as GM and PC
These games look a lot like more prototypical RPGs - one player is in charge of the world and incidental characters, the other player controls a specific character. Of these, Scarlet Heroes is designed to feel like an Old School RPG, and allow a due to make use of existing D&D style modules/adventures.

Beast Hunters is a standalone game, sort of formalizing a duel or opposition between a hunter and prey; one player is the Hunter and the other, the Challenger, is responsible for putting obstacles in their way.
World vs Hero is also a standalone game, this time from the designers of Mythic Game Master Emulator, that uses a tableau of playing cards to pace out a heroic story.
S/lay w/Me focuses on a player character's relationship with a Lover while trying to slay a Monster; both the Lover and Monster are piloted by the second player. It's a constrained narrative game that can play in whatever time slot you have available, from half an hour to an evening. The game has some things to say about the story it wants you to play; the title, art, and text all suggest a very sensual (if not sexual) narrative.
Scoundrel has a very interesting mechanic where a booklet / box of matches literally counts down their survival in a dire situation. Some actions are even limited by the life of a single match. V V cool use of an unusual randomizer.
Mars Colony diverges from the fantasy genre to sci-fi survival, pitting an apparent 'savior' character against the problems of the failing colony. The other player speaks for the other citizens and presents the mounting obstacles.
Murderous Ghosts creates a horror story, using some aspects of PbtA ported to playing cards and interconnected 'choose your own adventure' booklets which is a neat innovation, as both the ghost and player character can be surprised by questions.
And one more in the pipeline worth mentioning, GUMSHOE is launching a one-on-one adaptation of their core system with Cthulhu Confidential as a flagship game.

Equal Roles
Breaking the Ice &
Shooting the Moon
Three Days
Hot Guys Making Out
Our Radios Are Dying
The Beekeeper

183 days
aka Six Months Three days
The Sky is Grey
and You are Distressed


Doll
Adventurer & Troll
Bathysphere
Sweet Agatha
Trapped
14 days


Kazekami Kyoko
Kills Kublai Khan

One Shot
A Single Moment
Showdown
Two equal players
Moving on to a crop of games where players have mostly equal footing, we notice a blossoming of cooperatative and relationship games in among the standard competitive fare.
Breaking the Ice & Shooting the Moon tell the story of a quirky romance through the first few dates and a love triangle where players are trying to woo the same beloved, respectively. (The third part of this trilogy is LARP for several players, also exploring dating and love and stuff.)
Three Days is a similar lighthearted meet-cute rom-com story, too.
And of course, there's Hot Guys Making Out, which does exactly what it says on the tin. "...is a yaoi role-playing game, set in the Spanish Civil War, in which a tormented nobleman and his young ward attempt to resist their forbidden love for each other, and fail." It always seems to be a hit.

Our Radios Are Dying is a freeform game for a duo adrift in space after some calamity separates them. Players can roll about on chairs to simulate drifting while they ask questions and reveal their shared backstory.
The Beekeeper was a winning entry in Gamechef 2014, about the twilight of a relationship. Letters frame the acts of the story, and honeycomb tiles are drawn and placed as a hive to shape the short conversations along the way.
183 days and The Sky is Grey... both focus on tension in relationships. 183 Days uses a custom deck of cards to follow a probably-tragic relationship between clairvoyant lovers; The Sky is Grey uses randomized information to prompt a discussion about honesty and identity.

Doll is a game about truth and the intense bond between children and imaginary friends. There's room for a lot of dark in this game. Trapped is about being stuck in a coma. Adventurer & Troll is a fantasy storytelling game that's actually about asymetrical relationships. Bathysphere is a survival pressure cooker. 14 Days is about just getting through everyday life with chronic pain; sort of an workshop teaching tool more than a 'fun' game.

Following the Relationship Games, there's another major current in this collection, that of A Fated Duel.
KKKKK (wind spirit ninja vs ruler), A Single Moment (two samurai), One Shot (vengeance seeker and mark), Showdown (a duel)... all have a very similar premise. Generally, you'll alternate between backstory and focusing on the mano-a-mano in the present. Given the similarities, it's easy to see opportunity to reskin any one of these to different stories: Jedi are basically Samurai, right?


Two (or more) Players
A Penny for My Thoughts
Don't Rest Your Head
The Quiet Year
Microscope & Kingdom
Remember Tomorrow
Macabre Tales
ERA
Superheroes,
Lovecraftian suspense &
general horror
Games that scale from two players up:
Included mostly for completeness, many games can adapt to a very small group. Some even scale to 1 player, even to the point of becoming something akin to a novel writing aide. Pretty much any game that doesn't hinge on team cooperation or interaction specifically between player-characters can run solo with some tweaks, but what you're looking for are stories that will work with a solo protagonist or a duo, or are written for several players and no GM.

Questions:
What sort of games are you interested in to play with a partner?
What games have you played 1-on-1?
Which ones worked for you, and which didn't?
What challenges or boons have you found in playing games as a two-player table?




Sources
Some suggestions from https://makebigthings.com/2-player-rpgs/ but most items were chosen from the following excellent RPGGeek user created geeklists:
RPGs for two players
Richard
Greece
Marousi
Athens
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