Best Games for Two Teens (and no CCGs, either)

I know what kinds of board games teens would play.1 You see, I used to be a teen, long, long ago. And to my experience I can add that of another game-loving teen, my older brother.

We were raised in a typical postwar 2-child family. Growing up on the knife’s edge between rural & suburban communities, we had plenty of options for outdoor activity, but at a good bike ride’s distance.

When we weren’t playing sandlot baseball, running around with water pistols or playing hide-and-seek at dusk, we were squirreled away in our unfinished basement, trying to gain the upper hand in head-to-head tabletop competition.

We were inseparable game buddies, joined at the chit.

We didn’t have a lot of games to choose from in those days, but we repeatedly played every single game we could get our hands on. For my brother and I, then, game ‘anthologies’ were popular with us. Our favorite had fifty games in one box, and we played them all!

Bonding Over Board Games

What kept driving us on? Stakes. We always had something at stake. Most of the time, it was about my brother’s singing, his ADHD-meets-OCD-fueled singing, never stopping. So, if I would win, blessed silence. If he won, he uncorked the genie’s bottle.2

While there were far fewer games then than there are now, they excelled at replayability. It’s the key factor in playing a game when paired with a highly competitive spirit. So, when one kid loses and shouts “Rematch!”, they’ll both want to if they game is still enjoyable after repeat plays.

Based on the kinds of games my brother & I enjoyed most, I have 10 modern equivalents that a pair of teens would enjoy, whether they be siblings, neighbors, cousins, or just school chums.3

Dice GamesFive_ivory_dice
Kids catch on to dice games before most other games, but they tend to lose their lustre as we get older.

Back Then We Played … Yahtzee
Nowadays We’d Play … Roll Through the Ages
It’s hard for me to stay awake during even a game of Triple Yahtzee. But the dice version of Through the Ages gives you far more to do with your dice – recruit workers, feed your population, build monuments, earn bonuses – that you’ll be invested from the very start.

Card Games
In the beginning there was poker. Then man rose came down from the trees and – along with fire – invented other types of card games.

Back Then We Played … Rack-o
Nowadays We’d Play … Lost Cities
Be careful which cards you discard. You’re opponent might pick one up for a big score! That tip can apply to either game listed above.

Back Then We Played … Mille Bornes
Nowadays We’d Play … Cartagena
They’re both race games based on cards. Cartagena has less interaction (you can’t throw a roadblock to your opponent like you can with M.B.) but you can use your opponent’s position to your own advantage through an engaging Leapfrog mechanic.

Abstract Strategy Games
The foundation of all two-player games. What we now call the Classics – Set, Mancala, Chess, Checkers – they’re all just abstract strategy games.

Back Then We Played … Chess
Nowadays We’d Play … Neuroshima Hex
Neuroshima Hex may appear daunting at first glance, but then so is Chess. Your teens will figure out the pieces and the intricate ways they support each other.

QubicBack Then We Played … Score Four
Nowadays We’d Play … Ingenious
Basically 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe, Score Four created its patterns in black-and-white. Games nowadays are in Living Color, so there are more options for moves, which requires more analysis. But the fact that the designer made this all of this fun is…ingenious.

War Games
Avalon Hill was for hardcore wargamers. We never got into that because we just played at playing at war.

Stratego_02Back Then We Played … Stratego
Nowadays We’d Play … Memoir ‘44
Stratego could be called “My First Wargame,” featuring a great hidden setup mechanic.  Memoir’s setup may be out in the open, but it’s appeal is in the hidden tactics cards each player chooses before every turn.

Back Then We Played … Risk
Nowadays We’d Play … Risk, modernized
No game has been repackaged so many different ways than Risk. It’s a crazy simple game, which makes it ever-changeable. The 1993 version has rules for 2 players, which involve use of a neutral 3rd ‘player.’

Variable Player Powers (VPP) Games
Ahhhh, the Eurogame. … The notion of ‘variable player powers’ never existed in the Milton Bradley/Parker Brothers world. Except in one genre: Sports Simulations. Even now, they’re still the ultimate in VPP games.

Back Then We Played … Speed Circuit
Nowadays We’d Play … Formula D
They’re both essentially the same game, with each car possessing different abilities. Only Formula D takes twice as long. And the miniatures are way cool!

Back Then We Played … Strat-o-matic (SOM) Baseball
Nowadays We’d Play … Dynasty League
A baseball sim is the ultimate in card drafting games. While I could never make head nor tails of Magic: The Gathering (MTG) and it’s avalanche of sets, I could look at the cards of 700+ major league players and easily cull 30 of them for my perennial championship teams.
While SOM is still based on rolling 1d6 + 2d6. Dynasty League – a GAMES Magazine award winner – is based on 3d10, with a thousand potential results on each play.4

Let’s face it, there were – are – few economic games that can enthrall teenagers. Here are the only two my brother and I played.

Back Then We Played … Acquire
Nowadays We’d Play …Acquire
You can’t improve on a Classic. Legendary game designer Sid Sackson’s greatest legacy: the perfect game of Finance.

Back Then We Played … Monopoly
Nowadays We’d Play … Anything BUT Monopoly. Please, ANYTHING ELSE BUT!

1 I didn’t say “what teens would want” because what they want are Collectible Card Games (CCG) like all the cool kids have… But, believe me, they’ll play these games if you get them.

2Yes, he had the same level of energy that Robin Williams’ genie had

3Confession time: my school chums and I would addictively play pencil-and-paper games in the back of class. Every day. Almost every class.

4Both games give you more possibilities, when certain results prompt you to roll yet another die.

What games did you play with your friends and siblings back in your teen years? What suggestions do you have for teens today? Tell us in the Comments section!

  • Anthony lives and plays games in Philadelphia, PA. A lover of complex strategy, two-player war games, and area control, Anthony is always eager to try a new game, even if he's on rule-reading duty.

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