Valentine’s Day is coming soon, and we all know the expectation - an expensive night out and expensive gifts for your partner. Break the cliche - stay in, cook a meal, and play some board games instead. As I’ve always said, the couple that games together stays together, so invest in your future: bring the candlelight dinner to your home dining table and use your savings to pick up some of these great two-player titles!
May I present some Valentine’s Day two-player games and dinners:
Patchwork is a game about quilting - in a sense. This two player puzzler has hints of Tetris, Carcassonne, and Blokus all sewn together in a neat package. Each player competes to fill in their quilt (represented by a grid-lined player board) with purchased blocks - which can range from simple squares to irregular shapes that will force you to make hard decisions about where and when you want to place your pieces. Tactical thinking, planning, and timing are crucial here - play too conservatively and you might end up with a quilt full of holes, but play too aggressively and you may end up missing the perfect piece. At a 15-30 minute playing time, this game can open up your night and get your brain in the right mood for the games ahead. Patchwork quilts reached their popularity in the 1920s as a cost saving measure - families would sew together old clothing and furniture patches into large quilts, combining old items and creating something better than its constituent parts. With the era in mind, I’ve chosen a classic 1920s cocktail with its own checkered history - the Southside, reportedly a favorite of Al Capone and his gang, who controlled the South Side of Chicago. Back in Capone's day, Prohibition was in full effect, meaning homemade bathtub gin was the drink on tap at most places - unfortunately, this bitter, rancid spirit was often unpalatable on its own, leading speakeasies to combine it with other ingredients to dampen the taste. Gin was mixed with simple syrup and lime, with a dash of mint, giving us this classic cocktail. Much like the quilt makers, these bartenders created something better than the sum of its parts - luckily, we have a better selection of gin than they did back then, so drink up!
- 2 ounces gin, such as Plymouth
- 1 ounce lime juice
- 3/4 ounce simple syrup
- 1 sprig mint
- 1 fresh mint leaf
Combine the gin, lime juice, simple syrup and mint sprig in a shaker. Add some ice cubes and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled martini glass.
Garnish with one mint leaf, smacked to release the oils, floating on top of the cocktail.
Schotten Totten is a card game from Dr. Reiner Knizia, the ultra-prolific designer of hits like Lost Cities and Ra. Beginning its life in 1999 as Schotten Totten, before being reprinted as Battle Line by GMT, the classic design has come full circle in this new edition from Iello Games. It incorporates all the best additions from Battle Line - the tactics cards and extra number cards - into a gorgeously illustrated package that uses Celtic imagery as additional flavor for a more-or-less perfect abstract card game. Players compete to win “flags” by creating three card sets for each one; following rummy/poker rules, you must attempt to create straight flushes, three of a kind, straights, or high cards to outwit your opponent and provide the game winning breakthrough. A crucial feature of Schotten Totten is the freedom to use logic and the board state to claim victory - if you can demonstrate that your opponent cannot complete a set, you can win the flag, whether it’s complete or not. For this Celtic-flavored game, which typically plays in twenty to thirty minutes, I recommend a classic Welsh dish with traditional Celtic roots - Tatws Pum Munud, or Welsh five minute potatoes. This mix is easy to make, short to cook, and acts as a filling side dish to any main course.
- 20 small white potatoes
- 6 slices bacon
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- salt & freshly ground black pepper
Thinly slice the potatoes, then place in a bowl of water to prevent browning until needed.
Brown bacon in a large skillet over medium heat; remove and set aside.
Add stock, onions, and potatoes (not the water) to the pan and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 8 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper, then top with the bacon to reheat.
Plate, leaving bacon on top.
Santorini, named after the beautiful island off the southern coast of Greece known for its stunning vistas and blue-domed rooftops, is a 2-4 player game from mathematician and educator Dr. Gordon Hamilton. Players vie to build and ascend to the highest tower, while blocking your opponent from doing the same through careful positioning and good timing. This is a game for thinkers - the good doctor Hamilton has spent 30 years refining this design into a tight, tactical experience that plays like a cross between Hive and Takenoko. While it accommodates up to four players, Santorini is best experienced as a head-to-head two player title, making it the perfect match for a delicious, simple Greek pasta that exemplifies the rich flavors of Grecian cuisine.
Place the cucumber, peppers, tomatoes and red onion in a large bowl.
For the vinaigrette, whisk together the garlic, oregano, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Still whisking, slowly add the olive oil to make an emulsion. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables. Add the feta and olives and toss lightly. Set aside for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Serve at room temperature.
Jack the Ripper was a British serial killer who terrorized the streets of London’s Whitechapel neighborhood around 1888, at the peak of the Victorian era. Despite his taunts to the police and brazen attacks, he was never caught, and to this day, hundreds of theories exist on the identity of this mysterious, fearsome ghoul. I know what you’re thinking - somewhat macabre for a romantic dinner. Thankfully, in Mr. Jack, the gruesome crimes of the Ripper are not the focal point of this excellent two-player deduction game. One player takes on the role of Jack, who is hiding among the crowd as one of eight characters on the board. The other player represents the police investigator, who needs to deduce which of the eight is the real Jack and accuse them before they escape. The Jack player must leave Whitechapel without clueing in the police player to their true identity - to accomplish this, the Jack player will use their wits and tricks to draw attention to the other characters while they stealthily inch towards one of the exits. The police investigator can use this movement and positioning to determine who is innocent and who is not - but they must be careful to not accuse the wrong character, or Jack will slip away once again. For this dish, we’re hearkening back to Victorian era cooking - a time when Eastern cuisine first made a splash in Western culture. To represent this cultural synthesis, I have picked Mulligatawny Soup, a classic blend of traditional hearty British soup with the imported spices and curries of India.
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1/2 apple, cored and chopped
- 1/4 cup white rice
- 1 skinless, boneless chicken breast half - cut into cubes
- salt to taste
- ground black pepper to taste
- 1 pinch dried thyme
- 1/2 cup heavy cream, heated
Saute onions, celery, carrot, and butter in a large soup pot.
Add flour and curry, and cook 5 more minutes. Add chicken stock, mix well, and bring to a boil. Simmer about 1/2 hour.
Add apple, rice, chicken, salt, pepper, and thyme. Simmer 15-20 minutes, or until rice is done. When serving, add hot cream.
Rivals for Catan
For dessert, settle down with Rivals for Catan - the excellent two-player version of the popular Settlers of Catan board game. Rivals forgoes the board of Settlers in favor of cards, which represent everything from your buildings to the heroes of the Catan novels. This change allows for a variety of new gameplay elements that retain the feeling of Settlers while introducing new challenges and tactics. If you enjoy Settlers but are looking for something with a new twist, Rivals for Catan is the way to go, providing a satisfying, strategic two-player experience in under an hour. To complement this exquisite title, we’ll pick something that best represents the Germanic origins of the Catan franchise - a Black Forest ice cream parfait.
- 2 cups fresh or jarred cherries pitted
- 1 cup German kirsch cherry flavored liqueur
- 4 oz high-quality dark chocolate shaved into curls
- 1/4 cup Zentis Raspberry Preserves from Germany
- 1 package Bahlsen Dark Chocolate Leibniz Cookies broken into 1-inch pieces
- 1 pint vanilla bean ice cream
- 4 fresh whole cherries with stems
Drain cherries; place in medium glass bowl with kirsch. Allow to stand 1 hour to overnight.
Have 4 parfait glasses ready to fill. Layer each parfait glass with kirsch soaked cherries, chocolate shavings, Bahlsen cookie pieces and ice cream.
Top each parfait with a fresh, whole stemmed cherry and additional chocolate shavings. Serve immediately.
That's all I have for you today! Hopefully, you'll take some of my suggestions and come up with some of your own. The possibilities are endless: Twilight Struggle with steak and Moscow mules, Codenames with martinis and hors d'oeuvres, King of Tokyo with sushi and sake, etc! Get creative, get some board games, and have fun, because Valentine's Day isn't about the fancy dinner or the heart-shaped chocolates - it's about making a connection, and there's no better way to do that than throwing some dice, having a good time, and eating a good home-cooked meal with your favorite crush.