Overview: You and your opponents circle an island, each of you steering an ark. As the floodwaters rise, players must compete to pair up animals to rescue on their ships. This game seems simple, but involves some basic strategy.
Players: Two to four players
Ages: Recommended for ages 8 and older. My guess is that kids as young as six can play this game with a little help.
Playing Time: Our average game took about 45 minutes.
Rating: A matching game with a lovely twist, Two By Two has enough strategy to differentiate itself from other, more elementary matching games.
Who Will Like It: There’s a lot of buzz about this game being the best family game of 2010 and with good reason. Kids will really enjoy the animal designs and matching gameplay, adults will stay engaged by trying to master the basic strategy of player movement and positional defense against opponents.
Components: The game comes with high quality components. There is a beautiful 19″ x 23″ board, 80 animal tokens (and two extra blanks, in case a token gets lost), 36 water tokens, a few point tokens, 4 wooden scoring tokens and 4 wooden ark playing pieces. The rules are also printed in a lot of different languages.
Gameplay: After setting up the game, each player’s turn consists of two steps. First a player must place a water token on the board. Water tokens can be placed on the sand or on the green, jungle spots. They can be placed on top of animal tokens, but once placed, that animal can no longer be rescued. Water tokens must be placed adjacent to existing water. Players get a point for each water space that is adjacent to the water token that was just placed. Finally, players turn over any animal tokens that are located adjacently to the placed water token.
Players then enter the second phase of their turn, using their arks. There are two possible actions: movement and rescue. Players can perform one of each action, move twice, rescue twice or pass on one or both actions. There are a couple of rules governing both actions – arks cannot move onto land or a water space occupied by another player and, in order to rescue a pair of animals, your ark piece must be adjacent to one animal in the pair. Players can rescue multiple pairs of the same species and the only species that can’t be collected are the fish bones.
Gameplay continues until water tokens are all used up or all the animal tokens are paired. (In a half dozen games, we haven’t come close to pairing all the animal tokens.) Scoring can be tallied in one of two ways. There’s a basic system, which is great when playing with kids. Each rescued animal is worth a point, except unicorns, which are worth two points. Each player is assigned three unique species that are worth double points.
In the advanced scoring system, each species is worth a total of six points. So if only one pair of dogs are rescued, that player receives six points. But, if three pairs of dogs are rescued, each pair is only worth two points. The person with the most points wins.
Conclusion: After playing a few games of Two By Two, we began to appreciate the depth of this game. It appears simple, but that’s a little deceptive. As you cause the waters to rise, you have to be cognizant of how water placement will affect your movement. Place your water tokens foolishly and you will cut yourself off from animals you want to rescue. The island is also smaller than it seems. You must think defensively when placing water and moving because you don’t want another player capturing animals you’ve revealed. Players can do well without collecting pairs, too. In our last game, my daughter came in second place despite only rescuing four pairs because she had done very well scoring from her water token placements.
Because gameplay is pretty limited – with four players, each player gets, at most, just nine turns – each placement of a water token, each movement and rescue needs to be well thought out. My entire family really enjoyed the game and – surprisingly enough – each for different reasons. One daughter liked the animals, another liked the artwork of the game and both of them enjoyed the matching. My son really liked the idea of destroying the island with a flood (he loves Forbidden Island too) and my wife and I loved trying to outdo each other with the movement of our arks.
Two By Two is a game that came out at the very end of 2010, but will likely make a lot of people’s “Best of 2010” list simply because it’s a great family game and one that even non-gamers can learn quickly and enjoy.
Disclosure: Valley Games sent GeekDad a review copy of this game.