Do you need a two-player game that’s quick and easy to learn, but has a good bit of strategy to explore? If so, Lost Cities may be the answer.
Lost Cities is a card game for two players. Each player assumes the role of an explorer who is seeking out the remnants of five lost civilizations. Each expedition costs a considerable amount of resources up front, but should the player make sufficient progress toward finding a lost city, the rewards can be substantial. The player who is the most successful in his or her expeditions is the winner.
Like most card games, Lost Cities comes with a limited set of components, but what it does include is beautifully done.
The core of the game is the deck of sixty oversized cards. There are twelve cards in each of five colors: red, green, white, blue, and yellow. Within each color are cards numbered two through nine, and three investment cards.
But what really sets the cards apart is the artwork on card. Each card contains a scene from the expedition, starting with the outskirts of the civilization on the low-numbered cards, and getting progressively closer to the city as the card values increase. The tens contain the images of the cities themselves. Even though the exploration theme is not really necessary to the game (discussed more below), the artwork on the cards really does give a feel for going on an expedition to some unexplored land.
The only other component in the game is the board. This simply (but effectively) provides a place for the discard piles associated with the five expeditions each player may attempt. It also shows where each player should play his expeditions.
The rules for Lost Cities are among the simplest I’ve ever seen. (Well, except for the scoring system. More on that later.)
To start the game, both players draw 8 cards from the deck.
Each turn consists of playing a card, then drawing a card.
1. Playing a Card
On each turn, a player must play a card by either adding it to one of his or her expeditions, or adding it to a discard pile.
There is no restriction to what cards may be discarded, except that each card goes to the discard pile of its own color. So, all yellow expedition cards go on the yellow discard pile, all red cards on the red pile, and so on.
Instead of discarding a card, a player may also start a new expedition, or continue an existing one that he started earlier. A player starts an expedition by playing a card on his or her side of the board, next to the discard pile of the corresponding color. To continue the expediton, the player plays another card that has a higher value than the previous card on the expedition.
So, if a player starts an expedition with a blue “4”, then only the blue “5” through “10” may be played to continue it. The blue “2” and “3”, as well as the blue investment cards, may not be played on that expedition.
The investment cards may only be played at the start of an expedition, before any numbered cards. They don’t have any value themselves, but at the end of the round, they double, triple, or quadruple the score of the expedition, depending on how many investment cards there are of that color.
2. Drawing a Card
After playing a card, the player either draws a card from the draw deck, or draws from one of the five discard piles. Nothing complicated about that, except to note that drawing the last card of the draw pile ends the round.
Scoring in Lost Cities can be a little tricky. At the end of the round, each player scores each of the expeditions that they started. Here’s how to score an expedition:
- Add up all of the number cards in the expedition.
- Subtract 20. The result is your base score. (This means you can have a negative score for an expedition if the number cards total less than 20!)
- Count the number of investment cards on the expedition, and add 1. This is your score multiplier. (So, if you have one investment card, your multiplier is 2. If you have two investment cards, it’s 3. For all three cards, it’s 4.)
- Multiply the base score (positive or negative) by the score multiplier. This makes it very important to make sure your expeditions with investments on them are successful.
- If your expedition has eight or more cards (including the investment cards), add 20.
So as you can see, while the gameplay itself is pretty simple, scoring the game can be complicated at first. However, once you get the hang of it, it’s really not that bad.
This game really took me by surprise. We had actually tried the Xbox Live Arcade version of Lost Cities before, and it fell flat. However, card games on a video game console really never turn out that great, so when we recently bought a bulk set of board games from somebody on Craigslist, and it included Lost Cities, we decided to give it another shot.
We got hooked. We must have played thirty or more rounds in about two days. It plays so quickly that it’s easy to get sucked into playing “just one more game”, and for us it would stretch into two or three more games pretty regularly.
In addition, there is much more strategy involved that you would think at first. For example, we found that sometimes it’s actually better to go ahead and start an expedition, even if you know that it will end up scoring a few negative points. In this game, you have to play cards to draw new ones, and often there are no cards you can discard that the opponent won’t pick up right away. In these cases, it can be worth the one or two negative points to draw cards without giving the opponent five or six.
As a side note, I also think that this game would be a good teaching tool for a child learning math in elementary school. There is a lot of adding and subtracting, and even the two of us have gotten better at quickly adding up sequences of small numbers. For someone just learning arithmetic, this game would be great practice.
Well, since Ben has already given a wonderful review of the game basics, I’ll just add my thoughts in brief.
This game is awesome!
If that wasn’t long enough for some of you let me elaborate. I found this game to be easy to learn and lots of fun to play. It has the addictive tendency to be like solitaire where you just want to draw the right card. The graphics and explorer theme are well done, and add to the look and appeal.
Not being a cut-throat game has made it more fun. It’s more of the strategy of when to play your cards and watching your totals that gives this game its excitement.
As much as I love this game there is one aspect that I don’t care for, which is adding up the score at the end of the rounds. I’m lousy at doing any kind of mental math so I’m glad I married an engineer.
(Side note: We also recently purchased the board game version of Lost Cities for my birthday this weekend. Expect a future post about it but so far it seems like it may be even better then the card game. We’ll let you know.)
- Rules are simple and easy to learn
- Game plays very quickly, and is very addictive
- Little direct confrontation (although for some people this can be a negative)
- Components are great. The artwork is beautiful, and the cards are very durable
- Theme is good, but not really important to the game.
- Scoring mechanism is a bit complicated
Lost Cities surprised us both as a simple, quick, and surprisingly deep card game for two. Anybody looking for a good two-player game should definitely give it a try.
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