A Gnome's Ponderings

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Comparing Lost Cities with Balloon Cup

Lowell Kempf
United States
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I discovered both Lost Cities and Balloon Cup fairly early in my rediscovery of board games. Since they are both light, two-player card games (and from the Kosmos two-player line), it was hard for me not to compare them. Truth to tell, it is still hard from not to compare them since they scratch a similar itch.

I view Lost Cities as the quintessential Kosmos two-player game. It is definitely one of their bestselling games and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the top seller of the line. Every time someone asks for a recommendation for a game to play with their wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/mother-in-law/puppy/kitty cat, Lost Cities is one of the games that people recommend. It’s the baseline game that you compare light, two-player card games with.

And, to be honest, I think that Lost Cities deserves that spot. I still remember when I first got it and read through the rules, my first reaction was “That’s it?” Then, I tried playing a round against myself to see how the game actually worked. In that one hand, the game clicked for me and I realized that the simple rules hid a wealth of tough decisions.

Yes, Lost Cities is very simple. Yes, you can play a slightly modified version of it with a regular deck of cards. Yes, the theme could be replaced with just about any other. Yes, the game has almost no conflict or interaction. Despite this, I have still found Lost Cities to be a very good game and I have played a lot of games of it with a lot of different people.

But (and you knew there’d be a but), I have played so much of it that I really don’t feel any burning desire to keep on playing it. I’d say that I’ve gotten more than my money back on it and I’d still recommend it to anyone looking for a solid, light two-player game. However, I have kind of burnt on Lost Cities.

That said, it’s not as though there aren’t plenty of games that fill its niche. Heck, Knizia himself made at least two of them, Knights of Charlemagne and Battle Line. Another game that scratches a similar itch that I have really enjoyed is Jaipur. Games involving trading and markets don’t always do well as two-player but Jaipur does a very nice job.

All that being said, as the subject line would imply, one of the games that has been hitting the table lately for me that fills the same slot as Lost Cities is Balloon Cup.

And on the surface, the two games look quite a bit alike, even disregarding that fact they are both part of the Kosmos line and come in boxes that are shaped the same. They’re both card games where you are playing cards on either side of a line.

However, when the cards hit the table, Balloon Cup reveals itself to a surprisingly different game.

In Lost Cities, you are building up your own little rows of cards to score points. The only place where you interact is through the discard piles. In Balloon Cup, on the other hand, you are building up competing rows of cards. More than that, you can play cards on your OPPONENT’s rows.

Yeah, Balloon Cup’s pasted-on theme looks so light and playful. You’re going on hot-air balloon rides. Yeah, hot air balloon rides with flame throwers!

Okay, that can be a make-or-break issue. If you like Lost Cities for its non-confrontational side (and I do view that as a virtue. Sometimes, you want a nice relaxing game to unwind with, as oppose to trying to kick each other’s teeth in), Balloon Cup’s cutthroat, outright attacking elements might not agree with you. For me, it’s not an issue and I know some gamer’s that definitely prefer Balloon Cup for that very reason.

Ironically, while I play both games for the same reasons, I end up having a very different experience with each one. Lost Cities is a thoughtful game that highlights how simple good rules can be and where playing nice is almost the default way to play. Balloon Cup is a brawl where the dirtiest fighter will come out on top.

I have no regrets with all the Lost Cities I’ve played and I’m sure that I will play it again. However, at the moment, I’m having a lot of fun with Balloon Cup.
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