Love live the Empress!
For the Motherland!
Overview: Two players vie for completing the most thorough adventures into ancient civilizations past. That player who delves the deepest wins.
Game Pieces: Before I review this aspect of the game, I think it’s important to draw a parallel so my readers understand the thought process involved in this section. Let’s take chess or backgammon. Now, you can go out and buy a $1.99 set from Wal-mart and it will serve just fine. In fact, I’ve had a blast playing on that cardboard chess board with those infamous plastic pieces that are light and cheap. But there are those players who relish in the $1000 chess set with its marble board and its hand carved pieces from some guy in India. It makes a great conversation piece and only makes the game that much richer for that player. Of course, that depends on the player. Some would never spend $1000 on a chess set. Others would.
Lost Cities is similar. One could easily play this game with 2 decks of standard playing cards (with different styles on the pips side), as long as you knew the rules. And it would cost much less. If you are one of the players who would not spend extra money just for the art of the game, then you will think it is a waste of $19.95.
If, however, you appreciate hand drawn detail in each and every card, including the playing surface (i.e. board), then $19.95 MAY be reasonable; in reality, though, $20 is still about $8 more than one should pay for this game. You get a board about 12 inches by 4 inches that fold out nicely on a coffee table. It contains 5 ancient so-called treasure maps that appear to be pieced to together with some archeological items (also hand-drawn, and subtly color coordinated). These will represent the discard piles. You also get 65 oversized cards, 13 of each color. Each color has numbers 1-10 and 3 investment cards, and represents a lost civilization. Where this game gets its beauty is here. As the numbers get higher, the pictures slowly get closer and closer to the lost city of that civilization. For example, the green cards represent an Aztec-like city. Card #1 shows the start of a path in the jungle, Card #5 shows signs of that civilization (statues buried), and Card #10 reveals the city. They are so well-designed that if you flip thru them like a flip-book, they will literally look like you are walking to that lost city. The investment cards show a number of men around a table shaking hands, and are also well-drawn.
Mechanics: If you’ve ever played a game by Reiner Knizia, you know that he takes well-known mechanics, and applies a twist to them. They always seem to work incredibly well, but one thing to keep in mind with Lost Cities, the rules are by no means original. In that regard, you have played this game before and it may bore you if you don’t enjoy simple traditional card games. You will see the similarity to Klondike solitaire (that’s the solitaire everyone knows) and Kings in the Corner. The mechanics, as listed below, and simple and VERY easily understood. The biggest downside is I’ve played this game a hundred times before in one form or another, and cannot bring myself to play more than a handful of games at a time.
Preselect how many games to play to make a match. Each round is about 5 minutes, and usual match is about 3 rounds. Each player starts with 7 cards. One player then has to play a card. This can be done in one of two ways:
(1) Play on an adventure.
(2) Discard to the discard pile. There are 5 discard piles, one for each color.
If you play on an adventure, you place a card on YOUR side of the table (NOT on the board, but just behind of it), keeping the colors in their respective piles. Realize, therefore, that each player has his own pile for each color. For example, there is a blue adventure pile for each player, a red adventure pile for each player, etc) When you play a card, it must be HIGHER than the card atop the pile, but NOT necessarily the next highest card. For example, if in the red pile, the top card is a 6, you can play any red card 7 or higher on that red pile. You will also have a white, green, yellow, and blue pile. You may never go back, so if you play a red 6 and later a red 8, you can never play the red 7…it is a wasted card for you. When you start a pile (i.e. an adventure) you are “committing resources” to search out that city with your archeological team, and take a -20 cost penalty for each adventure you start. Investment cards MUST be played BEFORE any numbered cards are played. Once you start playing numbered cards, investment cards for that color can never be played on your side.
After playing/discarding a card, you must draw. You can draw from the face down pile, or from one of the discard piles.
Turns alternate until the last face-down card is drawn, and then game immediately ends.
Scoring each adventure individually is as follows:
-Add the number values you have played for that adventure
-Double, triple, or quadruple that score for 1, 2, or 3 investment cards, respectively
-Subtract 20, if you started that adventure
-Add 20 if you played at least 8 cards in that one adventure
(Note: any adventure NOT started is worth ZERO, but you also don’t incur the -20 penalty)
-Add all your adventures together for that game.
Victory: Points are cumulative between games. Highest points at end of match, wins.
Strategy: There’s really only 3 ways to win.
(1) Do 4-5 adventures each game, but only get a bare minimum number of cards. Start a few with investments, and collect moderately big on those.
(2) Do 2-3 adventures each game, being sure to play at least 1 investment, preferably 2, in each and try to get nearly every number card, going for that 20 points bonus.
(3) Deny your opponent cards.
The third strategy, for the most part, just doesn’t work since you eventually HAVE to discard SOMETHING your opponent is going to want. Since most of the strategy revolves around remembering what colors your opponent is picking up and denying them that, it’s not much different than rummy in this regard. Again, if you like traditional card games, this is perfect for you. If not, you will get bored quickly.
Beyond this, the strategy lacks after about 10 total games, and becomes more of a “passing time” game, rather than something you actually put your mind to (like Settlers of Catan or Chess) in order to win.
Does it work with few players as well as many players? N/A. 2-player game only.
Will my non-gaming spouse/friends like it? Do they like traditional card games, like rummy or Kings on the Corner? If so, then most definitely.
Good for Kids? Here is where I would tell you to buy the game. It’s a fancied up version of about 2 to 3 card games combined that teach kids to count/add, as well as having them recall what colors their opponent is picking up. It makes it easy on them because the discards are already separated by color, so if there are piles that are smaller with big adventure piles for their opponent, they generally can infer that color is most popular for their opponent. It also teaches them if they plan on starting a “project”/adventure in this game, they have to commit to it, rather than going willy-nilly. These are all good fundamentals of traditional game playing.
Should I buy it? It’s $19.95, which is steep in my opinion, even for the art. The game is fantastic for kids, but that’s about it. However, if you love traditional, simple card games (if you like Bridge, then this will be WAY too simple for you), then buy it used. Otherwise, save you money and get another $20 game out there.
I'll disagree on one point, which is I find you can't really win trying to run all five colours. There just aren't enough cards to go around... you only get 23 cards to play in one round, which is only four cards per suit, which barely breaks even.
Regarding the peculiarity of the board... I was told by someone who imports games that the import duties (in Australia) are less if there is a board inside the box than if there isn't. Weird. Perhaps that's why the board is included? It does serve a minimal function to define your playing space, but really it wasn't needed. (eg other similar games might have a starter card of each colour.)