Style of Game: Card Game
Play Time: 20 to 30 minutes
Theme: Archaeological Expeditions
Number of Players: 2
Main Mechanics: Hand Management
Lost Cities is a card game about leading archaeological expeditions. The objective is to organize the best run of cards (in ascending order) to pay for the expeditions you have chosen to start. The player with the most points wins the game.
THEME AND MECHANISMS
The only glimpse of theme shining through in the mechanisms of this game is that you can wager on how successful an expedition will be and that is stretching it. The game isn't hurt by this for me though because it is a card game and many card games are theme-less or have a pasted on theme.
Place the game board between the two players. Shuffle the 60 expedition cards and give each player 8 cards face-down. Place the remaining expedition cards in the deck beside the game board.
Players will be competing to collect as many discovery points as possible to deduct from the costs of each expedition they start. Discovery points come from the value of each card that is played in each expedition column of the main game board. There are five columns that descend from the bottom of the game board. Each column corresponds with a color in the game. There are 3 wager cards (represented by a hand shake symbol on the card) and cards from value 2 through 10 in each of the five colors.
Players will have 8 random cards in their hand to start the game. The oldest player will start the game by deciding which card from their hand they would like to play. When choosing to play a card players have two options.
Place a card in one of your own columns:
If a player chooses to play a card into one of his or her own columns the player should take the card they wish to play and place it directly under the space on the game board that matches the color of the card. You may use this action to start a new expedition or to extend and already existing column. You may only add a card at the end of an existing column. Cards should be placed in an overlapping fashion so that the value of all cards can be seen. Wager cards may only be placed at the very beginning of an expedition so once a number card has been placed no wager cards may be place in that expedition (column). However, 1, 2, or 3 wager cards may be placed in any expedition. Cards may only be placed in ascending order in each column.
In this example the player has used multiple turns to place Wager Card, Wager Card, 4, 6, and 7.
Discard a card:
If a player does not want to or cannot place a card on his or her side of the game board the player may discard a card from his or her hand. To do this a player places the card they wish to discard on top of the corresponding discard pile on the game board. Each color has a space on the game board. The discard pile will accumulate in these spaces. Therefore, there are five discard piles in the game and each may have a different number of cards throughout the game. Discard piles should be organized so that only the top card in each pile is visible.
Once a player has placed or a card or discarded a card the player must draw a card. The player may draw a card from the main draw pile (located near the game board) or from any of the discard piles. The player may only take the top card from any pile he or she chooses to draw from. You may not draw the card you just discarded on your turn if you chose to discard a card as your action.
The game ends when one player draws the last card from the main draw pile. Players may fan out the remaining cards in the main draw pile to get an idea of how many moves they may have left.
To calculate points at the end of the game, players should count the value of an expedition column and subtract 20 points from the total value of all the cards in that expedition column. This is done for each expedition column that has at least one card (including wager cards) in the column.
Wager cards act as multipliers for the total of the columns (after the 20 points from expedition costs are subtracted). If there is 1 wager card in the column multiply the total by 2. If there are 2 wager cards in the column multiple the total by 3. If there are 3 wager cards in the column multiple the total by 4.
The player's white expedition has a 4, 6, and 7 (with two wager cards). The total of the number cards is 17.
17 - 20 (expedition cost) = -3 x 3 (2 wager cards) = -9 points for the white column
The player's green column has a 4, 5, 7, and 10. The total of the number cards is 26.
26 - 20 (expedition costs) = 6 (No wager cards = no multiplier)
The player's total points is -9 + 6 = -3 points.
Write down each player's score and after three games the player with the highest score wins the game.
*This is how scoring is done but there will often times be more expeditions started over the course of the game for both players.
*There is also a 20 point bonus award to any column of at least 8 cards (wager and number cards combined). These points are added to the total after all regular calculations of a column are performed.
- Easy to learn, easy to teach, easy to play
- Meaningful choices
- End of game scoring can confuse people
- The restrictive nature of the rule set can create annoyance for people
I mentioned minimal pros and cons for this game because the game is so simplistic. The internet seems to paint this game as a polarizing game but there doesn't seem to be enough here to fall in love with the game or have a burning hatred for it. The game does put you in some tough spots but I don't know that it makes me mad at the game, as much as appreciative of the game's ability to restrict you and make you plan a little. The core decisions you can make on your turn (play a card or discard a card) are not difficult, it is all the surroundings factors and repercussions of each decision that make your choices meaningful.
In fact, I enjoy the game for this very fact. As I am playing I am constantly considering should I start an expedition or discard a card? Can I discard this card and manage to get it back? Can I prolong the game by not drawing from the main draw pile? There are more avenues to consider in this game than the core mechanic of accumulating cards in ascending order may seem to offer. You are constantly trying to balance your progression of expeditions with the progression of the game and to do so you often have to provide resources for your opponent.
Time management is vital in this game and the ability to speed the game up or slow the game down makes for a subtle strategic aspect of the game. Sacrificing opportunities to score to try to cut one of your opponent's expedition short is a necessary evil at times. Gambling on holding a card to get a lower number for your expedition before time runs out is risky but can be the difference between positive and negative points. Not every decision in the game is difficult and meaningful but many are and the ones that aren't are often times welcomed and a relief.
For me, this is a strong, demanding design, hidden in a simplistic rule set. I enjoy every aspect of this game. Even the odd end of game scoring is fine once you get the hang of it and it is vital. Could it be worded differently, yes, but it definitely does not break the game by having it the way it is. How you explain it is up to you so it is easily manageable.
If you like two-player card games and you haven't tried this one... you should definitely give it a try if you can get your hands on a copy.
This is very strong design but I don't think I could play any 2-player only game all the time. I do not prefer to play 2-player only games that often but the design is strong enough to give this game a good rating. It is the fact that I don't look to play this game a ton that keeps it from being higher.
Rating - 7.5/10
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Thank you, I always enjoy your written reviews!
The game theme reminds me of Source of the Nile, which is a much better game.
Thank you. I have never played Source of the Nile but I will look into it.