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Subject: The Settlers of Stavanger Reviews: Lost Cities rss

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Andy
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The Settlers of Stavanger Reviews: “Lost Cities”

The game at a glance:
Suggested Age: 8+
Number of Players: 2
Length: 30 minutes
Learning Curve: Simple
Recommended Event: Games for two, Couples or Children, Light Filler
Skills: Card Drafting, Hand Management, minor Push Your Luck

Summary:

In Lost Cities, opposing players take on the role of adventurers out to complete a number of archaeological expeditions around the globe, from the dark depths of a humid jungle to the flat expanse of an arid desert among other exotic locales. Each expedition costs resources however, and so players must accumulate enough points to see a return on their initial investment. Undertaking more expeditions increases the chance of gaining points but if you commit yourself to too many expedition locations you run the risk of spreading your resources too thin and may even lose points. At the end of the third round, the player has accumulated the most points is declared the winner.

Set Up:

Players should set out the central game board between them and shuffle together all of the expedition cards numbered 2-10 for each of the 5 expeditions as well as the three “handshake” cards for each of the 5 expeditions. Once this is done, players are dealt a hand of 8 cards each and the remaining expedition cards form a draw deck that is placed to the side of the main game board.

Once all this is done, the game is ready to begin!

How to Play:

Each player must decide which expeditions they are going to attempt in order to gain points. A turn consists of first playing a card, either to an expedition or to one of discard spaces on the board, followed by drawing from either the draw pile or one of the other discard spaces on the board which can also become new draw piles for that particular expedition. Each card played on an expedition has a value of 2-10 but as soon as a card is played on an expedition slot on that players’ side of the board two things happen:

d10-1 A -20 point score is triggered and you need to improve on this throughout the rest of the game. This represents the commitment of resources to the expedition and must see a return on investment in order for the player to gain points - more on that later.
d10-2 Each successive card that is played on the expedition must be of a higher value than the last played card. It does not have to be in absolute numerical order but must be a higher value. For example, playing an “8” card means that any “2” through “7” cards can no longer be played. Only a “9” or “10” card may be played. Cards with a handshake symbol on them act as multipliers but must be played before any numbered cards.

Once a player has played a card from their hand they can either choose to draw one card from the face down draw pile or instead they can pick a card from one of the face up discard piles on the game board that correspond to one of the expedition slots. The order is always the same: play a card then draw a card. This is important as to be able to pick up a discarded card first and then play it to an expedition immediately after would change the flow of the game.

The round will end immediately when the last card of the face down draw pile is picked. Players add up their scores for that turn and then reshuffle all cards into the deck, dealing out 8 new cards to each player and alternating which player goes first for the second round. This happens once more when players begin the third and final round of the game.

Scoring is cumulative across all expeditions. Here are some examples to illustrate different scoring scenarios.

Example d10-1: If the player has decided to pursue the yellow or “desert” expedition and has played the 2,3,5,8,9 and 10 cards their score will be:

2 + 3 + 5 + 8 + 9 + 10 = 37

37 - 20 (for the expenses cost for the expedition) = 17 Points.

Example d10-2: If the player has decided to pursue the blue or “underwater” expedition and has played one handshake card and the 1,4,5,9 and 10 cards their score will be:

1 + 4 + 5 + 9 + 10 = 29

29 - 20 = 9

9 x 2 (each handshake increases the score by multiplying the result by 2, 3 or 4 respectively) = 18 points.

Example d10-3: If the player has decided to pursue the green or “jungle” expedition and has played two handshake cards and the 3,4,7 and 8 cards their score will be:
3 + 4 + 7 + 8 = 22

22 - 20 = 2

2 x 3 = 6 points.

Example d10-4: If the player has decided to pursue the red or “volcano” expedition and has played two handshake cards and the 2,3,4,5,7,9 and 10 cards their score will be:

2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 7 + 9 + 10 = 40

40 - 20 = 20

20 x 3 = 60

60 + 20 (20 bonus points are awarded for playing 8 or more cards on a single expedition) = 80 points.

Example d10-5: If the player has decided to pursue the white or “mountain” expedition and has played three handshake cards and the 4 and 5 cards their score will be:

4 + 5 = 9

9 - 20 = -11

-11 x 4 = -44 points.

The sum total of all the points gained across the different expeditions is the players score for that round. This continues for a second round and a third and final round after which the player that has accumulated the highest score is the winner.

How to Win:

There is a delicate balance in Lost Cities in deciding when to keep drawing expedition cards and when to finally commit to an expedition track. This is because once you start you have to play a higher card. Do you wait for a handshake card or two before committing the numbered cards or do you just go for it and hope for the best? This creates a nice tension in the game but can feel awful (in a good way) when you begin to commit to an expedition with the 2 and the 3 cards only to see your opponent eventually place down the 8, 9 or 10 cards - wallowing in the knowledge that your efforts probably aren’t going to pay off. This is doubly sour when you have already committed one or more handshake cards to the effort!

So the strategy lies in knowing when to keep drawing cards and when to start playing them, as well as not over-committing to each expedition as it’s basically impossible for you to get enough points if you try and do each one. There is also an additional “stalling” strategy where you can continue to pick up cards from the discard piles in an effort to delay the end of the game which only occurs when the final card of the face down draw pile is picked. Why would you do this? Well perhaps you have several high scoring cards in your hand but you know you’ll need as many turns as possible to get them all out there! It’s fun to watch one or both players frantically using this strategy just to buy themselves more time or equally fun to watch the opposite player deliberately picking from the main draw pile to speed up the endgame.

My thoughts on the Theme:

The theme is pretty pasted on here as the game itself is really just a set collection game. This is a common criticism levelled at Reiner Knizia games and in my opinion this is no exception. It could just as easily have been a game about baking different cakes or desserts for a competition. If you decide to bake a chocolate sponge cake you spend -20 points on buying the ingredients and to make a really excellent cake you need all of the ingredients to come together at the right time. Whoever can make the nicest looking cakes gets awarded the most points. The artwork could even reflect the advancing stages of the baking process. Just an example!

Score:3/5

My thoughts on the Mechanics:

The mechanics are fairly standard: play a card then draw a card. Nothing special but I like the commitment of trying to nullify the -20 point deficit through clever card play by deciding when to commit to a particular expedition for some extra points before it’s too late. Then there are the times when you decide to lay down a higher numbered card than you’d like only for you to draw a lower card you could have done with first or for your opponent to discard the one you needed. These ups and downs make the game a lot tenser and interesting.

Score: 4/5

My thoughts on the Components:

The cards are nicely printed with different coloured illustrations for each of the different expeditions. I especially like that the increasing numbers show the progress made on the expeditions by having the explorers trek deeper into the jungle or higher up the mountain etc., until they reach their destination. The cards are printed on decent but not amazing card stock and I have seen better in other games but they are a nice large size and the game is excellent for taking with you on your travels as it’s on the smaller side and quite light. The central board between the two players is not necessary for the gameplay but looks nicer than having nothing at all. I tend to leave it at home and just take the cards when I take it on holiday if space and weight are at an absolute premium. Even just taking it to the pub is easier without the central board as the cards fit nicely in a jacket pocket.

Score: 4/5

My thoughts on the Rulebook:

I found the rulebook to be very well written and succinct with enough examples littered throughout that we managed to play the game first time without any issues.

Score 5/5

My thoughts on the Replayability:

There is definitely some strategy here but it’s not very deep and a lot of it comes down to luck as there is no “trick taking” element in the game that would allow you to steal or trade for the cards you need. If you don’t draw the cards you need once you start an expedition then there is little you can do to try and mitigate that. Yes, you can pick up from two piles - one draw and one discard - but it can still be very luck dependant. I’ve often played two or three games back-to-back with my wife or others and while we have enjoyed it we are usually ready to move on to something new and with a bit more depth soon enough.

Score: 3/5

Final Score: 3.8/5



Check it out if:
thumbsup You want a good couples game that is easy to learn and plays in a short amount of time.
thumbsup You have small children and are looking for a good gateway game as the rules and strategy here are easy enough to grasp and the illustrations are nice with no text on the cards.
thumbsup You are looking for a lightweight game that can be easily transported on holiday or to take with you to the pub for an afternoon. It’s an ideal “airport” game for two.

Give it a miss if:
thumbsdown You would like a game with deeper strategies - you won’t find them here.
thumbsdown You want a game with more than a relatively simple “play one, draw one” mechanic (e.g. some “trick-taking” or “card-chaining” mechanics)


Thanks for reading!

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Todd Kauk
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Re: The Settles of Stavanger Reviews: Lost Cities
It's a good one, with very high replay-ability. We like Battle Line more than it though, deeper and more thinky.
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Andy
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Re: The Settles of Stavanger Reviews: Lost Cities
I have never tried Battle Line but I have seen and heard very good things about it. I think it was out of print at the time I thought about picking up a copy and I couldn't justify the high price for such a small game.

Thanks for the recommendation!
 
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