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Subject: What is it Good For? rss

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Matt Thrower
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Lost Cities in itself didn't really interest me - I learned how to play it with, like so many other geeks, a view to trying it out as a game my partner might like. Not the greatest basis for trying a game you might think, and not the sort of game I'd normally enjoy. So what did I think of it?

Rules

A couple of things about the rules before we get properly started. First, go elsewhere and read the "official" rules for the game than relying on my summary. Second it's worth noting that I find many Euro-style games have deceptively short rules - they're easier to learn from the rulebook than they actually are to use in the game. Lost Cities, pleasantly, reverses that trend and is actually easier to learn and play than the rules suggest.

This is a two player card game, and in the deck there are thirteen cards in each of five different colours - numerical cards ranging from 1-10 and three "bonus" cards. Each player is dealt a starting hand of eight cards and the rest of the cards form a pick-up pile that also acts as the game timer - when the deck is exhausted the game ends. The final piece of gameware is a central board which is placed between the players has a discard space for each of the five colours.

In a players' turn he must either play or discard a card. If he plays a card then he lays it in a column in front of him corresponding to the position of that card colour on the board. All cards of the same colour subsequently go in the same column, so a player can have up to five columns on the go. To make a legitimate play the number of the card played must be higher than any previous cards in that columns, with bonus cards being valued at zero - in other words you can only play them right at the start of a column. So if you've got a red five down, say, you can no longer play bonus red cards or the 1-4 of red on that column, should you get them.

If you choose to discard then you have to discard onto the corresponding colour discard space on the board, rather than putting the card out of play. The significance of this is that at the end of your turn, having played or discarded, you can choose either to take one off the main stack or you can pick up a discarded card that's on the top of one of the colour discard piles.

When the game ends, after there are no more cards in the main stack, scores are totted up. Us is usual for Knizia a slightly byzantine scoring mechanic is employed. An empty colour column is worth zero points. As soon as any card is played into a column it's worth -20 points. Bonus cards double, triple or quadruple the score of the column depending on how many you have there - so if you open a column with a bonus card it's worth -40, or -60 if there's two bonus cards and so on. Then you add up the value of the numerical cards you've played in that column and balance it against the negative. In other words you've got to have at least 21 points worth of scoring cards in a column to get a positive score. Player with the highest score wins.

Components and Theme

These aren't normally things I'd choose to comment on, but there's a couple of points I feel I need to make here.

Firstly, while I'm very well aware that Eurogames aren't normally about theme this one absolutely has to be the most poorly applied theme I've ever come across. The notion is that each player is an Archaeologist trying to secure funding (the numbers) for expeditions to dig sites (the colours) with the more funding eventually leading to more discoveries (points). This is just pointless flim-flam. Whatever it says in the rules, or whatever pictures there are on the cards this is actually an abstract, plain and simple and might actually have been more graphically interesting if it had been presented as such.

Second is the price. It doesn't cost a lot for a game, but it does considering what you get in the box. The game board is just a completely superfluous extra that I can't help but feel has been included to make the package looks like it's worth more than it actually is. I'm not going to harp on about this - after all it's not really a lot of money - but compared with other card games like Bohnanza it does seem on the expensive side.

Gameplay

Strategy in Lost Cities centers around hand and risk management. If you've got a sensible play then discarding a card isn't a smart move because you've lost the opportunity to play a scoring card and you've also given your opponent a potentially useful card to pick up. However, you don't always have a sensible play, since playing a card in a column is a risk unless you know you've got some other good scoring cards for that colour already in your hand and in every game there are times when discarding is the less risky choice. There's also the question of timing - picking up discards increases the game length which can be good or bad depending on how many good cards you've got in your hand that you need to get out. At the opening you're presented with the risk of opening a column with a bonus card when you may not have cards to back it up and later in the game there are choices to be made about precisely where and what you discard as the columns started by your opponent, and their progress will influence what you throw away.

That previous paragraph probably makes it sound like there's more to this game than there actually is. If you re-read it while remembering that every choice I've mentioned there is going to be heavily influenced by what cards you've got in your hand you'll probably begin to appreciate this this is, by Knizia standards, an extremely random game.

At this point you're probably wondering, as I was after my first couple of games, why on earth a game with comparatively little strategic choice is riding fairly high on the BGG rankings. Well, one answer is that this is a very short game - you're probably looking at 10-15 minutes although you'll need to do a thorough reshuffle after each game and the slightly fiddly scoring does seem incongruously long after such a quick hand. That makes it possible to play a number of games in a row and by doing that, over the longer term the variation counts for less and skilled play counts for more. You can either play a "best of three" scenario or, probably better in my opinion, play a fixed number of games and keep adding to the score of the previous game to determine an overall winner.

Another answer is that it's fast, furious and fun. Somehow the fact that you're not making particularly taxing strategic choices doesn't seem particularly important when you're itching for that green ten to come off the top of the deck, or seething that your opponent has just pick up a discard that you thought was safe. In honesty it does get kind of dull after a while because there's not enough in it to keep the interest, but in short does it's a blast.

The final answer as to the appeal of this game - and the answer to the question I posed in my review title - is that it competently fills two fairly underpopulated niches in the gaming community. The first, famously, is that it's good for playing with game phobic partners. The second took me longer to work out - after a few games I was struck by the fact that, rather like Category 5, there's not a whole lot of fun you can get out of this game that you can't get out of a number of games that can be played with cheap, regular playing cards and my opinion of the game plummeted. Then it struck me - none of the playing card games I had in mind were playable two player! The fact is that quick, easy, portable and exciting two-player games are something of a rarity. There are others, of course, and some may well be better than Lost Cities - I can't say as I've never played any of them - but there's not many. And until we've got more, Lost Cities is a pretty good candidate to fill that gap.

Conclusion

Lost Cities, although fun isn't a great game - it's very random and is best in short doses. But it succeeds and succeeds admirably by scratching an itch that very few other games can reach.

Because of this it's kind of a hard game to rate. In the end I gave it a 7 because it is a game I'm usually willing to play but it must be understood that the circumstance in which it gets suggested do not commonly arise. But it could well vie for a space in your collection just for those times when nothing else will quite do the job.
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Michael Hammond
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Good review - although I disagree with your interpretation of one part of the application of theme. You said:

Quote:
notion is that each player is an Archaeologist trying to secure funding (the numbers) for expeditions to dig sites (the colours) with the more funding eventually leading to more discoveries (points).


It seems to me that the idea of 'funding' is in the three bonus Investment cards that go with each color. You can either start on the mission on your own, in which case it will cost you 20 to get going and get back alive. Or you can take on outside investors, who increase the profit potential of your trip, but who will still expect to be paid back even if you fail. Multiple investors magnify the impact of both possibilities.

To me the number cards represent the actual discovery process, as the card images would seem to suggest. The requirement to play the cards only in increasing numerical order introduces risk: playing a high-numbered card now cuts you out of the extra points, but might make it more likely that the expedition finishes profitably. This could be analogized to taking a shortcut to the end of the expedition, but missing out on valuable artifacts on the way. Waiting for the next card you really want runs the risk of time running out on your expedition, sending you home empty-handed to face the wrath of your impatient investors.

I'll grant you the theme in this game somewhat thin. But I think it's there nonetheless.
 
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D a n _ C
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MattDP wrote:
What is it Good For?


"Aaabsolutely Nuthin'! Say it again, yaaa'll.... HUH!"

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Eric Brosius
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What is it good for? It's an enormous amount of fun. At least it is for me. I've rated it a '10' and I only have given 12 ratings of '10' out of 671 ratings, so that's a very good rating for me. Other games I have rated '10' include Paths of Glory and Taj Mahal and Outpost, so it's not as though I only like simple games. I like all kinds of games, as long as they are fun. I think I may have played Lost Cities more often than any other game. The other contender is Saint Petersburg.

Of course, fun is a subjective concept, so the game doesn't have to be as much fun for you as it is for me. I'm not disagreeing with your opinion about how much fun it is for you, just presenting another man's opinion.

I also believe there is a lot of skill in Lost Cities. As you say, the outcome of a single hand is subject to significant luck. That's also true of Backgammon and Poker, two games that almost anyone will agree have significant skill elements. I have a particular fondness for games that have both significant luck and significant skill elements, especially when (as with Lost cities) they are short.
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Toasted Jones
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MattDP wrote:
Discarding a card is always a bad move because you've lost the opportunity to play a scoring card and you've also given your opponent a potentially useful card to pick up.


While it's true that a discarded card is available to your opponent, it's also available to you later in the game if it isn't picked up. It's a perfectly valid strategy to discard cards from your hand and pick them up later when that expedition colour suddenly looks more inviting than it did when you first discarded.




 
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J Weintraub
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Two nitpicks, since no one's likely to be reading this to learn the rules:

1) There is no "1" card. It's 12 of each color, 2-10 and three investment cards.

2) You make it sound as if the investment cards only multiply your loss, and not your gain (one would then wonder, why use them?). You don't, with two investment cards, start with -60 and add up your cards, but add your cards, subtract 20, and then triple. The net result is that at the moment you've got only two investment cards down you're at -60, but that's not 'how you score'.

Also, I agree with MCTMike about your assesment of the theme. I'd even add that the artwork on LC is particularly gorgeous, and each card shows a progression of an expedition that attractively matches the color of the suit. I've found the art to have an extra value - if you can't tell blue from green (I'm not color blind but I've noticed the distinction can be difficult in low-light conditions) you can just refer to the artwork. For a card game, how much more tied into the theme could you get than that?
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Matthew M
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MattDP wrote:
Discarding a card is always a bad move because you've lost the opportunity to play a scoring card and you've also given your opponent a potentially useful card to pick up.


Discarding a green 3 when my opponent has already played a green 4 or better is not a bad move. Especially if discarding it gives me a red card lower than the one I was about to play had I chosen not to discard.

MattDP wrote:


it's very random


It only seems very random if you aren't playing particularly well. You get to determine your level of risk/reward. You know with absolute certainty if you will have a chance to play every card you want to towards the end of the game. And there is a fair amount of psychology with what you show your opponent early and what he/she shows you.

If you play according to what you've written here I can safely say I would beat you four times out of five.

-MMM
 
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Matt Thrower
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Octavian wrote:
Discarding a green 3 when my opponent has already played a green 4 or better is not a bad move. Especially if discarding it gives me a red card lower than the one I was about to play had I chosen not to discard.


Of course discarding isn't always a bad move - otherwise no one would do it. My point was rather that discarding a card carries an inherent weight because you've passed up an opportunity to advance your score, so you need a good reason to discard instead.

MattDP wrote:
If you play according to what you've written here I can safely say I would beat you four times out of five.


The first time I played this game was on BSW. I played against someone who was clearly comfortable with the interface and the game although I obviously couldn't tell just how good he was. We played five games and tallied score as I described above. I, a complete beginner, won.

On another occasion playing on BSW I got to teach the game to a newbie. We played three games, tallying score. He almost beat me.

Having complete beginners beat, or nearly beat more experienced players isn't the sign of an overly demanding game if you ask me.

If you want to test out your claim, which could well be true, then I'll happily play five games with you on BSW if we can find a mutually convenient time

I seem to have rattled a few cages with this review, which surprised me. It wasn't my intention to be particularly critical of the game as it's given me quite a bit of fun - and I did end up giving it a seven. Perhaps I've come across more harshly than I meant to.
 
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Bill Eldard
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MattDP wrote:
Having complete beginners beat, or nearly beat more experienced players isn't the sign of an overly demanding game if you ask me.


To me, that's a great aspect of Lost Cities, and similar games like TransAmerica, For Sale, and Blokus. They are both challenging and fun, but newcomers can assorb the rules rapidly, concentrate on tactics and strategy, and thus be instantly competitive. These are great tools for introducing newcomers to the hobby (in other words, sucking them in), but I think they're still fun to play between veteran gamers as well.

MattDP wrote:
I seem to have rattled a few cages with this review, which surprised me. It wasn't my intention to be particularly critical of the game as it's given me quite a bit of fun - and I did end up giving it a seven. Perhaps I've come across more harshly than I meant to.


Generally, I don't think your criticisms were unfounded; you're certainly entitled to them. Others reviewers have made similar comments. I just have a different assessment of the game. It's not a great game, and I certainly don't play it as often as when I first got it (Of course, I've added about 200 games to our closet since then, so I've got more to choices.) But I think it's fun, play quickly, and offers some tough decisions --- basic elements of a good 'short' game.

I would disagree with some here regarding the artwork. To me, the artwork on the cards looks amateurish and weak, as if drawn with Crayola crayons by a sixth grader. yuk I would hope that if they republish this game, they would either use National Geographic-type photos, or computer-imagery.
 
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Guy Riessen
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MattDP wrote:
Octavian wrote:
Discarding a green 3 when my opponent has already played a green 4 or better is not a bad move. Especially if discarding it gives me a red card lower than the one I was about to play had I chosen not to discard.


Of course discarding isn't always a bad move - otherwise no one would do it. My point was rather that discarding a card carries an inherent weight because you've passed up an opportunity to advance your score, so you need a good reason to discard instead.


Discarding is the single most valuable tool in the game. It allows bluffing. It allows you to "play" without clogging your large run, while still allowing the draw--this is critical in a play-first, draw last game. You know the cards you hold, you know what can be safely discarded, and you learn your opponent's tolerance for potentially "collecting" when the higher numbers come out. Evem burying a decent run is appropriate if you do it correctly--you need to drop the midling-high card first, then bury it with low point cards, while keeping in mind that your opponent will get the option to foil regaining the higher card, but ony by tying up a card position in their hand.

Like most Knizia games, this one has hidden brilliance which begins to shine after several plays. There is FAAAAAR less luck involved than poker, too, since there are multiple way to affect hand composition and play in addition to understand straight odds and "reading" your opponent.

I, obviously, don't know who you were playing, but I have never seen a truly experienced player honestly lose to a complete beginner in a 300pt game. Oh I've seen plenty of BAD hands/draws but never enough in a row to overcome the difference in experience. I've only seen experienced players lose by toning down their play, mainly by not working the discard piles as ruthlessly as they could. And by playing out the deck when it might score them a fair bit more by, again, working the discard pile.
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Ron Olivier, Sr.
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Our opinions of the game are quite similar. I bought this game thinking it would be much more strategic than it is, and was quite disappointed when I realized the cost-to-component ratio. However this is one of the few games that my daughter, an true non-gamer, will sit down and play. If I’m in the mood for a card game, I’ll usually reach for Bohnanza instead of this, but this game DOES see the light of day now and then.
But the purpose of my reply is simply to answer the question posed in the title. This game IS good for many things:
It’s very portable. You can bring the game and play just about anywhere. It’s small enough to take very little space in your luggage, briefcase, etc. You can play it on most coffeeshop tables, breakrooms, and just about anywhere that’s large enough for a game of solitaire. And there are no small pieces that can be easily lost.
It’s easy to learn and teach – This game can be taught to a novice in a matter of minutes. It may take them a bit longer to understand the intricacies of scoring and the light strategy, but even that will come quickly after a few plays.
It’s colorful – The oversized cards are very eye-catching, so non-players can easily notice this game and, oftentimes, their interest will be piqued. And because the concept is so easy, it can be explained even as you’re playing.
It’s fast - It usually takes about 10-15 minutes to play a hand, and there is virtually no set-up time – just lay the board flat, shuffle and deal. This makes the game ideal for playing when you haven’t got time for a bigger game.
It’s strategic – Well, somewhat strategic. You WILL have to think about how you proceed. The one thing that I disagree with the reviewer on is that I believe that discarding is not always a bad thing. There are times when discarding is your best move, and other times where you may wish to gamble that your opponent will (or will not) pick up the card you just laid down. But there are times – too many times in this game -when even the best strategy can’t overcome the luck of the draw.
All in all, I too gave the game a seven, because it has filled the niche for a short two player game. However, two other games have since made this game less attractive. For a two-player card game, I prefer the two-player duel in Bohnanza. It is a bit less strategic and it takes longer to play, but has more interaction and is just as portable. And for a quick game I really like Tsuro, a tile laying game for 2 to 8 players that plays in around 15 minutes.
 
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This is probably the thinnest theme I've seen in a game. That said, I think that the art is fantastic and for me, that was a huge selling point. What really got me about the art was this picture:

The realization that each card was a step further in a fantastic expedition made the art meaningful to the theme that Knizia was trying to convey.
Furthermore, although the board could be replaced with a piece of paper with colors on it, the board to me adds just a little more to the style, as well as providing a simple organization tool for it.
That said, if theme as thin as tissue paper is a problem for you, I can see where this might cause problems.
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My wife and I were waiting in line for a movie when the couple behind us started playing Cribbage. I liked their idea of having a quick, portable 2-player game to play when it was just the two of them waiting in line.

I had my father-in-law teach us cribbage and quickly discovered that neither I nor my wife liked it much. In my quest for a 2-player game that met my requirements I remembered Lost Cities gets talked up here on BGG. It's much better than Cribbage. It's short and intense. Both my wife and I enjoy it. It's not so complex that you can't converse while you play. I do wish it was more compact and portable, but it's easy to make a Lost Cities deck out of two decks of face cards.

It's certainly not my favorite 2 player game. It's not even my favorite Kosmos two player game. But it's brilliant compared to all the traditional two player games played with standard playing cards I tried out.

From a thematic standpoint it seems pretty much par for the course as far a card games are concerned. Take cards printed specifically for Go Fish or Old Maid for example. When you start an expedition in Lost Cities, you don't know how it's going to end. For me, that's theme enough for the mechanisms.

People say there's a lot of strategy to it, but it always feels like more of a push-your-luck game to me.
 
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John W
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ColdFrog wrote:
This is probably the thinnest theme I've seen in a game. That said, I think that the art is fantastic and for me, that was a huge selling point. What really got me about the art was this picture:

The realization that each card was a step further in a fantastic expedition made the art meaningful to the theme that Knizia was trying to convey.

Thank you for sharing this.
I agree - anything providing more thematic connection helps this game. It is simply too dry otherwise IMO.
I hadn't seen that great pic before. thumbsup

2 other things:

1) To the OP, you may want to read some of the other reviews/threads that don't rave about the game, detailing its perceived inadequacies, and fans come out to talk up the game.
It's natural.

2) Ron -
you've supplanted Lost Cities (when you want a quick game) with Tsuro?
Wow - I guess that's certainly going the opposite direction, solely from a strategic criteria - Tsuro's basically a gorgeous coin-flip.
 
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Simon Johnston
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MattDP wrote:
Of course discarding isn't always a bad move - otherwise no one would do it.

And from the review...

MattDP wrote:
Discarding a card is always a bad move because you've lost the opportunity to play a scoring card and you've also given your opponent a potentially useful card to pick up


This struck me as obviously false the first time I read it. Good to see you don't actually believe it
 
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Guy Riessen
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Simon J wrote:
MattDP wrote:
Of course discarding isn't always a bad move - otherwise no one would do it.

And from the review...

MattDP wrote:
Discarding a card is always a bad move because you've lost the opportunity to play a scoring card and you've also given your opponent a potentially useful card to pick up


This struck me as obviously false the first time I read it. Good to see you don't actually believe it


Yeah that's what got me too--considering the manipulation of the discard piles is one of the key elements of the game.
 
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Matt Thrower
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Simon J wrote:
This struck me as obviously false the first time I read it. Good to see you don't actually believe it


Okay, my poor phrasing. My intent was to state that discarding carries an inherent weight compared to playing a scoring card. I think I might rephrase the review to make it clear what I mean.
 
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MattDP wrote:
...while I'm very well aware that Eurogames aren't normally about theme this one absolutely has to be the most poorly applied theme I've ever come across.
Ah, you see, all the theme is in the title, which fits perfectly!

The title is "lost cities." And what do you find when you open the box? No cities! Nothing even remotely like or related to cities! Why? Because they are lost!

I rest my case.
 
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