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Subject: Lost Cities - First Impressions rss

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Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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Lost Cities is a two-player card game designed by the king of Eurogame design, Reiner Knizia. The players of BoardGameGeek.com have ranked it as #83 in their list of games (a 7.4 rating), an astonishingly high value for a simple 2-player game. However, there is a definite brilliance in its design, which promotes quick play, and a few interesting decisions to make.

I'd been interested in the game, based on its reputation, for some time. So, a few weeks ago I finally bought it - for my friend Richard, on the occasion of his 21st birthday. Of course, most of the time I see Richard, it's at the Board Game Days we hold, and we're playing multiplayer games. (Randy's present to Richard, the card game Bohnanza, sees far more play as a result!) However, the latest BGD was held at Rich's place, and with Mike and Randy leaving at 11:30, there was just enough time for Rich and I to have a quick game... which turned out to be Lost Cities. At last we'd get a game!

The rules of Lost Cities are very simple: there is a deck of 60 cards, consisting of cards numbered 2 through 10 in five suits, and another three "investor" cards in each of the five suits. Each player starts with 8 cards, and, on your turn, you must play or discard a card, after which you draw a replacement card.

When the deck is exhausted, you score each of the suits: if you played no cards in that suit, it's worth no points. If you played at least one card, you total the value of the cards and subtract 20 from the result. That's the catch: to gain points, the total value of your cards must be 20 or more! If you only manage to play a blue 2 and 5, that's the loss of 13 points! So, you don't want to start playing cards unless you can be sure you can make a profit.

There are three more areas of interest - complications, perhaps - in the game:

The first is that you can only play cards that are higher than the last card you played on one of your piles. If you play a blue 6, then you can no longer play blue 2-5! Drawing low numbers later in the game is likely going to be useless.

The second is that when you discard - normally because there's nothing in hand you want to play - it goes onto a pile in the centre of the table from which both you and your opponent can draw. So, if I discard a red 6, my opponent can pick it up as their next draw. You're safe to discard cards that are lesser value than what your opponent played, but you can't always be that safe - do you play a card, or take the risk by discarding it?

The third, and most interesting, is this: the investor cards. They double the final value of your stack (or triple it, or quadruple it, if more of them are played). However, you must play them before you play any value cards. Three investor cards in red and no other cards played would be a loss of 80 points! They're risky, but you can gain a lot from them.

Investor cards tend to be discarded a lot, particularly in colours your opponent has begun. However, as I discovered in these first games, you can also use them to bait a trap for your opponent. I discarded an investment card when I had several of the high-value cards of that suit in my hand. Rich, having a few low-value cards, picked it up and later played it... but was never able to quite get up to the 20 points needed, and thus doubled his loss. I don't think that will work very often, especially as we get more experienced, but it was fun the first time. For me, at least.

The game suggests you play three rounds, with the scores being totalled at the end, so we did so. The game does indeed play fast, and though it took me just a small amount of time to understand the Investor card rules, soon we were flying. I think it took about 40 minutes for the three rounds.

Round 1:
Merric: 27 (14 red, 8 white, -2 blue, 7 yellow)
Rich: 21 (-4 red, 10 green, 8 white, 7 blue)

Round 2:
Merric: 22 (12 green, -6 white, 16 yellow)
Rich: -4 (-3 red, 0 green, -9 white, 12 blue, -4 yellow)

This was the round where Rich played three investment cards, only to find that it wasn't always the best option... He was lucky enough to get back to parity with Green.

Round 3:
Merric: 57 (17 green, 14 white, 26 blue)
Rich: 23 (1 red, 0 white, -4 blue, 28 yellow)

Rich finally made a killing in Yellow, but I'd got really good cards for green, white and blue - and was helped by a good investment in blue (as Rich was in yellow)

Final Scores:
Merric 106; Rich 40. (or 3-0, depending on how you look at it).

So, as you can see, Rich didn't fare so well in his first games. I have no doubt this will improve, but, for me, Lost Cities is a step downwards in complexity from such amazing games such as San Juan and Roma, both of which I strongly recommend.

Is Lost Cities a good game? Yes, it really is. There's a lot of risk management in the game: Do you start an expedition? Do you play an investment card and increase the risk? There's also the fact that the game ends immediately that the last card is drawn, which really does mean that some of your important cards may end up unplayed. I found myself drawing cards from the discard piles that I'd never use (and thus giving Rich a chance to draw good cards from the deck) just so I could be sure I could play everything. As you can see from the scores above, it's a tactic that worked for me.

Of course, my impressions may change the more I play the game. For now, that's my first experience with Lost Cities.
 
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Toasted Jones
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Rugeley
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We have lost Cities and agree its a nice game, but it doesn't hit the table very often. It loses out to San Juan, even for 2 player games. I can't put my finger on why this is, I'd be interested to know if Lost Cities will hit your tables more often.

Thinking about it, I must dig Lost Cities out tonight and figure it out for myself!
 
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Merric Blackman
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Toasty wrote:
We have lost Cities and agree its a nice game, but it doesn't hit the table very often. It loses out to San Juan, even for 2 player games. I can't put my finger on why this is, I'd be interested to know if Lost Cities will hit your tables more often.


At this point, I'd always choose San Juan over it - and the reason is that the combinations of cards and the card abilities in San Juan make the game very different each time you play it.

Mind you, this is from only one game of Lost Cities...

Cheers,
Merric
 
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Ricatoni
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Chula Vista
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I bought this two weeks ago and just read the rules this Sunday. I appreciate your review and am looking forward to playing this with my girls who love gaming with daddy. I do not own San Juan so this will not be a problem for me!
 
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Michael Gilbert
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Summit
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For us, Lost Cities is the preferred game for two players. We do really enjoy San Juan as well, but enjoy it much more with 3 or 4 players rather than 2.
 
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