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Subject: Lost Cities after 17 plays rss

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Chris Ferejohn
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Designed by Mathematics professor and Teutonic funboy Reiner Knizia, Lost Cities is a 2-player press-your-luck card game in which players are ostensibly Indiana Jones-esque archeologists mounting expeditions to ancient ruins for knowledge and profit (the rumored expansion in which you hide from nuclear blasts in household appliances sadly remains just a rumor).

Lost Cities has acquired a reputation as a great game for playing with a "non-gaming" partner, and it is easy to see why: the mechanics of the game will be familiar to anyone who is familiar with traditional card games like rummy and solitaire. Gaming neophytes might glaze over when subjected to concepts like "select the craftsman to have all occupied plantations with a corresponding occupied production building produce a good of that sort", but anyone who has the slightest interest in learning the game can usually handle "play a card, draw a card," and in fact a slightly modified version of the game could easily be played with a standard deck of cards.

The card deck in Lost Cities differs in that:
a) There are five suits differentiated by color and
b) Each suit contains 12 cards: 9 number cards from 2 through 10 and three exploration cards that are designated with a handshake.

Something I like about the cards:
The card art is very nice and thematically appropriate. The art in each suit shows an ancient ruin being explored, with a view from a distance on the 2 up through a close-up view of the Lost Totem of the Ancient God Tchicalatoulatc on the 10.

Something I don't like about the cards:
The cards are oversized which makes them awkward to shuffle. What's more, this is the sort of game where the cards tend to get sorted into groups of the same color as you play, so thorough shuffling is important. Also, if you like to sleeve your cards, good luck finding sleeves the appropriate size.

You'll notice that in the first sentence I said players were "ostensibly" archeologists. This is because the theme is not really linked to the mechanics, though the art on the cards and the pretty, albeit unnecessary, board do their darnedest to get you to make the connection. Each turn you will play or discard a card and draw a card, with the restriction that you can only play a card if you have not already played a higher card of that color (e.g. if you have already played the red 5, you can't play the red 2, 3, or 4). Once the deck runs out, you score: if you played any cards of a given color, you lose 20 points, and then you score positive points by adding up the numbers of the cards you played in that color. The exploration cards (which must be played before any numbers), multiply your score for that color (positive or negative); one exploration card doubles your score, 2 triples it, and 3 quadruples it. Each round of the game takes about 10 minutes, and the rules suggest playing 3 rounds and totaling the score.

Things You May Like About This Game
*It is a very simple game to learn. The mechanics and flow of play will be immediately familiar to anyone who has played traditional card games.

*It is intensely interactive. Despite the fact that each player is apparently playing a game of solitaire in which they are trying to score the most points, you are constantly looking at the other player's board. If you've played the red 6 and have the red 8 in hand, do you play it, or do you hold onto it and hope to draw the 7? Bearing in mind your opponent may already have the 7 and be holding it to stop you from getting it. If you decide to wait, you are going to have to play or discard something else, which may in fact help your opponent even more.

Things You May Not Like About This Game
*Theme, or rather lack thereof. If you like your games to give you the feeling of doing whatever it is the game is representing, this may miss the mark. While the art is quite nice, mechanically it pretty transparently has nothing to do with archeology.

*Luck. While there is plenty of skill in this game, it is inevitable that at some point you will play your red 8 on your red 6 and then immediately draw the red 7. At some point its going to feel like this "always happens". You will have to take risks and make a choice between 2 bad alternatives at times, and sometimes the cards will dictate that you made the wrong choice. If that sort of thing is frustrating to you, abstracts like Chess, Blokus, and the GIPF series might be a better choice in the "easy-to-learn, hard-to-master" category.

*Math. At the end of each round, you do have to do some arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication) to add up your scores. If such a thing would detract from your enjoyment, perhaps you should pass (or at least get a calculator). On the other hand, it may provide an opportunity for a younger player to practice their arithmetic skills.

Review Haiku
What will my wife play?
A popular question this.
Answer: Lost Cities.
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Kevin
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cferejohn wrote:
Designed by Mathematics professor and Teutonic funboy Reiner Knizia,


Weird, "Teutonic Funboy" was the name of my band in college.
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Jonan Jello
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♪ I'll mourn over the marble steps ♬ Junkies of the world lay across the monuments ♫ I climb and blister on the mount ♪ Drunks take a piss where heroes once bled out ♪ ♫
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cferejohn wrote:


Something I don't like about the cards:
The cards are oversized which makes them awkward to shuffle. What's more, this is the sort of game where the cards tend to get sorted into groups of the same color as you play, so thorough shuffling is important. Also, if you like to sleeve your cards, good luck finding sleeves the appropriate size.

I totally agree about the shuffling! I shuffled mostly and feel guilty if I win with some incredible investment, same-color/suit hands. Repeatedly I'll ask my wife to shuffle and help me re-randomize the deck.

Also, she nitpicks just a bit about the cards' numbers place on only one end. In my opinion, to compliment the fun artwork's orientation, it's a minor complaint.

Nice review.
 
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Mark Paul
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The best review I've seen on the game.

The Elephant in the parlor about this game is that Knizia released three games around the same time, Lost Cities, Schotten Totten (Which was released by GMT as Battle Line) and Tabula Rasa. These appeared similar in mechanics and play. Of the three many believe Battle Line the far superior game, but the most hype and positive PR went to Lost Cities.
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