The game about being an explorer, where you’re investing into expeditions, and why I’m glad I invested my $15 in this game… Lost Cities, from Rio Grande Games, is another great hit from designer, Reinzer Knizia.
Number of Players: 2
Playing Time: 30 minutes
What’s the game about: A description from Rio Grande Games web site…
For the daring and adventurous, there are many lost cities to explore. They are in the Himalayas, the ever-shifting sands of the desert, the Brazilian rain forest, ancient volcanoes and in Neptune’s Realm. With limited resources the players must choose which expeditions to begin. Those with high confidence may want to up the stakes: increasing the rewards for success, but risking more should the expedition fail. The player who finds the right balance will find victory!
Basic idea in my own words:
In Lost Cities, you really don’t think of the theme too much, but that’s typical in euro games – where the mechanic and strategy is most important. This game is extremely simple, you have a rectangular board between both players that has spots for 5 or 6 different adventure colors, which represent different locations around the world, such as the Himalayas. And you have very large cards that have numbers on them from 2-9 (or 10), and 3 cards per color, that are handshakes, which are investment cards.
You start the game with 8 random cards, I believe and what your goal of the game is, is to accrue the most investment points in an exploration. And how you do that is by laying your cards out on the respective color 1 by 1, until the round is over, or you’re out of cards. A turn in this game is really simple, you a.) lay a card down and b.) pick one up, real simple right? Right. But there’s more strategy in the simplicity of this game, it’s what makes games like this and Dominion, so great.
Every card you lay down is the number value on the card, so at the end of a round, if your greens are 2,5,6,7,9, you’d have a total of 9 points for that color…Mike, your an idiot, you can’t count! That’s what I’d think too, but the instant you put down any card on an exploration, you are ‘investing” in that exploration, and investing costs money up front, right? That’s why you get -20 points immediately upon slapping a card down of a respective color. Ouch, but that’s all part of the game. So that’s why in my example above, that player only received 9 points, as his score was really 29, but after deducting 20, it’s 9. So, keep that in mind when your playing.
Another restriction and huge part of the game, is that you cannot put a lower number down than what you just laid down. Say you have a 5 down, well guess what, you can no longer throw down anything less than a 5 now, on that exploration, until the next round starts, of course. So during the game, you are trying to line up your cards, so that your able to throw down small increments, in ascending order, such as 2,3,4,5,6. You probably won’t be so lucky because your opponent, also has cards that you may want, so at one point, you’re going to just have to throw that 5 down, after you threw that 3 down. But next turn you may pick up a 4! Oh crap, I needed that! Too bad, that’s how the game works. It’s a balance, as in every good game!
As mentioned earlier, there are also investment cards. These cards are visually represented by handshakes. These cards are multipliers. So, yes, you really want to try and get these cards out in your explorations. There are 3 per color (white, gold, red, green, white, blue). Rule here is, you must play these, before any numbered cards. Once you have a number out, you can’t use these for that exploration. Remember, there are 6 explorations on the board, represented by 6 colors. So you can have a really high score per color in a round – which is your goal. But you have to complete for these with your opponent. Of course, there’s the element of luck in drawing the shuffled cards as well. Also to note, if you have any investment cards down in a color, if you never placed a number card on that spot, the multiplier works to hurt you negatively, so I wouldn’t play these when the round is getting late.
I also need to mention, the other part of your turn, picking up a card. After playing a card, you must pick up. You can pick from either a card that someone laid down per color, in the middle of the board, or from the draw deck. Once the draw deck runs out, that round is immediately done.
I just mentioned picking up a card from the middle of the board. This is also what the board is for. If you do not want to lay a card down on one of your explorations, you can put it face up, in the middle of the board, for a particular exploration. There’s strategy in this – you may want to do this if, say for instance, you have a white 2,4,5,6 and you really want to wait for that 3, you can lay say, a white, or other color, card down, that you think your opponent won’t take right now, just to satisfy, the “placing a card down” phase. Then later on, if your opponent didn’t pick up that card and you now want to play it, well, you can pick it up (if it’s the top card on that pile – if not, you have to wait for it to come up on top) and on next turn, you can play it.
The game is played over as how many rounds you wish. But standard, the game is played in 3 rounds, where at the end of every round, you add up all your points for all 6 colors. The player with the highest points at the end of X, number of rounds, wins!
Component Quality: 2/5
The quality of the cards, box, instructions and board is OK. It seems to be standard fare on Reiner’s small box games. The cards, box and board are certainly not textured, like a lot of Fantasy Flight Games, games. But it suffices.
The theme works well with this game, but with many euro games, especially games by Reiner Knizia, pretty much any theme could be slapped down on this game. This game could have easily been one of investing in stocks or a restaurant, or space themed.
Instruction Manual: 3/5
The manual is clear and concise and is easy to read. It’s only a page or two long, which is great!
Luck Factor: 4/5
There’s a lot of luck here because the game implies picking up a lot of cards. Nothing surprising here. Even if your smart and can have a decent strategy, you can get totally screwed on picking a bad hand.
Even though there’s a lot of luck in this game, there’s a lot of strategy in it’s simplicity. There’s a fine balance that must be achieved, as with most games, but don’t scoff at the level of strategy needed in this game because it’s small and only $15.
Overall Feelings: 4/5
This is a great, simple game. The wife loves it, as it’s easy to clean up, fun and simple. It’s a game I could definitely play with family, although it may be tough as it’s only a 2 player game. Side note – In the manual, there is actually a variant for a 4 player game, but another copy of the game is required. I’d pick this game up. While it won’t be the focus of game night, it’s a great filler or when you’re in the mood for a quick game!
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Good review, thanks. I agree about theme; this is an excellent card game, the theme being pretty much irrelevant. I'd give components a better rating, but overall agree with what you've said. Along with Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age this is one of our favorite games to take on the road.
Its a bit hard to get outside europe but Keltis the card game does almost everything better than Lost Cities and is cheaper. Its 2-4 players (which solves the family gaming problem) and is around 5-6 Euros. And its very green - which I like.