The screech of birds and hum of insects fill the air as you hack your way through the thick jungle undergrowth. You’re searching for the ruins left behind by an ancient civilization. The prospects of fame and fortune fill your head, primarily the fortune — you’re going to have to pay back your investors somehow! As you search through your pack for the next map fragment that will bring you closer to your goal, you come across something odd: a map of the desert. Now why did you have that again? Oh yeah, you couldn’t very well let your adventuring rival get to their treasure first, so you just had to hold on to that piece so they couldn’t get all the way to their goal. All’s fair in adventuring, right?
In Lost Cities, two players take on the roles of explorers planning expeditions to find ancient treasures, mysterious wonders, and… well, lost cities. To do this, players must build up a set of cards in up to five different suits in ascending order. If they can get enough cards in a given suit they can score big, but they have to be careful: each expedition that a player starts comes with a sizeable investment to pay off that could put their score in the negatives! Do you have what it takes to find the Lost Cities?
Lost Cities is a fairly quick and easy card game. One round can be played in about 10 minutes, but the rules recommend playing 3 rounds and totaling the score from all three to get the game winner. There isn’t too much in the way of components, suitable for such a light game. There is a deck of cards with 5 different suits (red, green, white, blue, and yellow), with cards valued from 2-10 as well as three Investment cards (showing a handshake symbol) for each suit. In addition to its numerical value, each card also shows a step of an expedition, going further along the journey as the value increases. Finally, there’s a board with 5 spaces – one for each color – this will hold discards during the game. Setting up for a round is fairly easy as well: place the board between the two players, shuffle all the cards, and deal out 8 to each player. You’re now ready to begin!
On a player’s turn, they must play a card and draw a card. Cards can be played in front of that player in its corresponding category. When doing this, cards must be played from low to high. For example, if you’ve played a 4, you can no longer play a 2 or 3 from that suit, but you could play the 5 or 6. In addition, there are three Investment cards for each suit which would have to be played before any numbered cards — these are not worth any points themselves, but can multiply your score in that suit. If you don’t want to play a card in front of you, you can also play a card to the corresponding discard pile on the game board. Then, after playing a card, either in front of you or to a discard pile, you must draw a card. You can either draw a card from the deck, or pick up the top card of any of the discard piles. Thus, it can be a strategic move to avoid discarding a card you know your opponent needs. Play passes back and forth between the players until the last card is drawn from the deck. When that happens, the round ends immediately.
At the end of the round, players total up and compare scores. To get your score in each of the 5 suits, add up all of the values for cards you have in that suit. Then, if you have at least one card played in a suit (which represents starting an expedition), you subtract 20 points from your total in that suit (which represents the initial costs of the expedition). So, it is possible to get a negative score in a suit, so it’s wise not to start playing cards in a suit unless you think you can get at least 20 points in that suit. Next, if you have any investment cards played in a suit, you multiply your score (positive or negative) for each investment card you have. So, one card would give you a x2 multiplier, two would give you a x3, and all three cards would give a x4 multiplier. Finally, if you have 8 or more cards in any suit, you get an additional 20 point bonus for that suit, which is not multiplied by having investment cards. Then, you can either compare scores between the players, or continue playing a predetermined number of rounds and add up the scores from all of the rounds. The player with the highest total score at the end of the game is the winner!
This goes on the list with Jaipur and Hanabi as one of the games that I just like a lot. Maybe it’s because the game in itself is simple, maybe because it’s one that I often play with Ethan, but whatever the reason may be, I just like it. It’s pretty easy to pick up and learn and can be taught to gamers and non-gamers alike. I find that we play this game quite a bit when we don’t quite have enough time to play a full game, or need to wind down from a more complicated one. That being said, this game is not very complicated, and because there are no variations on the game, it can become mundane if played over and over. This is why I like having a variety of light refreshing games. Also, something I never realized until we started this review was just how cool the cards are. I never realized that the higher the number, the further the adventure path was supposed to be. How freakin’ cool is that?
OH MY GOSH I ALMOST FORGOT! So, when we were playing to take pictures, our first round scores were ridiculous. I couldn’t stop laughing throughout the game about these hilarious scores. Sorry Ethan, you just did really badly the first round.
- Easy to learn and teach
- Quick to play
- No variety in the play
- Luck based (which is only a con for some people!)
In our review of Jaipur, I mentioned that it is often recommended as a good game for couples, especially when at least one of the people in the couple isn’t a regular gamer. The same definitely applies for Lost Cities, though I don’t see it recommended quite as often, perhaps owing in part to it having been out of print for a while. But fear not: Lost Cities is currently in stock and should hopefully stay that way for a while. But back to my point: this is a good game to play with someone who may not be as into gaming, or as an introductory game for those new in the hobby. The mechanics are pretty straightforward: play a card either onto one of your expeditions or the discard pile, and then draw a card — anyone who’s played any card games before should pick it up easily. The scoring may be the only tricky part, and even that’s not so bad as long as you keep in mind that you need to get at least 20 points in a suit in order to break even or score points. One drawback of the game is that it’s pretty luck driven — at the beginning of the round it’s often hard to tell which expeditions will be profitable for you, and it’s very easy to start laying down cards of a color and then not see many (or any!) more of that color for the rest of the round. Since it’s just for two players, hoarding cards you know your opponent needs can definitely be a viable strategy, but the game has never felt too “mean”, which is a plus for me. Another plus is the cards’ artwork. In all honesty, Lost Cities is fairly abstract, and the theme of searching for lost cities could definitely be called pasted on. But the game really does a good job of conveying the different expeditions — each color has its own unique adventure, from the yellow desert to the blue ocean and green jungle. What’s even cooler is that as the numbers on the cards increase, it shows progress towards the eventual goal, starting from a very wide view of the terrain and incrementally zooming in on the treasure/ruins/etc. All in all, this is a good game for new gamers or those who play two player games often. Even though luck of the draw is a factor, it’s still a quick and fun game!
- Great for gaming or non-gaming couples
- Fantastic artwork, especially for a pasted-on theme
- Highly luck-dependent
- Scoring may be tricky for new gamers to grasp at first (but really isn’t all that bad)