Lost Cities Review
From the Himilayan mountains to to the bottom of the sea, the world is yours for you and a friend to explore in Lost Cities. Designed by the legendary Reiner Knizia and published by Kosmos, this is a competitive two-player card game where players create expedition routes that will hopefully generate more discovery points than their opposition. Should you find a partner and head off on this card game adventure?
Inside the box, you will get a deck of cards and a board for discarded cards. The board is a nice touch, but you can play the game without it. What’s key here are the cards, which represent your progression from making a bet with your colleague about your success on that particular adventure, down to finally reaching your destination. Each location is represented by a different colour, while the progress is tracked through a set of cards numbered two through 10, as well as three handshake cards of each colour to represent the bets. One of my favourite touches is that each card features unique art so that you can actually see your adventure progress from the beginning to the end.
At the start of the game, both players will be dealt eight cards. On your turn, you can either play a card in front of you to start or continue an adventure, or you can discard a card. Your turn ends by either drawing a card from the main deck, or drawing the top card from one of the discard piles.
One of the key rules to playing cards is that once you start an adventure, you can only continue the thread by playing cards of a higher value. So for example, if you’ve played a green five, you can no longer play a green wager card, two, three, or four. Another point to note is that wager cards played at the start can either double, triple, or quadruple your end point value, though it cuts both ways. At the end of the round, players lose 20 points for each row as the expense of the trip. If you score less than 20 points and have a wager to multiply your total, you can actually multiply your negative score to create a huge deficit.
Within this simple framework is a game that is rich in strategic depth. With no duplicate number cards and an opponent trying to out-duel you, you’re constantly pressed to make tough decisions on what cards to keep and what cards to let go. Not only are there concerns with optimizing your own score, but discarding certain cards that you don’t need but your opponent badly desires can swing the outcome of a game quite a bit.
One neat aspect of the game that isn’t inherently apparent is that the draw deck also acts as a timer. By drawing cards from the main deck, you bring the round closer to its conclusion. However, time stays static if you draw a card from the discard pile. You might not get a fresh card by taking from the discard pile, or even a card you need, but this tactic can buy you more time if you’re in a jam.
After all of the draw deck cards have been taken, the round ends and players are scored based on their results. This part is a little weird and having a calculator helps, but it does make the game better in the end. First, you’ll add up the points on a column. Then you’ll subtract 20 from that column to cover the expenses of your journey. After that, you’ll multiply that score based on the number of wager cards in that row, if any. Finally, if you were able to play eight or more cards in a row, you’ll score an extra 20 bonus points. Repeat this process for all five rows to calculate your score. After three rounds, the person with the highest cumulative score wins.
For a game that is so simple to play, it’s also one that delivers strategic depth in spades. Every move in Lost Cities matters and it’s fascinating to experience how each round plays out between you and your rival. Each time I finish a game of this, I want to immediately get back in and try again because it’s that enjoyable and addicting. Best of all, its low barrier to entry makes this an experience you can share with just about anyone. There’s no reason for anyone to skip out on this awesome card game, so grab your gear and go!