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September 14, 2016 / Jett

Lost Cities on iPhone Review

Lost Cities on iOS is the adaptation of the Lost Cities physical card game. In it, two players compete to create the best routes to five different ancient civilizations by playing numbered cards in ascending order. In short, it’s like an awesome version of head-to-head Solitaire that I’m completely smitten by.

Ports of board games to mobile devices have generally gotten better over time, though there are still no shortage of duds out there. Going into this, I would have been devastated if this port of a game I adored sucked. Does Lost Cities successfully make the jump?

When you load up the game, you’ll have the opportunity to start a new match or continue one you stopped midway. Most of your time will be spent facing off against one of the five AI opponents. If you want to play actual human beings, you’ll have to do that through online play, as the game does not feature local multiplayer.

While it does compete directly with the physical game to have that feature available, it hurts the app for me in a big way, as Steff and I like to play mobile board games together on the go. As with most iOS board games, playing online with strangers is mostly a bust, as players take way too long to take their turns until they eventually forget about it. However, I did get at least one opponent who played it straight through and the experience was great.

Once you’re in the game, you’re given a set of eight cards and access to a shared draw pile. You’ll be taking turns with your opponent either creating coloured lanes in ascending order to represent your forward progression to your destination. You can also play wager cards before your first numbered card in a lane to double, triple, or quadruple your point value at the end of the game. However, be mindful that these multipliers will multiply negative scores too if you can’t make the minimum expense cost of 20 points per lane you play in.

Once the game is over, the player with the highest score wins. Unlike the card game, which takes place over the course of three rounds with the scores being added up across every game, this is a one-and-done experience. I wish there was an option to turn on a multi-round feature, though single rounds are fine as well. One way that the iOS game has the physical version beat is that all of the scoring is automated, which takes the worst part of the card game out of your hands.

The core of what makes Lost Cities great is still here. You will agonize over every move, as there’s an opportunity cost that you’ll have to pay with each move you take. For example, starting your lane with the five card will lock you out of playing wagers, twos, threes and fours, but it might still be the best option available to you. You also have to worry about your opponent, who could feed off of your discarded cards to create better routes of their own.

I love that the gist of what makes the card game great is still here and it works great on the phone. The interface, while very different from the card game, has been optimized to work well on the phone. Veterans can play a quality match in five minutes or less. My only gripe is that the art on the cards has been removed, which takes away the story of progression. yes, the game uses expanding maps now, but the pictures of hiking or swimming towards your end goal were way more compelling and made more sense to the experience, versus a plain green card with the number seven on it.

If you’ve never played it, the game comes with multiple tutorial options. You can simply read the rules, or partake in an interactive tutorial. It’s a nice touch that the game gives you the options to read along or hear a narrator give you instruction. They do a great job of teaching you how to play, though they don’t really focus on the theme of adventuring all that much. Veterans won’t mind, though it’s sad to see that part get thrown away as part of the adaptation process, as it made a lot of sense with your in-game actions.

Fans of the card game are going to really like Lost Cities on iOS. The lack of pass-and-play multiplayer is a huge omission, but it gets pretty much everything else right. If you haven’t played the card game, I strongly recommend tracking that down first, because it’s a phenomenal game and still a better introduction to this experience. However, if this is all you have access to, this isn’t a bad starting point, either. What you really should do is buy both, as this game is fantastic in either form.

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