Lost Cities

Pros: Simple to learn, yet it keeps you entertained
Cons: None
Rating: 5 out of 5

First published 1/8/2003

I may have only recently jumped into the wider world of board and card games out there, but even I’ve heard the name of Reiner Knizia, game designer. “Lost Cities” is one of his games, put out by Rio Grande Games, as part of their “Kosmos” two-player series. It seems like most games these days are designed optimally for three or four players, and trying to play them with two people just loses some of the more complex game-play. Rio Grande has solved this by putting out a set of games specifically for two players.

“Lost Cities: Daring Adventure for Two”

Lost Cities consists of a narrow board and a whole bunch of cards. That’s it. The board has five stylized maps on it, each of a different color to match with the five color-coded sets of cards. Each color corresponds to a different expedition you can go on–the Himalayas, the Brazilian rain forest, the deserts of Egypt, ancient volcanoes, and even underwater. There are “investment cards” and “expedition cards.” If you can put down investment cards of the right color before playing any expedition cards, then you can multiply your “profits” (your score) from your expeditions. If you don’t go far enough, however, you could end up multiplying your losses instead!

When going on an expedition you lay down cards of a certain color on your side of the board; each turn you can lay down a card (or discard one onto the board) and then take another (from the draw pile or the top of one of the discard piles) to bring your hand back up to eight cards. Each card you play must be of a higher value (they go from 2 to 10) than the last, but you can skip cards. So the two players could end up going on the same expeditions using different cards. Your profits are scored by adding up the values of the expedition cards you’ve played in a certain color, then subtracting 20, then multiplying by the number of investment cards plus 1 (and if you play at least 8 cards in the same expedition, you get a bonus). So your score on any given expedition can go from -80 to 156!

It’s a delicate balancing act. You have to choose which expeditions to start without knowing which cards you’ll end up picking up. Do you play investment cards to increase your profit, or do you leave them out to make sure you don’t magnify your loss? Do you wait to decide which ones to play (discarding useless cards in the meantime) in the hopes that you’ll get an investment card, or do you play right away to give yourself more rounds in which to lay down cards?

Game Play

It’s a surprisingly easy game to learn (I probably made it sound more complicated than it is up there). We honestly haven’t needed the rules once since our first game. Yet despite that, there’s a fair amount of strategy to it, to figuring out when to open an expedition, when to invest, when to just give up and soak a loss on something.

The Set and Statistics

The board is thick and sturdy, unlikely to bend or break. Technically you could play without it, although it makes organizing things easier. The cards are of an easy size to shuffle, and stand up to shuffling well. The art work is a bit on the blotchy side but it also suits the genre well, and it’s fun and amusing. You can follow the expedition through the numbered cards, exploring and discovering more and better things as you go. Some of the pictures are pretty funny, too. The game is for two players, aged 10 and up. Games supposedly last for 20-40 minutes. Game play is relatively quick, we find, and thus this is a good game to play when you just want to play something at lunch time before you go back to work. It isn’t nearly as involved as something like “Settlers of Catan,” and there’s very little set-up to do. Also, although they recommend playing through three rounds, you can really make the game as many or as few rounds as you like. You’ll need a pen and paper to keep track of the scores.

“Lost Cities” is a surprisingly simple game that lends itself to repeated play. It’s unusually suitable for a small number of players, and it does include instructions for 4-player partner play. It’s a lot of fun, and we’ve been playing it repeatedly for the last week or two. Of course, the best part of the game is using cheesy accents from all sorts of explorer films and boasting of our latest finds as we lay down expedition cards!

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