Thursday, June 25, 2009

Card Game Review: Lost Cities

Sometimes I really have to coax Erin into playing a game. Reiner Knizia’s Lost Cities is not one of those games. With Lost Cities, I don’t have to gives any Indian rug burns, monkey bites, or chester backsters to get my wife to play. In fact, Erin likes it so much that she offers to play it sometimes. “Hey, let’s play that game with the cards,” is a phrase I’ve heard out of Erin’s mouth on multiple occasions. Each time Erin proposes that we play Lost Cities, I am reassured once again that I proposed to the right woman.

This game has you take the role of an investor who has a serious jones for financing expeditions to lost civilizations. The problem with this theme is that it could be replaced easily with just about any theme. You could just as easily be investing in a baseball team or a fainting goat farm. The game is so abstract that you could play a very similar game with a deck of regular playing cards, though I have to admit you would miss out on the quality components found within the box.

Lost Cities is a game of taking calculated risks while hoping for the right cards hit your hand. You have five types of environments to send expeditions to, represented by five colors. Yellow is the desert, blue is Neptune’s Realm, green is the Brazilian rain forest, white is the Himalayas, and red represents ancient volcanoes (though I prefer to think of it as Mars). These colors are found on the oversized cards and on the small rectangular board that serves as the playing surface.

The cards are made up of investment cards and expedition cards. The expedition cards are numbered two through ten for each color, and the investment cards have a handshake symbol on them (there are three investment cards per color). When you lay down any card on a color, you get a -20 (that’s negative 20) for that color. You job is to put enough of the expedition cards down so that you get back into the positive. The catch is that once you play an expedition card, you can’t play a lower-numbered expedition card on that color.

The investment cards have to be played before you lay down any expedition cards, and they double, triple, or quadruple your risk, depending on how many you lay down. That means if you end up with a -4 on a certain color and have 2 investment cards down, you will triple your loss and get a -12. Likewise, a positive number on a color gets multiplied based on your investment cards as well. You can discard a card instead of playing one if you want, but your opponent can pick up the top card on discard pile when they draw.

After you play or discard a card, you draw a card, and the game is over when the last card is drawn. If you have more cards in your hand that you want to play towards the end of the game, you can prolong the game by drawing from the discard pile. Once the game is over, you tally up the scores for each color, and the player with the most total points wins the game. Usually Erin and I play 3-5 games and then add up our total score to see who wins.

Since you can’t directly affect your opponent’s score in this game, it is not cutthroat at all. That is a big plus for Erin, and I have to say it’s also a plus for our marriage since we play this one so much. One more thing to note about this game is that the players don’t have much interaction with one another as the game is played. Between games we usually talk about the tactics we used during the last game, but during actual play, not much is said.

The Verdict
Lost Cities is a lot of fun for both me and Erin. We are both good at it, so we have some pretty close games. The competitive-but-not-too-competitive tone of the game is nice for us on a quiet evening or weekend afternoon. I recommend this game for couples, especially as an introductory game for those who aren’t really all that into games but would like to maybe be. The rules are simple and the game plays fast (three games takes about 20-30 minutes or so once you get the rules down). Check this one out.

Dogstar Games Link to buy Lost Cities

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