You call this archaeology?!
Game Title: Lost Cities (Card Game)
U.S. Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Developer: Reiner Knizia
Number of Players: 2
For the daring and adventurous, there are many lost cities to find. The search can take you to the Himalayas, the Brazilian rain forest, the ever-shifting sands of the desert, ancient volcanoes and to Neptune's Realm. Of course, you must choose which expeditions to begin and which to leave to others. You may have the opportunity to increase your investment in the search, increasing the rewards for success, but risking more should you fail. The player who finds the right balance will have successful expeditions and win the game.
Lost Cities is essentially just what you might think from the game's title. The player takes on the role of an archaeologist/investor with the task to discover the remnants of ancient civilizations. There are five civilizations to go after, each represented by a color. Yellow goes with a desert civilization (think ancient Egypt), blue with a civilization at sea (Atlantis?), white corresponding with a civilization in a frozen wasteland, green with a lost city in the rain forest (think Incas/Aztecs/etc.), and red lost in a volcano. For each color, there are three "investment" cards and nine numbered cards, going from 2-10. At the beginning of the game, eight cards are dealt to each player with the rest set aside as a draw pile. Between the players is a long rectangular board, showing the five final destinations. A player can only play cards on his side of the board.
The player must then decide which of the lost cities he or she wants to pursue. Each expedition costs an outlay of 20 points. Investment cards may be played if the player is confident that he can succeed. They each serve to double the point total. However, if the expedition does not turn a profit, the loss is doubled as well. However, all investment cards must be played before the player actually begins his or her quest. To continue a quest, the player places a numbered card on a pile corresponding to the city being sought. The catch is that any card must be of a higher number than one already played (though they do not need to be consecutive). The player can also just choose not to continue a quest, and simply discard a card useless to them. After either playing or discarding a card, a player draws a card from the draw pile. The round ends, and scores are tallied, once the last card from the draw pile is taken.
Scoring is easily the most complicated part of this game. Any expedition started costs at least 20 points. Cards laid down must equal at least 20 points to show a profit. So if you only have a couple cards of a color, starting the expedition may not be the best idea. Investment cards both increase your risk, and increase rewards. Any loss is multiplied if under 20 points is scored. Any gain is multiplied if more than 20 points is scored. If eight numbered cards are played, that quest gives an extra 20 point bonus. This gives a possible range for any expedition of -80 points (if all three investment cards are played, an others) all the way up to +156 if all three investment cards and all nine numbered cards are played.
As every city only has nine numbered cards, and any card played must be of a higher number, the player must keep an eye on what his or her opponent is playing when formulating strategies. If your opponent has played the two, three, and four cards on say the desert city, it may behoove you to abandon thoughts of pursuing that city and to discard cards of that city, unless of course you also seek to sabotage your opponent by keeping the higher scoring cards in your own hand. Additionally, one must keep an eye on the draw pile and not gather so many useful cards, and discard useless ones, that you end up running out of time to lay down points. Decisions must be made quickly in this game.
The Lost Cities card game is unique in that it is only for two players, which makes it a perfect game for those who don't have a lot of friends interested in gaming, or for those just looking for something to play with a significant other. Two-player games are fairly rare, and many games that say will accommodate two players often lose a little something, either in the rules themselves or in the gameplay dynamics. And as a two-player game, this is definitely one of the best ones out there on the market. It has won several awards, including the International Gamer's Award and the Juego del año en España.
Like most card games, a certain amount depends on the luck of the draw. However, this is a game where strategies can, and should, be changed quickly. Victory really depends on quick thinking and being flexible in this game. Games can be lost or won very quickly. And as any given round can last as few as 15-20 minutes, this aspect gives the game a fast-paced feel with no real slow moments, maintaining a certain intensity throughout. Additionally, there is no set number of rounds in this game. A duo can play one round if they so choose. Or they can play five. Thus, this is also a game that can be recommended to younger people or people with lesser attention spans. You don't really get bored playing this.
The cards are well-made, made from a good card-stock paper. They are slightly oversized, which makes it easy to see exactly what you have and to handle. There is no in-game text to read, and the instructions are three pages long and easy to understand. And while really understanding how the scoring works can take a few minutes, this is a game that can be picked up and played very quickly.
This is easily one of the best two-player games on the market. The fast-paced nature and the quick thinking required really make this a blast to play.
It can be bought anywhere from $15-$30 online or from a game store.
Note: There is also a board game version of Lost Cities, for up to five players with significant play differences. It will be featured in a future column.
Written or Contributed by: Gregory Huber