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Subject: Lost Cities - A Detailed Review rss

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Image Courtesy of SpiderOne

This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.

In addition this is the 2nd in a series of reviews that will focus on the Kosmos series of games. A full list of titles I plan to review or have reviewed from the series can be found at the bottom of this review.

Summary

Game Type - Card Game
Play Time: 20-40 minutes (Playing Best of 3)
Number of Players: 2
Mechanics - Set Collection, Card Drafting
Difficulty - Pick-up & Play (Can be learnt in under 10 minutes)
Components - Excellent
Release - 1999

Designer - Reiner Knizia - (Amun-Re, FITS, Indigo, Ingenious, Lord of the Rings, Lost Cities, Medici, Modern Art, Pickomino, Stephenson's Rocket, Tigris & Euphrates, Through the Desert, Ra, Taj Mahal, The Quest for El Dorado, Winner's Circle…and the list goes on!)

Overview

In Lost Cities, each player represents the Leader of an Archeological team, determined to scour the world to uncover the most precious of artifacts. Each player must decide on which of 5 locations they will visit and then they must prepare their resources for each trek before setting forth to find treasures of untold wonder!

Of course the reality is that this is a set collecting and card placement game that could have had any theme on the planet. In truth it is highly mathematical in the mechanics and execution and Dr. Knizia has made this foundation the basis of many of his designs over the years.

The Components

d10-1 The Board - Like many games in the Kosmos 2-Player Series, Lost Cities features a small board. This one is a 3-fold design and upon it are 5 reasonably sized parchment maps. Each one is a different colour (which matches the 5 colours that the cards come in) and each colour has been selected to represent a different terrain. Red is the Ancient Volcano Regions (I didn't realise many tribes lived inside volcanoes but hey), Green is for the Amazon, White is the Himalayas, Blue is for the Ocean (Neptune's) Realm and Yellow the Deserts, most likely those of Egypt.

Each of these parchment maps are well illustrated, featuring tears and crude hand drawings to suggest that each one has been painstakingly found and put together.


Image Courtesy of ronster0


The background of the board features a wooden grain design to suggest a table and there are several archeological tools and a large magnifying glass also illustrated. All told the board really conveys the theme of the game and looks good doing it. Kosmos are great for this sort of thing.

d10-2 The Cards - Lost Cities features a total of 60 cards. There are 12 in each colour with 9 of them being Expedition Cards (1 of each numbered 2-10) and 3 being Investment Cards. The cards come in an unusual size, being slightly wider than a standard playing card and about 12cms longer (not that I measured or anything shake ).

 

Image Courtesy of -=Dani=-


Every Expedition Card features lovely artwork depicting a scene from its given location. Each cards artwork was drawn to form a mosaic or larger piece of artwork (when combined with other cards from the same set) and a super clever geek put these together for all of us to enjoy.


Image Courtesy of Major Sholto


The back of the cards also feature an old golden compass, which supports the theme nicely as well as being good to look at.


Image Courtesy of zombiegod


The Investment Cards all feature the same artwork, a scene whereby 2 men shake hands. This is likely representing an investor sealing the agreement with the Archeological team to bankroll an Expedition. These cards are also identified as different to the Expedition Cards by way of a pair of shaking hand symbols instead of numerical values at the top of the card.


Image Courtesy of EndersGame


d10-3 Rules and Insert Tray - The rules are very easy to read and also offer a variant for 4-player games (requiring 2 copies to play). The insert tray is a very simple affair but with only cards and the board to accommodate, it is a nice snug fit.


Image Courtesy of zombiegod


All in all the components don't blow you away but they are classy in their presentation non-the-less.

The Game Play

It's no secret that Lost Cities is a heck of a popular game and widely regarded as a favourite of many female gamers in particular.

Let's take a closer look at how the game flows.

d10-1 Starting Hand - Each player begins the game by being dealt 8 cards. The remainder are placed beside the board as a draw pile.

d10-2 Play or Discard a Card - On each player's turn they must play 1 card from their hand to one of the 5 locations depicted on the board or Discard a card if they feel that adding a card would be detrimental (see Scoring below).

Only cards of a given colour can be played to their corresponding location. All cards are placed below the location parchment on the playing surface, not the board itself. In this way the board merely designates where cards should be played. Both players will have cards placed in this fashion so that in some locations, each player will have cards directly opposed to the other player.

Discarding a card is as simple as throwing a card onto the discard pile, however each discard must be made to the matching parchment map on the board. Therefore there can be up to 5 different discard piles at any one time. These cards are discarded face up as this information may be highly valuable to your opponent, not to mention the top card from each pile can be drawn by either player.

d10-3 Placement Considerations - All cards played to a location are placed in a vertically fanned orientation, allowing the icons (shaking hands or numerical values) to remain visible.

When placing a card there are only 2 additional restrictions in addition to the colour matching rule. First, an Investment Card cannot be placed at a location once any numbered card has been placed. Numbered cards indicate that the Expedition has started, so further Investment is no longer valuable.

Second, numbered Expedition Cards can only be placed provided that the newly laid card is larger in value than the card played previously in that location. In other words the cards for a given location must be played in ascending order. It is quite alright to play an 8 or a 10 as the 1st card to an Expedition, but this will have the drawback of locking out all the proceeding numbers!


Image Courtesy of mcross


d10-4 Ending a Turn - Once a card has been assigned to a location the turn is ended by drawing a card, either from the Draw Deck or the top of any Discard Pile to return your hand to 8 cards. Being able to draw from a Discard Pile can cause major problems for your opponent as they may want to throw off but feel they can't discard certain cards because you have started an Expedition in that location (or may want to)!

d10-5 Game End - When a player draws the last card from the draw deck to their hand it signals the end of the game, hence 1 card will never be playable in each game. At this point scoring is calculated.


Image Courtesy of Nodens77


d10-6 Scoring - Scoring is by far the most 'rule heavy' part of the game and it completely drives every decision made throughout the game. Each location where a player has started an Expedition (cards have been played there) is scored independently of other locations and each player's score is not dependent on what the opponent has done (not directly anyway).

The scoring for each location is as follows -

Minus 20 - Each Expedition that was started immediately earns a score of -20. Thematically this reflects expenses.

Determine Expedition Value - Add up the value of an Expedition by adding together the value of all Expedition Cards at that location. Subtract the -20 expense cost from this number and you will either have a positive or negative score.

Apply Investment Multiplier - Multiply the Expedition value by the number of Investment Cards played to that location +1.

Example - The cards 4, 7, 8, 10 were played to a location, worth a value of 29. After subtracting the -20, the value of this Expedition is 9. A total of 2 Investment Cards were played to the Expedition so the value of 9 is multiplied by 3 (2 + 1) for a total of 27 at that location.

Success Bonus - A bonus of 20 points can also be earned at any location should a player manage to play 8 or more cards there (out of the possible 12).

Grand Total - The totals and possible minus scores from each location are all added together for each player to identify a player's final score for the game with the highest total winning.

d10-7 Multiple Round Games - Playing only 1 round for a whole game seems a little silly as a single round can take as little as 8-15 minutes. To help iron out the elements of chance it is usually recommended that a 3-Round game take place and the scores from each round are added together to determine the winner.

So Why So Popular - Where's the Strategy?

Lost Cities seems to be one of those 'love it or hate it' kind of games. Several years ago the game was all over the boards here at BGG and I think to some degree people started to 'diss it just to be different, ala Puerto Rico or Agricola today. Others genuinely disliked the simplistic nature of 'play a card and draw a card'.

For me the game is a good one because, however subtle, strategic considerations are definitely present. Here's what I feel the game has to offer -

d10-1 Deduction & Inference - Lost Cities is essentially a game of deduction and inference. You need to use the information in your hand (cards you're holding) combined with the cards on the table, the discards and those played by your opponent to work out what your chances are of drawing further cards of a given location. This information will then determine whether you take the risk to start an Expedition in a given location at all.

I'm no psychologist but these skills are something my female gaming friends enjoy using and they are good at it. Perhaps this is part of the reason why this game ranks so highly with lady gamers?

d10-2 The Staring Contest - The game is really challenging because often you will have a real dog of a hand that gives you no easy options. You don't really want to commit to a new Expedition without the right cards to make it profitable and it is often very useful to force your opponent into a position in which they feel they have no choice but to play a card to 'that' Expedition first. What they play can very much help you in deciding if you should take the plunge too.

If they play an Investment Card it is a good sign that they feel they can make a positive score, suggesting that they already have a few high valued Expedition Cards in hand. Should they play a 3 or a 5, they are likely just looking to break even and it doesn't suggest that you won't have a decent chance of earning points there yourself.

d10-3 The Risk Factor - Then there is the whole question of 'How many Expeditions can I realistically make if they are all going to earn positive points?' Usually the answer is 2-3, but with good card draws, 4 is sometimes possible. I'm yet to see someone pull off all 5 Expeditions in a single round but I'm sure it has been done.

d10-4 Hand Management - This game is all about hand management and sometimes knowing how to play a good hand is just as important as knowing how to get out of a bad hand with minimum damage.

Take for example a starting hand that features 6, 8 and 10 of a given colour. This looks like a great start but it still won't earn that many points without Investment Cards. So the question becomes 'How long can I afford to wait in order to draw an Investment Card before I am forced to play these suckers?' This is always a tricky proposition.

Likewise, knowing when to hold a card and not discard it because it may help your opponent should they collect it, is paramount.

d10-5 The Bluff - Often good players will try to avoid committing to a new Expedition until they see a player discard a certain coloured card, which normally suggests they don't have the resources in that location. This can allow for some great bluffing moves. If you're holding 5 red cards and all of them are of high values but the Number 1, why not discard it and see if your opponent takes the bait. With any luck they will start an Expedition there and you can then get your cards down and watch them gasp. You score positive and they score negative means a double victory!

d10-6 The Clock's Ticking - The game can get really tense from about halfway through the deck as time is running out with each draw. Good players will always be calculating how many turns they need to play cards from their hand plus the additional time they need to draw and play the cards they need but are yet to get. This gives the game its edge.

d10-7 Swings & Roundabouts - It's rare that you won't feel some pain in at least a few locations each game, but this is balanced out with locations where you are able to excel. In short Lost Cities allows each player to experience some level of success, whether it be scoring big or hurting your opponent by coming over the top, resulting in them getting a negative score.

d10-8 Speed - The game is really quick to play, making it perfect between heavier titles or after tea but before bed.

The final point I would make regarding this games popularity is that it was released way back in 1999 before the market was flooded with the titles that we have today. Combine this with the Knizia label (which probably held more lustre 4-5 years ago) and it is no surprise that the game enjoyed a long period of fan based enthusiasm.

The Not so Goods?

The game is not beyond a few negative points though.

d10-1 Poor Starting Hand - This will always be a problem in card games but the inherent nature of the scoring and placement mechanics can make a bad starting hand bite real bad. Beginning the game with too many Investment Cards and few Expedition Cards means you are relying on luck to choose a location that you will be able to draw cards in.

Start with high valued Expedition Cards and no Investment Cards, means you won't be able to maximise the potential and worse, may be forced to play high cards thereby cutting out the ability to play lower ones should they be drawn later (and they will be). devil

d10-2 Lack of Decisions - This is often touted, 'So what you play a card and draw a card, that's not decision making'. This is probably true on the surface but my points on strategy above highlight the subtle points that must be considered. If you don't care for subtlety then you probably don't care for Lost Cities.

I would also argue that Lost Cities is a filler game. Filler game with brains...sure...but there is enough here to warrant the time frame.

The Final Word

I still think that Lost Cities is a fine game. I don't play it as much as I used to though for two main reasons. First I really played the heck out of it all those years ago as it was the 3rd or 4th game in my collection. Second, I have since acquired some 300+ games since buying Lost Cities so there is just so much competition for play time now.

If you haven't discovered this game yet and some of the above sounds enticing, I'd suggest pooling your Investments and checking it out.


Image Courtesy of TGov


Compared to other Games in the Kosmos 2-Player Series

Lost Cities probably comes across as a little drier than other games in the series. The theme is a little thinner and the mathematics are really in your face with the scoring.

It feels more like 2-player solitaire than a directly combative game but at the same time each player's decisions have a direct cutting effect on the other.

The play time is spot on for the depth of play and this can't be said for some of the other titles.

With almost 8,000 ratings and over 45,000 logged plays (at time of writing) Lost Cities represents the most widely acclaimed, owned and played game in the Kosmos 2-Player Series.


Image Courtesy of Gialmere


Links

For a full list of my 500+ reviews in a search-able Geeklist -

My Review Geeklist for Easy Reference

Kosmos Links

Following is a list of games in the Kosmos 2-Player Series (plus Pick & Pack) that I have or intend to review. Hopefully these are of value to you if you are researching for a good 2-Player game but are unsure of which one to get. At present I have all of the games on the list below.

Babel

Balloon Cup

Blue Moon

Caesar & Cleopatra

Crocodile Pool Party!

Dracula

Dragonheart

Elkfest

Finale

Gone Fishing!

Heave Ho!

Hellas

Hera & Zeus

Jager & Spaher

Kahuna

Pick & Pack

Odin's Ravens

Perry Rhodan

Rosenkonig

Starship Catan

Summertime

Targi

The Pyramid of the Jaguar

The Reef

Tally Ho!

Times Square
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Sheamus Parkes
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I just can't believe someone would say there are no interesting decisions in Lost Cities. Every time you try to decide when to start an expedition is full of thought.

Also, I really wish they'd just put the scoring in the form of a formula:

(Sum - 20) X (1 + #Investments)

I screwed up the scoring a couple times trying to decipher the written form.

Nice review!
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Isamoor wrote:
I just can't believe someone would say there are no interesting decisions in Lost Cities. Every time you try to decide when to start an expedition is full of thought.

I agree but I remember whole boards debating these issues a few years back.

Isamoor wrote:


Also, I really wish they'd just put the scoring in the form of a formula:

(Sum - 20) X (1 + #Investments)

I screwed up the scoring a couple times trying to decipher the written form.

Nice review!

Yeah the examples on the back of the rules are probably the best way to work it out. I guess they were worried that formula style examples might alienate some of their target customers.
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Steve Herron
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This was a very well done review. I had been thinking of getting Lost Cities or Bohnanza. I was leaning towards Bohnanza since it could be played by more people. Are they similar and which might be the better game? Looking for a game could be taken on a trip and would fit in a suit case easily.
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sherron wrote:
This was a very well done review. I had been thinking of getting Lost Cities or Bohnanza. I was leaning towards Bohnanza since it could be played by more people. Are they similar and which might be the better game? Looking for a game could be taken on a trip and would fit in a suit case easily.

These are vastly different games.

Bohnanza is as you say, a multi-player game. I don't rate the 2-player option all that highly although my wife and mum have played over 1000 games this way.

Bohnanza is really a negotiation and hand management game. It's equally as good in it's own right and perhaps may have more replayability in the long run should you find enough players to love it with you.

That's the beauty of Lost Cities - you just need 1 other player.
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Jonathan Morton
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Lost Cities is a solid game in the very simple & fast card game category. But that's all it is. It's neither exciting nor deep, and it is very close to being strictly inferior to Battle Line (or Schotten Totten if you prefer that theme). I don't understand why Lost Cities is such a universal recommendation on BGG.
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Jonathan Morton
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sherron wrote:
This was a very well done review. I had been thinking of getting Lost Cities or Bohnanza. I was leaning towards Bohnanza since it could be played by more people. Are they similar and which might be the better game? Looking for a game could be taken on a trip and would fit in a suit case easily.

2-player Bohnanza is the polar opposite of Lost Cities in terms of BGG reputation. It is an entirely different game than the multiplayer version, and I think most people hold that against it (or assume that it's no good without actually having tried it). But if 2-player Bohnanza had been released on its own with no connection to the multiplayer game, it would by rights be ranked right alongside Lost Cities. The gameplay is similarly fast & light and mildly entertaining.

Bohnanza with 5 to 7 players is great (and I'm an exception in that many would tell you it's also great with 4).
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Neil
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sherron wrote:
This was a very well done review. I had been thinking of getting Lost Cities or Bohnanza. I was leaning towards Bohnanza since it could be played by more people. Are they similar and which might be the better game? Looking for a game could be taken on a trip and would fit in a suit case easily.

Both are superb games, and I would not like to be forced to choose between them. But if I was forced, I would go with Bohnanza because the two-player game is decent and the multiplayer game is a blast with tons of interaction (you cannot get through a turn without trading with other players cards you don't want for cards you do want).

Try to get both!
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Just call me Erik
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Neil Thomson wrote:
Isamoor wrote:
I just can't believe someone would say there are no interesting decisions in Lost Cities. Every time you try to decide when to start an expedition is full of thought.

I agree but I remember whole boards debating these issues a few years back.

Isamoor wrote:


Also, I really wish they'd just put the scoring in the form of a formula:

(Sum - 20) X (1 + #Investments)

I screwed up the scoring a couple times trying to decipher the written form.

Nice review!

Yeah the examples on the back of the rules are probably the best way to work it out. I guess they were worried that formula style examples might alienate some of their target customers.

Truth. Saying (Sum - 20) x (1 + Investments) makes people think playing the game will be like sitting through algebra class. However,for my programmer friends, it's totally natural.
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My wife and I usually play Lost Cities while watching TV... we just play on the couch between us. Its a good filler for just something to do. And its more engrossing than most TV shows.

I've run all 5 colors successfully a few times, and its glorious! I've also been down by over a hundred points by the last round and gone for a hail mary 3 handshake gamble and failed miserably. Good stuff.

I enjoyed your review... looking forward to the next one.
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Tomello Visello
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Neil Thomson wrote:
:d10-2: Lack of Decisions - This is often touted, 'So what you play a card and draw a card, that's not decision making'. This is probably true on the surface but my points on strategy above highlight the subtle points that must be considered.
I ponder whether some of this may be misperception. A longterm decision to begin a color comes after considering the calculations you mention, yet it may then be followed by a serious of turns on autopilot to lay down the cards waiting in your hand to support it. And so the autopilot portion gets slammed.

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Great review as always. I am anxiously awaiting your review of "Finale".
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Ronaldo wrote:
Great review as always. I am anxiously awaiting your review of "Finale".

He he...shake

I still haven't learned or played Finale because I have a German copy with German rules.

I have a 2 week holiday starting next Friday however, so that should give me the time to address the situation.
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EDIT - Updated the Kosmos Review Links section to reflect all titles in my collection and the latest games reviewed.
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Another great couples game.

Pretty much like you are both playing solitaire - at the same time.

Still, it is a very enjoyable game and one bad decision can cost you.

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