Monday, 16 September 2013

Lost Cities

Occasionally I get asked why I don't write more negative reviews, I guess the answer I should have been giving was that I hadn't had a chance to play Lost Cities. Since I do a fair amount of 2 player gaming with the Mrs I figured why not pick up this "classic" renown as a "couples game" or just a generally fantastic game for 2 players I thought what could possibly go wrong. Now don't get me wrong, this will not be an entirely "negative review" because I do see the attraction, I mean playing the game is pretty fun, you have to make some tough choices and the mechanics are good, even your goal seems feasible, so where does Lost Cities go wrong? I can share the sour taste in my mouth by quoting one sentence from the rule book "Thus, an expedition's value is between -80 and 156." In a round, you can have up to 5 expeditions and you must find the total value, rarely do you actually have 5 but you can see how scoring can be a little hard to keep track of. My main issue is that the scoring feels like it is too much work for the actual game you just played, even if you do it quickly with a calculator or pad of paper it is still a chore.

To have the highest total expedition value when the draw deck runs out of cards.

Shuffle the deck and deal each player 8 cards.

You have 2 options on your turn, discard or play an expedition card, after either action you must draw a new card.

Playing an Expedition Card:
You simply place an expedition card of a higher value than the current expedition card on your side of the board where the corresponding expedition is located. You may never go back and add a lower value card, and Investment cards must be played before any numerical expedition cards have been placed.

Discarding an Expedition Card:
Each Expedition has it's own discard pile, when you discard a card simply place it in the matching discard pile on top of any previously discarded cards..

Each expedition has a matching discard pile located
between the two sides of the game board.

Drawing a Card:
You have two choices, technically 6 choices as to where you can draw your card from. You can draw from the draw deck or the top card of any expedition's discard pile. Keep in mind that drawing from the draw deck causes the game to move closer to its end.

Game End / Scoring
This is where you need to get some scrap paper, a calculator and a Tylenol or two because shits about to get intense.
* First you add the numbered cards in an expedition together
* Then subtract 20 from the sum of the expedition
* Multiply the new value of the expedition by (1+# of Investment Cards)

Note: Expeditions that do not have any cards in them at the end of the game count for 0 points, they do not get the -20.

The blue expedition would be worth -60
while the yellow would be worth 0.
I thought it was important to mention that the artwork on the cards is really cool. The numbers show an expedition in sequential order and each of the Investment cards feature the same people in front of a different ma. I felt that the artwork was very connected to the game thought they picked a good set of colours for the cards.
 Why Didn't I enjoy Lost Cities?
As I mentioned above mostly the scoring, I felt that the game played good to okay but it wasn't "fun" for lack of a better word. I think my problem is it reminds me too much of standard card games, not to say that I don't enjoy Crazy Eights but when they start to get too serious I would rather play something with a board and bits.

Who Would Enjoy Lost Cities?

Casual Gamers: I do think some casuals will find love in Lost Cities, I think if you enjoy standard playing card games then you will really enjoy Lost Cities, if you do not, and consider yourself a casual gamer I would make sure to physically try this one before buying regardless of how great you think it sounds / looks.

Gamer Gamers: If you are considered an "alpha gamer" or any synonym for the term then I think you will find enjoyment in Lost Cities, unless of course you do not enjoy number crunching. There is lots of deep decision making and lots of replay value. When two people who are experienced with the game play it is totally different and way more intense, a game of wits, these are why I would recommend Lost Cities to a serious gamer.


  1. Whoa! I just discovered that we've been playing this wrong. I swear a Rio Grande guy at Origins taught us that the discard pile goes next to the draw pile and that's how we've been playing all these years. A single card, face up in the discard pile is available to the opponent, not multiple discards spread out by color. I guess we never read the instructions again. I imagine our version results in consistently lower scoring games.

    1. :)

      What were you using the board for then?


      It is not the first time I read about someone that was playing the wrong rules. I guess it must happen all the time with all sorts of games and with all sorts of people (even geeks).

  2. Something similar happened to me with Hive a couple months ago, I was under the impression you could not move your bee until you had placed 4 pieces but turns out you just have to play your bee in the first 4 moves.

  3. Hi Todd,

    I think you review is spot on on the scoring system. It is a bit awkward and decreases the amount of fun one can get from that otherwise great game.

    The great thing about this game is that everyone likes (if not loves) it. Try teaching it around you and you'll see. For that reason, I think it is a gem.

    There is one way to get around the scoring system : online play. The computer does all computations (and does it live). You are then left with the fun bit only :)

    I'd suggest you try it on and see how much more you enjoy the game this way. But beware, it can be very addictive :)

    1. Ah trying it shows the number of cards left in the draw deck! Awesome thanks for the link, looks like work is taking a productivity hit today :P

    2. Yes, it shows the number of cards remaining in the deck too. Forgot that, but that's convenient too. I remember counting them time and time again which was not good for the pace of the game :)

      How is work going today?

  4. We got this and Battle Line at the same time and Lost Cities did not hang around. Battle Line you know the game is won in 2 seconds, not after scoring for 5 minutes. For two pretty similar games, Battle Line is far superior in every way.