Year Published: 1999
Number of Players: 2-2
Play Time: About 30 – 45 minutes
Set-up Time: About 5 minutes
Ages: 10 and up
Table Size: Medium
I recently got to take Lost Cities for a spin during the 14th annual Gamestorm convention in Vancouver, WA. My friend and I were looking for a quick game to pass the time, and this one was recommended by one of the people attending the Games Library booth at the convention.
Lost Cities is an easy-to-learn card game designed for only two players and was part of the Kosmos 2-Player Games series. The premise is pretty simple: You are an intrepid explorer out to find, presumably, lost cities. If successful, you earn a lot of money and, if you fail, you may lose your shirt.
As with many board games, the premise isn’t really very important; at its core, this is a simple and fun game of number and color matching with a bit of strategy and cunning thrown in for good measure.
To start, players set the game board between them and draw 8 cards from the Draw Pile. Most cards are numbered from 2 to 10 and all contain one of five colors, corresponding to colors on the game board. Each different color represents a different “expedition” on which you may “invest.” By investing in an expedition (represented by placing a non-numbered colored card corresponding to one of the five colors on the game board), you declare your intention to see that expedition through to the end. Once you’ve decided to start investing in an expedition, you place your numbered cards in a line stemming from the corresponding color on the game board in sequential order.
For example, I may begin an expedition by placing a Blue 2 on the corresponding Blue space on the game board. Thereafter, I may place any other blue card in that line, numbered from 3 to 10. Once a card has been placed, no lower-valued card may be placed on top of it; if my next card is a Blue 5, for example, I may not later place a Blue 3 or 4, only a blue 6 or greater will do. Once a blue 10 has been placed on that line, the expedition has ended; it can’t be further increased.
After a card has been placed, players pick up a new card from the Draw Pile and play passes to the next player. Alternately, instead of playing a card on an expedition, a player may choose to discard and draw a new card. Discarded items go onto the appropriately-colored spaces on the game board (for example, a discarded Blue 4 would be placed on the Blue section of the board) and may be picked up in lieu of taking a card from the Draw Pile. As soon as the last card from the Draw Pile is taken, the round ends and points are tallied.
Scoring is a bit of a math exercise: players add up all of the numbers on the cards they’ve played for each expedition (color) and subtract 20 from the value (subtracting 20 represents the cost of going on an expedition). Once totaled, players earn a multiplier of x2, x3, or x4 depending on whehter or not they played one, two, or three “investment” cards before playing any numbered cards on a given expedition. For each investment that had no numbered cards played, the player loses 20 points. For example, if I invested on the Blue expedition three times by playing 3 Investment cards, but I never played even so much as a Blue 2 on that expedition, I lose 60 points in total on the expedition — ouch!
Let’s give one more example to illustrate all of this:
1. Tally up all the numbered cards played on an expedition; let’s say I played 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, and 10, all of the Blue expedition. I would add these numbers together and get 45.
2. Subtract 20 to represent the cost of the expedition. My total is now 25.
3. Determine your multiplier. Let’s say I played two Blue investment cards before I began playing numbered cards. My multiplier would be x3, so I would have a score of 75 points.
4. If you have played 8 or more cards on a single expedition, you gain a bonus 20 points. Since I’ve played 9 cards (2 investment cards, plus my numbered cards), I get a bonus; I’m up to 95 points!
It is possible, and actually quite common, to lose a lot of points on any given expedition, so it’s best to try to hedge your bets by embarking on more than one during a single round.
Most of the strategy in the game comes from trying to guess what your opponent is doing. Because there are only a certain number of cards of each color and number, it’s possible to horde cards that you expect your opponent to need in an attempt to block them from getting what they are looking for.
Overall, Lost Cities is a fun game for two players that will pass a good 30 to 45 minutes of time. Initially it seems like the depth of the game may be limited, but it would take far more plays to get a real feel for whether or not that is the case. I could recommend this to anyone looking for a good, two-player strategy game that puts players head-to-head without giving them tools to directly sabotage each other.
As always, it’s important to consider accessibility when selecting a new game to play. Lost Cities is a simple card game, but its dependence on colors makes it somewhat difficult to recommend for certain audiences.
Color Dependent: Because color plays such a large part in this game, it can be difficult for people with color blindness. Because the game doesn’t reward secrecy, it’s okay to ask the opposing player to occasionally identify a color for you.
Large Print: The print on the cards is quite large, making it easy to read for people with low vision. Sometimes the colors can make it difficult to read based on the colors, but the numbers themselves are quite sufficient for even lower-vision players to read with relative ease. A magnifier can help people with particularly low vision.
Large Cards: The cards themselves are quite large and easy to manipulate. Once a card has been placed on an expedition, it’s no longer important to pick them up until it’s time to score. IF it is difficult for you to manipulate fine objects such as cards though, using card holders may be somewhat tricky due to their size.
No In-game Text: Aside from the numbers on the cards, there is no required in-game text for Lost Cities, making it a good game for people with dyslexia or other reading issues.