A to Z Gaming: Lost Cities

We led archaeological expeditions to sites across the globe in Lost Cities, the next game in our A-Z game shelf play-through.

Basic Info: Lost Cities
Players: 2
Time: 30 Minutes
Designers: Reiner Knizia
Artists: Vincent Dutrait, Michaela Kienle, Anke Pohl, Thilo Rick, Claus Stephan, Franz Vohwinkel
Publisher: Rio Grande Games, Kosmos

Lost Cities is a quick 2-player card game where players take on the role of adventurers going on expeditions across the globe. Players must manage the cards in their hand while timing their placement in order to maximize how far they get on each trip they embark upon. The player who gets the best returns for their chosen expeditions wins.

The game is set up with the board in the center of the table and the deck of cards shuffled. Each player draws a hand of eight cards.

On their turn, the player first plays a card then draws a card. That’s it! Easy.

The cards come in five different colors/suits that each represent a different expedition including Egypt and Atlantis (though not necessarily by name). Each expedition is depicted on the board. The cards are numbered 2-10, one of each in each color. There are also three “investment” cards of each color.

When a player plays a card, they have three potions. They can start a new expedition by playing a color they haven’t played yet near that expedition’s space on their side of the board. Optionally, that card can be an investment card, but the investments can ONLY be placed before any numbered cards are played on an expedition. They can play a card to an expedition they’ve already started. This newly-placed card must be a higher number than the previously played card — the cards don’t have to be sequential, just ascending. Finally, they can simply discard a card. This goes on the space on the board for that expedition.

When a player draws a card, it can be from the top of the deck or the top of any of the discard piles on the board (except that they cannot draw a card that they discarded that turn).

The game ends as soon as the last card has been drawn from the deck. At that point, players count up their points. Each expedition that they have started has a base value of minus 20 points (i.e. the cost of mounting that expedition). Then they add up the numbers of the cards played in that expedition, adding it to the –20. If they played one, two, or three investment cards, the total is multiplied by two, three, or four. Finally, if the player managed eight cards in an expedition, they get 20 bonus points for that one.

The game suggests playing three such rounds, recording the scores between each of them, and the player with the most points at the end of three rounds, wins.

We picked up this game years ago, back when we first started gaming in the early 2000s. I know we played it a lot back then, but it hasn’t been to the table very often since. I love the art, and the way each higher card in a suit gives more and more detail of the expedition.

There are some great decisions during the game. You need to time your discards so that the other player doesn’t pick them up for their own benefit…unless there’s more benefit to you for not playing it. Toward the end, you are watching the draw pile, and I found that I switched to picking up random discarded cards just to make sure I had the time to play some of the high-number cards in my hand.

On the other hand, I just feel like there’s a lot of luck in the game — you are at the mercy of the shuffling of the cards. Not the worst thing for a 15-minute game, I suppose.

How is it as a 2-player game? This is designed as a 2-player game, so in that regard it works very well. There is a 4-player variant, but I haven’t played it. We are perfectly happy with it at 2-players.

How about the art and component quality? The cards are decent quality…and that’s about it for the components. I really like the art, and I remember once laying out all the cards from each of the expeditions to see all of the details that are revealed in each one.

Will this stay in my collection? Probably not. It’s a perfectly fine game, but there are so many others on our selves that I would pick up first. This is likely going on the for-trade pile soon.

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