The first time I played Lost Cities, it was the two-player travel version. We enjoyed it a lot and when we saw the board game (designed by Reiner Knizia) on special offer we decided it would be good to introduce the kid to it. It has quickly become our go to family game.
There is an element of luck in Lost Cities, and a heavy dose of strategy. You cannot help the cards you draw but it is your choice when to blink, so to speak.
You start off with eight cards. There are five differing colours of cards which correspond to five paths on the board. The object of the game is to move your people along the paths gathering points as you go. To do this you plot a route by playing the cards – these have numbers on them from zero to 10.
This sounds very simple but there are complications. You don’t have to go to all the areas. If you don’t have the right cards then sometimes you are better off not starting on the path at all. At the paths start off with minus points – you start on -20 and move up through -15, -10 and finally +5. You also have one big person, with them you win (or lose) double points – you decide which path to put them on.
As you go along the path you collect tokens that are either extra points, artefacts, or the ability to jump an extra square. The artefacts are counted up at the end of the game and become plus or minus points depending on quantity.
Lost Cities can be played once, or over three rounds. There are two lots of each card in the pack. So, if you have a blue 10 and an opponent has a blue 10, then no one else is going to get one. If you don’t want to place a card you can discard one and then either pick a new one from the stack or one that someone else has discarded. You can’t play this card on this turn though, and you can only pick from the top of the discard piles.
There is a very fine balance in terms of which cards to play. If you play a zero is it crazy to follow it with a seven, even if you have the eight, nine and 10 to follow. Only you can decide. The game is over when all the cards are used or when five people have travelled over the bridge (about three quarters of the way along the path).
At the end of the game the person with the most points – converted into coins – wins. To play a three round game takes about 45 minutes.
There aren’t too many components in Lost Cities, but those there are seemingly sturdy enough. The cards are a lovely design. However, some of the blue cards have a bit of green on and vice versa. The situation is the same with the red and black cards. We have all made the mistake at one time or another. It can help to make sure you arrange them in your hand with the largest section of colour saturation on view.
The replay value with Lost Cities is infinite. The game changes every time, for varying reasons. It's partly because of each of the following.
- The cards you're dealt.
- The items you collect change place each turn.
- You cannot control what your opponents do, or pick up.
Interaction and Engagement
Lots of shouts of ‘you kept that card from me on purpose!’ Usually this is exactly the case. Cards you pick up but can’t use can be squirrelled away in your hand to stop someone else from using them. We have on occasion come to an agreement to only pick from the discard pile for an extra hand to stop the stack from running out and the game being over.
Lost Cities does give a high level of engagement and you can chose many different strategies. Our daughter likes to swap lots of cards in and out to create good paths. I like to collect lots of artefacts, whilst my partner has a very good eye for the balance between using cards and swapping cards.
Final Thoughts on Lost Cities
I questioned spending money on a game we already had in another format. However, I'm pleased that I've been proved wrong. We really like to play Lost Cities and I think the learning of tactics is vaguely educational as well. Decision making needs to be fairly quick and you often see the consequences of your actions play out in a game. As a result, it’s quite a good learning tool.