Review: Lost Cities

Lost Cities, by Reiner Knizia, is one of his more popular card games amongst gamers. It is a light game that is very easy to teach and learn. From the Kosmos two player line, it plays in a half hour or less. Many gamers say that it is the game they play with their non-gamer or gamer-lite spouse which makes sense. Dispite this game's lightness, there is a fair amount of thinking here for a simple game and better players can win much more often than not.

The theme here revolves around exploration to exotic locals some time in the early 20th century. The cards reflect what is going on and tells a little story. Here, we have a deck of cards with five colored suits, each suit representing a different archeological dig in some part of the world. Players play numbered cards from their hand with the goal being to have the highest total score. Additionally, players are penalized if they do not play enough scoring cards from any particular suit. Thematically, we are looking at not investing enough in an effort to make it pay off. After all, globetrotting for treasure doesn't come cheap. The game moves swiftly and plays in three rounds, but can be reduced to save on time if one wishes.

Image by Kobra1

Image by Terraliptar

Components
The game includes a deck of cards with 5 fairly nicely illustrated colored suits and a board which is used to order by suit the discarded cards . Each suit has cards numbered 2-10 along with 3 investment cards. Each card has an illustration of a particular site which progressively gets closer to a treasure or monument the higher the number. Investment cards look the same for each suit and have an illustration that adds to the period feel of the game. The overall impression is that of nicely themed, colorful cards clearly distinguishable from each other.

Image by BakeliteTM

Game Play
Players are dealt 8 cards each (thanks for correction here, Tim), which will form their hand. The remaining cards lie face down next to the board. The board has spaces for each of the five suits and are color coded accordingly. This board is only for discarding, so it really is not needed, but is nice enough adding a little to the game experience. On a player's turn, he will draw one card from the top of the deck or from the top of any of the five discard decks on the board if any cards are available here. They will then play or discard exactly one card from their hand. Players play cards on their side of the board next to the discard pile of the same color. A player may play any card so long as it is in ascending order (lowest to highest) in the correct colored suit. The non-numbered cards (investment cards) are marked with an icon of shaking hands and must be played first before any numbered cards. One, two or three of these investment cards may be played per suit on top of each other, but not over any numbered cards. Cards are placed so that numbers below can be seen. If a player chooses not to play a card, they must discard face up on the appropriately colored discard pile.

Round End
After the last card in the draw deck has been pulled and that player has finished their play, the scoring begins. Only cards played count for score. For each suit, players add the numbers played on their side. After this, they subtract 20 from that total. Next, that total is doubled if the player has played one investment card (hand card), tripled for two and quadrupled if that player played all three cards. Finally, as a bonus for large suits collected, a player adds 20 to that score if they have played 8 or more cards in that suit. The totals for each suit is added and players record the score. The game is played in three identical rounds. After the third round the highest total wins.

For example, a player has 9 cards in the red suit and 3 in blue suit. For the red suit, she has played two investment cards and the 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9 and the 10. For the blue suit she has played one investment card, the 3 and the 8.

For red we have: (1 + 3 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10) - 20 for a total of 23. Since she has two investment cards we multiply by 3: 23 x 3 for a total of 69. Since she has 8 or over in that suit, she gets an additional 20 for 89 pts.

For blue we have: (3 + 8) - 20 for a total of - 9. Since she has played one investment card, we multiply by 2: -9 x 2 for a total of -18.

Her total points this round is 71.

The scoring is tricky as it forces some hard choices. First off, if a player starts to play on a suit, he must be sure his numbers break the 20 mark. Investment cards require even more confidence here. Cards will become available through the discard piles which offer more choices. Because the hand has a limit of six cards carried over to the next turn, players may be forced to discard a large numbered card or a suit that you know the other player to be building on.

Some Situations That Come Up
- Often, it can be the case that you might have a lot of great cards for one suit but no investment cards. Should you hold out from playing that first number and wait for the card to come up in order to capitalize on your strong suit? Once you place that first number, the investment card is not an option. If you hold out, your hand is somewhat frozen so that other suits don't have a chance to develop and build in your hand.

-Pulling from the discard piles or the draw pile can be a good timer strategy. If you need more time finish off a suit and get it out of the negative zone, but the draw deck is nearing the end, start pulling from discard piles – even if you're drawing cards that you don't need. This will buy you more time to place the cards.

- Conversely, if you see your opponent struggling to get cards on the table and the draw deck is low, speed the game up by drawing from the draw pile.

- At times you will need to hold back from discarding certain unwanted cards because you know your opponent can use it. You'll want to wait until his numbers pass this card number before discarding. But, in so doing, you are wasting a valuable slot in your hand that could be used for building a particular suit. If you have enough unwanted cards that he needs you may have to bite the bullet and give it to him in order to free up your hand.

- If a particular discard deck is getting rich with good cards, you may wish to avoid discarding in that suit. I have been tempted many-a-time by a discard pile which I start a whole suit from scratch, just by digging through, turn after turn.

- Starting with a bunch of 10s may seem great, but it can also be paralyzing. You don't dare discard a 10 because it will surely help the other player. But if you can't get the other numbers for support to save your life, all the 10 is doing is filling up a valuable slot in your hand that you can't use.

- Do you take a chance a start a somewhat promising suit that you've been waiting forever for cards to come up in? In this way, you can free up the hand for another suit that's really starting to develop. Though, if you never do get those cards from the original suit, you've just screwed yourself by going in the negative.

- You're dealt a 9, a 5 and two investment cards of a suit. That's four cards of one suit in your hand at one time. Do you take a chance and plop down an investment card, hoping for some numbered ones? Chances are good right? How about both investment cards to free up the hand even more? Many turns go by, nothing's happening and you need space in your hand. Do you play the 5 or wait for those darned low numbers...where are they? If you do, there's only 4 more cards that can help you.

- You see the other player play two investment cards in a suit. Shoot! You've got three crummy low cards from that one which you want to get rid of, but he'll just snatch them up. He may even be holding out for a while to start playing numbers hoping he'll find those low numbers. Uggg. Now opportunities have been wasted, because three slots in the hand are clogging it up.

Conclusion
For such a simple game, there's a lot going on here. It's a light filler but there's enough happening to satisfy anytime.

- Mike