Adventure (& math) await in the card game Lost Cities

Got my bags packed. Torches, rope, food, bedroll, bags of sand the exact weight as small golden idols. What am I forgetting? One can’t be too prepared, especially before embarking on a treasure hunting adventure. But all expeditions cost money, and not all will reap profit… though sadly very rarely do you know the outcome before heading off for adventure. Once you decide to head forth into the great unknown you better be ready to do what it takes to make money, lest you be left holding the proverbial bag (and not the kind filled with riches). Not only can a disastrous adventure not make you richer, it could easily make you much poorer.

Planning ahead through card management, mitigating your opponent’s success, and a bit of luck mark the keys to a successful endeavor in the card game Lost Cities

Let’s learn a little more about this terrific 2-Player game

The Breakdown:
Plays: 2
Takes: 15-30 minutes
Ages: 8 and up
Language independent

The Components:
The game quite simply includes 60 oversize cards with big artwork on them and 1 game board to organize discards, in addition to a rule pamphlet. The game board isn’t even required to play which makes this a good candidate for taking on trips.

The Basics:
The point of Lost Cities is to score points by playing cards of a particular color, each color representing a separate expedition. The cards are valued 2-10 and the hook is they must be played in ascending order, you can skip any cards you like but the one being played always has to be more than the one played before it. There are also cards that allow you “invest” in your expedition before it starts to multiply the points you eventually gain (or lose from it).

Each player starts the game with 8 cards in their hands and on their turn can take one of two actions, they can play a card to start or add to an expedition, or they can discard a card into a pile specific to that card’s color. In the second phase of the turn the player either draws a card from the draw pile or picks up a card on one of the discard piles. This way each player will maintain that 8 card hand the entire game.

Starting an expedition costs you 20 points off the bat, so before scoring any points you’ll need to use the cards to make up that deficit, so before deciding to start playing cards of a particular color you better try and make sure you have more than a 2-3-4 to play there (If that’s all you played for example that expedition would be worth -11 points at the end of the game).

This is where the math comes in to able to start with negative numbers and work them back into the positive to score some points. Those investment cards up the stakes, and multiply the final score by X2 X3 or even X4 points if you played all 3 investment cards of a particular expedition. Not hard how to see how beneficial or detrimental those could potentially be on your final tally.

Typically you’re not going to make an attempt on every type of expedition, as normally that just spreads you out too thin. But you want to be careful with what you discard, and when. Just because I’m not taking a run at the Green “jungle” expedition doesn’t mean I just want to throw those cards away, especially if they’re a high value. If I discard the “9” green card I can be quite sure my opponent will grab it, and I just handed them those points. Since you can only play cards of a higher value you want to try and hang onto those cards until after they can’t be used, or try and dump them when they have too many things going on and the game dwindling down.

The game is over when the draw pile is exhausted, and since you can choose to draw from the discards instead there is a way to sort of slow the game down by never drawing from the draw pile. On the opposite side if your opponent is trying to slow down to get in more turns you can always burn and turn cards off the draw pile only to speed things up.

Once the draw pile is empty scores are added up and a winner determined.

Our Impressions:
It’s often tough to find a good quality 2 player experience, it’s especially tough if you already have Lost Cities in your collection since it’s one of the best shining examples out there. A simple set-up and easy to explain rules can have you up and running with new players in no time at all, in addition to not feeling too cumbersome if you have a non-gamer you’re looking to play with. For me that player is typically my wife, who thoroughly enjoys games but just not to the extent and depth that I do. I’m going to guess lots of people out there with significant others are in the same boat. If that’s the case I feel like Lost Cities is a great game to help bridge the gap between you both.

The game is more about math than anything else, and learning not to bite off more than you can chew. Start too many expeditions and you’re going to get smacked down… hard. Most times small, calculated victories can add up and if your opponent gets himself into even a single jam a lot of times it’s enough to win. Of course, go big or go home is also a viable strategy… and sometimes that huge gamble pays off big time. With multiple strategies to go for, and a short play time, it’s one of those titles where if your plan doesn’t work out it’s never wrong to ask “Wanna go again?”

Wondering if Lost Cities is good for you and your group? Feel free to ask us questions about the game below and we’ll be sure to try and help you out.

Played Lost Cities before? Let us and the other readers know what you think about the game in the comments!

Daniel Zuccarelli