Thursday, June 16, 2011

Review Day: Lost Cities

Lost Cities is a rare two-player game that's actually designed for two players. There are only two pages of rules, and setup involves shuffling the playing deck, meaning that this is a very easy game to dive into for a couple quick rounds. In spite of the very simple rule set, gameplay is surprisingly deep, and there are many controllable layers of strategy.

The exploration motif is really just a backdrop for a Skip-Bo-like card game. There are five coloured suits of cards, representing five expeditions you can launch. You play cards in ascending order from your hand and try to get the sum of your cards (2 through 10) as high as possible before the game ends (each expedition needs 20 points to break even on the cost of supplies and travel). If you're feeling lucky, you can "invest" up to three times at the start of an expedition, which could double or quadruple your final score, but this could also backfire and multiply your losses if the expedition doesn't break even.

The most difficult part of this game is the simple math required at the end of each round. You can master the rules in no time, and then the depth of gameplay quickly becomes apparent. Because a round ends when you run out of cards in the draw pile, trying to start and complete all five expeditions is generally a bad idea. Will you play offensively and max out a couple expeditions? Or defensively, and hoard the cards your opponent needs to finish his expeditions? Because there are only a single set of numbered cards for each expedition, things can get dicey if both players decided to compete on the same expedition. If your opponent is spreading too thin, you can try to "run down the clock" by always drawing from the draw pile to end the game. If you want to buy some time yourself, you can delay the game by only taking from the discard piles.

The investment multipliers give the game some suspense, and really make comebacks viable if you're down by a whole lot. If you're in the last round and going to lose by 50 points anyhow, you might as we go out with a bang and try to invest heavily in one or two expeditions.

Overall, this is an enjoyable, fast-moving, two-player game with minimal learning, wheat, or setup involved. Once both players are in the rhythm, a single round can last as little as ten minutes. Definitely recommended.

Final Grade: A

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