FTW Staff Picks - Lost Cities

For The Win Board Game Cafe's Staff Picks is a weekly series where we take a quick look at some of the staff's favourite games, old and new. 

Lost Cities

Genre: Card Game

Designer: Reiner Knizia

Player Size: 2 Players

Game Length: 20 minutes

For fans of: Jaipur, Arboretum, Battle Line

When I first started getting into the hobby and worked my first job at a board game cafe, I was mentored on the importance of 2-player games. What makes them work and how a shallow learning curve was important to keep players invested in sticking it out. One of the first games I was taught was Reiner Knizia’s Lost Cities. A humble card game for 2, with just enough meat to keep players coming back.

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In Lost Cities, players duel to build expedition routes in hopes of discovering lost cities. To begin the game each player is dealt 8 random Expedition Cards to form their hand. Expeditions Cards match one of 5 colours and are assigned a unique number value from 2 to 10. There are also Wager Cards which multiply your score for matching expeditions. Each turn the current player begins by placing a card from their hand onto one of the 5 expeditions. Cards must be placed in increasing order. Alternatively, the current player may instead discard a card from their hand onto the matching expeditions’ discard pile. Then, the current player ends their turn by drawing a card either from the top of any discard pile or from the draw pile. Scoring for each expedition works as follows: the sum of all cards in an expedition, minus 20 and then multiplied depending on the number of Wagers in that expedition. A bonus of 20 points is awarded for having 8+ cards in an expedition. All result for the 5 expeditions are then totalled to find the player’s final score. The player with the highest score is declared the winner!

Lost Cities, like many other Knizia titles, succeeds by giving the player seemingly limited choices that have large consequences the longer the game goes on. By giving a player only one or two basic actions to perform, it puts emphasis on making a good play or risk being outmaneuvered by a smarter play by your opponent. The planning is never as far forward as a game like Chess, but you still weigh every move with as much urgency. Players are not penalized if they don’t play a single card in front of an expedition, giving the option to tank a column at the risk of giving your opponent great cards. And Wagers exist to give a higher risk-to-reward element to the game.

It may be an older game, overshadowed by more popular, modern 2-player choices such as Patchwork or Jaipur, but it is still fundamentally one of the best games for two. It still sees a lot of play at the cafe and it’s hard to see it ever fully disappearing. It’s always nice to see that great games can stand the test of time and live on well after their initial release. Especially for a game that came out when the tabletop scene was much smaller and less accessible.

Earl OliverosComment