Lost Cities

Lost Cities by Reiner KniziaI have this fleece pullover jacket that I’m finally able to wear again after what seems like a summer that lasted nine months. I love this jacket. It’s comfy, well-worn, and familiar. Games can seem like that too sometimes. While it’s fun to try out the new hotness, there’s nothing quite like an old familiar game on a quiet cold day.

I started playing Lost Cities about five years ago, and it has become one of those old familiar games for me. Designed by Reiner Knizia and distributed as part of the Kosmos Two-Player series, Lost Cities is a card game about mounting expeditions to faraway lands, disguised as a card game about managing the contents of your hand and placing cards down on the table in ascending numeric order.

You can play a game of Lost Cities in half an hour with gamers of most ages. The recommended age is eight and up, and I think that’s reasonable. You can play three rounds and take the highest score, or you can just score each round by itself.

The game comes in the standard Kosmos two-player sized box, mostly due to it being a standard Kosmos two-player game, and contains a deck of 60 oversized expedition cards, a board, and some rules. Much has been said about the fact that the game can be played without the board, but that type of minimalist rhetoric is just a knee-jerk reaction to all those games that represent abstract expressionism. New cup! New cup! Move down!

Lost Cities exampleStarting with a hand of 8 cards, players take turns placing a card on their side of the board to start or continue an expedition, or they place a card onto the board in the matching location of the indicated expedition. Then the player may draw a card from the deck, or take one of the cards from the board. A player may not take the same card that he or she just discarded, because that would be dumb.

Each card placed on an expedition must be of a higher value than the previous one. There are also three handshake cards for each expedition that must be played before any of the numbered cards. These handshake cards act as multipliers for your final score. These cards can be really great if your expedition is successful, or they can be just as horrible if your expedition is not.

The cost of mounting an expedition is 20 points. So if the total of your cards on your expedition to the Himalayas is 23, then you earn 3 points. If you had played a handshake card at the start of that expedition, then you would earn 6 points. If the same expedition had only totalled 15 points, then you would score -5 points, or -10 if you had played the handshake card. There is also a 20 point bonus if your expedition includes 8 or more cards, including the handshake cards. The game ends when the last card is drawn from the deck. My wife hates that.

What you end up with is quick and enjoyable game play with a slow and tedious scoring. Reiner is a mathematician so he doesn’t care if you find it tedious. I’m sure he thinks of it like parents think of kids needing to eat their vegetables. Do that math! It’s good for you!

There are many resources available if you want a better explanation of how to play. I learned from watching Board Games with Scott 007 – Lost Cities. There are also many ways to play this online or on a mobile device, but to be honest, I really don’t like them. If you are interested, go look for them, but I think that the real charm of this game is in the physical play. I’m not just talking about the cards, which are cool because they reveal more and more as you get closer to the final goal of your expedition. I’m talking about the pleasure of just sitting and playing a simple one-on-one game with someone. Talking trash as they put the card you really wanted on the board, now that you can’t play it. This game is already a little too much like solitaire to play online, in my opinion.

This game also lead to Reiner finally winning the Spiel des Jahres, but that my friends is a tale for another day.

7 thoughts on “Lost Cities”

  1. I’m mostly with you on this one. I never loved it the way some people do–and it bombed with my wife–but it’s fun, thoughtful, and familiar. The blasted Knizia math-y scoring bugs me again, and in fact this is what removed the fun for my wife.

    However, I think Kosmos’ physical production of the game is the secret ingredient. It’s rare that a game can be overproduced and inexpensive at the same time, but that’s the case with Lose Cities. We don’t need that board, but it adds to the experience. We definitely don’t need oversized cards, but they are great. While the style of artwork is a little wispy for my taste, I absolutely love how each “suit” is a different archaeological destination, with its own color motif, and how the image gets closer and closer to the prize as you play higher numbered cards. With such simple artwork, the game tells the story that Reiner’s mechanics alone do not.


  2. Hi,

    Great review.

    I’ll take some time to say a few words about playing Lost Cities online.

    I have to agree that playing face to face is almost always better than playing online. This said, playing Lost Cities online has one big advantage: you don’t need to count points which is I believe the main flaw (if there needs to be one) of the game. Adding, substracting, multiplying and finally adding all points together is a bit annoying and an error-prone process. There is no such thing online. Also online play removes the need to shuffle cards as well as the need to count the remaining cards. And finally points are counted at all time so you know where you stand without the need for a few minutes computations. The flow of the game is therefore drastically improved online.

    Therefore, some could certainly argue that the game is even better online.

    In any case, it is a fantastic game that almost everyone loves (which is pretty rare).

    1. All valid points, Nicolas. I have tried the interface for Lost Cities at Happy Meeple and I think it’s very good. I would certainly recommend that anyone interested in online play go and check it out.

      1. Hi Jeff,

        Fantastic. We are very glad that you liked our implementation on Happy Meeple.

        We have specifically designed the platform to be beginner-friendly (tutorial for every game, many languages, no waiting time, easy-to-use interface) and have certainly hoped that board gamers would recommend Happy Meeple to friends and family. Therefore, we are very happy to see that you are doing just that.

        Many many thanks and keep up the good work!

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