I 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!
Starting 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.