I’m off on holiday soon. Six weeks of time to do stuff I like, catch up on writing and record episodes of the podcast. Steph and I are also going away on an actual break for a couple of weeks, flying off to the USA – there’ll be plenty of exciting stuff for us to do, but there’s also going to be a considerable amount of downtime, especially travelling. Flying across the Atlantic (and then all the way over to the west coast!) takes a while, and there’s also a couple of days we’ll be spending on trains going up to northern California and back from San Diego. Naturally, you can read, play your DS, that kind of thing, but my mind is – as always – wondering if there’s anything I can bring for the pair of us to play.
Two factors are important – portability and playability. There’s not exactly the room for a bunch of tiles on one of those tray tables you get on a plane, and I don’t want us to hit some turbulence that sends cubes and meeples all over the place. Games with lots of bits are out, then, as are games that require space. It looks like the best bet will be a couple of card games to tide us over, and at a push, I can stuff the necessary cards for a game of Dominion or Thunderstone into a deckbox or two. One game that is definitely coming along for the ride though? Lost Cities.
A two-player affair which involves an admitted bit of luck (as with any card game), Lost Cities sees them compete to collect and place expedition cards aiming to get a higher score than their opponent. The game comes with a board (which you don’t have to really use), sixty oversized cards, split into five coloured sets of twelve – each set is numbered from 2 to 10, with the remaining ones designated as “investment cards”. To start, the deck is shuffled and both players receive eight cards – in turn, you then choose to either place a card on an expedition, start a brand new one, or discard. No matter where you drop your card, you then replace it from the deck, and that’s about it. As with many Reiner Knizia games, the process is deceptively simple but it’s very easy to bite off more than you can chew.
Every time you choose to start a new expedition, you’re already 20 points in the hole. However, you start working back towards a positive points total by playing the numbered cards on top of each other. You’re allowed to skip over numbers (for example, you could start with a 2, then play a 4, 5, 6, 8 and finish with a 9) but you can’t go back and insert a number you’ve already jumped. No playing a 3 after a 4 has been placed on that colour for your side, for instance – your cards must always have an increasingly higher number. You can, as mentioned, choose to discard, but that uses up your turn.
If you’re feeling lucky (or you reckon you’re going to be able to get your hands on lots of a certain colour), before you start playing numbers you can put down one of the aformentioned investment cards. Doing this will double anything you score at the end of the game, even if this is a negative amount. If you only managed to put a single investment card down on your side, you’re now 40 points down. Feeling super confident? You can use two or even three investment cards if you wish, but these increase the multiplier yet further – you’d better hope that the cards fall into your lap pretty quickly or you’re going to lose – and lose badly! You can also get yourself another 20 points per expedition if you manage to use eight or more cards in that group, but that happening is something of a rarity…
Lost Cities is a quick game that (to me, anyway) is very much all about the maths with a tacked-on theme. This could be about anything – venturing further into space than your opponent, building increasingly tall towers… hell, it’d even work as a basic abstract, but whatever the concept, if doesn’t matter. It’s a great little two-player filler, playable in 15-20 minutes (and that includes working out the maths at the end). There’s a four-player variant mentioned in the rules that requires two sets, but I’ve never tried that one out – however, if there’s a pair of you looking for a swift but fun game, I’d heartily recommend picking up a copy.
Lost Cities is published by many companies – mine is part of the Kosmos two-player line, co-released through Rio Grande. It was released in 1999 and was – as mentioned – designed by the legendary Reiner Knizia. It’s currently in print and is available in your FLGS or online. IGUK have it right now for £18 -go check it out!