You dig? Lost Cities Review

Lost Cities is a game that’s been around since 1999, but I just played it the other night and it’s worth the plug.  It’s an interesting head-to-head card game disguised as an archaeological adventure game.  It’s a quick game so this will be a quick review.

Overall feeling

Lost Cities feels more like a head-to-head card game than any other thing, but it’s a very good head-to-head card game, with intrigue between you and your opponent.  The archaeological theme comes through ok but not great, and it could be themed in other directions for the game to work just as well, because it’s more about the game itself than the theme.  Some games are just like that, and this is one of those games.

Setup highlights

The setup is quick and easy, and makes the game easy to get into quickly.  Place the mat in the middle of the table.  Then, shuffle the deck and deal 8 cards to every player.

Theme and components

As mentioned, this game is fairly light on those.  The playing cards and playing mat, or board, are all of decent quality and help get you into the archaeological dig feeling, but there’s nothing amazing going on here.

Interesting mechanics and game play

This is what Lost Cities is all about.  There are 5 suits of cards: red, blue, grey green and yellow, all representing different lost cities you can dig for.  The cards are numbered 2-10, plus there are 3 “handshake” cards per suit.

Both players can play any and up to all 5 suits by “opening a dig on it” by playing a card on that site.  The trick is, once you lay down a number, like a red 5, you can never play a lower number again.  So all subsequent red cards laid down will have to be 6 or higher.  Opening a dig is worth -20 points, but each card you play gives you positive points.  So if you play red 8 as your second card, along with the 5, that’s 13 points, but you’re still at -7, and you can only still play the 9 and 10 red cards.  If you can play either of them, you get into positive territory; play both and you can really start scoring points.  The “handshake” cards double the scoring on your dig – both positive and negative, so be careful when and where you play them.

The interaction comes in because if you don’t want to play a card – and often you don’t, because you’re looking for lower numbered cards to get your digs going early – then you can instead discard a card to the center.  However, then your opponent can choose that card instead of drawing from the deck, and possibly use it to help score on his dig.

There’s also a key interaction element towards the end of the game.  The game ends when the draw deck runs out of cards, but by choosing cards from the discard pile, it slows the game down.  Trying to time the last turn of the game, so you can get all of your high-numbered cards out without your opponent getting out all of his, can be critical.  Layering this in with the discarding mechanic creates enough strategy in the game to sink your teeth into.

At the end of the game, you tally up your points from the 5 digs and compare to the other player.  A single round takes 10-15 minutes so you can either play best of 5, or for greater depth, play 5 total games, and total the points across the 5 games, so the amount you win by matters.

Do-Something Ability

This game isn’t really about doing something.  There is a general feeling of starting digs, and making them into profitable digs, and you feel good when you can get 3 or so profitable digs going.  Again, however, this is about the head-to-head with your opponent and some luck of the draw, not really about the feeling of doing something.

Replay Ability

Excellent.  It goes so fast, and you’re just so close to doing some great things with your digs, that you’ll want to play again and again.  I can’t see myself playing this all night, but I would play a best-of-5 while waiting for other people, any time.

Verdict

Very good 2-player, head-to-head game, if you like card games.  For a 2-player game, I’d personally prefer 7 Wonders Duels or the original 2-player game I’ve been working on and testing (more to come on that) but this is way more fun than a 2-player card game you’d play with a standard set of cards and worth the extra dollars and space for this game.  It’s a good one to play with wives and children, as it’s easily accessible, fast and fun.

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