'Lost Cities' Card Game Review: A Reprinted Version Of Reiner Knizia's Classic That You Need To Own

By Alex Riviello , Updated Apr 20, 2015 03:35 PM EDT
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Lost Cities is back, thanks to a brand new reprint of the board game from Thames & Kosmos. That's the US subsidiary for German board game publisher Kosmos, which has just launched a selection of their best games in North America, bringing previously unpublished joys to the hands of millions of gamers, along with this much-requested reprint. Now you can pick up this wonderful two-player game without paying obscene marked-up prices for the old out-of-print edition. It's absolutely essential to your collection too, especially if you're not familiar with legendary game designer Reiner Knizia.

If you look up the word prolific in the dictionary you’ll find a picture of Knizia in the process of designing another board game, because Knizia doesn’t have time to sit still for pictures. The man is the genius behind dozens of tabletop games, many of which have been adapted into apps for mobile devices. Search the iOS store for his name (make sure to spell it right) and you’ll find 46 results, most prominently featuring his name so you’re aware of the quality- Reiner Knizia’s Ra, Reiner Knizia’s Samurai, Reiner Knizia’s Medici.

Of all of these incredible games none has been played as much by me as Lost Cities, however. It’s perhaps the perfect two-player game, a wonderful mix of strategy and luck, compounded by the fact that you can truly and utterly screw over your friends, the way all the best tabletop games do.

While the game works wonderfully on your iPhone, playing the physical card game makes you appreciate it even more. The turns play much faster, of course, as you’re not waiting for you friend to get a notification and take their turn, and of course it’s that much easier to gloat when you win.

The game is very simple to learn. You and your friend sit across from each other with the board, which has five spots for discarded cards, in the middle. It's not a very thematic game but the theme, such as it is, sees you trying to form expeditions and explore ruins across the globe. At the start of the game each player gets eight cards, and during your turn you will place one and then take a new one. That's it. You play until there are no more cards to play, and then tally up your scores.

There are five different colored cards in the deck- yellow, blue, white, green, and red- all of which have cards numbered from 1-10, along with three wager cards. Your goal is to ostensibly get as many of the big number cards on your side by placing them down in front of you.

The catch is that starting an expedition automatically takes 20 points from your final score, so you should only start when you have a number of same-color cards in hand, or an inkling that more will be on the way. Your opponent comes into play because once either of you play a card, your opponent can’t play another card with a lower number. This lets you cut off the other player as you try to amass as many cards as you can. You’ll spend much of the game trying to figure out a strategy- should you try to horde a single color or two and then plop them all down one after the other? Could your opponent see what you’re doing and cut you off if so? Should you try to start multiple expeditions and get as many points as possible, or use the wager cards, which increases the amount of points gained or lost (multiplying by 2, 3, or 4, depending on how many you play) and hope your opponent doesn't mess you up?

The strategy becomes apparent very quickly and Lost Cities is one of those games that anyone can pick up in just a few minutes but only learn how to play and strategize after a few matches. It can get very brutal as you'll soon learn to hold key cards that your former friend is waiting on just so that they can't get it. The game is also one of those that almost seems self-aware sometimes, letting you draw a card that would have been perfect had you only had it a turn ago. (See Cards Against Humanity for another game where this seems to happen all the time.)

The components almost don't matter when a game is this much fun but the cards are nice and big and have neat art on them, something missing from the blank, numbered cards from the mobile version. The board tends to tend a bit right out of the box but if you bend it a bit it will be laying flat in no time.

But the one downside to the physical version versus the mobile version? All the math. Lost Cities isn’t an easy game to score, and you’ll inevitably need pads of paper or calculators to tally your scores after each game. It’s a lot easier when the game just does it for you, of course, but it’s hardly a dealbreaker.

Lost Cities works as either a filler game while you’re waiting for more friends to come during a game night, or as a pitched battle between two seasoned veterans. An incredible game that absolutely belongs in your library.

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Lost Cities was reviewed from a copy sent to us from Thames & Kosmos. Buy it here.

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