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First of all, a small confession. Lost Cities was the first German-style game I ever bought, and as such, has a special place in my heart, so please forgive me if I go on a bit!
It is for 2 players, and comes in a small box that contains 1 deck of 60 cards, a small board with a space for each of the suits, and the rules.
The theme of the game is that you play an adventurer planning quests to discover 5 lost cities. It has a real Arthur Conan Doyle 19th Century feel about it thanks to the artwork. One in the Arctic (portrayed by white cards), one in a volcano (red cards), one in the desert (yellow cards), one in the Amazon Jungle (green cards), and one underwater to Atlantis (blue cards). This is reflected in the amazing artwork on the board and the cards. If you lay the cards out in order, they tell the story of each expedition. The quality just shines through.
The game itself is very similar to a rummy style game, especially Gin Rummy, with the main change being it has 5 suits instead of 4.
At the start of play, the decks are shuffled, and each player receives a hand of 8 cards. Turns consist of 2 non-optional actions. Firstly, you draw a card, which must be either from the draw deck, or a previously discarded card. The second action consists of playing or discarding a card from your hand. On the board, there are 5 spaces, one for each colour. You discard onto the space, or play your card in front of it. Cards can be discarded in any order, but the must be played in numerical order, starting low and increasing high. There are also investment cards that are played before the expedition cards that score bonuses for completed expeditions, but big penalties for uncompleted ones.
This goes on with each player taking turns until the draw pile is depleted, then the scoring commences.
Each expedition is scored in turn. You simply add up the values of the cards played, and then deduct 20, which is the cost of the expedition. For example, if the desert cards played by a player are 2, 4, 7, 8, 9, the score is that total, 30, minus the cost for taking that expedition, 20, which leaves a total of 10 points. Investment cards can increase this total. If one is played at the start of the pile, the score is doubled, if two are played, tripled, and three, quadrupled.
On the other hand, if the cards played total less than 20 (for example, 4, 5 and 9), you can get a negative score (in that case, -2). Investment cards multiply this in the negative, so you may get quite a bad score if you have not got enough cards laid out (3 investment cards at the start of this expedition would have meant a total of -8!)
There is also a bonus score of +20 if you have played 8 or more cards in an expedition.
After all the expeditions are totted up, the person with the highest total is the winner. Normally you would play the best of 3 or 5 games. 5 only takes about ½ hour, so that is the option I normally go for.
I love this game. The theme really works in it, and you feel that you are actually taking part on the expedition, with pitfalls portrayed on all the cards you lay out. The tension near the end of the game, when the cards are running out, and you know you only have so many turns left to build as much into your expeditions as possible is really gripping. It just oozes quality, and is great fun.
It is for players aged 10+, but I would recommend it more for the mid-teens upwards. Once you get your head round the scoring system, it flows like a charm.
You can buy it from some larger bookstores for around £15.00, or do as I do, and go to your local games store - these day's they need the business! In Manchester I'd recommend Fan Boy 3 or Travelling Man. If you don't have a local store, or want to save pennies, buy it via the internet direct from Germany. You can get a translation of the rules from www.boardgamegeek.com, and the game itself uses no words, so is completely language independent.
Two player card games are hard to do. Either because the game is just a rehash of an old idea and could easily be played with a normal deck of cards, or becuase you end up getting complicated and mired in rules (see Magic: The Gathering and other Collectible Games). Lost Cities by the prolific German Games designer, Reiner Knizia, gets over both these. Games take around 10 minutes, it's simple, but there's enough strategy to make you come back for more. Each player is trying to complete expeditions to five lost cities. These expeditions are represtned by 5 suits of 12 cards, well illustrated and easy to understand. each suit has 9 numbered cards (2-10) and 3 investment cards. Play is as follows: Play a card to either an expedition or a discard pile. Draw a card from either a discard pile or from the deck. Each suit has it's own discard pile. Cards can only be played onto a lower card of the same suit. Investmenet cards can only be played before any numbered card has been played. Once the deck runs dry, you tot up the score, which does need a pen and paper, but isn't too complex once you've done a couple of times. Add up the numbers in suit you've played, subtract 20, and multiply by the number of investment cards you've played plus one. Thus only playign a couple of card in a suit can result in losing points, but a well invested expedition which goes through many places (cards) scores well. Thats it. The interaction comes as you decide when to start the expedition, which cards to discard and how to keep your opponent behind you. Both players can play the same expedition if they wish causing much frustration as they get ahead of you. The scoring is the only drawback, as it does take a little getting used to. Otherwise, you cna keep playing to your hearts content and see whose the best after 1 or a hundred hands.