Lost Cities is probably my number one two-player game to introduce to new gamers. It’s fast, easy to learn but complex enough that every game is a challenge. A friend has described it as advanced gin rummy and I concur. Certainly, a player has to understand both his own hand as well as his opponents and as importantly, the scoring system. Two minor quibbles are that the graphics can be, in the beginning, slightly confusing as a couple of the colours for expeditions are relatively similar and the necessity for heavy maths at the end of each game.
Appearance: Lost Cities box comes in a flat, square shaped box that fits the oversized cards and game board. Overall, the artwork is mediocre – there’s little to shout about (unlike Blue Moon for example) but they do the job. The cards are over-sized, which makes handling easier but does seem slightly excessive. Also, the colours chosen for the various expeditions are in some cases very similar and can cause initial confusion.
Rules / Ease of Learning: Rules for Lost Cities can be taught in 5 minutes flat. The most complex part of the game is the scoring but also the most important (no jumping into the game without learning scoring rules here).
Players start with 8 cards each which depict 5 different expeditions that can be started. Cards for each expedition can either be numbered from 2 to 10 or be one of three investment cards which increase the value (or lost) of the expedition. Investment cards can only be played at the start of an expedition before numbered cards are played. Numbered cards can only be played in increasing strength (depicting deeper levels of the expedition) but must be played in order (i.e. you could play a 2, 7 and 10 but not a 2, 10 and 7).
Each turn, players must either place a card on an expedition or discard a card. They may then draw a card, either from the discard pile or the remaining deck. The game is over when the last card is drawn from the deck.
Scoring occurs at the end of the game. Each expedition that has been started (i.e. has a card played on it, including investment cards) is totaled and then 20 points is subtracted to indicate the cost of the expedition. The resulting points are then multiplied by the total number of investment cards + 1. Additionally, any expedition that has 8 or more cards is provided an additional 20 points (after the points total has been calculated).
The designers suggest playing at least 3 games to even out the luck distribution.
Actual Gameplay: Fast and amusing. Lost Cities is a highly tactical game with a healthy dose of luck involved in the drawing of cards. However, because of the various options available (which cards to hold, discard and draw) the game does have high tactical considerations.
Areas if import that have been found including building runs, holding cards to destroy your opponents chances at points, selective drawing and discarding and understanding what runs you can actually lose points on.
While luck does play a role, we find that it is overall moderated over multiple rounds and still fun. Actual play time varies but is generally around 10-15 minutes per round.
Conclusion: Lost Cities is a card game that works for everyone, including women. I have personally introduced it to quite a few people and comments have been all positive. I’d only wish it was built smaller so you could carry it around like a pack of cards. Buy it if you’re looking for a good, fast 2-player game.