Lost Cities Review

Another game that I found a demo copy of (thanks again to Great Hall Games in Austin, TX) was Lost Cities.  Since it appears that everyone talks about this game all the time, I guess I should go ahead and post a review of it (that you'll all disagree with).

In Lost Cities, each of the players takes on the role of an adventurer leading an expedition to different ancient cities. At the beginning of the expedition, each player has the option of "investing" in each one of their expeditions (assuming they have the investment card). After this, the player begins their expeditions by placing an expedition card (a number card between 2-10). Once an expedition has begun, each new card on the expedition must "advance" the expedition (be a higher number than the previous one). After playing a card, the player draws a new card and his turn is over. This continues until the draw deck is empty, at which time the players add up the points for each of their expeditions. The players repeat this for a certain number of rounds, and then the total score (from each round) is added up to determine the winner.

The biggest pro for Lost Cities is that it is a relatively quick and portable game that could be played easily. Since the number of rounds played each game is decided beforehand, this makes Lost Cities work very well when killing time in an airport (yes, I used to travel a lot, and so I like games that serve this purpose). There is enough depth to Lost Cities (between determining which expeditions to follow and which to abandon) that it would be a game that I would consider for this role.

Unfortunately, there are several cons of Lost Cities. First of all, there is a ton of math. I have a background in computers, so I really feel like this would have worked better as a computerized game. Here is how I would (in my computer thinking) explain how to determine the score. IF (cards were played) THEN score = (total value of cards played - 20) * (number of investments + 1) ELSE score = 0. Yes, that isn't all that complicated (to me), but you must now do this for each of the five cities for each player. We found that we spent a lot of time calculating the score at the end of each round, and very little time actually playing the game.

The next con is that the best strategy in the game is simply to draw the right cards and draw them in the correct order. If you draw an investment at the end of the game, guess what - it doesn't do anything. The same can be said for the 2-5. Drawing high cards at the beginning also isn't especially helpful (though it at least lets you know what you may be able to play without getting a -20 penalty on some city). The interaction between players is also pretty minimal... it consists of laughing at them when you just drew the 10 in the color that they needed. And that's it.

Overall, I give Lost Cities a 6.5/10. I could play it again, but I'd just assume play a meatier game if given the choice. However, if someone busted this out while I was waiting on a flight, I would play it with them. (Of course, if I were the one bringing the game, it would probably be something more like Race for the Galaxy, though it is a touch bigger. It easily can be shoved into a much smaller box and put in a backpack, though.)

Final note: I saw an ad on Board Game Geek for this game on Facebook, just FYI.


  1. I would agree that the scoring is... "inelegant". Yeah, it is a bit math-y, but it is still quite effective. It causes one to question their commitment to starting any specific row as they really need to make it worthwhile.

    As far as strategy, yeah, there is a ton of luck. But for a 10-minute round of cards, I find the decisions to be agonizing. When to play, when to hold back, what to discard. It's all quite tricky. And in the sense of interaction, I would heartily disagree. Every discard you play could be picked up by your opponent and every card you lay down is one your opponent will not be able to play. It's funny because I find it to be one of the nastiest 2-player card game out there, where you starve your opponent of decisions so they must make sacrifices.

    But hey, to each his own. If you don't enjoy it as much as we do, that's cool. I also teach math, so that could explain a few things.

  2. The funny thing is that I have a degree in math. I could see this being useful in the classroom to work on kids math skills...

  3. I liked your review, but I had to laugh about your description of the theme. It's nothing you said, it's just that with this game, all I think about when I'm playing is colored cards with numbers on them. You could play this with a standard deck of cards if it had five suits.

    I don't like the scoring system, either. Seems like there should be a way to come up with an equivalent system that is easier to calculate, but I'm not sure there is.

    And I do agree with Eric. Some of the decisions are indeed agonizing, particularly when the game is nearing the end and you're behind... when you're trying desperately to delay the end by drawing cards from the discard area... and you are wanting those good cards from the draw pile that you just can't seem to pull... that you later find out your opponent is holding onto! Argh!