Lost Cities Two-Player Card Game

Game box for two-player game Lost Cities

Lost Cities is a fairly popular two-player card game. I know many people love this game, but it isn’t one of my favorites. It’s okay, but it doesn’t stand out as being special in comparison to some of my other favorite games. I find it a little dull for what it is.

I got Lost Cities because it was recommended as a two-player game on BoardGameGeek. I think it’s a fine game, but I’m not eager to play it. Sean and I hadn’t played in quite a long time, but we decided to play recently so I could get some photos and blog about it.

Basic stats: 20-30 min, 2 players, ages 8-10+

I like the Indiana Jones style theme of the game. Each player starts expeditions to explore different areas. Your initial commitment to a specific expedition may end up helping or hurting you later. Unfortunately, the theme doesn’t feel very strong as you play the game. It feels more like a numbers game as you play it.

Game board for starting Lost Cities game

Empty game board at start

You start out with a hand of cards, a draw pile, and an empty board. There are five colors to the cards: red, green, blue, white, and yellow. Each set of cards has one card for each number ranging from 2-10, plus some cards with handshake symbols on them.

My hand of cards in Lost Cities two-player game

My hand of cards

Lost Cities hand of cards

Sean's hand of cards during the game

On your turn, you must play or discard a card, and then draw a card. You can draw a card from the draw pile or from the discard piles. Each color has its own discard pile.

To play a card, you place it on the table in front of you near that color on the board. Playing one card of a color commits you to the expedition. At the end of the game, any expeditions that you didn’t commit any cards to earn you 0 points. Those that you commit cards to can earn you positive or negative points.

You must play cards on an expedition in order from lowest to highest. If you have already played a red 6, you can never play a red 5, for example.

If you decide to play a handshake card on an expedition, it must be played first, before a numbered card. The handshake card means that the total for the expedition will be doubled at the end. This can help you a lot if the expedition turns out to earn you positive points, but it can hurt you a lot of the expedition turns out negatively.

Any expedition that you commit to must first break even by reaching 20 points before you start earning actual points that count. An expedition that adds up to 20 points earns you 0 points. But an expedition that adds up to 22 points earns you 2 points.

White expedition in Lost Cities game

A successful white expedition

The white expedition in the image above adds up to 14 points total, since the total score of the numbered cards adds up to 27. After subtracting 20 to break even, the cards add up to 7, and the score for that expedition is then doubled because of the handshake card.

On your turn, you play a card and then draw a card, etc. There is a lot of luck to the game, but there is also some strategy. For example, if you see that your opponent is starting a yellow expedition and you have yellow cards in your hand, you may hang on to them instead of discarding them to make sure that the other player can’t take and use them.

If you see another player start an expedition, you may think twice about committing to an expedition of that color yourself unless you are very sure that you will be able to break even. If the other player starts a green expedition, but you hold the green 9 and 10, you may still feel confident enough to start your own green expedition.

It can be tough when you start out the game with some high cards, because you usually want to hold on to them until you can get a decent base of lower cards on an expedition first, since the expedition must move from low to high. But the high cards in your hand give you confidence about which expeditions you can safely commit to.

It can also be challenging to decide how many expeditions to commit to, since you don’t want to spread yourself too thin.

End of Lost Cities game expeditions

The completed expeditions at the end of the game

The game ends when you run out of cards in the draw pile. You can delay the end of the game by drawing cards from the discard piles rather than the draw pile. We often do this even when we don’t want the cards from the discard pile but need more time to get to play some of the good cards in our hands.

I think there is a pretty decent mix of luck and strategy in Lost Cities, and I like that it’s fairly short, but for some reason it seems to fall flat for Sean and me. It isn’t as engaging and interesting as some of our other quick card games. I find that it feels a little boring and drags on.

For example, in the game we played recently, I can’t even remember who won. I think it was Sean. But in the end, we just didn’t care that much. We were glad to be done with Lost Cities so we could move on to some fast-paced rounds of Scopa.

Cat in lap while playing Lost Cities

Oogie seemed to enjoy acting as my consultant

Lost Cities is very popular, and I can understand some reasons for that. It does have a good mix of luck and strategy. But for some reason this game just doesn’t click with us as much as some others do. For a quick two-player game, Sean and I would pick many games over this one, including Scopa, Hive, Jaipur, Archaeology, and many others. A few months ago, I taught my sister Josie how to play both Lost Cities and Jaipur on the same day, and she also strongly preferred Jaipur.

Pros:

  • Fairly quick
  • Nice art and theme idea (though not very thematic feeling as you play)
  • Has a balance of luck and strategy
Cons:
  • Feels long for what it is
  • Not engaging or fast-paced enough feel for us; we find it dull and slow
  • The theme feels thin and not relevant to gameplay
  • Box and board don’t seem as conveniently small and portable as I would hope for this sort of game

7 thoughts on “Lost Cities Two-Player Card Game

  1. Great article Elisabeth.

    As you pointed out, there are many reasons why Lost Cities is so popular. One of them is that everyone loves it (well almost everyone). There are not many games in that category. I have taught it to my mum, my dad, my brothers and sister, my brother-in-law, my best friend, they all love it.

    The main problem of the game, to me, is the tedious counting that needs to be done after every game. It is easy to make a mistake, you need to be careful.

    If you do not know the game and want to make your own opinion, I strongly suggest that you pay a visit to online website HAPPY MEEPLE: http://www.happymeeple.com

    There you’ll be able to follow the tutorial and within 5 minutes, you’ll be playing (English, French, German, Turkish soon, available). You can then see if the game is for you or not.

    The good things of playing it online are that:
    1) it is much faster
    2) there is no counting (!)
    3) you can play many games and average the luck factor
    4) you can get a ranking and really see where you stand (and most often realize that some do better than you).

    There are many levels of depth in Lost Cities, but these levels are well hidden behind the luck factor.

    See for yourself!

    • Thanks! You are right that tons of people love it. Even though I don’t love it myself, I have given it as a gift to many people because I know it’s so popular. I agree with you that the scoring is a bit of a pain.

  2. We’re one of those couples that love the game. A gamer friend actually gave it to us for our 1 year wedding anniversary which I thought was really sweet.

    Thanks again for the blogroll link!

  3. Lost Cities can be a very fast-paced game, but it is definitely a math game with a theme pasted on. It is in its heart a gambling game, and the decisions are math-based. How many cards are left? Will I have sufficient turns left to play the cards I want? Is there still a chance that I could gain by starting this color? What is the chance that my opponent has the cards to block me? How many points do I stand to lose, or to win? Should I play these cards to my own side, knowing that I will lose points, in order to prevent my opponent from scoring more points? Your opponents discards and expeditions have to be in all the calculations as well, of course.

    I enjoy the calculation and the gambling aspect. I tend to play quickly – the legacy of playing many games online with fast players. I think that makes it much more fun. I like that the cards are not out of play when they are discarded in the center. I also place a lot more emphasis on the 7-10 of each color, since they comprise more than half of the points available.

    Oh, and the counting at the end. I found it faster and easier to create a set of cards to cover the twenty-point “cost” of the expedition, and then add up the rest. But that just may be my math-geek side coming out.

  4. Pingback: Lost Cities Card Game Review | Card Game Reviews Blog

  5. Unless I have very few spades (3 or fewer), I bet all spades 10 or higher. If I have very few (2 or fewer) of a given suit, I might bet a nine or eight or seven of spades, and use it to trump another card.

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