Lost Cities is an addictive card game, and the combination of risk, reward, and luck is great on iOS
The iPhone and iPad are both uniquely suited to board and card games, but Lost Cities is one of the card games brought to iOS devices that I’d argue is actually better than the physical version in some respects. The $3.99, two-player game includes four computer-controller opponents to test your strategies, and also supports asynchronous online multiplayer. I’ve been playing against some human opponents who react in nearly real time, and others who stretch games out for days. It’s enjoyable either way, but as with most asynchronous games I’d suggest keeping multiple games going.
If you’re interested in playing against a friend in the same room, a Lost Cities deck is still the only way to handle things, but the iOS version of the game is preferable for every other circumstance. Let me explain why.
It’s all handled for you
Lost Cities is a game of virtual archeology. The cards are arranged by five colors, with numbers that start at two and go up to ten. You keep eight cards in your hand, and begin an expedition by laying down a card on any of five the colored lanes. Each expedition costs 20 points to open, and you add the value of each card to your score until you earn back those 20 points, and hopefully get your score for each expedition into the black.
You must play cards in order, from two to 10, and both sides play out of the same deck. This is a game of incomplete information, since you don’t know what cards your opponent has in their hand nor what cards are left to draw from the deck, but once your opponent begins to play cards you gain insight into their strategy. If they play a low card in the blue lane, you know they likely have many blue cards, and this tells you not to discard any blue cards of a high value. You can both open an expedition in the same lane, and in doing so it becomes a race to lay down the highest-value cards to gain the most points from the expedition.
The strategy is simply in practice, but somewhat tricky to describe in words. Once you play the “four” card in yellow, for instance, you can’t place the “three” card under it, you can only count up. At that point, if they have no interest in the yellow lane, your opponent can discard their yellow cards under the value of four, as they are useless to you.
“Lost Cities is a surprisingly tense game. You don’t want to lay out expeditions until you’re fairly confident of their success. However, the limit of 8 cards in your hand is a serious issue; worse, whenever you discard, you might give something to your opponent,” the RPGnet review of the card game states.
“Typically a player starts off with a mess of cards which won’t guarantee any expedition’s success. He’ll then play a couple of low cards for which he has support in his hand, hoping that he’ll get enough additional support during the game to pull the expedition off. Sometimes he’ll hoard a good run of cards, waiting for an investment so that he can play it first, then get doubled, trebled, or quadrupled return for his cards.”
You can these play “handshake” cards before each expedition to double your investment. So instead of being 20 points in the hole, you’re now 40 points in, but each card you play doubles in value. You can earn big points this way, but if your opponent is holding all the high-value cards in that color, you could also end up screwing yourself pretty thoroughly. I’ve embedded a video that does a good job of explaining the rules to new players, and the app also includes helpful tutorials to get you started.
The iOS version of the game gives you much more information at a glance than the card game. You can see the value of each of your and your opponent’s expeditions, and you can also see their total score. This may change the game for those of us who have trouble keeping that information in their head during the card game, as you can now tell very easily if you need to play more aggressively. Having all the point values and numbers tracked and displayed automatically allows you to free up your brain to strategy, not counting up numbers on the table. Purists may scoff, but for my money this makes for a more relaxing game.
The aesthetics are attractive, the touch controls work well on an iPhone or stretched across an iPad, and the game itself is simply to learn while still offering multiple levels of strategy. I’ve been spending an uncomfortable amount of time each evening since my review code came in playing the game and cursing out my opponents. It’s hard to find fault with the game at this price, and I hope to see you online.