When Jessica and I got engaged one of our good friends told us to pick out a game off Amazon for an engagement gift and she would get it for us. After looking at the millions of board games available I settled on Lost Cities the Card Game for three reasons: it was a 2-player game, it had stellar ratings, and it was very reasonably priced (about $13 on Amazon right now). Turns out it’s one of those great games that is simple to learn but has a ton of strategy, and it’s one of the best 2-player games I’ve played.
Lost Cities seems very simple at first: there are cards numbered 2-10 in each of five colors, and the object is to place as many as you can (or want…) in ascending order on the board. So once you’ve placed the yellow 5 you can’t play the 4, 3, or 2 afterward. Each player starts each round with 8 random cards, and every turn you have to either play a card or discard one, then draw a card to bring your hand back up to 8. Once the draw pile runs out, add up all the points for the 5 colors and that’s one round. A game is 3 rounds, and the highest total at the end wins.
You’re thinking, “That’s it? You just put down cards in order? How is that fun?” Ah, but there are some twists that make it much more fun than the basic description sounds:
- Whenever you start a new color, you have to tack on a -20 score to it; if you play the yellow 3, your score (for the moment) on yellow is -17. So you don’t want to just start colors on a whim; you want to make sure you’ll get over 20 points worth of cards by the end of the round.
- Each color has 3 cards called “handshakes” (apparently they’re actually called “wagers” but we call them handshakes since they have a handshake symbol on them) that can be played to increase your score. 1 handshake on a color doubles your score on that color for the round, 2 handshakes is triple, and all 3 is quadruple. But the thing is, handshakes have to be played before you play any numbered cards. Play that yellow 3 and now you can’t play any yellow handshakes!
- Each turn you can play or discard, and discarding is often a good option. At the beginning of the game you might have a lot of high cards you don’t want to play yet (because you can’t play any lower cards on that color after you do), or later you might not have anything you want to play because you don’t want to start a new color. But the thing about discards is your opponent can pick them up (and actually you can too on a later turn). So you don’t want to throw something your opponent needs…but sometimes you don’t have any choice!
- Playing 8 cards of one color (including handshakes) gets you a bonus 20 points. It doesn’t happen too often but it’s a nice little goal to shoot for.
It ends up being a fun mix of strategy, risk, and calculations. Should you play a couple handshakes of a color even though you don’t have any numbers of that color? If you have some good numbers should you wait to try to draw some handshakes? If the opponent has already started a given color does that mean you shouldn’t? But you can’t stall or mess around for too long; the draw stack seems large at the beginning of the round but gets whittled away pretty quickly.
The scoring can get a little tricky, so it’s really nice to have this handy dandy scoresheet!
There are lots of different ways to play the game, which is always welcome. The best strategy is to concentrate on 2 or 3 colors and really rack up a high score on those colors, ignoring the rest. But you have to have the cards to do it. Sometimes the cards dictate that you end up playing 4 or even all 5 colors. And you can score plenty playing that way as well. You’re obviously not going to get a super high score on any one color when you’re playing all 5, but 5 decent scores can add up nicely. Sometimes you just get hosed and have nothing but high cards at the beginning and you’re forced to play them or give them up. Sometimes you’ll start out with a couple handshakes for a color, play them, and not get anything else in that color. You really have to play the cards you’re dealt as they say, changing your play based on what cards you pick up.
Overall this is a game that I can recommend to anyone. It’s simple enough to be played by all, even kids, and strategic enough to be played again and again. It has no setup time at all, which is great. It’s nice to have some games on the shelf you can just pull out and play quickly, without having a big block of time set aside.
Thanks for reading and I would love to hear your comments!