The ABCs of Gaming: L is for…

We’re up to the L’s in our continuing series about the ABCs of Gaming.  L is for…

image by BGG user SpiderOne

Lost Cities was first published in 1999, designed by Dr. Reiner Knizia.  It’s a game for only two players that was part of the Kosmos two-player line, and is published by Rio Grande in the US.  The game is for players aged 10 and up and is listed to take 30 minutes, though I think both those numbers are high (players younger than 10 could certainly play it, and most of my games don’t last longer than 15 minutes).  The theme, such as it is, revolves around going on various adventures.  Really, it’s just a card game that could be played with a regular deck of cards plus one extra suit set.  Lost Cities won the poll with 20.8% of the vote, beating out second place Last Night on Earth with 14%.

In play - image by BGG user rober

There’s not a whole lot in the game – a deck of 60 cards and a board that really just serves as a storage area.  Each of the five card colors has three “handshake” cards and 9 other cards numbered 2-10.  The art on the cards shows a progression of the adventure, which was kind of a nice touch.

At the start of the game each player gets eight cards.  On a player’s turn, they can play a card, then draw a card.  When playing a card, they can either play it into an adventure, or place it in one of the five colored discard piles.  When drawing, they may draw from the top of the deck or from the top of any of the discard piles (except the one they just discarded to).

When playing cards to an adventure, you must play a card that is higher in value than anything already there.  If nothing is there, you can play anything, but if a 4 is the top card, you may not play a 2 or 3.  You should know that any adventure you start is going to cost you 20 points, which you will make up by the cards you play.  If you end the game with a 2-4-7-8-9 in the blue pile, you’ll add up your points (30) and subtract 20 to get your final total for that adventure (10).  If you end with 6-8 in the yellow pile, that’s 14 minus 20 for a score of -6.  You can also choose to start an adventure with a handshake card, which will double both your risk and your payout.  One handshake card means that you’ll be subtracting 40 points from that adventure’s total, but all points are doubled.  Two handshakes costs 60 and triples point values, while three costs 80 and quadruples point values.  So if you had two handshakes in our blue example, that’s 30 times 3 (90) minus 60 for a final total of thirty.  Two handshakes with the yellow pile is 14 times 3 (42) minus 60 for -18.

When the draw pile runs out, the game is over.  Add up points from all of your adventures (adventures you didn’t start are simply worth zero), and the player with the most points wins.

Lost Cities is a very simple and fast game.  The biggest barrier to enjoyment is the convoluted scoring system (a hallmark of Dr. Knizia’s games).  It’s not that difficult to understand, but once you start getting into the whole -20/handshake multipliers thing, eyes tend to cross a little bit.  If you’re completely anti-math, you won’t like it.  But the game gets a lot of praise for being an excellent “wife game”, meaning that lots of gamers can get their wives to play it with them.  Personally, I cannot (she falls into the anti-math category).

I’m not a huge fan of the game, partially because it has the Knizia hallmarks that tend to rub me the wrong way – a desperate attempt at a theme, convoluted scoring, and dry game play among them.  But it’s fast, and it is fairly simple to understand.  I did vote for it in the poll, primarily because it really is one of the essential two player games, particularly if you only have a few minutes.  Let’s look at the competition:

  • Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game took second place with 14% of the vote.  This 2007 game was the first offering from Flying Frog, the company made its name with photographic art on top of some fun and random games.  I haven’t played it, but I want to.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game took third place with 11.1% of the vote.  It was an LCG that came out last year, and was the highest rated L on the list.  I have gotten to play this once and had fun, though I do want to try it a few more times before forming a full opinion.
  • London took fourth place with 9.8% of the vote.  Martin Wallace designed this 2011 game about the rebuilding of London after the great fire of 1666.  I’ve heard mixed reviews – some people love it, some hate it.  I still need to play.
  • Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation took fifth place with 9.2% of the vote.  This one was originally published in 2002, then again in 2006 in a more popular deluxe edition.  It’s another Reiner Knizia two-player game, but is more thematic as one player is the forces of Sauron and the other is the free people of Middle Earth.  I haven’t played it.
  • Other took sixth place with 9% of the vote.  Nominees included Lancaster, Lawless, Legend of the Five Rings, Leuthen: Frederick’s Greatest Victory, Liar’s Dice, Lines of Action, Loopin’ Louie, Looting London, Lord of the Rings (the cooperative board game), Lords of Vegas, Lost Battles, and Löwenherz.  Some good ones in there.
  • Labyrinth: The War on Terror 2001-? took seventh place with 6.5% of the vote.  This was a war game from GMT that came out in 2010 and has gotten a lot of good press, despite the potential controversy of being about a war we’re currently fighting.
  • Louis XIV took eighth place with 6.3% of the vote.  This 2005 title was a medium box game from Rüdiger Dorn and alea.  It’s a political card game that I’ve never had any interest in.
  • Letters from Whitechapel took ninth place with 5.1% of the vote.  I talked about this one when it came out last year…it’s a deduction game set in the time of Jack the Ripper.  I’ve heard it’s way too long for what it is, but I still really want to play.
  • Liberté took tenth place with 5% of the vote.  Martin Wallace designed this 2001 game about the French Revolution.  It’s a very well respected game that I should probably try to play sometime.
  • Luna took eleventh place with 3.5% of the vote.  This Stefan Feld game from 2010 is about trying to win favor from the moon priestess.  I’ve played once live and once online, and it’s an interesting game.  I need to play a few more times just to get the strategy down.

That wraps up the Ls.  The ABCs will return in 2 weeks with the Ms.  Thanks for reading!


  1. I’m not up on my L games. The only one I have is Lord of the Rings, which I like quite a bit though it doesn’t get much play.
    I have thought about getting Lost Cities mind you. Its disappointing to hear you say that there is a desperate theme.

    • Well, most of Knizia’s games don’t really have much of a theme, though a lot of them pretend they do. If you’re looking for a good theme, you probably shouldn’t ever look to his stuff. Some exceptions are Lord of the Rings and Blue Moon.

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