GSA Repost: Games for Two- Lost Cities

Originally posted 09 October 2012

There are a lot of great games out there. They are a great way to get together with friends and have a grand time. But, sometimes, you want to game and you just can’t get all your friends together. Kids need to be in bed, work schedules conflict, family is in town, they still haven’t forgiven you for winning their prized YT-1300 freighter from them during your last gaming session.  Whatever the reason, sometimes you just can’t get a big group together for a game.

Fortunately, there are other options. Are you married? Have a roommate? Sibling? Neighbor? Well then you’re in luck because there are a host of good games out there suitable for just two people. And we’re not talking about chess or checkers here.

The first one I want to talk about today is called Lost Cities.  The idea behind the game is you are playing competing adventurers trying to be the first to explore ancient lost cities for treasure. It consists of a board and a deck of special cards. The cards consists of five colors (red, white, blue, yellow, green), with the numbers 2 through 10 on them plus three Investment cards in each color.

You take turns playing a card onto the board and then drawing, either from the middle discard section or from the deck. Your goal is to play as many points (the numbered cards) into a color as possible before the last card in the deck is drawn. Who ever has the most points after three rounds of play, wins.

It sounds simple enough but there are a few things to complicate the process. First, if you play a card into any color, you automatically start out with -20 in that color. That means you have to put a minimum of 20 points into a color just to break even. Since each color only has 2-10, there are a maximum of 54pts available to clear that -20 and then get positive points.

The other difficulty is you have to play the cards in numerical order. Once you play a blue 5, you can never play the blue 2,3 or 4. This gets really ugly when you have a hand full of high point cards. You have to play or discard something every turn. So you either have to put high point cards down in a color, foregoing the chance to play anything lower than that, or discard the card, and hope your opponent doesn’t pick it up so that you can retrieve it later.

The investment cards are what really make things interesting. These cards multiply your final score in a particular color. If you play one investment card, your final score in a color will be multiplied by 2. If you play all three, your final score is multiplied by 4. This has the chance to really rake in a lot of points. Unfortunately, it can also screw you over. Since it multiplies your final score, positive or negative, if you don’t get enough points to beat that -20 you have to overcome, you could end up multiplying a negative number. And since investment cards must be played before any number cards, you have to make a gamble by playing them first.

One benefit of the game is your opponent is dealing with the same obstacles. You may discard a high point card, but they have to play something before they can pick it up. It can be a real dilemma if you have the 2,3,4 on the table, the 6 in your hand and your opponent just discarded the 5. You have to play first and that means either leaving the 5 behind forever, or potentially throwing something else away that’s useful to your opponent.

Its a lot of fun to play, though it does require some math skills. Negative numbers, multipliers, addition, odds of drawing a particular card. So in addition to fun, it could also serve as a great learning tool for middle school age kids in math skills.


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