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Lost Cities

Score: 86%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Sierra
Developer: Sierra
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Board Games/ Card Games

Graphics & Sound:

Lost Cities addresses one of the more overlooked genres on XBLA, board and card games. Sure, classic arcade games and other indie releases are great, but ask anyone who has played Uno, Catan or Carcassonne with friends over Live and they'll tell you that those games are every bit as fun and intense as other, more visceral entries.

As far as presentation goes, Lost Cities goes about as far as it has to. The play area and cards look good and give off an appropriate, old time "Jungle Cruise"-style expedition feel, although they aren't incredibly impressive. It's easy to tell where all of the important things on the playfield are, though the artwork is incredibly blurry which makes it hard to appreciate the artwork on each card. Still, it does what it has to, which is about all you can ask from a card game.

Sound is as nondescript as the rest of the presentation. The background music is low key enough that it doesn't get in the way, yet there's only one song and it can become tiresome after a few games.


Lost Cities is a digital adaptation of the game originally created by award-winning designer and mathematician, Reiner Knizia. The goal of the game is to explore one or more of the five "lost cities" by channeling money into each expedition. At the end of the game, the object is to turn a profit on your expeditions by off-setting the initial exploration costs.

While it sounds like there's a lot of math and other complicated mechanics going on in Lost Cities, the actual gameplay is streamlined and simple to understand. Players begin the game with a hand of eight cards which they can play on one of the five lost cities. From here, gameplay progresses similar to a combination of Solitaire and Uno; cards can only come into play if its color matches the expedition and is higher than the last card played. In other words, a "Yellow 5" card can only be placed on the yellow desert expedition and only if the last card played in that expedition is less than five. In addition, players can also play special Investment cards that multiply their potential return, but only if they can manage to pay down the increased cost.


Even though you're really just placing cards down on top of other cards, the experience can still be incredibly fun, that is, if you're playing with real people rather than the A.I. Although the A.I. is decent, it is really erratic. Sometimes it will pummel you into submission and really make you think that it is cheating - that is, until you play it again and it acts like it has never seen the game before. There's no trick to figuring out when the A.I. will make its dramatic turn, so you really just have to go in and hope for the best. Ideally, Lost Cities is best with friends, but if you don't have much of a choice, well... make do with what you have.

Even when the A.I. decides to play it "slow", it can still beat you if you aren't careful. Although the gameplay is straightforward, there's still a Chess-like element to every move. If you aren't careful about which cards you place and when, you can wind up in a pretty deep hole. Then there's the luck factor, which isn't something you can control and just have to run with.

Game Mechanics:

Lost Cities' controls are idiot-proof, so it shouldn't take long for anyone to figure out what does what. Instead, much of the game's depth and strategy comes from, to quote Kenny Rogers, "...knowing when to hold them." Cards are color-coded and numbered from 2 - 10 and can only be put into play in ascending order, forcing you to think about your strategy from the first card you play. Will you play a "4" in an open expedition and risk drawing a "3" or "2", or hold the "4" and hope to draw a lower card that can help boost your score? Since you're also going up against an ever-depleting deck of 60 cards, you'll also have to learn to manipulate the length of each game by discarding cards into piles and redrawing them to avoid running out of cards in the original draw pile.

Adding to the questions are Investment cards that must be placed down before any other number cards come into play. Placing one down doubles your score from an expedition (as well as your initial investment into the expedition). Up to three investment cards can be played per expedition. Depending on how you play things, you can end up with four times the profit or four times the debt. It's a tricky balance of risk and reward that doesn't always work in your favor, but it is a blast when it does.

Lost Cities isn't a game that will appeal to everyone, but even players who are the least bit curious should at least give the trial version a play. The mechanics are simple enough that anyone can jump right in and play and, given a chance, it can easily be an addictive game.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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