Back in 1999, a two-player card game by the name of Lost Cities made its way into homes. Designed by Reiner Knizia, the game made for an astounding, yet simple, game of thought and strategy. Now, Zabu Studio has teamed up with Knizia to bring the title to Facebook, in the form of Lost Cities Solo.
Decidedly addictive, this digitized card game combines a fair amount of strategic design with just enough luck to not be terribly frustrating. It’s a game that, at first glance, seems a bit complex and overwhelming, but one that clears itself up quickly upon its first play through. While the basic social mechanics may be dated, Lost Cities’ depth should keep strategy fans happy for some time.
Though the game just uses simple numbered cards, the premise revolves around the exploration of five ancient cities, represented by five different colors. Each of these have a set of cards, of a corresponding color, to go with them, numbered from two to 10. Placing these cards begins what the game dubs, an “expedition,” which starts at a negative value. The idea is to place enough cards in each city to reach a required number of points.
This is where things, deceptively, look complex. Players are given a hand of eight cards with a draw pile of 28 more. As cards are played, their number value is added to the user’s score, with the objective being to reach a set number of points (e.g. level one requires the player to earn 20 points). When placed, the numbers on the cards are added together to create a total for that particular expedition. The catch, however, is that once a card is put down, players can only place new cards that are of a higher numeric value atop it.
There are also cards dubbed “risk cards,” which are represented by an asterisk. Also with corresponding colors, these must be placed before any other card in that city. For each city, up to three risk cards may be available, but the initial placement will reduce the points of that expedition deeply into negative points. Any cards placed after one risk card will be doubled in value. A second risk card will triple subsequent cards, and a third will quadruple them. Since the cards can go up to 10, the risk can be very beneficial.
Of course, since only eight cards are in the player’s hand at any given time, they never know, for sure, if they will get enough cards for the “risk” city to make up their deficit. New cards are only drawn once one is played or discarded, making many choice a gamble and potentially sapping a maximum score. As an example, players could choose to discard a 10 card because it would block lower cards from being placed, but then that expedition may never get another of that color.
While this might sound frustrating or complex, it really isn’t. After a play through, Lost Cities is extremely easy to catch on to.
The game also gives users a means to compensate for luck, with power-ups that do everything from undoing a previous move to recycling discarded cards. In order to acquire these, players merely need to play, as each win will give them a chance to pick a treasure chest containing random gems. However, since each item costs a different amount of four different types of gems, players will need to play a lot in order to make significant purchases.
However, these gems will be usable across Zabu games, of which six are listed as “coming soon” on Lost Cities’ dashboard.
The one aspect lacking in Lost Cities is a good social mechanic. Since it’s “Solo,” there isn’t a whole lot in this department beyond various leaderboards (and achievements) that measure friends against one another in weekly, all time, and level categories. Nonetheless, the game itself is rather fun, and the limited social implementation works, so that’s not really a significant complaint.
With Lost Cities Solo being a brand new game, it’s hard to say how it will do in the long haul. Overall, most card-based games on Facebook tend to only do moderately well, despite quality design, with the only significant exception being Warstorm, which has reached 2.8 million MAU with the benefit of heavy promotion from Zynga.