Lots of Strategy But Not Much Substance
Lost Cities for the XBLA is the electronic version of the strategy card game developed by Reiner Knizia of Kosmos Publishing. The game is authentically recreated for the arcade and full of the strategy and tactics that made the tabletop game an instant classic. Furthermore, playing against gaming peers from around the world via Xbox LIVE is an awesome addition. Sadly, the single-player mode doesn’t offer much in the way of adventure like I thought it would. Consequently, matches against the CPU are pretty dull though quite challenging on hard difficulty.
If you’re looking for an electronic port of a great card game, then Lost Cities should suffice. However, more creativity and the addition of a story would have gone a long way to making Lost Cities a true arcade adventure. Lost Cities is a card game that’s easy to learn but difficult to master. It is a turn-based game that has players form expeditions to five ancient, lost cities. The lost cities are represented by five city cards, which are placed in the center of the screen. The object of the game is to start expeditions to any or all of the cities and realize greater profits than your competition can. Games consist of one to five rounds. Each round continues until all 60 Expedition and Investment cards have been drawn. At the end of the round the points are tallied and the highest accrued total of all rounds determines the winner.
The best way to accrue your fortune from each expedition is to fund the exploration well. The only way you can do so is to utilize the Investment cards (multipliers) and Expedition cards (points) to your advantage. By placing a run of Expedition cards beneath a city, you will be credited with the total points on the face of the cards. However, starting a new expedition isn’t free. Every time you place the initial card beneath a city you will have 20 points subtracted from your total. After all, it costs money to explore these lost lands. Additionally, the initial cost can be magnified to a negative 40, 60 or 80 points by placing one, two or a maximum of three corresponding Investment cards. Placing Investment cards before starting a run is risky business, but it can also give you windfall profits by multiplying your reward by two, three or four times!
The game employs a ton of strategy! In fact, there are several different kinds of strategies that can win. You can play conservatively and allay risk by take small profits; you can leverage risk in order to maximize profits; or you can even concentrate on sabotaging your opponent’s strategy by holding key cards. Many strategy options are possible and players on XBLA tend to find one they’re comfortable with and run with it. As a result, there is a lot of varied competition to be found out there, and every game feels different. Furthermore, you can play 2-v-2 co-op battles that allow for card sharing and throw additional low point Expedition cards into the mix. The only problem with the online showdowns, either 1-v-1 or 2-v-2, is that there are long spells when no one is playing. Therefore, you’ll be forced to wait for a while before new blood enters the fray.
As good as the online component is, the single-player mode doesn’t live up to expectations. Why? Because playing against the CPU is dull, and there is no adventure to spur you on, to foment excitement or to provide a sense of accomplishment. Unlike other puzzlers on XBLA, Lost Cities doesn’t take you on a colorful journey through perilous jungles and desolate wastes. The fact that the name and subject matter of the game play upon the adventure theme that it never actually delivers is a real setback. Consequently, the single-player mode is nothing more than an enhanced solitaire. It’s nice that the XBLA version does all the point tallying for you, but it can’t hide your cards from others in the same room. That means you’ll be relegated to playing the computer or waiting for someone to get online and challenge you. In that regard, you’d be far better off going to your nearest hobby store and picking up a pack of Lost Cities cards. At least then you could play against friends at home.
I was disappointed with the quality of the graphics and wanted more from the sounds. First of all, the menu screens and board look nice, but the cards completely lack detail. This is another reason why the game lacks any kind of adventure punch. Other electronic card games, like Culdcept Saga, place a premium on the artwork of the cards as it helps to trigger the imagination. In Lost Cities you will be forced to look at muddled pictures that are only distinguishable by their colors and numbers. Greater emphasis should have been placed upon the card art. Second, and on a brighter note, the musical theme is really nice and soothing. It is the kind of tune you can keep on in the background during the entire gaming experience and not get sick of it. That being said, there is only one tune to listen to, and after several sessions it can get bothersome. Third, and best of all, the controls are so simple and intuitive that they’re going to get a perfect score. Players only have to deal with three buttons and the analog stick, which makes the game accessible to everyone.
In conclusion, this is a quality card game that packs a lot of strategic fun for players aged ten and older. The simple controls make it accessible, and the varied play via Xbox LIVE is very satisfying. Additionally, a few of the more difficult Achievement Points are truly challenging. Much to my chagrin, the visuals are not nearly good enough and the lack of a single-player adventure component / storyline makes playing against the CPU uninteresting after just a short while. I liked this game a lot, but it’s certainly not for everyone. If you enjoy card games such as solitaire, hearts, gin, and even Magic the Gathering, there is good chance you’ll enjoy Lost Cities. If you’re looking for a beautiful adventure puzzler / card game like Culdcept Saga or Puzzle Quest, then keep looking!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
The menu screens and board looks nice, but the cards completely lack detail. 5.0 Control
The controls couldn’t be better. All you have to use are three buttons and the analog stick. 3.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The single musical theme is very nice, but it’s the only one. 3.2 Play Value
This is a very good card game, but the single-player mode conveys no sense of adventure. 3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.