April 23, 2008

Review Extravaganza Thursday Morning: Lost Cities

There are several types of games I enjoy. Some are really engrossing and draw me in. They take me over completely. The World Ends With You, which I’m playing now and should review as well, falls into this category. Then there are pure multiplayer games, games that I only play because playing with people is completely awesome. Super Smash Brothers Brawl is in this category. Finally, there are games I love because they are interesting and fun, yet don’t completely consume my brain, letting me do it and something else, such as listen to a podcast or chat with people. Lost Cities is one of those games.
Lost Cities just hit XBLA, and it’s a 2 player competitive card game, though apparently there is a four-player variant you can play on Live if you want. I’ve just played the computer so far, but it’s great. The idea is that you’re exploring five different cities, each marked with a color. You have a deck of cards with a card of each color number 2-10, and then three “Investment” cards of each color. The object is to have the most points at the end of the round, and you do this by, oddly enough, playing cards. Each turn, each player either plays or discards a card. If played, they put it underneath the appropriately colored city on their side of the table (You can play red on red, but you can’t play red on blue). You can only play a card on top of a card of lesser value (so you can play a 3 atop a 2, but you can’t play a 3 atop a 4) or in an empty space. If you put it in an empty space, you’re starting a “new expedition.” This costs you 20 points, and yes, you can go into the negative. Each card you play gives you a number of points equal to the number on the card. This “spend money to make money” mechanic is the core of the game, and the risk/reward system it sets up is one of the reasons why it’s so fun. Alternatively, as I’ve said, the player can discard a card from their hand. Each color has it’s own discard pile, so all the red cards go into the red discard pile, and so on.
The second step of the turn is the player either drawing a card from the deck or taking a card from the top of a discard pile. This is also a neat system, because the game ends the moment the last card is drawn from the deck. You can try to buy time by taking discarded cards you don’t need to keep cards in the deck. Of course, you give up potentially drawing a card you need, but that’s the tradeoff. It’s a simple but neat mechanic.
The last bit of mechanical whatever is the Investment cards. They basically count as 0 in the card hierarchy, so they can only be played on an empty space. However, they can also be played atop each other. When you play an investment card, all cards play on that space get an extra multiplier. One investment card gives you a 2x bonus, two will give you a 3x bonus, and if you manage to get all three in play, you get a 4x bonus. The tradeoff is that the cost to start an expedition is increased in the same way, so it costs 40 for one investment card, 60 for two, and 80 for three. Again, it’s a neat risk/reward system that makes the gameplay so fun.
Oh, also, if you get 8 cards on a city, you get a bonus.
And that’s it! That’s the rules and how you play! It is the perfect podcast game. There are definitely mechanics that you have to think about to play well, but it can be very slow paced against the computer since it’ll wait however long you want to take your turn and it’s so easy to take in the board and see what you need to do that you can get distracted and come back without being lost. It’s just good, simple fun, and I do recommend it if, say, you tire of the non-strategy randomness in XBLA Uno, but would like a similar experience with some more strategic choices infused. Something like that.

Man, I like to ramble about mechanics, don’t I? I guess I should get to bed, but I felt inspired and it had been a long time since I wrote one of my shitty reviews. So there, a shitty review for you!

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