A game in which you mount expeditions into the depths of five ancient ruined cities should, you'd think, be a gripping experience fraught with peril, adventure and boundless opportunities for daring escapes and bold acts of heroism. While Lost Cities is nominally based on the idea of such quests, it's actually a card game. Not really a hurdle - there are plenty of card games packed with excitement - but then Lost Cities is an incredibly sedate card game. It's not bad, but nor does it live up to its title.
There are five cities to "explore", each one colour-coded - yellow, blue, white, green and red. The deck contains 60 cards, separated into five suits of the same colour as the cities. Each suit contains nine number cards, from 2 to 10, and three face cards, or Investments. You can only place a card on the city of the corresponding colour, and cards must be placed in numerical order - though not necessarily in sequence. So you could, for instance, place the White 6 card on the white city, but then you wouldn't be able to place the cards marked five or lower. Place the 8 card after it, and you won't be able to use the 7. As soon as you place the first card on any city, the available score for that city drops to -20, the cost of starting the expedition. If you want to finish up with a positive, you need to build the amount back up by placing the number cards, which score according to their value.
Investment cards add an extra layer of strategy. These must be the first cards placed on a city, and you can have up to three. Each one multiplies your score for that city further - x2, x3, x4 - but at a cost of an additional 20 points off your initial score per card. In other words, placing all three Investment cards starts you off with a -80 score deficit, but quadruple the points for any card you do place. If you have the number cards to make it pay off, the results are impressive. Fail to get the numbers you need, and you're left in a hole you can't climb out of.