Carcassone for iOS is one of my favorite mobile games, so when the same development team (TheCodingMonkeys) rolled out a new game called Lost Cities ($3.99, for iPhone) I downloaded it within seconds. Another board game adaptation, Lost Cities is a fast-paced card game that has the same quality and attention to detail I’ve come to expect from the development team. It’s an Editors’ Choice for iPhone games.
New players may be confused as to why this card game is called Lost Cities, and they’re not alone. Besides some very nice art on the cards, and a general jungle theme for the app, the connection between playing a card game and exploring/tomb raiding is tenuous at best. At first, I thought this was just a looser boardgame adaptation, but it turns out that even the original game is only loosely tied to its name. My advice is to not think too hard about it.
Cards and Lanes
In Lost Cities, you’re dealt a hand of eight numbered, colored cards that you play in ascending order on correspondingly color-coded lanes. Opening a new lane earns you a negative 20 points, but you raise your score by the number on each card you play. Each turn you must play or discard a card, and then draw a card until there are no cards left and the game ends.
The strategy in Lost Cities comes from timing your plays against a rapidly depleting draw deck, and against your opponent’s plays. Plus, there’s the challenge of figuring out when—or if—you’ll earn positive points on a particular lane.
If this all sounds too heady, don’t worry. The game has an informative guided tutorial and is helpfully festooned with indicators to let you know where you stand, how your opponent is progressing, and how many cards are left in the draw pile. Even the multiplayer notifications, supplied by Game Center, will tell you how many cards are left to play.
What I really like about Lost Cities is that there is rarely an unwinnable game. No matter how bad a round begins, there’s usually a chance to pull out a win. If you don’t believe me, the game actually presents a chart displaying the likelihood of your win over the course of the game, so you can see the exact moment you started winning (or when you messed up).
Bells and Whistles
In Carcassonne, TheCodingMonkeys showed off a love of lush, skeumorphic design, excellent voice acting, and tasteful music. In Lost Cities, they did not disappoint. The game board is painstakingly detailed, the cards boldly colored, and the entire package looks great on my iPhone 4s. The multi-cultural soundtrack covers many different themes and regions, and melts beautifully into the background, unlike the garish ragtime of Ticket to Ride.
More important than appearances is the well-thought out controls for Lost Cities. Cards are automatically guided to the appropriate lanes, and are big enough for even bumbling-thumbed fools like me to play one-handed. I particularly liked that you have to confirm each play, giving you a chance to undo a mistake or take back a bad move.
There’s a noticeable economy of screens in this game, placing everything within a tap or two. I was particularly impressed with the multiplayer screens, which are frequently a mess in mobile games but were avision in thoughtful user-interface design on Lost Cities.
Adventuring Alone or With Friends
You can play against some (white, vaguely imperialist farces of fictional archaeologist) bots, play a random match against Lost Cities players online, or compete against your friends via Game Center. Games against bots will go much faster, usually lasting between five and ten minutes—depending on how fast you play. They’re also devilishly difficult.
The game struggles a bit with live players because each turn is so short, and the timing of your next turn is entirely up to how fast your opponent responds. That’s pretty normal for mobile games, however. Also, you may experience some noticeable lag time between turns due to network issues. Unfortunately, the game does not support pass-and-play.
Lost Cities eschews a chat option, but the developers did include the ability to display one of nine emoticons during each round. This cleverly prevents players from being rude without forcing them to be silent.
Find These Lost Cities
Lost Cities for iPhone might not be an entirely faithful adaptation of the board game, but it’s a very well made game in its own right. It has fast-paced, strategic play and a design that is perfect for mobile. Though it might take a round or two to fully understand, it’s a lot of fun and surprisingly addictive. You’ll be begging your friends to download TheCodingMonkeys’ Lost Cities, a clear Editors’ Choice for iPhone games.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc