App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS
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Every developer, no matter how magnificent their release record, will eventually create something that ultimately falls flat. It’s an inevitability. Law of averages and all that. So it shouldn’t be all that surprising to think that Reiner Knizia will eventually produce a “meh” game. Lost Cities is not that game, but it’s still bound to happen sooner or later.
Explaining the mechanics behind any of Knizia’s games can take lots and lots of words so I’m going to summarize most of Lost Cities particulars as best I can. Players face-off against their opponent on opposite sides of the game area. This area consists of five lanes, each devoted to a certain color, that can be filled in ascending order with matching cards. Both parties take turns placing and drawing cards until the draw deck is empty, then the points are tallied and a winner is declared. Of course there’s more to it than that - and a lot more strategy involved - but that’s the gist of it.
The specifics are where the game truly shines, however. Simplifying turns into two basic actions (play and draw) keeps the flow steady while allowing players to pull cards from the shared discard pile encourages some fairly sneaky tactics. That is to say, tossing the wrong card away could give an opponent the edge they need to come out ahead. There are also special coin cards that can only be placed when a lane is started and can significantly multiply a given score. Of course they can also have a massive negative impact on the same score so there’s a fair bit of risk/reward to it. However the most fantastic aspect of Lost Cities is that it features online turn-based multiplayer via Game Center or random matches. Which as far as I know is a first for a Knizia game. If nothing else it’s certainly a first for any of his games that I’ve played.
Since there’s actually multiplayer in Lost Cities I can’t go with my standby complaint. However, the feature does bring one typical issue along with it: waiting for the other person to move. Multiple games can be run at once, and there’s always something to do that isn’t iOS related, but waiting can still be a bit annoying. I’ve also mistakenly discarded cards instead of playing them on a couple of occasions due to a rather large hitbox for the discard pile and my being semi-distracted (i.e. playing against someone as I type this).
One of these days a Reiner Knizia game will hit the App Store and not be fantastic, but Lost Cities keeps the streak going. It’s less complicated than most of the designer’s other titles, quick to learn, unexpectedly deep, and it can be played against actual people. I dare say this is the most accessible and newbie friendly Knizia iOS game yet.