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LOST CITIES: RIVALS

Reviewed by Herb Levy

LOST CITIES: RIVALS (Kosmos, 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 40 minutes; $14.95)

 

Very often, a well received game will inspire its designer to “revisit” that creation and come up with a new spin on it. No one is more adept at this than Reiner Knizia. In his latest twist on his original Lost Cities game, the challenge remains to build expeditions and achieve the greatest fame but now, Knizia adds another element – auctions – in his latest variation: Lost Cities: Rivals.

Lost Cities: Rivals comes with 65 Expedition cards in five colors with each color consisting of 13 cards (numbered 2 to 10, with 2 of each of numbers 2 through 5 and 1 each of 6 through 10). There are also 15 “Wager Cards”, 3 in each color (think of them as “starters” or “number 1s” as well as 10 “Starting Wager” cards (2 of each color), a starting player card and a supply of 36 cardboard “coins”. 

The Starting Wager cards are shuffled and two randomly dealt to each player. (Each player must have two different colors so, if someone gets two of the same, one is discarded and a new one dealt.) These cards are placed in front of the player and are the beginnings of that player’s first two expeditions. The 36 coins are distributed equally to all. The Wager Cards are mixed into the Expedition card deck and the deck is divided into four (approximately equal) stacks. One of these stacks is brought to the center of the table to start the display (with the others placed aside for now). The first player (whose birthday was the most recent!) gets the start player card and the game begins. 

On a turn, a player may do one of two things: uncover a card OR start an auction. If uncovering a card, that player takes a card from the top of the center stack and adds it to the display.  The next player may do the same and this continues until someone decides that the cards in the display are cards worth having and triggers an auction. 

Rather than revealing another card, a player may make a bid with his coins for those cards on display. The minimum bid is 1 coin (and, obviously, you cannot start an auction if you have no coins left). Now, in turn order, players may raise the bid or pass. (Once you pass, you are out of the bidding.) High bidder pays the coins to the supply (unsuccessful bids are returned to players) and the winner decides how to use the now won cards.

Cards in the display may be added to a player’s expeditions with the following stipulations: you may only have one expedition of a color in your holdings cards, Wager cards, if played, must be played first in an expedition (think of it as a number 1) and, regardless of what card is placed, subsequent cards must be of the matching color and ALWAYS played in ascending order although you may play the same number card again. (For example, when adding red cards to a red Wager card, a run of Wager card + 2 + 2 + 3 + 5 is perfectly legal. A run of Wager card + 2 + 4 + 3 is not!)  The player need not take all the cards on display but he/she may DISCARD a card in the display and remove it from the game! (A great way to put up roadblocks to opposing expeditions.)

After the last card of the deck is turned over, the game pauses and all coins in supply are distributed equally to ALL players. (Any coins left over remain in supply.) Now, one of the put aside decks are moved to the center and we do it all over again. When the fourth and final deck is done, we score. 

All cards display “footprints”. These are counted with the number of footprints becoming the number of points for that expedition. A Wager card, if present, doubles the value of those footprints so, for example, if there are five footprints in the blue expedition, we multiply that by 2 (for the Wager card), scoring 10 points. If you have managed to place more than one Wager card in an expedition, scores increase as two Wager cards will triple the value of the footprints (making, in our example, a score of 15 points) and so on. But that’s not all. If you have managed to have at least four number cards in your expedition, another 8 points are added to the total.  Finally, leftover coins are worth 1 point each. (The supply is NOT divided up after the fourth deck is finished.) High score wins! But a caveat concerning the cards.

Cards are attractive but their motifs start to change and the colors not completely consistent as the numbers rise from 2 to 10 making it sometimes hard to recognize to which color a particular card belongs. To avoid confusion, concentrate on card ICONS instead of colors.  

The auction extra in Lost Cities: Rivals adds a little “press your luck” to the game play as each player must decide whether to turn over a card (and hope that something more attractive appears) OR bid now before someone else decides that the cards on display are more valuable to him (or her) and drive the cost up for you! Wager cards available at auction allow you to start more expeditions with a potential of doubling (or more) their values. This can mean a gold mine in points but, probably, at least one of your competitors will feel the same way. Be careful with your bidding as running out of coins early means you will be helpless to claim cards needed and shatter your chances for high scores. (The infusion of more coins into your coffers at the end of each segment is something that Stefan Dorra’s For Sale and Knizia’s own Traumfabirk (aka Dream Factory and Hollywood Blockbusterhas used effectively as well but you can’t depend on that influx of coins to negate poor bidding habits.)  Card placement must be handled smartly too. Higher numbered cards have more footprints but, since you cannot placed lesser valued cards in your expedition after placing a higher valued one, you have to gauge the relative worth of capping or limiting the total value of your expedition against its immediate payoff. This auction/push your luck element is something Knizia has used several times before, particularly to great advantage in Medici and it works well here too.  As you might expect with an auction, the more players the better. While the original game is a classic for 2 and Lost Cities: Rivals is listed as for 2 to 4, Rivals plays best with the full complement of four. 

Lost Cities: Rivals is another solid game in the Knizia pantheon and a version that allows Lost Cities fans to bring more game players into the action. As is typical for Knizia designs, the game play is quick and smooth, offering choices and challenges that will appeal to gamers of all ages. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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