Monday, October 12, 2020

The different pieces of Lost Cities

 This is a weird thing to be thinking about but I have found myself thinking about the compass on the reverse side of the card in at least some editions of Lost Cities. Not the actual artwork on the faces of the cards but the art on the boring sides of the cards.

This has led my rambling brain down three different paths. Memories of first getting the game; wondering how it would hold up now; and the power of effective artwork.

Lost Cities was an early acquisition for me. A watershed game. I read the rules and was totally underwhelmed. I played a hand against myself and my opinion did a 180. I ended up playing the game regularly for the next few years. Which, for someone who was trying as many different games as they could, is impressive.

And I think Lost Cities would still hold up if or when I go back to it. Because it is so gosh darn simple. Doctor Knizia loves playing with math and Lost Cities is one of the most fundamental examples of that. There are variants on the idea like Celtis or Emu Rangers that I enjoyed a lot because they were more flexible but I can’t help but wonder if the remorseless  and unforgiving simplicity of Lost Cities is one of its strengths.

As for theme and artwork... mechanically, Lost Cities is 100% abstract. You can and people have played it with regular playing cards by dropping a suit. But the theme does make sense for the mechanics and I know that the theme and pretty artwork helped the game have traction for me. Theme is more than just pretty pictures and it more than even creating stories. Theme creates a context for mechanics. It helps our brains put all the pieces of a game together. Lost Cities doesn’t need a theme but the theme makes it that much easier to get engaged with it.

Two games I find myself comparing Lost Cities in this ramble (I can’t really call it an analysis) are Take It Easy and the 10 Days series. I have seen a lot of ‘Bingo with Strategy’ games that use Take It Easy’s paradigm but few are as unforgiving. One mistake can ruin your whole game. And that brutal simplicity keeps me going back to it. And while many people have said that the 10 Days series is Racko with a map, that map makes the game so much more interesting and engaging (and educational).

On paper, Lost Cities doesn’t seem like much.  It in practice, it’s addictive.

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