Lost Cities [$3.99] is a game that's hard to quantify. It's built on Reiner Knizia's formidable game design talents, and made into an impressive asynchronous experience by The Coding Monkeys, developers of board game delight Carcassonne [$9.99]. It has a robust single-player campaign and most of the online tools one could hope for. It looks great, too. All of that sounds pretty glowing, but we're only a few days in and I'm already making excuses not to take my turns.

Lost Cities is, more or less, two-player Solitaire. Like Solitaire it's almost, but not entirely, mindless. You draw cards into your hand, and you put them in appropriately ordered and colored piles. You share the deck with an opponent, and ideally work against each other. Much like Solitaire, though, the game relies on luck as much as skill or strategy. It's also best played as a time-waster, without the brunt of your full attention. That zen-like state that comes from moving cards around towards a goal is kind of hard to achieve when you're only taking turns every hour or two.

That's not to say it's poorly designed—not at all. It's just a bit dull for an asynchronous multiplayer game. You take your turn, you place one card, you draw one card. Rinse and repeat. Normally I'd pad out the experience contemplating future moves or considering my opponent's strategy, but Lost Cities isn't really complex enough to make much of that necessary.

You start with five lanes, representing lost cities to explore, and ten cards, representing potential profitable discoveries. The cards are numbered 2 - 10 in colors that match the lanes. You can only place cards in ascending order, and only in the appropriate lanes. When you start a lane, your score drops by 20 points (the cost of the expedition), adjusted by the value of the card you placed.

The basic strategy, then, is to only start lanes when you're pretty sure you can earn at least 20 points with them. You want to start low, because while, say, a nine and a ten will get you most of the way there, you won't be able to put any cards down after the ten hits. Your opponent will be doing the same thing from the same pool of cards, so you can try to stymie them by hoarding or using the cards they need.

That's most of the game right there. Each player aims to earn more points than the other, and weighs risks and rewards suitably. You can spice things up by using cards that multiply the losses and gains in your side of a given lane, and you have to weigh some difficult choices when deciding to keep a card or discard it, potentially into your opponent's hands. These are good, sensible rules, but they don't change the fact that the end of every game looks basically the same. There are no real surprises in store—you make your calls, and you live and die by the cards you draw after that.

While it can be frustrating to wait while that all plays out asynchronously, it's much more tolerable in real time. With a player you can trust to play near-live, it can be a fun, quick card game fix. The Coding Monkeys built in a generous amount of stat tracking and Game Center-based challenges to give a sense of ongoing progress. The single-player mode feeds into that as well, with four computer opponents to hone your skills against. Playing the AI is also a great way to get into the flow that games like this thrive on.

Lost Cities probably won't have the kind of staying power of Carcassone or other asynchronous classics like Words With Friends. No matter how different the results, every game feels pretty much the same, and that really cripples its long-term appeal. It's not a bad game, though. The Coding Monkeys made beautiful work of bringing it to the small screen, packing it with smart features on top of its already clever design. So there are games out there you might play longer—does that mean this one isn't worth playing at all?

TouchArcade Rating

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001981770769 John Ovchinnikov

    So amazing game and only 3,5 stars?! Are you kidding me?!

  • jayturley

    Having owned this game for a few years in physical form I must point out that there is some very deep strategy and tactics that can/must be used when playing against experienced opponents. I'm guessing the AI isn't very strong (haven't gotten around to actually playing iOS version yet).

  • http://twitter.com/crunchewy Crunchewy

    This game is great and definitely worth more than 3.5 stars in my book. I give it 4, losing 1 star mostly for not being universal (yet???) I have been having a great deal of fun with it. I don't put a lot of faith in TAs board/card game reviews.

  • rodgerodger

    I don't put faith into any of TAs reviews:) And this reminds me why. How this game got the same rating as trash like Pocket Army just boggles the mind. My taste in games is just drastically different from those who post here.

    • ducksFANjason

      LOL why do you frequent here at all then?

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        So he can post a never-ending stream of snide comments it'd seem.

      • nonen

        You can get a lot of good information about upcoming apps from this site, even while you tolerate egregiously off-base ratings/reviews like this one.

  • blindspot

    Just because an app has async does not mean that it's primary mode of play should be async. This game works best realtime and players should use the async feature to save in-progress games. In that light, the async feature is a great feature for this game.

  • rogel5

    I would have bought this by now, to take away with us on our summer break if it had pass and play. To me it seems that would have been easier to add than online play.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kamil.malinski Kamil Malinski

    3,5 stars for this fantastic game? come on guys, this gem deserves at least 4,5 if not 5 stars! I can't stop playing it, it's as polished as a game can be - I love it!

  • DecafTable

    This game is flawless. Totally bummed by this review :/ There is deep strategy involved, and while played right, can leave a great sense of satisfaction as you obliterate your opponent. I just finished a game 127 to 17 by employing future planning. The game requires you to know when to discard certain cards and when to play others. You can't just lay them down without a plan. Your key choices dictate your road to victory or defeat. I think you guys missed the entire point. Perfect game in my opinion!

  • ducksFANjason

    I think this was a great review Nissa, thanks! I haven't played the game so I can't agree or disagree with the opinion behind it, but the review itself was very informative.

  • drloony

    To say the game is flawless is a bit much, not being universal was a big strike for many a player. They made Carcassone universal, why they left that just boggles the mind

  • nonen

    It's now abundantly clear that Nissa Campbell is a rather poor arbiter of taste.  TA in general just isn't the measuring stick of quality that I once deluded myself to think it was.  You won't find a more beautiful, polished, quality experience than this anywhere on the app store.  10,000 gets 5 stars and this gets 3.5?  

    You're joking.

  • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

    It's so crazy it's almost as if people can have differing opinions about things how is that even possible?!?

  • IHaveToTakeAHodapp

    I love how ultra-sensitive and snarky the TA staff gets when they face even the slightest hint of criticism. Grow some thicker skin, guys.

    I also enjoy seeing Lost Cities described as "two-player solitaire" and "luck-based." Right there, I know this is not a reviewer I need to take seriously.

  • Andrew Boyes

    I have played this game IRL but not on iOS. I cant imagine the asynchronous element is much fun at all. Its a simple game with some depth but not bucket loads. Half the fun is

    • http://twitter.com/crunchewy Crunchewy

      It works better than you might think. And I am not generally a fan of async play. I have several games going and a lot of the time I end up online at the same time as somebody I'm playing with and we play the game out (or at least a bunch of turns). Playing multiple games of this at once is much more doable than most games because of the relative rule and layout simplicity and because everything is right there on screen. There's no reviewing past turns to figure out what cards you bought or other such stuff. It's all right there in front of you. To me this works better async than even Ascension because of that.

  • junkyardheart

    This review is spot-on.

  • Mj1ggy

    I love this game but can't disagree with the review too much. I basically have one particular friend who also enjoys this game and we will just play it in semi-real time while we are doing other tasks. It's pretty much perfect for that use, but I can't imagine it would be all that much fun taking hours to compete a game when they take 5-10 minutes real time. For what it's worth its great and a well designed app but its nowhere near as deep a game like Le Havre.

    • http://twitter.com/Micahsa Micah Peterson

      Yeah, I totally agree here.  I am a huge fan of the physical game, but I understand it for what it is: a well thought out, streamlined game with a good risk/reward balance, meant for multiple games in a row. 

      I haven't plaed the iOS version, but its usually the type of game I play when hanging out at the inlaws and I'll play a 2/3 match against somebody while waiting for dinner or just to hang out.  We've had games that last 2-3 minutes once we get in the swing of things and have even gone so far as to put 5 second limits on turns for a speed round.

      I expect the asynchronous part would make things start to drag, especially if you're in a game with someone who's taking multiple hours between turns. 

      Pass and play on the iPad should be great though so I may pick it up just for that.

  • Alexei Baboulevitch

    I was really impressed by the interactive tutorial. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out!

  • http://www.games.99k.org/ games

    this card game is very fun indeed

  • Philex88

    I am bit disapointed by this app. I can't get used to the asynchronous feature of the app because I have played Lost Cities a lot on Happy Meeple where the play is real-time. That is much better for me (and I believe for the game). Moreover, I think the bots are stronger on HM, it is free and it has a nice tutorial.
    But don't get me wrong! The game is great and the IOS app is fine.

Lost Cities Reviewed by Nissa Campbell on . Rating: 3.5