Lost Cities [App o’ the Mornin’]

The original tabletop version Rainer Knezia’s Lost Cities, originally released in 1999, found a loyal following, and even migrated to the Xbox about 5 years ago. The premise and design of Lost Cities is very simple. There are five archaeological “expeditions”, each represented by a different color: white, red, green, blue, and gold. Within the deck of 60 cards, there are 12 cards of each color. Nine are numbered from 2 to 10, and 3 are marked with a symbol to make them “investment” cards. The idea is a variant on solitaire: you “explore” an ancient city by placing cards in colored sets, from lowest number (2) to highest (10). Before pacing a number card, you may place 1 to 3 investment cards to double, triple, or quadruple your earnings.

Placing cards, however, has a base cost: 20 points for each investment card, and differing amounts for numbered cards. The idea is that starting a “dig” places you in debt, and you have to play the right cards in the right sequence to wind up with the highest value for each color location. At the same time, an opposing player is doing the same thing, with the victor being whoever has the highest point value. Since you either discard or play each turn, the game quickly moves through three rounds.

Like Stone Age, the mobile version of Lost Cities (iOS: $4) opted for the larger iPhone market rather than the more limited iPad audience, and the implementation works well. Adding considerably to its appeal is a strong set of online matchmaking options, complete with an active leaderboard for ranking players. The game has an unpleasant (and humbling) habit of tracking your games, so you can watch the downward-marching arrow when you lose. Since both the live and AI opponents tend to be formidable, this might be a regular occurrence, but it’s still fun to have this classic in a portable form.