Full disclosure: A review copy of Lost Cities: Rivals was provided by KOSMOS.
KOSMOS has had a busy year! So have I, to be fair. They’ve released a bunch of EXIT games, Drop It, Mercado, and now, a portable card game version of their classic Lost Cities. Let’s see how Lost Cities: Rivals holds up!
In Lost Cities: Rivals, you once again are adventuring into the unknown on various expeditions and trying to explore more than your opponents, but this time you’re messing around with auctions! Will you be able to outbid your opponents for the right to go see wonderful new lands? Or will you end up stuck because you’ve completely run out of money?
Pretty straightforward, honestly. Give each player two of the Starting Wager cards (dark brown back):
Make sure they have two different ones. Not two of the same. Next, split the money evenly between all players:
There are 36 coins, so the math always works out, there. Finally, shuffle the Expedition and Wager cards:
Split them into four equal piles (I think about 20 cards each?). I left them as kind of one big pile, but as long as you have them marked (or count), you’re fine. It’s usually better to split them into equal piles, though. Once you’ve done that, you’re cool to start!
So, during the game you can undertake expeditions to try and earn fame. Your goal is to earn the most fame from these expeditions (and your money) so that you’re the most famous and successful explorer. Very exciting. But how does this work?
On a player’s turn, they have two options: Uncover or Auction.
Flip the top card of the deck and place it next to the other cards that are already face-up. This forms the display. There’s … not much else happening during this bit. As the game progresses, if a card cannot be added to any player’s expedition, remove it from the game (but do not flip another card to replace it; tough luck).
On a player’s turn, they may instead start the auction by bidding at least one of their coins. Every player can, in turn order, make a higher bid or pass. If you pass, you cannot reenter the auction at a later point; you are removed entirely. Once every player except for one has passed, that player wins the auction and puts the money they bid into the center of the table, forming (or contributing to) the gold supply.
Now, the highest bidder has won access to the display. They may do two things:
- Add cards to Expeditions. They may add any of the Expedition Cards or Wager Cards in the display to their active Expeditions, following these rules:
- Wager Cards must be played before any Expedition Cards. Assume they have a value of 0, or something. This means that once you’ve played any number to your Expedition, you cannot play any more Wager Cards. They increase the value of your Expedition, so it might be worth bringing one along.
- Every card played on an Expedition must be greater than or equal to the card that was played before it. Always be moving forward.
- Remove one card in the Display from the game. See a card that your opponent needs? Burn it.
Both actions are optional. After this, give the Starting Player Card to the player on the left of the auction winner. This may result in some player taking an extra turn or getting skipped; that’s alright.
End of Round
If, after a turn, the deck is depleted, pause play and distribute the coins in the center between all players evenly. If there are any remaining, leave the remainder in the center.
Take the next 20-card pile and use that as the new draw pile.
End of Game
Once the last card from the last pile has been revealed, the game ends. Do not have a final auction and do not redistribute coins.
Count up the number of footprints on each of your Expedition Cards of a color. If you have any Wager Cards, add that number again. This means one Wager Card doubles an Expedition’s value, the second triples, the third quadruples, and so on.
If you have four cards in an Expedition, score a bonus 8 points. This number cannot be increased by Wager Cards.
Add up your score across all your Expeditions, and then score an additional point per coin you still have left. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
The major difference is balancing the auction and dealing with other players’ interests. First off, card values will rise sharply in lower-player-count games as players individually have more money to burn on things. That said, two players isn’t particularly exciting, for that reason, as it’s sort of a “you get it or I do” sort of situation. At higher player counts, the auctions are more tense because the cards tend to be spread out, so you’re not sure who’s going to start gunning for access to the display or if you should be worried.
Personal preference is just not at two. Higher player counts are a bit more my speed, for this one.
- Don’t ever let a player get three or more Wager Cards in one color. I mean, it might not be the worst idea given that it’s unlikely (unless you’re in Shuffle Hell) that a player will be able to get those and get any Expedition Cards, so, there’s at least that, but it’s still a dangerous precedent. If they happen to actually get some cards, then you’re in a pretty bad way.
- Sometimes it’s worth starting the auction a bit early just to see what happens. If you can anchor the price high enough, you might bait the other players into outbidding you for something you didn’t want. If that happens, more of their money goes to the center (and eventually, to you).
- It’s also occasionally fun to bid on auctions you don’t want. As you might guess, don’t do this if you’re worried you’ll get stuck with the contents, but if you’re sure that your opponents will pay, might as well drive up the price a smidge more, right? It’s better that way.
- Avoid large displays. The larger the display, the more problems you’ll have. If anyone wins access to that, they’ll just crush the game with all the Expedition Cards. You really don’t want it to hit more than 5 – 10 cards before someone calls the auction; it’s unwise.
- Notice what cards are missing from opponents’ displays. These are opportunities you can capitalize on. If your opponents have all gone in on high-value green cards, you can scoop up all the low values and then get your four that way, rather than fighting them for 6s – 10s. Fighting another player is generally not worth it at higher player counts.
- I usually keep one Expedition (or two) open for a while. It helps to scoop up those Wager Cards, since other players can’t take them. Just make sure you’re aware that this might cause you to miss out on actually scoring those cards, which might be a problem?
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Very portable. It’s just cards and some coins. An easy fit in a Quiver or a backpack or whatever.
- Pretty simple to learn. Flip cards and bid; not much else to it.
- Minimal setup. This game was designed to hit the table fast, and it shows; it’s a very quick game to get people ready for.
- Nice art on the cards. It’s pleasant and colorful, which I always appreciate.
- The black bordering on the cards is a bit strange. Had to go break out my white background to take pictures of this game. I know it’s relatively common, but, meh.
- The game can rapidly accelerate if you’re not careful. If you’re hoping for an auction, you may burn through cards later in the game through the sheer virtue of having Expeditions be full, which might cause players to flip more cards and burn through even more. Keep an eye on the size of the deck!
- Yeah, this is just a me thing, but I still am not super interested in auctioning as a mechanic. It just never really grips me the way that other games do, and so I end up feeling like there’s not much going on, here. That’s totally just a me-thing, though, but the auction is most of the game.
- The blue and white cards are kind of similar. The symbols needed to be a bit more highlighted on the cards — with a quick look they seem kinda the same. They’re not! But they seem to be if you’re moving fast.
Overall: 6.25 / 10
Overall, Lost Cities: Rivals is alright — like I said, I’m not a huge fan of auction games. It’s happened pretty much across the board with every auction game I’ve played (except for A Pleasant Journey to Neko, but I’m also pretty sure that was because of the theme). The large number of cards makes it hard for me to value what I should be paying for them, and players will likely have wildly different amounts of money at different points in the game due to how the gold redistribution works. That said, the things that it’s trying to do, it does well — it’s quick, light, and portable, and I assume there are enough players looking for that that this game will sit well with them. If, like me, you are not the biggest fan of auction games, perhaps the base Lost Cities will sit better with you; if not, and you love auctions and are looking for a quick and portable fix, Lost Cities: Rivals might be just what you need!