Lost Cities Card Game Review

Lost Cities, from Rio Grande Games, is a  card game released in the year 2000, aimed at fans of two-player gaming. It’s a simple but addictive title from designer Reiner Knizia.

Reading other reviews online, I’ve found a lot of whining about the price of Lost Cities – at release, it cost $30, though I’ve been able to find used versions online and in comic shops for far less. One look at the deck and the other aspects of the game and you’ll understand the higher cost. The entire set is designed to look high-end, with beautiful illustrations and plenty of details.

The Deck

One weird thing you’ll need to get used to is the larger size of the deck – which is itself split up into five color-coded groups, known as “expeditions.” Each expedition is further broken up into nine numbered stages and requires three investors.

It’s nice that all of the expeditions are fully illustrated, with each of the nine stages in full color. The cards themselves describe the player’s journey to one of the mysterious cities the game is named for. In a game with rules that are otherwise mathematical and abstract, great attention was paid to creating a unique and engaging deck.

The Game Board

The board itself is simple – there are discard spots for each of the five expeditions, and not much else. The board is meant to sit between the two players.

The board’s important because it represents the object of your mission – earn points by going on successful and lengthy expeditions. An expedition doesn’t have to reach its final or ninth stage to earn you points – as long as the expedition itself earns at least twenty points during play (more on that later), it will be valuable at the game’s end.

How to Play

Each player is dealt a hand of eight cards, and plays and draws a card every turn. These cards can always be discarded on the appropriate pile or in some cases added to the top of the player’s expedition that matches the card.

More Card Complexity

Every turn, each player can choose to draw from the deck or from the top of any of the game’s five discard areas. Strategy comes into play here – you don’t want to put a valuable piece in a discard pule that your opponent could use to beat you. To make things more complex, certain tokens (“investors”) can only be played as the beginning of each expedition.

A standard game runs through three phases – the beginning, the mid-game, and the end-game. In the beginning, card management is the name of the game. Players that hold high value cards as long as they can, in an attempt to draw lower cards to support investments in expeditions, tend to win.

The mid-game in Lost Cities means building up your expeditions waiting to hand out discards until your opponent has no use for them. This requires a lot of knowledge about the value of cards in the game, and I’ve noticed this skill will come with time.

The game is over when the deck is empty. If you have played all your high cards in time, you will probably turn out to be the winner.

Game Strategy

Over and over again, Lost Cities presents players with a major gamble – do you take a risk on playing an investor, hoping to draw more cards that will support the expedition, or do you put high value cards in play that pretty much guarantee a successful mission, but may not earn you many long-term points? Discarding is another option, but a player would have to risk handing all his best plays to the opponent.

A major facet of Lost Cities strategy is to chase the expedition bonus. Any expedition that’s racked up eight or more cards earns the player an additional twenty points.

Being sneaky is a big help to your abilities with this empire-building title – players who know how to bait their opponent by letting go of just enough juicy cards to influence their play are basically in control of both decks, but this requires some playing time and experience reading your opponent.

Overall, Lost Cities may not hold a lot of appeal for people who like to replay the same game a lot. I’ve found that a few rounds of this title goes a long way, and since the game is heavily dependent on the luck of the draw, and involves a lot of in-your-head math, it isn’t always the most, well, fun strategy game on the market.

You can think of this title as kind of like rummy with traditional cards – once you learn the regular ebbs and flows of the game’s tokens, you become better at the contest. If you’re looking for a title that is fairly easy to learn, doesn’t take long to establish a winner, and is playable with just two people, Lost Cities is probably one of the better options for you out of all the games released in the past decade or so. I think gamers who like more complex material should look elsewhere.

Citadels Card Game Review

Citadels is a fantasy strategy card game designed by Bruno Faidutti, released by Fantasy Flight Games in 2003. The action features players competing to develop empires of cities. Players use cards to upgrade their abilities by hiring new characters with unique skills – this character-building aspect adds a lot of strategy to a somewhat simple style of gaming that I think would be more about the luck of the draw than strategy otherwise.

Ideal for 2-7 players, according to the rulebook, Citadels is aimed at audiences 10 and up, and an average round takes anywhere from half an hour to an hour to complete. One of the downsides of the game is the steep learning curve; understanding the various roles characters and districts play requires a little in-game experience, so don’t expect to master the game right away.

Citadels is your basic diplomacy title with the addition of a purchasing system using gold coin tokens. The game is a little setup-heavy, with lots of different pieces to set up before you can play. The game includes:

  • 66 district cards
  • 18 character cards
  • 18 character markers
  • 1 crown and plastic base
  • 16 victory point markers
  • 35 gold coins

But if you don’t mind spending a little time setting up a game, this title will appeal to fans of strategy-based gaming, and there’s a slight fantasy element that would probably appeal to your average AD&D or other fantasy gamer.

Cards & Pieces

All the game’s cards are in full color with an identical blue and white pattern on the back. These are broken up into two categories – character and district.

Character cards feature nice artwork in full-color, and each is labeled 1-9. Each character has a name such as Bishop or Thief and gives the player a unique ability. Seven of the game’s characters gain special powers when associated with certain districts, and this is clearly marked by the background color – a character with a green background gets a bonus from a green district, etc.

The markers for the different characters are hexagonal cardboard pieces, each one linked to a specific character. The game’s designer wanted to give players an easy way of indicating what characters are active, but the use of the markers is totally voluntary.

As for the other set of game pieces, district markers are illustrated like the character identities, each showcasing a different part of a major city – cards for bars, churches, manors, colleges, and a ton of other locations exist. The cost of a district card is tied directly to its value, so that a district that only costs one gold to play is only worth one gold in value later in the game.

Proper play also requires Gold Coin tokens, plastic yellow pieces that can withstand a lot of play. Their use in the game follows as part of the description of the rules and objective.

How to Play

The goal of the contest is to construct 8 districts within your city – and since it’s common for more than one player to reach this goal at the same time, the value of the districts is important as well. Rather than building the 8 cheapest districts possible, the players who invest in valuable properties often win more than those who can build the quickest.

Each player starts with four district cards and two gold coins. At the beginning of the game, one player is picked as King for the first round, and he shuffles and stacks eight character cards in front of him.

Character Descriptions

It’s important to know what each character in Citadels does for your abilities as a player. Here’s a quick breakdown of each character class.

  • Assassin – The ability to murder any non-playing character.
  • Thief – The ability to steal all of a non-playing character’s gold.
  • Magician – The ability to exchange cards with other players or taken them from the deck.
  • King – The King earns one piece of gold per yellow district and gets the first character choice next round.
  • Bishop – The Bishop earns one gold per blue district and is totally protected from the Warlord character.
  • Merchant – The Merchant earns one gold per green district, plus one additional gold per round.
  • Architect – The Architect can draw two additional cards and build an additional district.
  • Warlord – The Warlord earns one gold per red district, and can pay to destroy the district of the player’s choice, except for The Bishop.

Each round of the game includes a few sub-rounds, so let’s look at how the game actually plays out.

Choosing Characters

The round starts with that round’s king placing characters face up in front of each player. The king gets first pick from the face-up characters, then all remaining cards are passed clockwise around the table, so that the last player in each round is stuck with no choice.

Once you pick a character, you take a turn per round. A hierarchy of character cards exists, determining the order of play. The assassin is fastest and goes first, followed by the thief, and on down the line. The order of characters determines the order of play

Taking a Turn

Your first choice is between taking two gold coins or two district cards. You can then build a district if you choose (and if you have enough gold), and that’s pretty much it.

Of course, the unique power of each character comes into play during each turn – for example, if you are the Assassin, you may play a district token, shell out some hold, then kill an NPC. The character you choose is extremely important in Citadels strategy.

After the last player has had a turn, all character cards are gathered, shuffled, and a whole new round of play starts over. The new round’s king starts off by picking a character, and the deck goes around until all players have selected one.

The End of the Game

In any round when a player builds their eighth district, all players have to count up the point value of all their districts and add a couple of bonuses if applicable. Refer to the rulebook for specific bonus amounts. The player with the most points out of all players who have built eight districts is the winner.

I am always happy to find this kind of deceptively simple card game (the rules take a little getting used to, especially character abilities) that also includes plenty of strategy and a high level of gaming and roleplaying ability. Bruno Faidutti’s design involves strategy, character-building tactics, and even bluffing, and the variety of characters and districts means lots of replay value.

Blood Bowl: Team Manager – The Card Game Review

Blood Bowl: Team Manager is the kind of standalone card game I like to play, a hybrid of head-to-head sports gaming and a fantasy world complete with orcs, goblins, dwarves, and vampires. The game was released by Fantasy Flight Games in 2011. It’s the card game version of a franchise that’s been around since the 80s and includes board games, computer gaming versions, and other titles.

This particular card game combines a high level of strategy, required to put together a team of creatures that can outplay your opponent’s teams, and the willingness to play dirty. Cheating is a built-in element of the game, which sets teams of fantasy creatures against each other over the course of a single season of brutal football combat.

Your goal is to customize your specific team, your hand, through the process of drafting, hiring trainers, upgrading your training facility, and (yes) working some illegal backdoor deals with refs and other managers to cheat your way to the top. At the end of a season of play, the manager who earns the most fans by putting together the best team and scoring the most is the winner.

Is it a sports card game or a fantasy battle game? The truth is, this title is both, and should appeal to fans of both types of contests as well as fans of card-based standalone gaming as well.

How to Play

Players start by choosing one of six teams, each of which is made up primarily of a single race.

The Reikland Reavers – The most versatile team is the Reikland Reavers, a human squad that can be trained to play just about any position in the game. Beginners often start out playing as the Reavers since they have decent skills in all the important categories like passing, running, and offense. But players with some experience in the game know that the human’s abilities to out-think the other team is even more valuable

The Grudgebearers – This team, made up of Dwarves, is small but tough, and they wear the best armor in the game. This hack-and-slash team is best at wearing down the opposing defense through brute force.

The Athelorn Avengers – The Wood Elf race’s team is the Avengers, the best passing team in the league. With a high-powered offense and tons of dexterity, the Wood Elf Avengers concentrate on the air game but are a bit weak on defense.

The Skavenblight Scramblers – The Skaven race makes up the Scramblers, a team that hangs big numbers with their running game. Skavens are adept at finding gaps in the defensive line, and the mention of the name gives defensive coordinators headaches.

The Gouged Eye – A band of Orcs banded together as The Gouged Eye are the New York Yankees of Blood Bowl, a consistent threat to win it all. Orcs are physical players that don’t excel at offense naturally but can be easily upgraded to adapt their tough defense to offensive game situations.

The Chaos All-Stars – A roster full of members of the Chaos race makes the All-Stars among the most hated teams in all of Blood Bowl. These are violent and dirty players who want to win at any contest. A common move for the Chaos squad is to simply stab and kill the ball carrier when the ref isn’t looking. If you like to deceive your way to victory, play as this team.

More on Blood Bowl: Team Manager Gaming

Each game has room for two to four managers, each of which has five virtual in-game weeks to turn their team into the best they can be, followed by a season of football contests which end with the Blood Bowl itself. How do players improve their teams and hands? Competing to earn highlights, collecting illegal payouts from refs and sports gamblers, buying better players, and participating in an annual draft.

The player starts with a basic team without much skill. The idea behind the game is to improve your team by making the right plays at the right time and building a tougher roster. Hence the emphasis on the managerial aspect of the game.

Throughout the game, your team has to randomly compete head-to-head against another squad for highlight matchups – win more highlights and your team will improve, increasing your number of fans. After all, the winner of the game is determined by who has the most fans, not necessarily who wins the most. These randomly-determined highlight wins will occasionally improve your fan base even more than big wins on the gridiron.

After the final two teams face off in the Blood Bowl tournament, players add up their fans and manager points, and the player with the biggest following is the winner.

I Like Blood Bowl: Team Manager

Fantasy Flight’s take on this classic franchise puts every player in the management hot seat, and in-game decisions have a direct effect on the outcome of the game and the way the teams perform and how fans respond.

I love titles that combine or cross genres, and the mix of sports card play and fantasy elements here is unique. Not only does this title appeal to my friends who like fantasy sports, it’s also based on the popular Warhammer series, so fantasy gamers will also get a lot of joy out of the game.

Even more important, this title has nearly infinite replay value. Each season is different, and the actions of each manager and the outcomes of things like head-to-head competitions and illegal deals with refs mean that the lead changes hands often.

Blood Bowl: Team Manager has already led to the release of one expansion pack, called Sudden Death, and Fantasy Flight claims on their website that they’re looking to continue the series based on fan feedback. We couldn’t be happier that this weird but very engaging sports-fantasy game appears to be catching on.

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game Review

Decipher, Inc.’s The Lord of the Rings trading card game, known as LotR TCG among fans, was printed between 2001 and 2007, featuring a companion online version that lasted until 2010. Though the game is now out of print, a nine year run is a good accomplishment for any card game  designer, and the fact that you can still find LotR TCG cards online and in comic shops is a good sign that the game still has a few faithful fans.

The game had its official release in November of 2001, and it borrows heavily from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movie series as well as the novels by J. R. R. Tolkien that the films were based on. While it was in print, LotR TCG won some major awards – in the year 2002, the game won two Origins Awards, one for Best Trading Card Game of 2001 and another for Best Graphic Presentation of a Card Game.

While Decipher also bought the rights to produce a game based on The Hobbit, the company has yet to announce or release any games or cards based on that character, even though a major movie trilogy is being released over the next few years. Only time will tell if I’ll get a chance to play as part of The Hobbit‘s universe or not.

One of the cool features of this game that set it apart from other fantasy titles is that the images on the cards are almost all pulled straight from the movies, with artists at Wet Workshop working starting in 2004 to add images for characters and objects in the game that aren’t mentioned in the film. For the most part, this collectible game’s pictures will be familiar to fans of the three films in Jackson’s original trilogy.

As for the online companion competition – the game play online was identical to live action play, and the online game had its own economy for the buying, selling, and trading of in-game cards. Unfortunately, the game’s servers shut down for the final time in June of 2010.

More About the LotR Collectible Game Rules

This review of the game‘s basic rule book does an excellent job of explaining how simple this game’s rules really are. Most actions in the game require a single die roll and maybe a modifier or two.

Another thing I like about Fantasy Flight’s Lord of the Rings LCG is that it is an inexpensive hobby to maintain. Used or new-in-packaging cards, from various editions, are available right now at eBay for under $30, with individual cards available for a couple of bucks apiece.

Game Overview

Two or more people can play, but each needs to have their own deck of cards featuring an equal number of Free People and Shadow cards – decks must be no smaller than 30 cards.

During each player’s turn,  their Free People cards are active. The purpose of the game is to move through the landscape and destroy the One Ring using your Free People cards. Every other player in the game becomes an opponent, known as a Shadow Player, who uses cards to prevent the active player’s march toward destroying the Ring by trying to either kill or convert the ring-bearer to the dark side.

The game offers all kinds of ways to slow down your opponment’s path to victory just long enough for your own Fellowship of the Ring to destroy the ring first. The winner of the game is the player whose Free People cards survive the ninth game site. An alternative way to win – corrupt all of the opposing team’s ring-bearers and be the last team standing.

How Cards are Played

This collectible game uses a system called the twilight pool in order for players to lay down their game pieces. Each card in the series has a numerical cost to play–to play Free People cards, players have to add tokens to the pool according to the card’s cost. On the other hand, when acting as Shadow players, opponents can only play as many cards as they have twilight tokens in the pool. The result is that a team’s Fellowship gets stronger the more Free Peoples join the party, since that team’s ability to play Shadow cards increases.

There is an interesting penalty system in this game clearly based on the psychological aspect of Jackson’s films. A team’s Ring-bearer has to fight off the demons and other opponents summoned as Shadow characters as he tries to destroy the Ring, but he also must resists the temptation of the Ring itself. Just like the movie, a team’s Ringer-bearer can give in to the temptation of the ring, which tends to have disastrous consequences.

Every player in the game has a specific resistance stat, which shrinks every time the Ring-Bearer becomes more tempted by its power. Should your Ring-bearer’s resistance score hit zero, you are totally corrupt by the Ring’s power, and you have lost the game.

More About Decipher’s LotR Card Game

All told, nineteen sets of cards and booster packs were created before the game went out of print. That’s good news for those of you that want to try your hand at this title – the cards are easy enough to find and they aren’t particularly expensive. The variety of boosters and additional cards helps make every game different from the one before – it has a lot of replay value, which isn’t always true of licensed fantasy games.

Because it sticks close to Tolkien and Jackson’s visions of Middle-Earth fairly closely, and because the idea of actively battling against each player in the game during your Shadow round means there is no down-time, Decipher’s Lord of the Rings collectible game is one of our favorite fantasy titles in recent years.

World of Warcraft Card Game Review

The World of Warcraft Trading Card Game (known among fans as WoW TCG) is a collectible card game based on Blizzard Entertainment’s ridiculously popular MMORPG, World of Warcraft. The card game was announced by Upper Deck Entertainment on August 18, 2005, and first released on October 25, 2006. The game is still in print, a testament to the popularity of the World of Warcraft series and to the quality of the card game.

During the World of Warcraft card game, players can compete head-to-head or cooperatively against bosses, on raids similar to the type found in the popular online game. Raiding cooperatively with another player against WoW bosses like Onyxia and Ragnaros sets this card game apart from most others, in which cooperative play is not a possibility. In 2010, Cryptozoic Entertainment acquired the game’s license from Upper Deck and started releasing their own expansions and card sets, keeping the game alive. As of this writing, at least one more expansion is planned, the Timewalkers: War of the Ancients expansion, set to be released in October of 2012.

How the Game is Played

Each player in the game uses a specific hero card and a backup deck made up of allies and other cards. There are cards for special weapons, abilities, different types of armor and items, and special quest cards as well. Some booster packs also contain legendary Some cards are specially-marked “rare” or “loot” cards, which connects the card game to the WoW online game, giving the card’s bearer a special virtual prize for their online character.

In the head-to-head version of the game, each player starts with one hero, and then plays support cards to make that hero stronger or add characters to that hero’s party. The goal is to damage your opponent to the point that his health hits zero, at which point you win the game.

In the raid, or cooperative version of the WoW card game, special WoW Raid Decks can be used to perform attacks on bosses, where players compete together against a common enemy. This makes this particular CCG more like a tabletop role-playing game, because Raids require a Raid Master to control the game as well as between 3 and 5 players cooperating to defeat their foe.

To date, 19 expansions and deck sets have been released, with another scheduled for release in a few months. That just goes to show you how intense WoW fan’s love of the game is. The card game has been popular, though not as massively popular as the online version, which to date has over 10 million subscription accounts. Still, 20 expansions and supplemental packs shows how much of a following this card game has.

Tournaments & Championships

Multiple tourney events exist for the WoW card game; more proof of the huge cult following the game has gained. Between special Darkmoon Faire events, which are like mini-WoW conventions based around played the card game, and national and international WoW card game tournament events, there is lots of competitive action to be found for this deck-building fantasy game.

To date, five world champions have been named, none of which have repeated. The game’s action is based on variety and deck-building, which is probably why there are no dominant players, as you see with other popular card competition games, such as Magic: The Gathering. Because new decks and new cards are constantly being released, players have to stay on top of their game, constantly adjusting their strategy and deck style to make room for new playing styles. If you are a WoW player or fan, or just a card game player that likes strategy-based, competitive and collectible card games, check out Cryptozoic Entertainment’s World of Warcraft card game.