Friday, August 24, 2012

Lost Cities [The Coding Monkeys] - $3.99

There are certain genres of video games that fit in perfectly with the touch screen of the iDevice. Strategy, 4X, Puzzlers… but none of them have really felt as matched up with the interface as board and card games do. Carcassonne set a benchmark for the genre, being the gold standard, showing exactly how to port a board game, perfectly, to the iOS. The Coding Monkeys did an amazing job with it, and still, to this day, more than 2 years after it’s iOS inception, it’s still one of the best, if not the best, example of a perfect touch screen board game. Well now, The Coding Monkeys are back, this time porting over the card game, Lost Cities, designed in 1999 by the highly prolific Reiner Knizia. 

One surprising thing about Lost Cities right off the bat is that it’s an iPhone/iPod Touch only build. With so many iOS gamers seeking out Universal games, or just playing card/board games exclusively on their iPads, it’s pretty strange that Coding Monkeys decided to go this route, and even though Carcassonne was released as an iPhone/iPod only build, and was later updated to be Universal, that doesn’t seem to be the case here with Lost Cities. On the official site for the app, Coding Monkeys has stated that Lost Cities is not Universal because they feel that the speed and purity of the game fit the smaller screen perfectly. They will be looking into releasing an iPad only version, but have no plans on doing so in the near future. They also feel that Lost Cities is the perfect game to be played on the go, and with the simplicity of Lost Cities, and the asynchronous Multiplayer Mode do well to back up those statements. Though, these days, not making your game Universal can cause you to loose sales. 

Now that we got that out of the way, Lost Cities. If you’ve never had the pleasure of playing it, it’s one of the more simple Reiner Knizia games. There are two different gameplay modes, Single Player, and Online Multiplayer. In the Single Player Mode, you’re able to pick one of four different AI opponents. Online Multiplayer is handled through GameCenter, and your opponents can either be chosen randomly, or from your friends list.
You and your opponent are each given 8 cards to start out with, and will always have 8 cards in your hand. There is a discard area and the rest of the cards are the deck. On the board, there are 5 rows, each having their own colors; Yellow, Blue, White, Green and Red. These are the 5 colors that the deck is made up of, with each color having the cards 2-10, along with 3 coin cards for each color as well. 

When it’s your turn, you’re able to pick one card from your hand, and place it into the board under the corresponding color. However, each card you place in that same row afterwards needs to be of a higher value. So it’s a very good idea to start out with your lowest numbered card. Once you play a card, you’re able to either pick up a card from the discard pile, or from the deck, and then it’s your opponents turn. Coin Cards are like multipliers, and can only be played as the first card in a row. You’re able to stack the Coin Cards as well, with one card doubling that row’s score, two cards tripling it, and three cards giving that row a 4X multiplier. However, you’ll need to be careful, as doing this also drops your score right off the bat.
Each row starts off with a score of -20, so if you use coin cards, you could wind up dropping your score down -40, -60, or even -80. But as you add cards to the rows, the score rises based on the number on the cards. For instance, if you place a number 2 card into a row, the rows score changes to -18, a number 3 card, it goes to -17, ect. Rows that you don’t place cards in do not have any effect on your score, so it’s a good idea to only open up rows that you know you can score from. Placing 8 or more cards of one color in a row gives you a 20 point bonus. I know it does sound a little confusing on paper, but really, it’s a very simple game. 

There are 3 different tutorial options which you‘ll be able to go through when you start up your first game, as well as a set of Rules on the main menu. The three tutorial options let you either read or listen to the instructions as you play your first game, or you can watch a game be played. Either way is very easy to understand and learn, and after that first game, I felt like I understood the game well enough to jump right into online play, which hardly ever happens for me with online games. I always want to feel like I have a very good understanding of the gameplay before I challenge another human opponent, but with Lost Cities, that understanding was had right after completing the tutorial. 

The graphics, and user interface are typical of other card/board games on the device. Not too flashy, and fairly minimal, but perfect for the genre. I didn’t really care for the background music, but was able to switch it off, and still have the sound effects on from within the settings menu. GameCenter integration includes a whopping 98 achievements, and 6 leaderboards; Oneline Points, Online Best Skill, Online Games Won, Points Vs. Computer, Best Skill Vs. Computer and Games Won Vs. Computer. 
Lost Cities price of $3.99 feels perfect for the game, with other card games ranging from $4.99 to $9.99 or more, it’s a great buy, especially if you’re looking for something simple enough to jump right in to, but also good enough to be able to play a year down the road without being fed up with it. The Coding Monkeys have ported another fantastic card game to the iOS, and it’s definitely one that fans of the genre, as well as newcomers, should consider picking up. Hopefully we’ll be able to see an iPad version in the future, as well as a two player/single device mode, as that seems to be all that this game is missing.


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