Theme and What is it?
You and a few fellow archeologists are planning your routes to several Lost Cities. You and your Rivals will both be bidding on who gets to explore the available routes to the digs. Gambling on the success of your expeditions can be highly rewarding but might slow down how quickly you start travel. An abandoned mountain temple, a decaying circle of stone, a sunken city by the sea, a stone-age settlement, and a town set fully inside of a mountain are waiting to be discovered. Those who make good on their gambles and use their money the wisest will accumulate more fame than the others for what they find in their expeditions.
Lost Cities: Rivals uses the familiar hit mechanic of all Lost Cities games attempting to build the longest expedition paths in ascending value. The main new twist is an auction mechanic. Rather than playing and drawing or drafting cards, players either add a card to the auction display or start the bidding for their turn. The winner gets access to ALL of the auction cards at once. They can add as many of them as they want in ascending order to their existing expeditions or start new ones. The winner can also discard one of the cards from the game entirely. Any remaining cards stay for the next auction. If there are no cards remaining, one is added to the display before the player after the auction winner takes the next turn.
When to spend money, how far up you can force another player to pay before they stick you with the bill, and how greedy to get waiting for better is the core of the game experience. These new avenues of play are what separate this title from the rest of the Lost Cities explorative set collection series.
Rivals looks like a reboot of a familiar light and engaging game. The art, general gameplay flow, and theme is exactly like the other Lost Cities games. I enjoyed the rest of the series and could tell this was going to be another hit at the table right away. Not everyone I introduced it to was familiar with the other Lost Cities titles but now they have expressed interest in trying the others too.
Game Build Quality
Rivals uses simple components to pack a powerful game in a small container. It uses a deck of cards and a few money tokens for use during auctions. That’s all that is in the box aside from some rules! There is something wonderful about a game that doesn’t have dozens of pieces to deal with during setup and cleanup. Especially when the game is short. It doesn’t overstay its welcome on the table while delivering an easily understood and fun experience to the players.
Lost cities could potentially try to throw really detailed artwork related to the theme but chooses not to go overboard. The art style is simple and effective. Each different type of expedition gives new perspectives on the same ruin being explored. As players explore down the red route to the mountain temple they will first see the mountain in the distance, then a gateway arch at the base of the mountain, and then they will see a winding narrow path up the mountain set with pretty trees. Very far up the expedition path they will start to see the path markers leading to the temple, a stone bridge over a chasm, and at long last the temple itself nestled in a protected spire of the mountain. The art really lends to the feeling of an expedition to a lost ruin.
I can hardly describe how enjoyable the subtle interactions of auctioning can be. Rivals can be played casually or extremely aggressively. The fun is what your group wants to make of the experience. Bidding 3 to open an auction for 5 cards where I can only use one just to force someone else to pay 4 for an auction they could have gotten for 2-3 any other way is satisfying to me but not to everyone.
Age Range & Weight
10+ is right on for an age range. The game complexity is purely in how players value things rather than what they are allowed to do. The rules are simple enough for even younger players to understand. Add a card, or start a bidding war for what is currently available. Not a lot of complexity in that choice. The strategies have more depth but really just evolve with the experience the players make for themselves. The game is fun both casually and seriously.
With one simple twist, Rivals turns the Lost Cities strategic experience into a whole new beast. The core game remains in all its wonder but the auction mechanic takes weak player action and ramps it up to the extreme. Players who enjoy aggressively trying to keep their opponents behind while they edge out ahead will love this game. Players who want a more peaceful experience will want to make sure the other players want to behave the same way in this one.