Lost Cities

Nobody could have predicted the huge hit that Uno has been on Xbox Live. A good part of the card game's success comes from the fact that you only need a handful of brain cells working at full capacity to play it well: Online Uno has become a favorite late-night diversion for the perpetually drunk and stoned. By contrast, there's a clear advantage to keeping your brain closer to sea level if you want to succeed in Lost Cities. This online adaptation of Reiner Knizia's tabletop game has a deceptively simple mechanic. Players aim to stack cards in numerical order, much as they would in solitaire. It's how these cards generate points that really starts the gears humming.

Playing Lost Cities is like being Indiana Jones' accountant. The player's five piles of color-coded cards each symbolize an archeological dig. The goal is to reap treasures from each expedition without taking a financial loss. Much of the danger comes when seeding the piles with cards that multiply the numeric values of later cards. Every multiplier symbolizes increased investment, raising the break-even point even higher. To complicate things, the shared deck means that your opponent may be holding the cards you need. Invest too heavily, and it may be impossible to recoup early costs, especially if the other player has already strip-mined the ruins you aimed to explore.

Beyond the game: Reiner Knizia is a household name among board-game geeks, for the award-winners Lord Of The Rings, Modern Art, Tigris & Euphrates, and Taj Mahal. A collection of brainteasers for the Nintendo DS called Dr. Reiner Knizia's Brainbenders was just released in the UK.

Worth playing for: A cogent tutorial and enemy AI make learning the game easy. The unpredictable nature of human opponents online keeps the challenge high.

Frustration sets in when: Some of the game's vital details get lost when you're playing on a small, standard-definition TV set.

Final judgment: A sober-minded card game that forces players to continually unearth new strategies.

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