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Arena: Roma II And Lost Cities: A Two-Player Double Feature

It’s always nice to have a group of people to play a board game with but sometimes we just want to sit down and enjoy our evening with a loved one. This week I’m going to focus on two games that are completely different but both offer a significant amount of fun for you and that one, chosen, board game significant other.

Game Summaries

Arena Roma is a dice placement game where players sit across from each other and align their cards on a line-shaped “board”, giving each card an opposing position. Each player has cards that they must assign to their Battlefield and a set of three dice to activate those cards each round. Those same dice are used to draw cards and earn money; the cards do everything from attacking enemy cards, sacrificing your own cards for victory points, to so many things in between. Victory points in arena Roma II are also a major dynamic to the game vice as just a scorekeeping mechanic, allowing for a large set of strategies, (to be discussed later). 

Lost cities, on the other hand, is a card placement game where players take turns placing cards as part of expeditions to earn points while simultaneously trying to prevent their opponents from scoring points in a similar way. Based strongly on a risk reward model, Lost Cities’ simple game mechanics are not to be underestimated as it allows for games to range from hundreds of points to negative points in a single round. This allows for massive comebacks, risky strategies, and complete blowouts that will keep you wanting that rematch when your wife stomps on you 167 to -36.

Player Interaction

In a two player game, it’s important not to play solitaire. Arena Roma II doesn’t have any problems in this area. While players don’t play simultaneously, every round is about defending, attacking, or preparing against your opponent. You must evaluate where your opponent’s attacking cards are and where his victory point making cards lie. You also have many attack cards options that can attack multiple cards over a turn, instantly remove certain types of cards across from itself, etc. This means that even when not on your turn, you find yourself planning your next attack or begging for a failed attack.

Lost Cities is a totally different beast. On the surface, it literally feels like solitaire; drawing numbered cards and playing them in ascending order isn’t necessarily exciting, and honestly you can play Lost Cities without ever talking to your opponent… but you won’t. Lost Cities is as much about digging for the right card as it is about holding the cards your opponent needs. Sometimes it’s even worth sacrificing a few points to chase the same cards as your friend so you don’t have to discard them for him. The beauty I’ve seen in Lost Cities playing with many different people is that everyone ends up talking about everything they are doing. Whether they have a couple high point cards they know you want or they can’t find anything they need, you’ll get to hear about it. In Lost Cities it is also so easy to keep track of your next few moves that you may just end up just chatting with your friend about the weather or your next board game night plans.

The Strategy of Playing Both Games

While it’s true, by reading my other posts, that this is a section I always include, I must admit that in two player games this is less important to me than in larger ones. Of the two games, Arena Roma II would be the more strategic one to choose. As a dice game, there is still an undeniable amount of luck that goes into rolling what you want, but setting yourself up to never need a specific roll is still very viable. In Arena, there are seven places to play cards and nine places to place your dice, so even when you don’t roll the right things for a planned turn, grabbing money or more cards to replace your less usable ones can be just a beneficial as activating a weak card multiple times just because you think you have too. There is also a slot to put a card that allows you to activate it no matter what you roll just by paying to do so, which takes a bit of the randomness out of each turn.

Opposing player battlefields

As far as separate strategies go, Arena: Roma II has quite a few. Cards come in two varieties: buildings and characters. Most attack cards only attack one type of card based on its relative position. As mentioned before, victory points are dynamic in the game. There are 36 total points available, each player starts with 10, and when someone runs out OR the general supply is exhausted, the game ends. Every round, players lose their victory points for every empty card slot and they gain victory points by activating cards. Typically these cards give victory points based on the opponent’s character or building cards or based on a dice roll, but sometimes cards actually remove general supply points from the game. Ignoring the cards in the enemy tableau can cost you the game, but it is also possible to thwart your opponent’s next move by sacrificing cards in your own battlefield. While some games are all about players vying to get the most victory points or removing the points before the other gets a chance, some end with one player slowly draining his opponent’s victory points while barely hanging on himself. Due to the multiple avenues players have to victory, it becomes very hard to anticipate which move your opponent will make, and gives you options when they think they’ve figured out how to oppose you.

Lost Cities has far fewer options of play than Arena. In Lost Cities, you have five colored sets of cards (expeditions) 2-10 and three fists of each color. Every turn you play/discard a card and draw a new one; the game ends when the last card is drawn and it is impossible for both players to score points on every expedition. When you start an expedition, it costs you 20 points; play enough points on a color to >= 20 points and you score, fail to reach 20 and you lose points. The fists must be played before you play any other cards and they multiply your losses and gains by 2, 3, or 4 times. The cards must be played in ascending order, so if you start high, you limit what can be played later. You also have a hand limit, so collecting cards becomes hard the more ambitious you become. Couple these simple rules with that one simple mechanic, discarding/playing before you draw, and you’ll see how hard it becomes to hold onto the cards your rival is waiting on. That’s where the real strategy comes in. Most of Lost Cities isn’t about scoring on your own, it’s about preventing the other player from scoring. When your opponent starts a blue expedition by placing a couple fists, you can see instantly that they are committing a lot of potential loss to that set of cards. Whenever you draw a blue card higher than the one they have shown you must decide whether to hold or discard it, knowing it will give them points if you do. When a player discards a color they are collecting, you will know that they are holding a whole hand of cards they don’t want to give you. By grabbing that card you will prevent them from using it later but you will have to give up a potential card that could help you finish one of your own sets. These are a couple of the examples of the scenarios you will be faced with, but most other potential strategic moves are similar in like.

Sometimes collecting the same thing is better than holding onto them

Which to Choose?

Lost Cities and Arena: Roma II are both games I recommend, but not for the same reasons. Arena is a game with many different outcomes, and many paths to get there. It’s great for fans of dice placement and, to a lesser extent, deckbuilding games.

It is also directly compatible with the original game Roma (if you can find it), if you need to add a new level of depth to the card. After many games of both, Lost Cities balances out quicker than Arena between experienced and new players. This isn’t necessarily a negative, just something to consider when searching for a strategy game. Lost Cities might not be the best choice for friends who take their gaming seriously, but it might be the perfect option for a couple looking for casual after-dinner break.

Like this post? Check out some of our other tabletop game posts below!

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