September 26, 2006

"Lost the Game" Review

Lost.Boardgame.8.23.06.jpgAlmost everyone in our group is a fan of the TV Show Lost (almost). There's the quirkiness of the island, the crass wordsmithing of Sawyer's castaway nicknames, the looming arrogance of the Dharma Initiative, and the puzzling question -- how the heck can all these attractive people have so many freakin' coincidences?

We had doubts when we first heard that Lost had a board game treatment: "Lost the Game" [Amazon, Target]. Most of the time TV to board game tie-ins really lack .. goodness. They're often designed by marketers to lure customers into a purchase, but when the game is unwrapped the unknowing customer finds a monopoly board with cobranding stickers hastily slapped over the orignial Park Place property names .

Marketers realize that most board game purchases are made by the customer's opinion of the cover or media tie-in. There really hasn't be a long standing resource for consumers to research or read a review off of the shelf games. What's changing these days is that people are actually becoming choosy with their board game purchases. Customers now read sites like this one to search for good family board games, or are meeting on gaming nights and talking with their friends about different titles and genres within the gaming scene (which is not nearly as dorky as what it once was). The culture is growing, too, and now has an internal dialogue which keeps gamers from becoming hoodwinked, and that population now reaches across s gap that once separated them from the mainstream. American game marketers are awakening to realize that board gaming is no longer a commodity market.

Our initial impression before getting our hands on the product was that Lost The Game is another rushed-to-market title. But as we dove deeper into the game's history we found prerelease coverage suggesting the title was designed by a gamer instead of a by boardroom of suits. According to the game's designer himself ( Keith Tralins interview ) Lost The Game draws inspiration from such greats as The Settlers of Catan, Talisman and Magic: The Gathering. The coupling of elements from these games seems risky and unclear, yet potentially clever. Most conservative marketers probably wouldn't have signed-off on spending time and money investing on a risky idea, but times are changing, and here in our hands sits the end product "Lost The Game".

Does the Lost mass market tie-in board game designed by a gamer, for gamers, live up to the standards of the best games on the market today? Could Lost The Game actually be the Missing Link between American marketing and Eurogaming excellence?

LostTin.9.26.06.jpgSummary

  • Learning Curve: 15-25 Minutes
  • Game Length: 45 minutes - 3 hours
  • Publisher: Cardinal Industries
  • Our Rating: 1 Star out of 5

Unfortunately the answer to those questions is "no." There are a lot of things in Lost that attempt to keep the game dynamic, and fresh, while pulling in static content from the TV show. But the the game falls victim to trying to do too much, while doing none of its things particularly well. There are also some very large balancing issues. In the end "Lost the Game" is too much of a bother to play with any regularity. Here's why:

The Basics
Players start the game by randomly drawing characters from the character deck. All of the show's main characters are here, from Jack, to Sun, to Sawyer. Each character has a power rating which represents their ability to 'recruit' or persuade the neutral characters found via the players' exploration of the island.

A player gains control of a neutral character by moving to their location, and then rolling a die and adding their character's power to the result. If their final sum is greater than the final sum of neutral character's power + separate die roll, then the player takes control of the neutral character. Plain and simple, and successfully executed in a clean-cut design.

Characters also have a special ability that's pulled in from their respective personality or skills exhibited on the show, like the ability to carry more than one piece of equipment (the pack-rat Sawyer), and the ability to Heal injured characters (Jack). Each character also has a special victory condition, which is a goal that they might accomplish to end the game early. These are also tied to character traits and persona's, but save for a few special board tiles, that's pretty much where the game's representation of each character's personality ends.

Lost.SmokeMonster.9.26.06.jpgThe board itself is comprised of hexagonal tiles, drawn randomly and placed face down. In this way the inner workings of the island remains a mystery until the players push their characters inland and explore it. We love dynamic boards, and we love the idea of exploration, but unfortunately the tile pieces are quite small, and slide around on the table far too easily. The act of picking them up and flipping them over shifts the entire board in such an annoyingly reoccurring way. Nobody in our group has fat fingers, and almost everyone types for a living which produces (so we assume) nimble fingers. Even with these motor skills we found ourselves 'destroying' the board almost every turn. The idea of island exploration is great, but the execution here is frustrating and can be mostly blamed on the cheap pieces (more on this later in 'The Pieces').

Finally, most of the board tiles require that a player draws an Event Card when landing there. Event cards come in three forms: "Equipment" which characters carry around to alter combat; "Events" can be played from players' hands through the course of the game to do anything from heal characters, steal cards, or destroy monsters; and "Encounters" act as the island's monsters or pitfalls, and must be resolved immediately by any character on that space.

Players involved in an encounter must successfully win a power check to defeat the encounter, or their character becomes injured. An injured character is essentially useless until they make their way back to a beach camp to get healed, or until they receive medical attention from characters like Jack and Sun.

The Pieces
Lost The Game ships in a gorgeous tin which has all of the main characters of the TV show on its cover. It's attractive, and well made. Marketers score big points here.

Unfortunately, as soon as we opened the tin we found ourselves immediately frowning. The game ships with one of those most bare bones instruction books we've seen. The paper is of poor stock, and the text looks like it was quickly formatted using Microsoft Word ( The rules are a list, and each sub rule or subsection is a sublist, formatted by tabbing it inward once ).

We pushed past the instructions and started to unwrap the pieces. The character portrait tokens are assembled by folding a rectangular color picture into in a nice plastic square. These are pretty, but there aren't enough squares for every character in play. Most players were soon pushing around rectangular bare bone pieces of paper for most of the game. Not a very warm or immerse feeling.

Lost.Lilly.9.26.06.jpgThe character cards and the event cards are made of low stock paper too, which seems to have been hastily cut, by hand, with a paper cutter. Some edges were cut at angle, so some cards aren't entirely rectangular. Also - the paper seems to lack any kind of post-printing lamination - a slight ring of a condensation from a beer bottle was instantaneously absorbed by a stack of five cards. The cards now sport permanent watermark stains, and are forever 'marked'.

Finally - some cards have rules that place them on a particular hexagonal board piece, but these cards are too big to fit on the space! You would think that size would be taken into consideration here. Also, these placed cards obscure the rules printed on the the board spaces.

To sum up: players push crappy pieces of paper around, the board shifts when simply touched, the pieces can be easily marred by the slightest bit of moisture.. yep, our playing experience quickly turned into a headache of crap, oophs, and d'oh!

And Then There's the Other Problems
It would have been nice to see more simplistic rigid systems in the game. For instance, too much emphasis is put on the game's vague meta systems such as character special abilities, which seem like they weren't at all balanced.

For instance, Hurley's special victory condition is achieved when he has six followers at any time in the game. That seems attainable. However, Jack's special victory condition requires that all players use Jack to heal themselves. We ask - what player would elect to heal their character through Jack's medical treatment if it means a certain loss of the game?

Most of the Event cards manipulate the game from out of left field. We understand the island is quirky, but Sawyer found himself flipping over the "Monster" event card on turn two. Unlike other event cards which injure characters, losing to the smoke monster kills one of the characters involved in combat (and since Sawyer was alone..). The Monster's power rating of 30 eclipses the strongest character (of power 4), which means absolutely nobody can solo the beasty . Sawyer found himself out of the game on turn two, drinking a beer and watching TV. Not a very social experience, and overall very frustrating.

There of times that players are required to skip a turn, either through injury or due to traps on the map, or through event cards played by other players. Within a game that scales up to eight players, losing a turn sends someone to social limbo for 10 minutes, which is an absolute torturous experience with this title. And it happens seems to happen all too frequently.

Our game also ended with a lighting bolt of unexpected occurrences. The Monster Encounter Card still resided on the board a few turns later, waiting for its next victim. Loche was in play, and has a special condition that wins the game if the Monster is destroyed. Nobody had a group of characters strong enough to take on a Monster of Power 30. But then out of the blue comes a "Destroy Encounter" event card, which removed the Monster from the board, thus ending the game with Loche's controller the victor. We hadn't explored the entire island yet, only a few of us actually met up on the board, and suddenly the game is over for everyone.

Lost.SOS.jpgNo, seriously, tell us how you really feel
And that's when the gasps of "oh thank God!" came from various corners of the board. While some people seemed optimistic that the game might be worth a second go, most were defiant in not trying it again. There are too many incredible games out there for us to waste another night on this one.

We're sorry to say that Lost The Game was one of those experiences that will be a low watermark for our group. We've written some stories suggesting good potential things about this title, but in the end the game simply doesn't work. Lost the Game had promise in it's design, but the lackluster pieces and seemingly unbalanced events and special abilities mar its flashy Lost branding and facade. The title needed more polish before its release.

1.0 star out of 5.0

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Posted by Critical Gamers Staff at September 26, 2006 1:52 PM

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