2018 was the 19th annual Lost Cities tournament at WBC, only one year less than WBC itself. The tournament sustained the high player count expected for this game, with 178 unique players and 465 unique player starts. It has been over a decade since this game has drawn less than 160 unique players, and the enthusiasm remains high. High turnout likely comes from heats that can completed in an hour, a tournament that you can win even if you don’t arrive at WBC until the last weekend, a two-player game that we get to play more often at home, and a game that challenges your ability to play offense and defense at a high speed (we fanatics prefer that last answer).
The 2018 tournament used the format developed by Ivan Lawson. Round 1 consisted of four Heats spread over two days. All winners of two heats advance to single elimination play on Saturday night, and winners in each round advance to the next round until the game comes down to two winners playing head-to-head for the wood.
The Heats were at 9 AM Friday (in First Tracks Poolside), and all the others in Seasons (10 PM Friday, 5 PM Saturday, 6 PM Saturday). The largest turnout was Friday at 10 PM; the smallest was for the 6 PM Saturday Heat (probably because so many players had already won two heats by then). First Tracks, which is the venue for many wargames, was also a great location for Lost Cities, with lots of tables suitable for a two-player game, room to spread out, and tolerance for the crowd during set-up. Seasons also worked well for size and tables, but I fear our set-up created too much noise for the other tournament finals underway on Friday night.
Now a word of confession from your new GM for Lost Cities: I would have been overwhelmed, even though I thought I had prepared well, if not for your graciousness, your spontaneous help, and your commitment to the game. Handling over 100 people who show up and want nothing more reasonable than to get to their game, and all of whom arrive within 10 minutes, was a frightening experience.
I particularly want to thank Steve Cuccaro, who recognized I was overwhelmed during that Friday morning sign-in, and just stepped in and started signing people up, asking only a couple of questions and then acting as a parallel path. I had asked Steve to be an AGM, but I hadn’t thought of how to use an AGM. From the first heat through the Round of 8, Steve worked continuously during signup, came up with critical ideas of how to capture data quickly, shared the capture of all the paperwork, and often identified what needed to be done next. And he played in the heats!
Everyone who brought a game was given a scoresheet in a yellow folder, and non-game holders were matched up to them randomly with playing cards. No one was turned away, but only because I had brought 5 extra copies of the game – and all 5 of those were used in the last qualifying heat. It is critical in this tournament to bring a copy of the game.
In the qualifying heats, the highest winning score was 277 and the lowest winning score was 46, but all that mattered in those heats was winning twice.
Sixty people made the single elimination rounds by winning at least two of four heats in the preliminary round, including both Assistant GMs. Everyone was again understanding of the challenges at 7 PM of ensuring that everyone who had two wins were ready to begin and paired off. Keeping all the paperwork (the score sheets) was critical in answering inevitable questions by people who thought they had won twice but were not on my original list, but we began the Round of 60 with random pairings among qualifiers by 7:15.
In the single elimination rounds, everyone was able to complete a round in less than 35 minutes. Good players made these rounds go quickly and smoothly. The Round of 60 produces 30 advancing players, and the Round of 30 produced 15 winners. To make sure that the Quarter Finals would have 8 players, I provided a bye to Lexi Shea, who had the highest score among the winners in the Round of 30. With seven other winners from the “Round of 15” we had 8 players for the Quarterfinals: Lexi Shea, Howard Marron, Chad Gormly, Kevin Burns, Vien Bounma, Marina Westfield, and Jeff Wood. I note that 5 of the 8 are previous winners or laurelists in the Lost Cities tournament at WBC.
At this point I reminded them of how we would select the six Laurelists. The winners in this round would play two more games to establish the ranking 1 through 4. The 3 vs 4 game was important because the Tournament only awards 3 plaques, even if it gives laurels for 6. I also showed them the small prizes that could be picked by the top 4 winners, to thank them for putting this much time into the game, two exploration themed games, a radio-controlled pool submarine, and an Egyptian statue. For those who lost in the Round of 8, their laurel fate would be determined by the person who beat them: whoever had lost to #1 would be #5 and who lost to #2 would be #6.
The winners in the Round of 8 were Howard Marron, Chad Gormly, Kevin Burns, and Vien Bounma. This included last year’s winner, Howard, and runner-up, Kevin. When random assignment matched Howard against Vien, and Chad against Kevin, we began to wonder if we would have a repeat of last year’s final game. But while Howard defeated Vien, Kevin was defeated by Chad, setting up a final game between Chad Gormly and Howard Marron. Incidentally, this also made it clear that Marina Westfield and Jeff Wood would be Laurelists.
By this time, including the final two qualifying heats, some of us had been playing and adjudicating Lost Cities for 6 hours. I was surprised that, at 11 at night, eight people, including all the losers in the Round of 8, stayed to watch the finals and see the strategy and play in the final round.
The game between Vien Bounma and Kevin Burns for 3rd place was very closely and tightly played; it actually took a little longer to conclude than the final between Howard and Chad. The 3rd place game included a hand in which each player started all five expeditions and made a positive score on all ten! This is not a recommended strategy for novice players, but showed how carefully and defensively these experienced players were working for their wood.
The final between Howard Marron and Chad Gormly was also very close through the first and second hands. But in the final hand, Howard was able to play, in the Desert Expedition, 3 Investment cards and all the numbers 2 through 7 for 48 points to win the hand and the game. And watching Howard lay down those cards was probably more suspenseful for us spectators than for the players, because it looked like Howard might have them all!
Howard Marron wins a second straight WBC Lost Cities tournament.
A common claim by gamers who don’t like Lost Cities is that it is all luck, just dependent on how the cards are drawn. I think the history of this tournament shows that to be unlikely. While luck can sometimes dominate a single hand, three of which make a Heat, many of the same players reach the Round of 16 each year over the last 19 years. And even within the tournament, a player has to be consistently lucky: win two out of four heats, and then, in Howard Marron’s case, win 6 games in a row to win the tournament. Two years in a row. This is a pretty unlikely hypothesis. There seems to be some skill involved!
I’ll try to learn from the suggestions, a largely black-and-white score sheet for example, and be a more effective 2nd year GM. It was a pleasure for me, and I think for all of you.
Thank all 177 of you for playing, and I look forward to see you next year.