I’m going to tell you about a game that uses the city of Barcelona as its setting. That game has beautiful artwork, it plays 2-6 players, and this game was published by the same company who gave us Kingdomino, one of the best games of the current gaming generation.
All of those qualities should guarantee a slam dunk of a game, right?
Zoom in Barcelona, published by Blue Orange Games, is the game in question. It’s got a bunch of gorgeous cards, an easy-to-navigate board, and a teach so simple you’ll be able to explain the standard version of the game in just five minutes. Blue Orange has really crushed it in the family games department: Paco’s Party. Doodle Quest. Slide Quest. The collection of Kingdomino games, including a recent favorite here at home, Kingdomino Origins.
Each time I play Zoom in Barcelona it feels like empty calories. Or, at least that’s the feeling when I play the game with adults. The plays don’t resonate in any meaningful way. And if this can be believed, the game is too short, especially in its beginner/training/family mode.
But with my kids? Zoom in Barcelona turned into something much more interesting.
Zoom in Barcelona is a photography contest!
Players are tasked with racing around the city of Barcelona, taking pictures (collecting Landmark cards or Skyline tokens) of various sights to score points at the end of the game. The turns are easy: move by walking or playing a movement card, then take an action. The actions are: snap a picture by taking the matching card from a shared market, use the city’s metro system to move to different neighborhoods, visit an information kiosk to replenish your hand of movement cards, or grab one of the iconic Skyline tokens before your competitors can.
If you are playing in the beginner mode, those are all the rules. If playing in the standard game mode, players are given a Skyline tile that aligns points with grabbing those Skyline tokens in connected bunches. You’ll also have a special ability to take pictures from a little farther away by using your camera’s strangely limited zoom system.
In the game’s standard mode, you also get a Natural Light track, used to manage a track of four cards public to all players which must be snapped in order so that you can score more of your Landmark cards. This adds minor levels of complication, but that’s easy to get around thanks to the movement system and a dragon token which lets players take any picture from anywhere in the city.
Yep. Apparently, the city of Barcelona has over 400 dragons scattered in the artwork and architecture of the city’s most iconic locations, and that is captured on some of the cards and in the form of a dragon standee which can be snapped to grant players an instant bonus.
Dragons are good, and they help speed up an already quick game. The random location of the dragon will likely help someone win a game by grabbing their final card by complete luck or happenstance, but that’s fine in a game that features so much randomness with the card draw.
When a player grabs their 8th Landmark photo card, the game immediately ends and everyone totals up their scores. Games will usually last 20-30 minutes; even at a full player count (6 players), I can’t imagine Zoom in Barcelona lasting longer than 30 minutes on the standard difficulty.
Should a Game Be This Short?
Zoom in Barcelona lists an age recommendation of 8 and up, and the game is clearly meant first and foremost as a family game. In this way, short games are good, because my 8-year-old won’t last more than about 15 minutes before she begins looking around the family room for something else to do. So, if you’re playing with kids, a game this short is perfect.
I played this game with a mix of folks: my kids, my wife, and one of the folks in my review crew. Unless you have an emotional connection to Barcelona (and trust me, I wish I did), I would never play this with “gamers” ever again. There’s just not enough going on, and setting it up and teaching it takes longer than playing Zoom in Barcelona with 2 players.
I like playing games with my wife after our kids go to bed, and on our first play we were both disappointed with how short Zoom in Barcelona was. It also seems to reward going hard for those Landmark cards instead of running around the entire board to get Skyline tokens. Thanks to each Landmark card scoring 3 points each, plus the chance at a bonus if the cards you grab happen to have one of the matching symbols used for set collection, you might get 4-5 points on every one of those cards.
The Skyline tiles? You have to get a lot of them to make that strategy worth it, and it can take a while to run around the board (even when using the metro or using the dragon bonus ability) to gather them all. AND they are limited, with one less Skyline tile than the number of players.
One could see a strategy of going for all 8 Skyline tiles—granting a 30-point bonus—but even then, if even one player snipes a tile before you can grab it, you’re probably going to lose if they have collected more Landmark cards.
So, the strategies here feel limited. Luckily, the artwork from Sophie Wainwright and Craig Petersen is fantastic and the board is bright, colorful, and exceptionally pleasing to the eyes. My wife and I now both yearn to build a trip to Barcelona soon.
(My wife did openly wonder: as great as this art is, why does the game use hand-drawn pictures instead of actual photographs on the cards? Wouldn’t Zoom in Barcelona feel cool if you were taking, you know, real pictures of the landmarks in the city?)
Zoom to Barcelona with the Kids
Zoom in Barcelona is a pleasant trip. I just wish it stuck around a little longer in my mind. It never feels like monster fun.
Then again, my kids love it.
I’ve done 5 plays of Zoom in Barcelona, and 4 of those were with my family only, with 2 of those plays only with my 8-year-old daughter and my 5-year-old son. At the end of my first play with the kids, my son asked
“Daddy: can we play this again?”
“Sure.” I looked over to my daughter. “You too?”
And we played it again, back-to-back. 2 plays in about 40 minutes total, including the rules overview for the beginner format. The kids had a great time, and that’s where Zoom in Barcelona has the best chance to shine, to connect with family on a breezy weekend afternoon.