I have only been to Barcelona once. We stayed for a day before traveling further into Spain. While there we caught some glimpses of the city, had a decent Frappé at a Greek restaurant with an impressively unfriendly waiter but didn‘t really get a feel for the city itself. Paradoxically, this makes me both best and worst qualified to talk about Zoom in Barcelona by Núria Casellas, Eloi Pujadas and Joaquim Vilalta.
Zoom in Barcelona is essentially a card-based racing game, set in Barcelona. (I can assure you I was as surprised by this turn of events as you are.) The game’s board features 86 distinct locations of the city, four of which are randomly drawn from a deck. Once you’ve reached one of them, you take a picture, by taking that location’s card and a new one is drawn to replace it. This core mechanism leads to some fast-paced bouncing around on the board. You move by playing cards from your hand, which you only replenish by visiting any of the tourist information centres on the board. You want to plan for those obligatory stops, if only to avoid the glacial pace of moving without a card. Metro stations serve as shortcuts across the board, giving Zoom in Barcelona a strong sense of momentum. It rarely takes more than three turns before at least one player has managed to take a picture, and replace that location with a different one.
Change happens quickly in Zoom in Barcelona. By the time it’s your turn, your plan from your previous turn might already need adjustment to the now moved goalposts. New scoring options come into reach quickly, and your decision now matters far more than the one from two turns ago. Depending on your predisposition this will make playing the game either feel frustratingly swingy and chaotic, or appealingly swift and tactical. The “starter kit” version of the rules is aimed at inexperienced players and keeps things light and breezy. In the full game there is a staggered point scoring mechanism and the option to score a location from a distance by „zooming in“ from up to three spaces away. This doesn’t significantly change the feel of the game, but adds some minor complications to keep more experienced players engaged throughout its short playtime.
Zoom in Barcelona is, above all, a pleasant game. Its layout is colorblind-friendly. The illustrations by Sophie Wainwright and Craig Petersen mirror the real life photographs you might take if you actually were in Barcelona. The game’s art style is unique enough to give the game character, but also unobtrusive so as not to distract from just playing the game. Racing across the board generates enough tension to foster a sense of competition, without ever reaching the kind of intensity that requires serious social maneuvering to keep the evening fun and upbeat. That is a feat in itself, because making competition feel pleasant is a balancing act that not a lot of games manage to pull off. The rapid turnover rate of scoring opportunities, coupled with the high level of variance the location deck provides, results in a game that feels more like a scavenger hunt than a clash of finely detailed movement strategies. Here setbacks are temporary and blocking spaces is rare.
I can imagine the game’s theme resonating strongly with anyone who’s spent time in Barcelona. The illustrations on the cards will likely provoke anecdotes of what people did when they were there. This is the kind of personal experience that makes the theme come alive in a way that rules can’t manage. For the rest of us Zoom in Barcelona offers an entertaining race along the facades of a modern European city.