Before I begin, I was provided a review copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. This is not a paid review. You can get your own copy of the game here. If you would prefer to watch a video of this review you can check it out below.
“Hey! You know what would make for a super exciting game? Zoning, urban planning, and neighborhood development!” Is a statement that I never, ever, ever, would say or believe if I was told that. On the other hand, my wife works in construction and I have this bizarre goal to find a game around that industry that we enjoy. So I thought perhaps this would be the one! I would also be lying if I was not a fan of a lot of what Grey Fox Games puts out, so a shot to review one of their titles was exciting to me for sure.
The game is relatively simple. Each turn you will be laying out another card that has four city blocks on it. As you place it you have to make sure that you overlap part of an existing card as you go, this allows your city to slowly sprawl. At the same time you will move your developer meeple to one of the four city blocks on the new card. If you are still in the same zone, then that is it. Draw a new card and move on with your life! If you have left the zone, then you immediately develop it, earning points, and putting buildings out on onto the newly developed blocks, and adding another floor to a skyscraper in the center of the city.
What is a zone you ask? It is pretty simple, as you play cards you are trying to match both number of buildings in a city block AND the color of the city blocks. If you can consistently do that in orthogonal patterns then you are continuing to build your zone. As soon as you move your developer out of the zone then you score it. Scoring increases as you add more blocks. A single block is worth one, two is worth 3, 7 is worth 28. Then you look at what is orthogonally adjacent to your zone, and you add and subtract points accordingly. In the example above the pink residential zone would have earned yellow 30 points for having 7 single pink house blocks connecting. The three pink house block would not count. Then yellow would place a single yellow block on it to mark it has been developed by them.
As soon as one player is out of blocks to place, then you proceed to end game scoring. This is when you get to score the bonus cards. Some of the cards are available for all to see, and some are only available for each individual player to see, but ALL of them are scored by all players at the end of the game. Then you proceed to score the skyscraper bonuses, and finish by subtracting any points you lost by doing redraws. Most points wins
So what do I think?
The game looks AMAZING on the table. The city grows from the size of Vernon, CA to sprawl to San Jose, CA size across the table, but it also grows up. It just looks amazing as you get closer to the end game and you have this incredible vibrant and now 3-d city built.
I also enjoy the basic mechanics or the tile laying. It is very simple to do, but not particularly easy to master. I enjoy that. I also enjoy that it rewards being patient, and taking your time to build up larger zones, while the scoring for this is not exponential it certainly feels that way.
As stunning as it looks on the table, it can be a little challenging to score at the end of the game, as you cannot always easily tell what kind of zone you have developed if there are lots of buildings all around the zone.
I also like the scoring bonuses, but I am not sure how enamored I am with the secret objectives, that everyone scores at the end of the game. To me if feels like a little bit of deduction added into the game, that to me, takes away from the game a little bit. I would rather the secret ones ONLY be scored by the player who has them, or all the objectives just be visible the whole game.
Finally, I do need to note that the game does sprawl across the table as you play, and it can sprawl in weird ways, like a city can. So space could become an issue.
It can be a bit frustrating to be working on a zone, only to suddenly find that you just do not have the cards to continue, especially when there are bonuses to be had from large zones, which you are really a the mercy of luck to be able to build. The game seems to promise that your careful planning will be rewarded, yet the tiles (cards) that you are able to lay are completely randomized, making the game just a bit to luck based to really allow for careful city planning. Instead it feels more like you are simply encouraged to be opportunistic with your plays. This conflict of luck and planning can rub some players the wrong way if they are really looking for a game about planning and executing their plan. On the other hand, if you are just looking to match some colors and snag points wherever you can find them, then this will not bother you at all.
Bringing it all together
Zoned out is a light tile laying game that has an incredibly stunning table presence as you build a three dimensional city. The mechanics are simple, and scoring your zones can be really satisfying as the points feel like they increase exponentially. It can be a little challenging to identify some of your zones for end game bonus scoring on occasion, and it does take up a lot of space. The game balances planning and randomness fairly well, but seems to learn more on the random side, which might rub some people the wrong way. It is quite easy to learn and play
I got a bunch of buildings to inspect today, get to the point
* One of the most beautiful games I have had on my table, the city looks awesome when you get to end game
* Simple mechanics that are easy to learn but hard to become a master of
* The game is a bit more random, than you might think based on the description
* Very satisfying scoring that can really reward patience
* The game sprawls across the table
* Good variety of scoring bonus objectives to keep the game interesting