What does it take to be happy with where you live? That all depends on what you want your city to do for you. In Blocks & Lots, a nifty educational puzzle about city zoning, the Planning Commission of Solano Heights needs your help wrangling the stakeholders in the city's development and finding the layout that best suits everyone's needs... if there is one. Created by Jared Sain with input and advice from Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, Rosten Woo, and Dr. Pop!
In each of the game's six levels, you must submit a plan to the city council that meets the requirements listed at the top of the screen. You'll start out trying to please just JT, the furniture factory owner, but you'll quickly be juggling the desires of other stakeholders, such as Tulip Groves, the conservationist, and Jerome Washington, the university president. Click on the "i" symbol next to each character to find out what they want to accomplish with the rezoning. If you can spot a potential solution, select a zone type from the top-left and click the units of the map to apply the zoning there. Be sure to pay attention to the stakeholders' faces as you make each change to see whether they approve or not. When you find a working plan, submit it to the city council to pass the level.
The goals of the stakeholders generally do not overlap, especially with the zoning constraints initially set by the game. Eventually, you'll be able to solve a conflict between two parties to try to make both happy. Select the two contending parties, and follow the dialogue trees to impose regulations or introduce new zoning types to be used in the grid. Some compromises will keep everyone happy, some won't. It's up to you to decide the best solutions for your city.
Analysis: Admit it, you probably zoned out when you first read that this game was about rezoning a city to resolve conflicts. What sounds like a boring and tedious premise is made quite interesting here in a game that's just barely beatable. We're not entirely sure there's a way to completely appease every party in the game, but there's enough of a challenge in finding the "just right" solution that the game stays fresh and compelling. And that's probably to the game's credit; if there were a quick-and-easy omni-solution to the situation posed in the game, there wouldn't be a game to begin with, and every city in the world would be a carbon-copy of this glorious archetype.
That said, it's hard to tell if there's a tinge of an agenda coming into play in turning the zoning process into a game. The game notes that politics can have an influence on zoning, and very much does so in the final level, where you must please Consuela and four others, and the last person must be at least neutral. Some of the conflict resolution options are incredibly non-beneficial to one party, to the point where using it irks them so badly, the level can't be passed. It'd be nice if there were multiple ways to solve the final level, but it seems that most of the stakeholders can only love or hate any given setup, meaning you're really limited in who you can eventually take a hit to please the rest.
The stakeholders' inflexible personalities, which are admittedly probably realistic, make resolving some conflicts difficult, but they're all a part of what is otherwise a surprisingly fun challenge, presented in a visually pleasing style. You might not be able to please everyone, but can you please them enough to get the job done? Grab your map and get ready to paint the town red... that is, if you really dig multi-family residential complexes.