Colorblind Kudos: Dungeon Ball

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As a colorblind gamer, I often start my visit to a Kickstarter board game campaign by asking this question: “Can I even play this?”

Often, the answer is no.

My first look at Dungeon Ball on Kickstarter didn’t go well. The reds and greens were problematic from the start, and I did not see a simple colorblind modification to solve the problem. While I liked the theme and have enjoyed Gabe Barrett’s work, with so many games on the market and a limited gaming budget, I simply wasn’t in the mood to do the extra work.

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Then this happened.

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Gabe and his graphic designer listened to feedback, identified the need, and made a change to their color palette during the middle of the campaign. From Gabe’s Kickstarter Updates:

One thing I realized recently is that Dungeon Ball isn’t particularly colorblind-friendly because of its heavy use of red and green in the play selection process. So, I talked with Drew, the graphic designer, and he’s going to update the colors for the final version of the game to make everything more accessible. Below, you can see where we’re headed.

I want as many people as possible to be able to enjoy the game, and hopefully this will help with that.

It’s a significant improvement over the original version, switching to new versions or red and green that stand out much better from each other while maintaining the feel of the original artistic vision.

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I appreciate Gabe and Drew for their efforts to improve accessibility – especially during the middle of a campaign. See the Dungeon Ball Kickstarter campaign page to back this project!

Gabe Barrett is a long-time supporter of game designers through his podcast and other resources at Board Game Design Lab and on Twitter.

Image Credits: Gabe Barrett

Colorblind Games Profile: Will Reed

As I discovered while reviewing Tiny Towns and reaching out to Peter McPherson, players are not the only colorblind members of the board game community. Designers, developers, graphic artists, illustrators, and publishers can have vision deficiencies, too.

Sarah Reed recently guest-posted about her experience modifying games for use by her colorblind friends and family. She also shared that her husband, Will Reed, is both colorblind and legally blind. As a follow up to Sarah’s article, I asked Will a few questions about his experience playing, testing, and designing tabletop games.

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What’s the most difficult for you when playing games?

Probably my toughest challenge with games are when art is used. Many times a mechanic is buried within something that is supposed to look nice and help the theme of the game. The thing is, this only offers a barrier to play, which prevents me from enjoying any part of the game, regardless of theme.

One of the most common examples is an art piece used as an icon. From my perspective, an icon is meant to be a quick reference so you understand what something is supposed to be or how it’s supposed to be used. Every time art gets layered on, this slows down the comprehension and thus prevents it from being a good icon.

What do you wish people would know about your vision deficiency?

For the most part, I just want people to remember I have one. I tend to operate very successfully in games, so people take for granted just how much I don’t see. This makes games with public information tricky for me, at times, since it’s readily available to most players while not to me.

Do you experience any advantages as a game designer because of your vision impairments?

Actually, I do. Having vision impairments mean I tend to retain a lot more mentally than most people when interacting with games. As such, when I design, I can often mentally playtest game concepts and iterate on designs quite rapidly. This results in many of the prototypes we create being much more stable than other designs I’ve played from sighted designers’ initial prototypes.

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I appreciate Will taking the time to share his experience, and I encourage you to check out Will and Sarah’s most recent release, Oaxaca: Crafts of a Culture, and their upcoming roll-and-write game, Scrapyard Rollbot, in Dice & Ink Volume 1.

Image Credits: Sarah Reed & Will Reed

Colorblind Review: Fantastic Factories

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“So it’s not just a clever name.” – Wayne Campbell, Wayne’s World

The gold standard of colorblind accessibility is double coding, which provides color-vision-deficient users additional information beyond colors. It is a valuable strategy to help us navigate any experience, including roadways, restaurant menus, and tabletop games. A Portuguese company, ColorADD, has gone so far as to develop a symbolic language around color. They recently added the ColorADD symbols to a colorblind-friendly version of UNO.

Fantastic Factories—designed, developed, illustrated and published by Joseph Z. Chen and Justin Faulkner—is one of 2019’s big hits.

It’s also one of this year’s most colorful games. As Joseph shared with me, this was by design.

“One thing to note in regards to art direction is that Fantastic Factories’ aesthetic and bright colors are very distinct and a big part of the game as a product in regards to shelf and table presence.”

Fantastic Factories is a dice placement, engine building game for 1-5 players who build a set of factories, roll dice, and then use those dice as workers to manufacture goods. It’s a classic easy-to-teach, difficult-to-master puzzle with just enough randomness that I can blame the dice when I lose.

I love it.

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In particular, I enjoy the bright colors, thought I was initially concerned that with so many different colors I might be at a disadvantage. As it turns out, Justin and Joseph considered this and addressed it quite well, though slightly differently than might be expected. They did not run the design through a colorblind simulator to make sure color-vision-deficient users could distinguish between the colors. Back to Joseph:

“The color palette and choices were decided ‘without’ consideration for color-blindness. However, in the graphic design, Fantastic Factories employs double coding in all cases where color plays a functional role.

Wherever color is used, there is an additional visual element that doesn’t use color. For example, the tool symbols above the Contractors and on the Blueprints are both coded with distinct colors and shapes. Card types have the same double coding — utilizing both color and words (Training cards are red, Monuments are gray, etc.).

This was an intentional decision not just for color-blindness but also because double coding can help reinforce the distinct types. In playtests, we’ve had colorblind players and the feedback we’ve received is that with the double coding, the colors luckily have not been an issue.”

But it wasn’t easy. Due to the multiple game elements and their uses, Fantastic Factories required the use of a lot of different colors. This brought with it complications as the team balanced aesthetics and accessibility.

“One challenge we have had is the limited color space. There are 5 types of blueprints and 4 tool symbols. To employ double coding, we needed a color for each thing. For a while we used the same blue color for Manufacturing-type blueprint cards and also for the Mallet tool symbol. Since the blue colors matched, players assumed the two disparate concepts were somehow related when they were not. In the end, we slightly tweaked the color palette so the blues were a little different, and that seemed to clear up the majority of the confusion.”

Interestingly, colorblind gamers do not tend to “match colors” in this way, so it is unlikely anyone with a color vision deficiency related the Manufacturing blueprints to the Mallet tools. I know I have focused almost exclusively on the symbols, enjoying the bright colors without a need to identify their differences for gameplay.

In the end, Fantastic Factories absolutely lives up to its name, and I highly recommend picking it up at Deep Water Games or your friendly local game store.

Photo Credits: Metafactory Games

Modifying Games for Vision-Challenged Players: Qwirkle and Incan Gold

Today I’m excited to share a guest article from Sarah Reed. Sarah and her husband Will have designed several published games, including Project Dreamscape and Oaxaca: Crafts of a Culture, and they are featured in the upcoming Dice & Ink roll-and-write anthology. You can follow Sarah on Twitter at @EuroGamerGirl.


Heya! Brian recently saw this tweet about modifying Qwirkle to make it colorblind friendly and invited me to write a guest piece on modifying games for vision challenges.

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Not only do I have a coworker who is low vision and colorblind, but my husband is both legally blind and colorblind. In fact, most of my husband’s family has severe vision impairments, so I have a fair bit of experience playing games with people of varying vision.

For the most part, we choose games that are already accessible with help from a sighted person. This means we look for games with mostly-to-all open information, little-to-no spatial aspects, and nothing that is timed or requires hand-eye coordination. Even with these restrictions, we find a lot of great games that still need a little bit of modification. So far, I’ve found that the modifications have ended up helping everyone, including non-visually impaired folks.

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As I said, one of my coworkers is colorblind and low vision. She enjoys Qwirkle quite a bit, but red and orange look the same to her, and blue looks similar to green and purple. Especially at the distance she sits from the tableau of tiles, it’s really hard for her to make the distinction, which then requires her to ask for assistance. Since she’s supposed to keep her tiles secret in Qwirkle, asking for help gives other players clues about to what is in her hand.

One thing I have learned from gaming with my husband is that decision making shouldn’t be made on color distinction alone. Symbols should be used, hopefully as the dominant way to discern one choice from another. Qwirkle already uses shapes in a different way, so that wasn’t an option. However, it didn’t mean I couldn’t add another symbol to make a further distinction.

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I remembered back to my childhood and how my grandmother’s Rummikub set had a black dot on all of the orange tiles to differentiate them from the red tiles. So I simply added a black dot to the middle of the orange Qwirkle tiles. To make the distinction between blue and green or purple, I used a silver sharpie to add a plus sign on the blue tiles. I probably could have used a black dot on blue as well, since orange and blue aren’t confusing for my coworker, but I decided to go that extra step to make it completely different, just in case. Who knows if future coworkers will have a different type of colorblindness or vision impairment?

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Finding a light-weight game that Will’s family would play was quite the challenge. It had to have mostly open information and be easy to understand. Incan Gold was a really good choice, except for one vision related issue: the two cards you use to indicate whether you are staying or going are horrible for anyone’s vision, and this graphic design choice makes the game unplayable for someone with visual limitations.

The big problems with the Incan Gold cards are that there is very little contrast between any of the colors in the art and everything is dark overall. High contrast is needed for those with vision impairments, or for anyone playing in poor lighting. I’d also contend that there should have been a straight-forward symbol rather than art. A big trap that a lot of publishers fall into is using art when they should use icons.

With the graphic design so terrible that even fully sighted people had trouble, I knew our family wouldn’t have a chance. We had to come up with another way to make this choice, and it had to rely on something other than visual cues.

We had recently picked up a large bag of smooth blue stones for another purpose. Since we had extras, we grabbed some of those and gave one to each player. When a choice needed to be made, everyone took their stone and put their hands below the table. Each player either put the stone in their hand or not, then everyone put their balled fist up above the table. Once everyone made their choice, we opened our hands. A stone in the hand meant they were leaving (and taking all their treasure with them); an empty hand meant they’re continuing to search for more.

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We found this simple change was easy for everyone to understand, and it sped up the game for everyone. I can only hope that a future printing of the game will improve the two decision cards, or maybe, just maybe, use a tactile component in a fun way.

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Hopefully these changes will spark ideas in your mind on ways to modify other games to make them more visually accessible. If they did, please leave a comment on what modifications you made to which games!

Photo Credits: Sarah Reed

Colorblind Review: Calico

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Pastel colors often blend together in my colorblind brain as a strange combination of Easter-egg-Pepto-pink-or-green-or-blue-ness. Real-world quilts and their gamified counterparts tend to make heavy use of pastel colors, which can make it difficult for me to give quilt-themed games a chance.

I inhaled deeply before trying out a prototype of Calico, designed by Kevin Russ, illustrated by Beth Sobel, and published by Flatout Games. Calico is a tile-laying puzzle game for 1-4 players that plays in 30-45 minutes. In it, each player crafts a quilt, and certain combinations of colors or patterns allows them to “stitch buttons” or “attract cats” – each of which earns points.

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The color palette itself is problematic for me, but the team put a lot of thought into accessibility. Each hexagonal quilt piece includes a small icon (mushroom, leaf, etc.) that corresponds to its color and the matching bonus button. This icon was a huge help to me, and it didn’t seem to detract from anyone else’s enjoyment of the game. 

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I asked Shawn Stankewich of Flatout Games about the game’s development related to the use of colors (especially pastels) and colorblind needs, and he shared this about their process.

“As with any game with a lot of color (and especially here, since color is part of the core gameplay) we wanted to be both accessible and also maintain a certain punchiness and brightness to the game. Part of the art direction work was figuring out how to have a relatively colorblind-friendly palette, while also not defaulting to groups of colors that would make the artwork less appealing.”

It’s not an easy balance, and I asked about this push-and-pull between accessibility and their vision (literally and figuratively) of the game.

“Balancing the accessibility needs with aesthetics is always a little tricky. You want to make a game that is accessible for all and that provides the same experience for all (without band-aid solutions) but I have seen some colorblind palettes for 6+ colors that just fall flat when it comes to creating a cohesive color palette that is pleasing to the eye in general. It’s definitely something we constantly try to do better at.”

From my perspective, that is the goal. I don’t want every tabletop game to be black and white (or Crayola Blue and Yellow), but I am hopeful that I will be able to play every game, even if I might need some help. I enjoy seeing a beautiful game on the table, and I appreciate the hard work graphic designers and illustrators do to strike the balance between accessibility and aesthetics.

With any luck, more games will do it as well as Calico.calico3

Calico is available via Kickstarter. For Flatout Games’ other projects, visit their site at https://www.flatout.games.
Photo Credits: Flatout Games

Colorblind Review – Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run

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As I walked from Fantasyland toward Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Disney set the stage, subtly changing the sights and sounds of my environment, taking me far, far away from Snow White and Peter Pan. It was a truly immersive experience.

Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is the centerpiece of this new land and a fantastic theme park ride. One part Star Tours, one part role-playing game, it’s a must-see the next time you visit Disneyland Park or Walt Disney World.

I had two minor nitpicks, one colorblind-related, one not.

Grouped by Color. After waiting in line I was handed a Role Card and led to a holding area – an amazing replica of the Millennium Falcon. I wandered about, sat in the Holochess booth, and waited for our ship to be ready.

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However, when they gave me the credential they didn’t tell me its color. I listened for a cast member to call out “Orangey-Yellow-Maybe-Brownish-Rust,” but they did not. Fortunately, the other members of our six-person crew helped me along, so all was well.

Play Your Role. There are three roles handed out on the Millennium Falcon: Pilot, Gunner, and Engineer. I was hopeful my real-life engineering education and field experience would come in handy to save the galaxy from evil. According to my Ship Operations Credentials, I was “authorized for systems repair, life support, and tow cables.” Apparently they had reviewed my resume.

As it turns out, the real credential required for the Engineer is, “Look at the wall and push flashing buttons. Do not watch the amazing story unfold or everyone will die. Do your job.”

I did my job. I repaired systems. I supported life. I cable-towed. I pushed the buttons.

It was still a fun time, but on my next visit I will climb the corporate ladder to Pilot, a role in which I have high enthusiasm, zero credentials, and little chance of success.

Take Two. I rode Smugglers Run a second time that day. I got stuck in the same Engineer role (womp, womp), but then I noticed that this credential’s design included the color typed on the card. Maybe Disney received early feedback about the color issue and were in the middle of switching all the cards from the original design to this new one? Maybe it’s two-sided and I never flipped it over?

Problem solved – at least for English-reading smugglers.

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Colorblind Review: Tiny Towns

It’s becoming a common experience. I hear about the new, hot game on Twitter or my local friendly game store. I watch a video review or play along. I see a lot of pretty colors, few of which I can identify. I get nervous I will not be able to play the game without help.

Tiny Towns—designed by Peter McPherson and published by AEGis colorful and charming. It accommodates 1 to 6 players, and I’m happy to say it is quite accessible for most colorblind gamers. It’s also a delightful game experience in solo mode, online play-along via YouTube, or multiplayer with friends and family.

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The five resource blocks require color vision, but for most colorblind gamers (myself included), the colors selected will be easy to distinguish.  The game’s buildings use similar colors (e.g., red, orange, yellow), but each has a unique shape to distinguish from the others.

Colorblind accessibility was baked in from the beginning, as I found out when asking Peter how he selected the color palette.

“You made excellent colorblind-friendly choices in Tiny Towns. Was that an up-front decision, part of playtesting, or from another source?”

“Thank you! Though it was a necessary decision—I’m colorblind!”

“There was one (briefly terrifying) point when we got back the latest version of the cards and I couldn’t tell the red and brown apart. We tweaked them until they appeared as distinct as possible to me…”

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Beyond Peter’s own personal experience, he also reached out to colorblind playtesters.

“…I just tried to get the game in front of other colorblind players to confirm that they had no issues.”

I was thrilled to meet a colorblind game designer, and I look forward to seeing how Peter’s perspective will impact his future game designs. I also highly recommend giving Tiny Towns a try!

Colorblind Mode Mod: To make Tiny Towns 100% colorblind friendly, the five types of resource cubes need an upgrade. The Agricola Resource Set from MeepleSource contains replacements for wood, wheat, brick and stone. This leaves only glass, which you can replace with acrylic cubes or just keep using the original blue cubes from the box.

Image Credits: Peter McPherson