Colorblind Review: Fantastic Factories

Screenshot 2019-11-02 at 11.21.06 AM

“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.

fantfac01

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.

Sarah_Tweet2

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.

Qwirkle

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.

Qwirkle-modified

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?

Incan Gold

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.

Incan-Gold-Modified

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.

Conclusion

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

Here, kitty kitty kitty…

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.

calico02

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. 

calico01

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