“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.
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.