This is a follow up to Colorblind Gaming 101: The Basics, an introduction to the science of color vision, colorblindness, and how it applies to tabletop gaming.
The needs of colorblind gamers – approximately 4-5 percent of the population – are significant as we navigate tabletop spaces at home, at the bar, at our friendly local game store. Current practices fail to provide an accessible environment for colorblind users, illustrated in the potential confusion caused by colors used in some games.
Addressing these needs starts with basic accessibility principles and continues with specific examples – some in gaming and some from other industries – to improve accessibility for colorblind players, and in turn, making the experience better for everyone at the table.
Ian Hamilton, an accessibility specialist in Bristol, England, identifies three key principles related to colorblindness in game design.
1. Don’t use color difference alone to communicate or differentiate information. The concept of “double-coding” is often used to support colorblind people in disciplines beyond transportation. For example, Fantastic Factories incorporated double-coding that provides another level of information beyond color to differentiate game pieces.
2. Check with a simulator to pick up on contrast issues. For any situation where a colorblind perspective is needed, software tools can give anyone a starting point to approximate what some colorblind users may see. COBLIS is a browser-based simulator that allows users to upload an image from their computer and simulate a variety of color vision deficiencies.
3. Run by colorblind folk to identify other issues you’ve missed. Colorblind people are often willing to share their experiences to help make their products and experiences more accessible. Be sure to note, however, that color vision deficiency varies widely by type and degree, so something one colorblind person can see clearly could still be problematic for someone else.
Colorblind Accessible Games
Many tabletop designers, graphic designers, artists, and illustrators have done an incredible job ensuring colorblind accessibility in their games. Here are just a few examples:
- Agropolis from Buttonshy Games is based on color, yet incorporates subtle design elements for each zone type to distinguish them from each other.
- Elizabeth Hargrave’s Mariposas (with graphic design by Matt Paquette) incorporates clever elements to ensure colorblind gamers can play.
- The Isle of Cats, designed by Frank West, does two things very well. First, it incorporates double-coding into the animal designs themselves. It also provides a player aid specifically for colorblind gamer to help them maintain autonomy during play.
See these and several other examples below.
Colorblind Accessible Mods
Some published games are not colorblind-friendly out of the box, but simple modifications can improve accessibility while maintaining the theme.
Sarah Reed wrote about her experience modding Quirkle and Incan Gold to improve accessibility and playability for her family and friends.
As you start your own accessibility journey, here are a few hints and tips to help you get started.
Consumers: Read reviews. I hate unboxing a game I cannot play, so I try to do some homework before each purchase. In addition to Colorblind Games, Can I Play That? and Meeple Like Us are fantastic resources that address a broad set of accessibility needs for gamers (see our Resources page for an ever-growing list). Accessibility is entering more and more general reviews, too.
Gamers: Find and create mods. Modify games when needed, and don’t worry about “messing up” your copy. I believe strongly that games are meant to be played. If your game is accessible to more people, then you’ll get it to the table more often. Share your mods with others so we can benefit from your creativity! See all my colorblind mods here.
Designers: Test for accessibility early. For designers and developers, get your prototypes in front of colorblind playtesters and try to think about their needs beforehand. Eric Slauson (designer of Tattoo Stories and MonsDRAWsity) shared these recommendations after a recent experience at Unpub:
“Designers, if you want the largest potential pool of playtesters, please make your prototypes colorblind friendly. I WANT to play your game and give feedback, but I legit can’t. I’ve had to pass on so many playtests because of this.“Eric Slauson
Publishers: Expand your audience. For publishers, look at the numbers. It’s not 4% of the gamers you exclude by not addressing colorblind needs, but 28% of game tables and nearly 100% of medium-sized events.1 Improving accessibility will grow your audience base, and designing with all users in mind will make your games better.
In the end, my hope for Colorblind Games is obsolescence. Articles like this will be unnecessary, because designers will incorporate color vision accessibility into their prototypes, playtests, and final game designs; publishers will add color vision to their Quality Control processes for new games; and older, inaccessible games will receive new colorblind-friendly editions. I will write a final article of celebration, and then spend more time playing games.
1 Math Lesson: Kahn Academy’s Compound Probability of Independent Events