Brian’s note: I’m honored to publish this article by Arwen Kathke (Cardboard Time Podcast). Her review and accessibility modifications for Origins: First Builders (designed by Adam Kwapiński and published by Board&Dice) is a great resource to help more people play more games!
Hi everyone! Arwen here. Brian recently challenged me to do a mod after I voiced my frustration about the color vision accessibility of Origins: First Builders. So if I say something that’s off base, you can blame me for it and not him. (Brian’s note: Umm…no. This is fantastic.)
From Board Game Geek: They came to this planet, and they chose you. They uplifted your people and promised great prosperity. They provided the wisdom and the resources to build your cities sky high. They taught you the ways of culture, science, and warfare. They promised knowledge for any willing to learn. Come, Archon, guide your citizens to victory, under the watchful eyes of the Builders, our benefactors from beyond the skies above.
Also from BGG: In Origins: First Builders, you are an Archon, guiding a population of freemen, influencing the construction of buildings and monuments, climbing the three mighty zodiac temples, and taking part in an arms race — all in an effort to leave the greatest mark on mankind’s ancient history.
You start the game with a city consisting of just two building tiles: the Agora tile and the Palace tile. As the game develops, your city will grow in both size and strength as you add new building tiles, each of which has special abilities. Your placement on the military track indicates the rewards you receive when you attack and your chances of becoming first player.
Origins: First Builders is played over a number of rounds, with a round ending only after each player has passed. If a game end condition has not yet been triggered, the game continues with a new round. On your turn, you perform one of the following actions:
- Visit an encounter site with your workers to gain resources and additional citizen or speaker dice, advance on the zodiac temple tracks (and potentially gain zodiac cards), and advance and attack on the military track.
- Close a district, gaining victory points (VPs) and possibly gold for matching a district card’s building pattern, additional bonuses based on the buildings you activate, and additional VPs at the end of the game based on the value of the citizen die you use to close the district.
- Build a tower level to increase your endgame scoring based on the tower heights and the matching color dice you use to close your districts.
- Grow your population.
The game finishes at the end of the round when one or more of the following conditions has been met:
- Only three (or fewer) colors of tower disks are still in stock.
- No gold remains above any district card.
- No citizen die of the proper color can be added to the citizen offer.
- A player has moved all three of their zodiac disks to the top space of each temple track.
The temple area is divided into three temple-based tracks: sea, forest, and mountain. You score points only for your two least-valued temples, and once all the points have been summed, whoever has the most points wins.
The main sources of my frustration in this game came from the yellow and orange colored discs (used to denote how many tower levels players have) and the associated dice. The strength dials, discs, dice, and tiles are all associated together, with each tile including a symbol to denote its building type.
This was my first time having a problem distinguishing between yellow and orange. There were three other colors used in the game for these discs, but I didn’t have an issue with them.
Color matching is a term describing how close in color different components are to each other. Very close color matching reinforces to the player that those components are associated with each other. Large deviations between component types might stump a player who tries to figure out what relationship they have, if any. This is a serious issue in Origins: First Builders, as illustrated in this image showing a “matching” dial and dice.
There are a few issues that I can see low vision players having with this game. The cards used to denote what tile patterns need to be achieved for bonus points are very small, as were their symbols. The tile text denoting abilities is also VERY small, which could impair enjoyment of the game.
The dials that indicate die strength requirements have raised elements, but they are a molded plastic component in one color (this could be pretty easily fixed with markings -spoiler for something coming below). This has been a common complaint from many players – whether or not they typically have color vision or low vision issues – that some components can be hard to see in low lighting or from different angles.
Color Vision Modifications
My #1 priority was fixing the discs, and I could think of no better way than to utilize something I learned from Brian: double coding. My initial thought was to print tiny labels of the code symbols to stick on each disc. After looking up Avery’s prices to print and ship labels (and sitting on the project for a bit), I wondered if I could just simplify the symbols (I’m NOT an artist by any means) and hand draw them. So that’s precisely what I did!
My second priority was fixing the dice. I decided to distinguish the Orange dice by coloring the pips black, as Orange is the “darker” color. This was easily achieved with a Sharpie.
So I took some time at the neighborhood garage sale to sit outside on a nice day, make some money by getting rid of some things I had lying around the house, and modify some game components. I alternated between the discs and the dice, allowing the pips to dry from one side before moving to the next and coloring in some of the discs in between. All in all, it took about a half an hour to do.
As a bonus, I decided to color pips the orange dial to match the “new” black-pip dice. As mentioned above, this is a modification I would suggest for just about anyone with a copy of the game. A painter’s wash might also work in this case, and that might be something I look at doing in the future if I see the game making it to the table more.
Origins: First Builders. Overall, I like this game from an engine-building perspective. I’ve said to many people, “Give me tracks and strategies, give me abilities that grow an engine over the course of the game, and I’m a happy camper.” This satisfies all of those, but my ability to enjoy this game was severely hampered by the color vision issues I experienced. This was significantly better after the modifications, and now I can concentrate on concocting a strategy to win instead of using that energy and attention trying to figure out the differences between colors every turn.
Marking up games. I own hundreds of games, and this was the first time I’ve made accessibility modifications. Brian encouraged me during one of our calls together that, “it’s your game, mark it up. Make it usable for you.” I think I’ve always been hesitant because we tend to view games as art pieces…something that should reflect the artist and not be modified by the consumer. But if that art can’t be enjoyed then you really have two options: sell it off or make it so you can enjoy it. I’m glad Brian challenged me to this because it got me over that “I can’t mark this game up!” hurdle.
For the future, If he’ll have me (Brian’s note: 100% yes), I’d like to do some more of these modifications. I’m already thinking of marking up my dice for Rajas of the Ganges which I’ve had trouble with (a game that I absolutely adore but can probably make my Top 10 with a few pip markings). Honestly, why wouldn’t I? It’s my copy of the game, and when my enjoyment of it can be taken to new heights by making simple modifications, the path forward is obvious. I’d encourage you to do the same to your games that you might be having vision issues with.
More from Arwen. In case you want to hear me blab on about board games (Brian’s note: you do) or talk to some awesome people from the board game industry (Including Brian…look up episode 32), you can find me on the Cardboard Time Podcast at anchor.fm/cardboardtime and most major podcast platforms. On Twitter @cardboard_time and Instagram @cardboard_time I frequently talk about what I’ve been playing recently.
Brian’s last note: You can find all Colorblind Games mods here, and you can learn even more about Arwen, including her personal experience and advocacy efforts in the trans community, in this Colorblind Games Profile article and a bonus episode of her podcast: The Journey to Find My True Self.