Peter McPherson and I first met during my review of Tiny Towns (CBG review). He provided a mini design diary, including the impacts of his own color vision deficiency on the game’s design and development. Peter and I have stayed in touch since then, including at the SHUX 2022 conference where we teamed up to lose horribly at Wits & Wagers.
Since Tiny Towns, Peter has designed Wormholes and Fit to Print (CBG preview), and he continues to advocate for colorblind players.
How did you get into tabletop games?
I grew up playing games with my family, from Skip-Bo and Sequence to Risk and Acquire. In high school, my friends and I discovered Carcassonne and Catan, and I’ve been playing modern board games ever since.
What are your favorite games?
I love the custom dice and variety of tiles in Roll for the Galaxy. It’s one of my most played games. I’d also include Patchwork and Flamme Rouge, both of which have simple gameplay but layers of strategy and replayability.
How did you learn about your color vision deficiency?
In Kindergarten I was given a low grade on a coloring assignment—I painted the sky purple thinking I had a blue crayon. I’m not sure when I first tested to determine which type of color deficiency I had, but I’ve known since then that I am colorblind.
I have moderate protan color deficiency. I struggle most confusing greens and oranges; also blues and purples.
What’s the most difficult for you when playing games?
When there are resources or player pieces denoted only by color, I can get them mixed up. I rarely make mistakes that cost me the game, but I will ask my patient friends to clarify the color of pieces again and again.
Are there any color-based games you assumed you couldn’t play, but surprised you?
I can play Century: Spice Road (CBG review and mod). I had heard it was challenging for many color deficient players, and while the cubes aren’t ideal, I can tell them apart okay, despite my aforementioned green/orange confusion.
What do you wish people knew about your vision deficiency?
I wish more people understood that you can have no issues with most colors and still have color deficiency. People like to quiz me on colors (which I don’t mind), but when I get all of the colors correct, they sometimes ask if I’m really color deficient.
And of course, other times people are astonished that I can’t tell two colors apart.
What color-related issues have you run into during your work?
I consider my color deficiency an advantage as a game designer. I can advocate for double coding from a personal perspective. In addition, it challenges me to create games without a need for double coding.
With most of the games I’ve worked on, the color of resources and player pieces comes last, and I always end up needing to push the publisher for a greater variety of values or double coding. In addition, it’s hard to find people with other color deficiencies to show game components for their input. My color deficiency is mild and fairly uncommon—I never want to be the only person checking the colors of a game.
I recommend publishers, developers, and designers consider the colors of their games as early as possible. Not only is it a good way to develop a feeling and aesthetic for your game, but it also allows you to answer difficult questions about color deficiency accessibility early, when there is time to make major changes.
What have your learned about designing for colorblind players?
I was demoing Tiny Towns at GenCon 2019 when I met a person with monochromacy (i.e., complete colorblindness). At the time, I didn’t know it was possible for someone to only be able to differentiate shades of grey. Unsurprisingly, Tiny Towns was difficult for them to play since the colored resource cubes have no form of double coding. I was mortified—I had thought I’d successfully created a colorblind-accessible game.
This led me to work double coding into my designs from the start. After Tiny Towns, I haven’t designed a game (published or otherwise) that differentiates components on color alone. It can be restricting, and while I don’t think all games must be double-coded, it sometimes leads me to creative solutions.
Where can we see more of your work and follow you online?
You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @peterlmcpherson.
Editor’s note: As of this writing you can late pledge Fit to Print on Kickstarter, which will be released later in 2023. Peter’s games are available at friendly local games stores everywhere!
Image Credits: Beth Cleveland Photography (all shots of Peter); Game images credited to their respective publishers (Rio Grande Games, Flatout Games, AEG)