Colorblind Review: Cascadia

Eternal Blue. Forever Green.

In Cascadia, players place habitat tiles and wildlife tokens to create their own corner of the Pacific Northwest. Each ecosystem is scored based on each animal’s spatial preferences and the size of contiguous habitats. Cascadia is a quick-to-learn, quick-to-play tile layer that elicits the question, “One more game”?

Board games with natural themes rely on the colors of nature – warm browns, reds, and yellows; cool greens and blues. These real-world hues can be challenging for colorblind gamers, so designers and publishers must take care when bringing the great outdoors to the table.

Cascadia continues a lineage of nature-themed games that handle colorblind accessibility well, and designer Randy Flynn described how he considered this balance during design and development:

“For Cascadia, we wanted the player’s final environment to look like a beautiful section of land. [Beth Sobel‘s] artwork really shines, and we wanted players to see it and imagine an actual landscape. We also wanted to ensure the game was accessible to as many people as possible.”

Cascadia will likely be compared with Flatout Games‘ 2019 hit, Calico. Each is a pick-one-place-one tile layer, and both games elegantly balance art, graphic design, and accessibility. “Like Calico, we were really focused on trying to have an accessible experience while also creating a harmonious color palette,” Shawn Stankewich shared.

While Calico relied on double-coding to help players distinguish colors, Randy described a different approach to balancing Cascadia’s art design with accessibility.

“We didn’t want to use the same solution that Calico used, where it put the button icons on every tile. We felt that would distract from the gorgeous landscape. Instead, we worked with Beth to make sure the patterns for the habitat tile art were unique enough on their own that the different habitats were distinct.”

As the team iterated, Shawn described one more tweak to the tiles. “At one point the wetlands and prairies were too close in texture [for colorblind gamers], so we modified so they would be more easily distinguishable.”

Randy also addressed his approach to the wildlife tokens. “We had a lot of color combinations we needed to work well together. In this case we largely rely on the unique wildlife icons to stand out and be unique.”

The end result is a fantastic game where color supports immersion but is not required for gameplay. You could play Cascadia in black-and-white, which reflects the team’s commitment to colorblind accessibility. But you wouldn’t want to, which is a testament to its beauty. I’ve had a great time playing so far, and I highly recommend getting your hands on Cascadia!

Cascadia launches on Kickstarter September 15.

You can follow Randy Flynn on Twitter at rf_seattle. Reach out to Flatout Games on Twitter, Instagram, or their website.

Note: Colorblind Games received a complementary review copy of Cascadia for this review.

Images provided by Flatout Games and Randy Flynn

Colorblind Games Profile: Eric Slauson

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Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure to learn how colorblind designers, developers, artists, and publishers have both overcome and leveraged their color vision deficiency to make great games. I was excited to connect with Eric Slauson — designer of Tattoo Stories, Nerd Words: Science, and the upcoming MonsDRAWsity — about his experience.
 
Eric was identified as colorblind by his kindergarten teacher, and his color vision deficiency continued to affect him in elementary school and in college.
 
In one class, none of the markers had the names written on them. I have a very clear memory of being laughed at because I colored the trunk of a tree red instead of brown and the leaves brown instead of green,.
 
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In college, I took a geology course and almost failed it because no one told me that using color was a massive part of identifying rocks. I complained to the professor, and she was like, “Wow, I never thought of that before. I should put that in the syllabus.”
 
In is own classroom, Eric avoids making color a big part of his lessons.
 
A lot of the decisions I make as a teacher are influenced by the positive and negative memories I have from being a student. I don’t want to put a kid through the experiences I had, so when I DO use coloring as part of a lesson, I make sure all of my supplies have color names on them or give students an alternative way to do the assignment that doesn’t involve coloring.

I asked Eric about his experience as a game player and designer with color vision limitations.
 
What do you wish people knew about color vision deficiency?
I want people to know that I CAN see color. People who have normal color vision have a really hard time understanding when I can correctly identify the color of everything they are pointing to in a room (what colorblind person hasn’t been subjected to this?), but then I cannot tell the color of their shirt that’s some weird color like taupe or burnt sienna or sand. I can see your shirt has a color, I just can’t name it.
 
The analogy I use most often is reading. Someone who is illiterate can SEE the letters and words on a page, they just can’t make sense of them. To use another example, you know how some fonts make it hard for you to tell the difference between a lowercase l (el) and a capital I (eye)? That’s me with blue and purple.
 
What do you find the most difficult when playing games?
Having to ask other players what colors pieces are. At best, it slows the game down while I double-check that I’m going to draft a blue card and not a purple card; at worst, if I must ask it lets everyone know the cards in my hand.
 
In games where you have to think several moves ahead, it’s sometimes hard for me to have long term strategies based on board state because I could be basing my plan on an incorrect color reading of the pieces.
 
Do you have any standard workarounds at the table?
I always pick the white meeple to play with so I can easily identify it on the board. Also, a lot of color identification has to do with the lighting in the room. Anything but bright lighting makes telling the difference between colors much harder for me.
 
Have you run across issues related to color vision in your own designs?
The games I design don’t typically involve a ton of pieces or icons that you need to keep straight. I did design a trick taker once and had to give the suits different colors. I chose red, blue, and yellow for three of the suits because those are really easy for me to tell apart. I chose a green for the fourth suit that looked clearly different from yellow and red on my computer screen, but when I printed the prototype, I discovered that unless I had ideal lighting, I was getting ALL of the colors mixed up. I went back to the drawing board and added icons around the colors to help me differentiate.

Eric’s current and upcoming games are focused on approachable play in community, and each is 100% colorblind-friendly.
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Keep up with Eric via Twitter at @slausondesigns and on Board Game Geek.
Image Credits: Eric Slauson

Colorblind Review – Star Wars: Destiny

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“I am your density.” -George McFly

Summer 1987: Most of my paper route earnings disappeared 33 cents at a time for packs of Topps baseball cards, which was my entry into the dopamine hit of card packs. Would I score a Mark McGwire? Bo Jackson?

Or another Pat Tabler.

Winter 2001: Now all grown up, most of my engineering earnings disappeared 3 dollars at a time for Decipher’s Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game. I revisited the joy of childhood, this time hoping for Aragorn’s Bow or The Witch King.  Nearly 20 years later we’re still building Hobbit Healers and Moria Swarms at our house.

Spring 2020: Nearly two decades after LOTR, I bought a few deeply-discounted booster boxes to put together a casual play Star Wars: Destiny decks. Instead of crunchy chewing gum, each pack of Destiny includes a chunky die!

Colors

The primary colors in Star Wars: Destiny are literally the primary colors – red, blue, and yellow (with grey thrown in). This eases the burden for most colorblind players. I found the cards and dice colors easy to distinguish from one another. In addition, each is also double-coded with the color name typed at the bottom. The dice are not double-coded, but their image matches all or part of the card’s image.

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Note for low-vision gamers: Along with my color vision deficiency, I’m also experiencing something doctors call “getting old,” which has reduced my ability to read very small text. Most text and icons in this game are fantastic – font size is fine, contrast is good, and the iconography is top notch. But the bottom-level text, including the double-coded color information, is in tiny uppercase font – I find it barely readable.

To build a Star Wars: Destiny deck, players first choose heroes (typically 2 or 3), and then only use cards that match one of those heroes’ colors. So someone with a severe color vision deficiency may need help, but again, the color is typed at the bottom of each card.

Identifying colors is not as vital during gameplay, though some require spotting a color or card/hero/die or acting on a single color of dice or other cards in play.

The only real color problem I encountered, which hasn’t caused any issues during normal play, is that collector-level colors are more subtle, as illustrated and described here:

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The gray, blue, and purple can be easily mixed up by those with color vision deficiency, especially given their small size in the bottom corner of each card. However, Legendary (Purple) cards always come with a die and Common (Blue) cards never do, so once I learned more about the distribution of card rarity I found this easy to work around.

The Verdict

At the end of the day, Star Wars: Destiny is quite playable for colorblind gamers. Its bright palette of red, blue, and yellow make cards easy to distinguish, and double-coding can help those who continue to have issues. I experienced some challenge during booster pack opening, due to the colors used for rarity and the very small font and icons denoting each card’s number and set.

If you’re interested at all, I’ve found this to be a great time to jump into Star Wars: Destiny, if only to relive the joy of opening boosters!

 

Image Credits: Fantasy Flight Games

Colorblind App Review: Lost Cities

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An elegant solution.

Board game apps tend to be hit-and-miss when it comes to accessibility features, so when I encounter a color vision issue I often just uninstall and move on.

Lost Cities started out problematic for me. The card colors are subtle, and the faded card-placement spots above them even more so. In particular, I could not identify the two colors on the far right. My handy-dandy WhatColor tool told me the pixels in those areas included the following:

  • Dark Olive Green, Dark Khaki, and Peru
  • Coral, Light Salmon, and Sienna

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But everything changed when I entered the magic settings screen. Options were basic, consisting of two volume controls (sound effects and music) and this heavenly option.

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High Contrast Mode changes the card colors to a brighter, more easily-distinguishable palette. Now I’m back in the game, finding lost cities and destroying my foes!

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Kudos to The Coding Monkeys for their work on this app (and Carcassonne, among others), and their attention to accessibility.  You can find Lost Cities for iOS on the app store.LostCities03

Image Credits: Thames & Kosmos; The Coding Monkeys

Colorblind Review – Century: Spice Road

 

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Spiceless in Seattle.

Century: Spice Road looks like my kind of game, I’ve heard great things about it, and I love cardamom! But without a major redesign of all game elements, colorblind gamers like me simply cannot play it.

I can’t confidently name any color in the image above. Some are darker than others. All appear to be some kind of yellow-orange-red-brown-green, as far as I can tell.

Meeple Like Us described the color issue in their 2017 accessibility teardown of Century: Spice Road.

“Colour is used as the sole channel of information for identifying the four different spices, and those with Protanopia and Deuteranopia will find it very difficult to distinguish between saffron and cardamom.”

I had based my initial color concerns off screen shots and other reviewers. Sometimes I have a different experience once I view and hold the pieces in my hands. And everyone’s color vision deficiency is different, so I’ve found that sometimes I can navigate “non-colorblind-friendly” games just fine.

My friendly local gaming store had a used copy available, so I was hopeful I might be able to distinguish the colors once I could see them in person.

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Nope.

Colorblind Mod?

I’ve been thinking and talking to others about colorblind-friendly upgrades of board games, so I looked at some options for Century: Spice Road. The cubes could be replaced easily enough by custom items from Meeple Source to represent the spices. However, the cards have the same color-only identifier for each cube, so I would need to redesign each card to match the new spice bits.

I could also add letters or symbols to each face of the cubes, then replicate the symbology on each card. But at some point I lose the theme abstraction, reducing the “fun factor” of the game.

New Edition, Expansions, Ideas?

No revised edition of Century: Spice Road is in the works that I could find, and each expansion appears to build on the core game and use the same cubes. In the end, I’m disappointed to miss out on what appears to be a really fun game, and I’d love to learn if anyone has discovered a successful workaround.

 

Image Credits: CoolStuffInc (top).  Brian Chandler (bottom)

Colorblind Kudos: Dungeon Ball

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As a colorblind gamer, I often start my visit to a Kickstarter board game campaign by asking this question: “Can I even play this?”

Often, the answer is no.

My first look at Dungeon Ball on Kickstarter didn’t go well. The reds and greens were problematic from the start, and I did not see a simple colorblind modification to solve the problem. While I liked the theme and have enjoyed Gabe Barrett’s work, with so many games on the market and a limited gaming budget, I simply wasn’t in the mood to do the extra work.

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Then this happened.

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Gabe and his graphic designer listened to feedback, identified the need, and made a change to their color palette during the middle of the campaign. From Gabe’s Kickstarter Updates:

One thing I realized recently is that Dungeon Ball isn’t particularly colorblind-friendly because of its heavy use of red and green in the play selection process. So, I talked with Drew, the graphic designer, and he’s going to update the colors for the final version of the game to make everything more accessible. Below, you can see where we’re headed.

I want as many people as possible to be able to enjoy the game, and hopefully this will help with that.

It’s a significant improvement over the original version, switching to new versions or red and green that stand out much better from each other while maintaining the feel of the original artistic vision.

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I appreciate Gabe and Drew for their efforts to improve accessibility – especially during the middle of a campaign. See the Dungeon Ball Kickstarter campaign page to back this project!

Gabe Barrett is a long-time supporter of game designers through his podcast and other resources at Board Game Design Lab and on Twitter.

Image Credits: Gabe Barrett

Colorblind Games Profile: Will Reed

As I discovered while reviewing Tiny Towns and reaching out to Peter McPherson, players are not the only colorblind members of the board game community. Designers, developers, graphic artists, illustrators, and publishers can have vision deficiencies, too.

Sarah Reed recently guest-posted about her experience modifying games for use by her colorblind friends and family. She also shared that her husband, Will Reed, is both colorblind and legally blind. As a follow up to Sarah’s article, I asked Will a few questions about his experience playing, testing, and designing tabletop games.

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What’s the most difficult for you when playing games?

Probably my toughest challenge with games are when art is used. Many times a mechanic is buried within something that is supposed to look nice and help the theme of the game. The thing is, this only offers a barrier to play, which prevents me from enjoying any part of the game, regardless of theme.

One of the most common examples is an art piece used as an icon. From my perspective, an icon is meant to be a quick reference so you understand what something is supposed to be or how it’s supposed to be used. Every time art gets layered on, this slows down the comprehension and thus prevents it from being a good icon.

What do you wish people would know about your vision deficiency?

For the most part, I just want people to remember I have one. I tend to operate very successfully in games, so people take for granted just how much I don’t see. This makes games with public information tricky for me, at times, since it’s readily available to most players while not to me.

Do you experience any advantages as a game designer because of your vision impairments?

Actually, I do. Having vision impairments mean I tend to retain a lot more mentally than most people when interacting with games. As such, when I design, I can often mentally playtest game concepts and iterate on designs quite rapidly. This results in many of the prototypes we create being much more stable than other designs I’ve played from sighted designers’ initial prototypes.

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I appreciate Will taking the time to share his experience, and I encourage you to check out Will and Sarah’s most recent release, Oaxaca: Crafts of a Culture, and their upcoming roll-and-write game, Scrapyard Rollbot, in Dice & Ink Volume 1.

Image Credits: Sarah Reed & Will Reed

Colorblind Review: Fantastic Factories

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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