The Isle of Cats – designed by Frank West and published by The City of Games – combines beautiful art and clever gameplay into a rewarding tile-laying experience. On top of that, it is a master class in accessible design.
Many designers help gamers distinguish colors within an art style and theme. Strategies range from obvious to subtle, embedded to tacked-on. The Isle of Cats incorporates colorblind-friendliness from head to tail…literally. For example, the blue cat tails are fluffy, while the green tails are spiked. A careful look at the cat’s ears will reveal more small differences.
Accessibility features are included on player boards, too. The icons on treasure map spaces make it easy for colorblind players to distinguish red/green or purple/blue items at a glance.
The elegance of this method is clear. With no colorblind gamers at the table, the graphic design and art direction lead to a beautiful board game. For me, the attention to accessibility results in a wonderful experience.
Colorblind-friendly by Design
Frank provided me with a wealth of information about his process designing The Isle of Cats, starting with his early experience related to accessibility.
“While I am lucky enough to have no issues with seeing colours, I have found myself in many situations where accessibility was the focus. In my early career as a web developer, I created several websites for schools for the blind, and this introduced me to the web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG). Over time I came to realise accessibility could be achieved through early planning and rather than seeing it as a problem, I should see it as a challenge to do better.”
I also asked Frank what led him to embed colorblind accessibility so deep into his game.
“When I started designing The Isle of Cats I knew it would be a colour dependent game, and from the beginning I was very aware of the challenges I was going to face. I remember sitting down for hours, brainstorming icons and thinking about how they could be present on the tiles without looking messy. Perhaps I could blend them with the wooden backgrounds?
Eventually I moved on to an approach I think everyone should be using: merging them with the artwork itself. This is what led to the cat tails being so unique as they felt like a natural way of hiding iconography within the artwork, and I was very pleased with the results.
As the design progressed, I reviewed each element where colour was a requirement and made sure to add as many subtle pointers as possible, from labeling the backs of cards, to adding unique shapes to meeples and the maps on the boats.”
This was huge for me. The Isle of Cats goes a step further than most games by incorporating the unique cat designs (like pointy purple ears, spiky green tails) into the tiles and five unique meeple designs, too. I love it.
Once Frank had a near-final game, playtesting confirmed the strategy was effective, and it led to one more addition.
“It was the moment I did a playtest with a colour blind player, without knowing they were colour blind in advance, that I truly felt satisfied with the game. That also led to the inclusion of the colour reference card in the game, as I wanted all players to be able to enjoy the game equally, without feeling the need to ask others for help.
This is the ideal situation, and something I’ll always be considering in my designs.”
I asked Frank if he had any additional advice for game designers and artists.
“I would strongly encourage anyone who is designing a game, to consider how the artwork can be designed to include iconography within it, as it helps make the game more accessible without impacting the overall look and feel.”
The Isle of Cats receives Colorblind Games’ highest recommendation. It is available at your friendly local game store and anywhere games are sold. You can contact Frank via Twitter and The City of Games online on Twitter and Facebook.