Colorblind Review: The Isle of Cats

Head-to-tail Accessibility

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.

Colorblind Accessibility

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.

I love placing these tiles!

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.

Unique meeples for each color

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.”

Reference card empowers colorblind players

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.

Boat full of cats (Credit: The City of Games)

Colorblind Games Profile: Tiru Raghavan

Tiru Raghavan (he/him, Athena’s Dad on Twitter) was born and raised in India. He came to the U.S. in 2010 for college and has been here ever since, now working as a Product Designer. As a colorblind gamer and photographer, Tiru brings an interesting perspective to the hobby.

Image: Tiru Raghaven

When and how did you learn about your own color vision deficiency?

By accident!

I was 26 years old. My glasses broke, and when I went in to get a new pair, I was told that my 4-year-old prescription needed to be updated with an eye exam. As a part of the test, the clinic (in Rochester, NY) also did the Ishihara Test where I was told to spot numbers. I couldn’t get past the fourth plate. I came to know later that color-blindness testing is not standard, and I am ever thankful to this eye clinic for diagnosing me.

What colors do you tend to confuse the most?

Purple and pink – oh my god – I cannot tell them apart for the life of me! Sometimes I cannot tell red and pink apart, and I also tend to mix dark red and shades of brown.

I can see red and green! When I tell people that I’m colorblind, this is the most common question that I get asked.

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

Cubes, especially brown and red. Sadly, almost all Euro games have at least one component with dark-red or brown cubes in them.

I also had a particularly hard time with a simple card game called Loot. The older version had four suits of cards – orange, green, dark blue, and purple. The blue cards were very similar to purple for me, and there was no other distinction on the cards to tell them apart. It was extremely painful for me to play.

Image: Tiru Raghaven

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

I wish people didn’t challenge or ridicule me. Once on Board Game Geek, I spoke about my problem, but fans of the games were quite militant in defending their favorite game. I wish that people wouldn’t get defensive about their favorite games. I wish they would just acknowledge that some people like me might have difficulty playing it.

Are there any color-based games you assumed you could not play, but surprised you as colorblind-friendly?

Azul: Summer Pavilion. I have difficulty telling pink and red pieces apart, but since there’s no hidden information, I can just ask people at the table what color it is. It’s not great, but I can get by. Asking others doesn’t sour the experience for me.

What are your other favorite games? Who do you play with?

My wife is my primary board gaming buddy, and we have a baby girl!

I love Kingdomino, Santorini, Takenoko, The Grimm Forest, and King of Tokyo – all bright and colorful! I love bright, colorful games!


Image: Tiru Raghaven

You can learn more about Tiru and see his work online via his Twitter feed, @dad_athena.

Colorblind Gaming 101: The Basics

Alongside reviews, profiles, and colorblind-friendly game mods, I hope these essays will help increase understanding of color vision deficiency and how it relates to gaming.


Color Vision Deficiency

Up to 90 percent of tabletop gaming is visual, and much of that information is color-specific. From player tokens to cards to the board itself, color is an integral part of the gaming experience. Unfortunately, for colorblind gamers, this information has little or no meaning or causes confusion, making play difficult or impossible.

An estimated 4-5 percent of the population have some sort of color vision deficiency, and others suffer from low vision. The effects of colorblindness are not well-documented, and in many cases game designers, developers, and publishers inadvertently alienate this part of the community.

The Science of Color Vision

Seeing behind your eyeballs with rods and cones. Two photoreceptors on the retina take information from the environment, through our eyes, and to the brain. The rods handle light-related information, and the cones handle color. The three cones take certain areas of the spectrum to the brain—red (R), green (G), or blue (B)—like an old “RGB” computer monitor. The combination of these three cones produces color vision.

If any of the cones has a problem, the color absorbed by that cone changes, which then changes the RGB combination received by the brain. Because any one of the cones can malfunction (or be missing altogether), the type and severity of colorblindness are nuanced. No colorblind person sees the world in exactly the same way as another, which is one reason addressing this issue is complicated. It’s also why running a game design through an online colorblind filter not enough.

The most common type of color vision deficiency is Deuteranomaly, a malfunctioning of the green cone. A red cone malfunction, called Protanomaly, is also possible. Rarely, one of these cones may be missing altogether; this is called Deutronopia (green) or Protanopia (red). Rarer still are malfunctioning or missing blue cones: Tritanomoly and Tritanopia.

One version of colorblind simulation (Source: Colour Blind Awareness)

The cone problems that cause color vision deficiency impact are much more than a single color. Any faulty or missing cone (red, green, or blue) impacts color identification along the entire spectrum. Our overall color perception tends to be lower, increasing color confusion and the ability to identify colors by name. 

Impacts of Colorblindness on Game Night

Get ready for a little math.

If six players sit down to the table, there is an estimated 4.25% chance any one of them is colorblind. Thus, by the power of compound probability of independent events (thanks, Kahn Academy), we know there is a 23% chance that at least one person at that table is colorblind.

If you were to run a larger game night with 40 gamers participating, there is an 82% chance at least one player at your event will be colorblind, which will impact multiple games and multiple tables during the event. A small convention of 100 is almost guaranteed to have at least colorblind attendee, and on average will have four. 1

“We’ve given up with board games.”

Recently on Twitter, in a thread related to color vision accessibility, I read this tweet from a mother of two colorblind children:

This response hit me hard. Anyone giving up on tabletop gaming is heartbreaking, and more work encouraging accessibility can help make it easier for more people to play more games.

Where do we go from here?

Next, see some Colorblind Solutions – early and during the process by game designers and publishers, and later by players via aftermarket modifications.

Qwirkle: modified for colorblind players by Sarah Reed

1 Calculation for at least one colorblind gamer at any gathering, assuming a 50/50 split of male and female players: 1- [(1-0.0425)^(number of players)]

Image Credits: Colour Blind Awareness; Stan Wiechers

Colorblind Review and Mod: My Little Scythe

Eagles and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

The past few months, my game table has been dominated by short, solo games. Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America and Hit Z Road come to mind, and NMBR9 is one of my all-time favorites. My Little Scythe fits this category. It allows for up to 6 players, but playing 1-2 finishes is less than 30 minutes, which lends itself to multiple games in one sitting. It’s designed by Hoby Chou and Vienna Chou, with art by Katie Khau, and published by Stonemaier Games.

The origin story of My Little Scythe is heartwarming. Designer Hoby Chou wanted to play Scythe with his daughter, Vienna. Hoby described his inspiration in the game’s design diary.1

“Many of you know that I also had a very personal inspiration – my daughter and co-designer Vienna. The original prototype was – as many of you rightfully labelled – a labour of love… While sounding cheesy, love really is a powerful source of inspiration.”

Coolest designer in the business, Vienna Chou

Colorblind Accessibility

I had some trouble with this one, which was disappointing as I envision families with colorblind kids trying to play. My Little Scythe is not colorblind-friendly out of the box, so some players will need help.

CHARACTER COLORS
My Little Scythe’s 7 player colors: white, yellow, red, probably-green, and 3 others

The base game includes 7 different pairs of characters and action tokens. I like these options, as it lets me chose the best color combinations for me, especially at lower player counts. In my personal experience, up to 5 players works well, as I can ask fellow gamers to use black, red, white, yellow, and blue. The other two colors (purple and/or grey and/or green – I’m not sure) could result in color confusion.

THE DICE

The prototypes for My Little Scythe’s dice started off colorblind friendly, using the same background styles as the game board.

Jamey Stegmaier shared the team’s struggle to translate that design to production dice.

“This worked fine as a prototype, but how were we going to make it work for actual custom dice? For a 1:1 translation, we would need to use something like the dice in Star Wars: Destiny, which are fine, but I think custom molded dice have a better feel and table presence. Also, these dice just looked too busy–they’re sending too many signals to your brain (red die, blue background, red apple).”

“So we decided to flip things around a bit. We made each die monochrome, but we changed the color of the icon on the die to reflect the color of the region. So you roll a red die, and if the resulting apple icon is blue, you’ll place an apple token in the blue region.”

“This worked well, even though it’s not a perfect solution for people with colorblindness.”

Can confirm. The green and grey sides of the dice are indistinguishable for some players, including me.

Green and grey dice faces

I asked Jamey if he could provide further insights on this design choice.

“Thanks for asking about this. The dice were a very difficult puzzle to solve, and I’m sorry the final result wasn’t colorblind friendly. We used different textures on the boards for each region, but we couldn’t convey those textures on the dice.”

Colorblind Mods

To mitigate the color vision issues described above and make My Little Scythe playable, I needed to modify my copy.

GREY, GREEN, RED

To address the most problematic issue I faced, I pulled out my favorite accessibility tool, recruited a family member, and went to work. I wanted to avoid detracting from the beautiful art while providing the graphic design modifications I needed to enjoy the game.

A simple black dot on the grey side of each die and the 5 grey spaces on the gameboard helped me identify grey from green. Adding a single line on the red dice-faces and spaces on the board distinguished red from green. I left the green spaces and dice faces alone.

POWER UP TILES

The two power up tiles, Move and Make, are only distinguished by color, and while the two colors used (Green and Blue) work fine for me, I still find it helpful to double-code when feasible. I added a small boot-shaped icon to the bottom-left corner of the Move card, and a hammer shape to top-right corner of the Make card.

Small markings added to the Move and Make cards

My Little Scythe a delightful game for 1-6 players that plays quickly. I recommend it for any age and skill level, and colorblind gamers can enjoy it with some minor modifications. You can pick it up at your friendly local game store or the Stonemaier Games website.


Colorblind Games received a complementary copy of this game from the publisher for this review.

1 Vienna photo, prototype dice image, and first two quote via Stonemaier Games, My Little Scythe Design Diary

Colorblind Review: Vamp on the Batwalk

Final Box Cover
…and I do my little turn on the catwalk

“I’m interested to see your take on Vamp. I know it’s not the most colorblind accessible.”

Cody Thompson, Jellyfish Game Studios, being dead wrong

Vamp on the Batwalk, designed by Jon Simantov and published by Jellyfish Game Studios. is a light-yet-strategic card game for 2 to 6 players. It boasts bright colors, a unique theme, and a trick taking twist: you see only the suits of your own cards (on the back of each), but you have full view of your opponents’ hands.

Color Vision Accessibility

The Kickstarter version of Vamp on the Batwalk provides 10 vampires to choose from, each with a standee and suited cards that are added to a shared deck. The color palette is diverse, but double-coding makes Vamp 100% colorblind friendly out of the box!

10 Vampires. 10 Colors. 10 Icons.

The magic in making a 10-player-color game accessible is ensuring color is not the only distinguisher between cards. Mike Rankin, the game’s graphic artist, brought his experience to this project. “My background is in UI/UX design for video games and mobile apps, so accessibility is always a high priority for me.”

Mike shared the work he and Cody did on graphic design for these cards.

Cody and I had considered accessibility from the very beginning, even before we designed the characters. Keeping each card primarily one tone, especially around its border, helped make the suits obvious, and we gave each vampire a very strong, unique silhouette which helped emphasis that. For the information in the corners of the cards, we made sure that each number and suit symbol had a solid, unambiguous silhouette; high contrast; and that they didn’t overlap any other graphical element.

For the card backs, we kept the same ideas: a single primary tone, symbols with clear silhouettes that didn’t have to compete with other graphical elements, and a uniquely shaped coffin to emphasis the unique suit.

For each pass on the cards, we checked the artwork under a black-and-white filter to make sure a player could always easily identify the suit just by the shape of the symbol, even if all other cues were gone.

These colors would be a problem, but the symbols make each suit obvious

Low Vision Accessibility

Beyond color vision, Mike and Cody addressed the needs of low-vision players, especially in a high-player-count game where they would need to see cards across the table.

With low-vision players in mind, I based the original proportions of the card by referencing a suit of standard playing cards. We knew that the cards had to read clearly from a distance, much further than normal cards, since a player not only had to read their own cards quickly, but cards held by the other players too!

Most games use a small tracker with identical tokens for scoring, and sometimes those don’t read clearly across the table. Cody’s idea for using the stage as a score tracker was an excellent way to represent players’ scores using big, strongly-silhouetted standees.

Vamp on the Batwalk Score Tracker

To purchase Vamp on the Batwalk and learn about upcoming projects, visit Jellyfish Game Studios. See more from Mike Rankin at his online comic, Rusty & Co.


Colorblind Games received a complementary copy of Vamp on the Batwalk from Jellyfish Game Studios for this review.

Colorblind Review: Mariposas

There and back again

Mariposas (designed by Elizabeth Hargrave, art by Indi Maverick and Matt Paquette, and published by AEG) combines movement and set collection to tell the story of monarch butterflies flying north from Mexico to the U.S. and Canada, reproducing, and offspring returning for the winter. It plays 2-5 in about an hour. I liked it a lot and recommend giving it a try!

Colorblind-Friendly?

Elizabeth a history of identifying colorblind-accessible needs during design and development, including changes to an original set-collection-by-color idea for Wingspan. With that in mind, I was still a little nervous when I first opened Mariposas. I was inundated with colors and concerned I might not be able to play without help. For example, these blue-or-maybe-violet components, map spaces, and card spots are apparently not the same color, nor do they connect directly to one another.

Side board (top), game board (left), and game component (middle), all blue (?) but not directly related

After my initial overwhelm (which is common for colorblind unboxers), I read through the rules, and the component and game board colors clarified quite a bit.

Accessibility Features

Double Coding. The main Mariposas map does a great job distinguishing the colors using a Morse code-style graphic element. This “stitched outline” is subtle enough that normal-color-vision players might not notice it, while providing enough detail for color identification.

Double-coding design feature on the yellow, green, and orange map spaces

I had not seen this specific type of double-coding before, so I asked Elizabeth to share more about the origin of this elegant feature.

“I requested that we add some texture or something to differentiate other than color, and the graphic designer, Matt Paquette, came up with the borders.”

Enter Matt, whose graphic design credits include Mystic Vale, Tiny Towns, and Ecos: First Continent. I asked him to share more about his approach to accessibility, and specifically about this solution.

“When I am working on games, I am particularly sensitive to vision issues. One reason for that might be because my Mum is nearly blind from macular degeneration. I’m constantly looking for ways to double or triple ‘encode’ information in games so players aren’t just relying on one cue.”

“The dot-dash idea came to me when I was working on an exhibition at a museum. We had to find a way to show the charted courses of several ships without them getting confused with one another. We ended up relying on a similar dot-dash pattern to do this and it worked beautifully.”

Object Permanence. Another aspect of design that helps colorblind gamers is permanence. We often use our memory to mitigate color vision deficiencies. Unlike some games with modular boards or a tile-laying mechanic, the Mariposas map never changes. During my first game, I learned where the orange sections are, which will help in all future games.

Mariposas game board (Image Credit: AEG)

Ideas for Enhancement

While Mariposas continues the dot-dash design on Season cards, the hexagons are a lot smaller and lack additional emphasis on the outside stitching. At this size I could not easily distinguish the colors. To address this, I replicated the stitching code along the outside of part of each colored hex. Only 10 cards required this addition, and once completed I was all set!

Colorblind mod for Season scoring cards

Flower Power. Without knowing the names of the flowers on each token, we reverted to flower colors for identification, which was problematic for me. The rule book does the same. For example, when defining the East Coast in Mariposas, the rules describe that it, “…runs from the blue space with 2 white flowers…to the green space adjacent to Quebec with 2 purple flowers.”

So I went to the source, and Elizabeth came through again to help me identify each flower, as she shared here.

Legend for Mariposas Flowers (Image Credit: Elizabeth Hargrave)

Overall, I am impressed with the use of color in Mariposas, and I’m grateful that the team took the time to incorporated colorblind-accessible features in the game. I recommend this game for colorblind players, and if you purchase it, consider minor modifications to enhance its accessibility.

First Impressions: 2021 Button Shy Reprint Campaign

The 2021 Button Shy Reprint Kickstarter Campaign is offering a boatload of options this week – a choice of up to 12 games (some with expansions). The campaign page is fantastic, but I got a little overwhelmed by all the pledge options. After researching, I thought my notes might help you decide what you want to back. Consider this a “first look” at the available games.

Color Vision Issues?

Nope. All Button Shy Games are published with colorblind gamers in mind. I have yet to run into an unplayable game from the company, as they do great job with initial color choices and double-coding. Looking at the information available, everything here appears to be colorblind-friendly.

The List

Quick notes:

  • I’m a Button Shy fan, but not an expert.
  • Some player counts require expansions.
  • I haven’t played these 12 games – my thoughts below are simply my first impression.
  • Resources to learn more: Kickstarter Campaign and the Button Shy Games website.

Ahead In The Clouds by Daniel Newman|2016|2P|BGG 6.3| Euro-style Resource Management. Edo called it, “Thinky, Rich, Simple.” Cartoon-steam-punk-ish theme. Requires 9 coins/tokens to play.

Anthelion: Conclave of Power by Daniel Solis|2019|2P|BGG 7.0| Builds on the foundation of Avignon: A Clash of Popes with a sci-fi theme. Asymmetric influence manipulation. 5 expansions that add new factions.

Antinomy by John Baluci|2019|1-2P|BGG 7.0| Fantasy theme, time travel, and a solo mode (via expansion) are a trifecta for me – I’m definitely getting this one. Mechanics include match-3 set collection and hand management. Marty Cobb’s art stands out.

Antinomy by John Baluci. Art by Marty Cobb.

Arcane Bakery Clash by Robin Gibson|2018|1-2P|BGG 6.8| The fantasy baking theme is new to me – I especially appreciated “Syrup Elemental.” Hand management, hidden info, and memory elements. Solo mode via expansion. It appears to require a few tokens to play.

Handsome by TC Petty III|2019|2-6P|BGG 7.0| I like wallet games with high player count that I can easily bring to a “non-gaming event, but maybe a game will break out?” situation. I’m not usually a word game fan, but I like the addition of set collection. Expansion adds catch-up mechanic, press-your-luck.

Hierarchy by Hugo Kawamata|2019|1-2P|BGG 7.0| Perfect information, card placement, and I understood the rules by reading one sentence. Numbered cards must be played on top of lesser-value cards, but each also has a special ability. Silver might be a good comparison.

Liberation by Jon Simantov|2018|2P|BGG 7.1| Best described by reviewers as pocket-size Star Wars: Rebellion that plays in 30 minutes. Deduction, exploration – a space-themed cat-and-mouse game. An expansion adds another planet and tweaks some rules.

Liberation by Jon Simantov. Art by Sara Beauvais

Ragemore by Bojan Prakljacic|2018|1P|BGG 7.0| Solo-only game, so I’ll be getting this one. Dungeon-crawler theme that reminds me of the Meteorfall smart phone app. Low-color art by the game designer speaks to me.

Seasons of Rice by Corry Damey|2018|2P|BGG 7.2| The designer’s heritage of Cambodia leads to the rice farming theme. I’ve been tracking this one for a while, so I’m thrilled to get it here at a discount. Drafting and tile-laying with variable player powers. Expansions add a new tile type (river) and scoring conditions.

Seasons of Rice by Corry Damey. Art by Jerome Damey and Corry Damey

Smoke & Mirrors by Chip Beauvais|2015|2-5P|BGG 6.4| A bluffing game where you play as an early 1900s illusionist. Plays in 15 min, so could be a fun lunch-break game at the office, like Skull. Expansion adds new elements.

Supertall by Nat Levan|2018|2-4P|BGG 6.3| Marty Cobb grabbed me again with his art, this time reminding me of the brightness of Fantastic Factories or Machi Koro. Supertall packs a lot of city-building fun into 18 cards: set collection, tile placement, and take that.

Why I Otter by Aaron Andrew Wilson|2019|2P|BGG 7.1| A rock-paper-scissors, trick-taking game, Why I Otter brings a bright-and-cartoony style to the table. I’m reminded of the multi-use cards from Flatout Games’ Point Salad.

Why I Otter by Aaron Andrew Wilson. Art by Lee Angerstein

In the most recent update #10, Jason Tagmire realized we needed some additional options (!), so Button Shy as offered four more games to choose from:

In Summary

Quick – go back the campaign on Kickstarter! It ends soon!


Image Credits: Button Shy Games

Colorblind Mod – Century: Spice Road

Bring me your finest meats and cheeses! And saffron and cinnamon! I can finally play Century: Spice Road!

Modern board gaming, as an industry, continues to struggle with accessibility. Fortunately, gamers are finding workarounds to deal with these limitations. Last year, Sarah Reed shared her efforts to modify Qwirkle and Incan Gold to make them friendly for her coworkers and for her husband, Will.

Last year I bought a copy of Century: Spice Road, even though I knew I would probably have trouble distinguishing the colors.

I had trouble distinguishing the colors.

Inspired by Sarah’s accessibility mods, I considered a few different options that would allow me to play Century: Spice Road while maintaining the game’s theme. It seemed a bit daunting, as I described in my initial review:

“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.”

After looking through the components and comparing a few different options, I came up with a plan to modify the game. I sought out my favorite colorblind support tool – a sharpie – and I went to work.

The Colorblind Games Laboratory (aka, our kitchen table)

To distinguish the colors I had the most trouble with, I needed to mark up some cubes and cards:

  • Yellow (Turmeric): Easy for me to tell apart from all the others, so I left it alone.
  • Brown (Cinnamon): Hard to add markings that would show up in black, so I also left these solid, too.
  • Red (Saffron): Added a single dot.
  • Green (Cardamom): Added a diagonal slash.

Cubes: Through some visual experiments putting the cubes in their bowls, I realized that placing a mark on just two opposing faces of each cube provided enough “player-facing sides” that I could tell the difference. One value I hold when I modify games is the Minimum Effective Dose (MED). I want to change the components as little as possible to add accessibility while maintaining the artist’s intent.

Supplemental identifiers on red and green cubes

Cards: Matching these markings on the cards allowed me to more easily identify the four colors.

Colorblind-friendly additions to the cards

In the end, I had created a fully accessible-to-me version of Century: Spice Road that is fully playable for colorblind and non-colorblind gamers.


I continue to seek more games to review and modify for colorblind and low-vision accessibility. If you’ve struggled to play a game and would like some help, or if you have ideas or examples of games you’ve modified, please let me know in the comments below or on Twitter.

Colorblind Review and Mod: BRIKKS

Image Source: Stronghold Games

In the late 1980s, Nintendo released the Game Boy, the world’s first portable video game system, and along with it introduced Tetris to millions of players. Game Boy Tetris was my constant companion for years, in no small part due to its inherent colorblind-friendly interface. As a greyscale game system, I never had to deal with color confusion when playing Game Boy. Tetris remains one of my most-played games of all time.

Tetris, Nintendo Game Boy, 1989 (Image Source: Nintendo UK)

More recently, Wolfgang Warsch designed BRIKKS, which is essentially Tetris in roll-and-write form. It borrows the polyominos and provides similar mechanics for dropping and rotating each piece. I enjoy BRIKKS and pull it out quite often, especially for a quick solo game. It is fairly simple to learn, and I continue to chase my personal high score.

Colorblind Review. Unfortunately, BRIKKS does not share the colorblind accessibility of Game Boy Tetris. It uses a custom 6-sided die with color as the only distinguishing feature. The green and red sides of the die (and associated bonus spots on the player sheet) are problematic for gamers with color vision deficiency. I required help on numerous occasions, including calling others over during my solo play-throughs to help me identify colors.

Colorblind Mod. Two modifications to the game greatly enhanced its colorblind accessibility. I added an “R” for Red and “G” for Green on the 6-sided die, and then added these same letters to the player sheet to identify the two colors.

Colorblind Modifications for BRIKKS

A more elegant solution would include double-coding by using shape as another distinguisher, at least for the non-black-and-white colors. Standard polygons and other icons would be great, with the additional value of not requiring knowledge of English for my personal “R=Red” and “G=Green” codes.

One limitation of modifying roll-and-write games that include a pad of game sheets is the need to change the sheet each time. I haven’t invested in a laminator yet, but that will be the next step to making BRIKKS colorblind-friendly in the long term.

Have you played BRIKKS? Have you identified any color vision (or other) accessibility issues? Any other recommendations to modify this or similar games?

Colorblind Preview: Agropolis

Life on the farm.

We received a complementary prototype copy of Agropolis from Buttonshy Games for this preview. Some game elements may change in the final version. Final color correction is not complete, so all comments related to color refer exclusively to the pre-published prototype.

During the day I work as a traffic engineer and transportation planner in Seattle. In my spare time I play tabletop games. Sprawlopolis is a clever combination of my day job and my hobby, asking players to build a new city from the ground up.

I am terrible at Sprawlopolis. And I can’t stop playing it.

Agropolis ruralizes the Sprawlopolis theme, sticks close to the tile-laying puzzle formula, and adds new tweaks and features. I grew up in a small town in Missouri, surrounded by farm culture, so I had high hopes I could leverage my roots for success this time around.

I am equally terrible at Agropolis. I can’t stop playing it.


Buttonshy Games have spent the past few years perfecting 18-card wallet games. From Avignon to Antimony, Turbo Drift to Tussie Mussie, their games offer big fun in a small package. I keep a Buttonshy game in my backpack at all times, ready for a lunch break, airport layover, or other unexpected moment to play.

With such severe design constraints, ensuring accessibility can be challenging. Jason Tagmire shared the company’s efforts to include colorblind players during design and development of all their games. “With 18 cards, everything can be tighter than normal, and color palettes often lean towards thematic over mechanic, but we always have it in mind.”

Sprawlopolis and Agropolis use color to distinguish the zone types. Sprawlopolis introduced the first four zones and their colors: orange Residential, green Parks, blue Commercial, and grey Industrial. Agropolis keeps the same pattern, introducing four new zones (with four associated new colors) to the mix: yellow, red, brown, and purple representing Cornfields, Orchards, Livestock, and Vineyards.

From left to right: Sample cards from Sprawlopolis, Combo Pack, and Agropolis
Slider: left side normal; right side “green-weak” color vision (simulated)

Since color is vital to solving the series’ puzzles, art design is equally important for colorblind gamers to even attempt this game. I struggle to distinguish the eight different colors, so I rely on other clues added to the cards so color is not the only distinguisher: “We usually try to double code as much as possible, and in Agropolois everything is double coded.”

These design choices and Danny Devine‘s artwork provide me the additional information I need to navigate some of the trickiest combinations:

  • Sprawlopolis Parks (green) and Agropolis Livestock (brown) blocks never have a road running through them, which helps distinguish them from Residential (orange) and Orchards (red), among others.
  • All Parks (green) have trees, but no animals. All Livestock (brown) have animals, but no trees.
  • Every Cornfield (yellow) has a silo. Industrial (grey) blocks include smoke stacks.
  • Residential (orange) buildings are squares and rectangles. Commercial (blue) ones are multi-polygonal.
  • Orchards (red) include orthogonally-placed trees. Vineyards show vines planted diagonally.

Jason described it this way: “There are visual non-color elements in each type of block, just like Sprawlopolis. It’s not as fast as the color identification but it’s there.”

This has been my experience. When I play Sprawlopolis or Agropolis with others, I’m the slow player at the table. This might be simple analysis paralysis, but it may also include my brain needing a little extra time to process the current board state. That said, I’m truly enjoying Agropolis and highly recommend it – especially if you already enjoy Sprawlopolis.

Agropolis launches on Kickstarter September 29. The Kickstarter offer of this stand-alone game will include a free combo pack – 6 cards to add if you have both Sprawlopolis and Agropolis for a combo experience.

Agropolis is designed by Steven Aramini and Danny Devine with artwork by Danny Devine. The Combo Pack is designed by Steven Aramini, Danny Devine, and Jason Tagmire with artwork by Danny Devine. Agropolis is published by Buttonshy Games.

Image Credits (top to bottom): Jason Tagmire; Brian Chandler (slider via Pilestone); Brian Chandler.