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: 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.

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?