Colorblind Review: Super-Skill Pinball 4-Cade

Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve played the silver ball.

Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade, designed by Geoff Engelstein and published by WizKids, takes players to a Roll-and-Write pinball arcade complete with flippers and bumpers, spinners and targets, nudges and tilts. The game is easy to play solo or multiplayer, and I found it quite “zoom-able” during the recent and ongoing COVID pandemic response.

Gameplay

Players first choose one of four different pins – boards and back glass that offer a different theme, level of difficulty, and game elements.

  • Carniball includes shooting ducks, popping balloons, and the Test of Strength!
  • Cyberhack puts players in the role of a hacker taking down an evil corporation.
  • Dragon Slayer introduces level-ups and skill bonuses for pinball wizards.
  • Dance Fever adds 70s theming and a mini-pin on the back glass.

Super-Skill Pinball is played in a series of rounds representing available balls. On each turn, a player rolls a shared pair of dice; then each player selects one result to use on their board, starting at the top with bumpers and spinners. As the ball falls toward the bottom, gamers can use flippers to send it back up, just like a real game of pinball. Bonuses include score multipliers and multi-ball, and some boards have back glass mini-games that add variety (and points!).

My favorite board: Cyberhack

Become part of the machine. Super-Skill Pinball is a joy to play. It’s easy to learn the basics, fun at all player counts, and is deep enough that I’ve played dozens of games and still want to play again. The press-your-luck elements – including nudge and tilt – are clever and nail-biting. I’ve laughed out loud and cursed my birth during the same game.

Accessibility

Super-Skill Pinball is a small box game, and sometimes packing so much fun into a small package requires compromises to accessibility. I’m happy to report that those issues did not come up for me, and I’m pleased with my ability to play Super-Skill pinball as a colorblind gamer.

Color Vision. This is a colorful game where colors matter for gameplay, so a greyscale version of this game would not be playable. Geoff used Red and Yellow as the primary distinguishing colors, and he kept these consistent for all boards. In addition the “value” (lightness-darkness) of the two colors differ enough that this attribute can help some players.

I was able to play all four boards with no color vision concerns. However, if yellow/red is a problematic combination for you, Super-Skill Pinball does not use double-coding; some level of color vision is required.

Carniball: Complete with Creepy Clown

Low Vision. As a result of the game board size, there are some tiny icons and text in this game. I needed my trusty reading glasses for some elements, but in the end, I found everything readable.

Accessible by Design. As is usually the case, visual accessibility is not maintained by accident. I asked Geoff about his considerations for colorblind and low vision users during design and development, and he shared some of his process.

When selecting the initial red/yellow I did run it through some color-blindness filters to make sure the colors were distinguishable (although given the saturation differences I was confident they would be). We also paid close attention to the size of the icons and boxes that get marked off. My mom helped test that part.1

I think some of the star icons are a tad small, but that was a compromise with space available.

Geoff also provided information about using the rulebook to support any potential confusion related to small icons.

As a backup we made sure that the rules gave the value of every bonus, and explained what could be hit from where, etc. Perhaps it made the rules more intimidating (I do hear people say – why is it a 32-page rulebook for a simple game?), but I wanted to make sure people had a backup to refer to rather than just trying to decipher iconography on the board.

I highly recommend Super-Skill Pinball. It’s a fantastic title for roll-and-write players, and approachable for new tabletop gamers who might enjoy the general pinball theme or any of the pin sub-themes. It’s playable with friends by video, and Wizkids has released free print-and-play boards on their website to make it easy to try!

My very first play: PnP via video

What’s Next?

The game’s “4-Cade” subtitle hints toward additional pinball tables upcoming, and that is the case. Super-Skill Pinball: Ramp it Up is on the way in late-2021 with four new boards to try!

  • Gofer Gold allows players to strike it rich while panning for gold (Free PnP)
  • Pin Pals brings the excitement of professional wrestling
  • High Roller Heist puts players in a classic casino caper
  • Top Speed introduces race cars and a push-your-luck element 

Image Credits: WizKids (first and last); Brian Chandler (all others)

1 New life goal: interview Geoff Engelstein’s mom.

Colorblind Preview: Verdant

To plant a seed is to believe in tomorrow.

ver·dant /ˈvərdnt/ adjective Of the bright green color of lush grass. Leafy. Flourishing.


Like nature itself, games based on the great outdoors can sometimes be difficult for colorblind gamers to navigate. As a reviewer focused on color vision, and colorblind myself, I approach a game like Verdant with caution.

However, the Flatout Games crew has a history making colorful games accessible. From Calico to Cascadia, Point Salad to Truffle Shuffle, the design team, graphic artists, and illustrators consistently produce colorblind-friendly experiences. Verdant continues this pattern.

Designed by Molly, Aaron, Robert, Kevin, and Shawn, with illustrations by Beth Sobel, Verdant puts players in the role of interior decorator, collecting and arranging houseplants and other objects to create the coziest home.

Gameplay

Players select a combination of a card (plant or room) and token, then use those components to build a tableau of cards representing their house. Matching light conditions and using items like fertilizer allow players to grow and pot their plants for end-game victory points. Furniture and pets added to the rooms provide more scoring opportunities.

Plants, Pots, Rooms, Birds, Cats, and Lamps

In a now-classic Flatout Games style, Verdant provides several ways to score, leading to interesting, brain-burning decisions. In limited play so far, I’ve enjoyed solo mode the most; I can study the table as long as I want each turn without holding up others. In multi-player games, analysis paralysis could be an issue for some gamers, slowing down play.

Colorblind Accessibility

The graphic design of Verdant leans on double-coding (and sometimes triple-coding) to help players easily distinguish game components. There is a question I ask to assess color vision accessibility: “Could I technically play this game in black-and-white?” While a greyscale version of Verdant might be less than ideal, even for colorblind players, it would be playable. This earns Verdant the Colorblind Games Seal of Approval (copyright pending).1

PLANT & ROOM CARDS

The designers and graphics artists use a vibrant 5-color palette to tell the story of Verdant, with each color representing a different type of plant and room color:

  • Pink Succulent
  • Dark Blue Foliage
  • Light Blue Vining
  • Red Unusual
  • Yellow Flowering

I was able to distinguish the colors clearly, though this might not be the case for all colorblind players. This is where double-coding comes in. Each plant type has an icon to support the color, and each room reinforces the message with that same icon and a unique background design. The art reminds me of the styles used in two other colorful and colorblind-friendly games: Tussie Mussie and Calico.

Verdant’s Room and Plant Colors

Additionally, Light Condition (an important element in scoring) is handled by a set of easy-to-understand icons for Full Sun, Semi-Shade, and Shade.

TOKENS

Accessibility continues to the game components.

  • Item Token backgrounds match the color and pattern of each room type.
  • Verdancy Tokens are wooden leaves in two sizes: small, light green for 1 verdancy point; and larger, dark green for 3 verdancy points.
  • Plant Pot Tokens come in four types, each a different color and shape. Additionally, three pots have a points icon on the back, so players can choose to place the pots with either the number-side (my preference) or the plain side face up.
  • Nuture Items (Fertilizer, Hand Trowel, Watering Can) help grow plants during the game. This item type has a unique color, pattern, and art to distinguish it from the Item Tokens.
  • Thumbs, representing a gardener’s “green thumb,” provide bonuses. The designers use several skin tones, which I love. But it also introduces potential confusion: non-identical components have the same value and use. I needed to double-check the rules to confirm how Thumbs worked.

It’s Not Easy Being Green. I had one more nitpick regarding the use of verdancy icons on the cards, scoring sheet, and player aids. Each of these uses the dark green leaf to represent a single verdancy point, even though that dark green token is associated with 3 verdancy points (see example below).

Like the thumbs, this issue is clearly explained in the rulebook, but it still bugged me, so I asked Shawn Stankewich about it. He described the team’s decision-making process and the competing needs they faced on this issue.

Yes, this was a lengthy debate among the Flatout Games team. Some argued the case that folks may get confused by the iconography, as you described. But the issue with using lighter green is that many spots include a white number on top of the verdancy icon (like on the plant cards), so using light green could introduce legibility issues.

We also decided that changing the icon for only these scoring elements could be confusing, since we’d chosen to stick with dark green on the cards. Since the rulebook clarifies the scoring, we think it’s safe from people playing incorrectly if they read the rules.

We also considered swapping light and dark, but it seemed to us that the more verdant something is, the darker green it would be, so that change didn’t fit the theme.

I found it interesting how one seemingly simple change can affect so many other parts of a game.

Conclusion

Having played the entire Flatout Games games library, Verdant might be my favorite. It’s a fun and beautiful continuation of the team’s light-to-medium weight, thinky tableau builders, and it is 100% colorblind friendly. Highly recommended.

Verdant will be available on Kickstarter in Fall 2021, and you can keep up with the team’s progress at the Flatout Games website.

Colorblind Games received a complementary pre-production copy of Verdant for this preview. The components and final art may change in the published version.

Image Credits: Flatout Games (first and last). Brian Chandler (all others).

1 Not really a thing.

Colorblind Preview: 1-2-3 Cheese!

I’ve been made!

In 1-2-3 Cheese! – designed by Ta-Te Wu, art by Shenanjegans, and published by Sunrise Tornado Game Studio – players are a group of mice who have been caught in the middle of a cheese heist. To escape, each mouse must abandon their burglaring associates by dropping as much cheese as possible in other players’ stashes.

Gameplay

Each player’s goal in 1-2-3 Cheese! is to end each round with as few cards as possible in their stash (the area in front of them) and hands. To do this, they will build same-color runs and same-color number matches, placing those unwanted cards in front of their opponents.

In a 2-player game, each mouse has two stash spots

At the end of each round, cards in each player’s stash are counted as one crumb, and each card in hand is considered two crumbs. The lower crumbs the better, as scoring ranges from 1 to 6 points per round based on each player’s number of end-round crumb. Any player hitting 12 points triggers the end game, and the player with the most points is the winner!

Colorblind Accessibility

Ta-Te shared with me that, “Colorblind accessibility is always part of my game design and development process,” and that holds true for 1-2-3 Cheese! The four suits are identified by color (red, green-I-think, and two shades of blue-ish) and symbol (Triangle, Circle, Heart, Star). In addition, the number of cheese blocks on the card matches its number. Ta-Te and team earn top marks for colorblind accessibility.

Side note: Matching symbols to their natural colors, like a red heart, is a subtle, much-appreciated nod to colorblind players.

The scoring sheet is also colorblind-friendly, so we’re all good there. In my preview copy, the player meeples for score tracking were placeholders, so I’ll keep an eye out for the final version.


I liked but didn’t love 1-2-3 Cheese! in 2-player mode, though I have a feeling it may shine at higher player counts. In my game, our number of “crumbs” were nearly the same each round, and I didn’t see the tactics or strategies that would change this. Also, I previewed this game the same day I first played Boba Mahjong, which I fell in love with immediately, so I could be comparing the two unfairly. That said, I recommend giving 1-2-3 Cheese! a try, especially if your group is 3 to 5 players.

1-2-3 Cheese! will be available on Kickstarter in Summer 2021. Go to the Sunrise Tornado website for details!


Colorblind Games received a complementary pre-production copy of 1-2-3 Cheese! for this preview. Some components and final art may change in the published version.

Colorblind Preview: Boba Mahjong

Welcome to your own boba tea shop!

Boba Mahjong, designed by Ta-Te Wu and published by Sunrise Tornado Game Studio, is a 2-player rummy-style card game with a clever scoring system and beautiful art by fuwa. Each player collects ingredients to make their boba drink and then earns points based on its freshness, smoothness, complexity, and presentation.

Working on my smoothness score

Gameplay

This was my first Sunrise Tornado game, and at first glance I thought it would be a simple, toddler-friendly, cute experience: making a few color and number matches, putting them into piles, checking Twitter between turns…

It was not.

The twist in Boba Mahjong is the second-level scoring. The collected sets themselves do not score points. Rather, after creating a set (like a straight or 3-of-a-kind), players choose only one of those cards to keep as an ingredient in their tableau. This will be part of the actual end-round scoring as players craft their tea from the ingredients.

Fantastic player aids

Careful planning is required, and the “best set” on a given turn might not help a player’s score. I was pleasantly surprised with how thinky this game turned out to be. It reminded me two others that start cute, then burn my brain: the Kevin Russ-designed Calico and Emma Larkin‘s Abandon All Artichokes.

Colorblind Accessibility

Boba Mahjong includes cards of four different color-based suits, along with Topping cards of a fifth color. I could distinguish most of the cards by color, except for Thai Tea (orangey-yellow, I think) and Green Tea (green, unless Ta-Te is a colorblind-hating monster [he’s not]).

Boba Mahjong receives the Colorblind Games Seal of Approval by using triple-coding to distinguish cards: Color, Iconography, and Words! As you can see, each type of tea is a different color, and also a different cup shape, and also the name of the type/suit is included on the top and bottom of the card.

Five different types of cards in Boba Mahjong

If I had one suggestion, it would be to change the patterns on the cards a little more; switching the diagonal banding on either Thai or Green to vertical or horizontal, or making the stripes narrower, would’ve helped those to be distinguished even more. I like that Strawberry has a dotted pattern on the cup that’s different from the others.

Games are never accessible by accident, and this is the case with Boba Mahjong. Ta-Te shared his approach to accessibility with me:

“Colorblind accessibility is always part of my game design and development process. I make sure every suit has a unique icon and include multiple colors and titles if possible. Also, I am trying to choose specific player colors that will be helpful to colorblind players.”

Wrapping Up

I found Boba Mahjong quite enjoyable, and a deeper experience than I’d expected based on the small box and cute art. I’m thrilled to recommend it as 100% colorblind-friendly, 2-player game that’s easy to take with you anywhere!

Boba Mahjong will be available on Kickstarter in Summer 2021. Go to the Sunrise Tornado website for details!


Colorblind Games received a complementary pre-production copy of Bob Mahjong for this preview. The components and final art may change in the final published version.

Colorblind Review: Scoffton

For me, 1980s buffets in the Midwest U.S. included Pizza Hut, Golden Corral, and Ryan’s. The goal? Eat a sickening amount of mediocre food to “get the most for your money,” including that second trip to the ice cream machine.

Scoffton captures the disgusting nostalgia of the all-you-can-eat restaurants of yesteryear. Designed by Marcus Finlay and Gavin Vance, with art by Len Peralta and Jonathan Calleja, Scoffton plays 2-4 players in about 60 minutes. Players are patrons at Scoffton All You Can Eat, and each diner’s goal is to earn the most Value for Money (i.e., Victory Points) at the end of their meal.

Underneath the theme, Scoffton is a basic worker placement game, with each player controlling three workers and a blocker. The Manager cards introduce a little chaos between worker placement and activation, and a couple fun elements (Lost and Found and a Claw Machine) add alternate scoring possibilities.

With the right group who are into the theme, Scoffton’s gags will induce laughter and fun memories, and the solid mechanisms make it more than “just” a humor-focused game.

Colorblind Accessibility

Meeple colors weren’t great for me. I cannot readily distinguish or identify the two different colors in the image below.

Two colors I had trouble telling apart

I played a 2-player game for this review, so I selected two colors I could distinguish quite easily – I think they were yellow/orange and blue-ish. At lower player counts, meeple colors probably won’t be an issue, but if you’re playing with four I recommend a modification or swap-out using your own components.

Board, tiles, currency. Besides the meeple colors that could cause issues for me at 3-4 players, I had no color vision issues with any other components. The food items are easy to identify, and scoring uses simple dots on the tiles and victory points are tracked with chalkboard-style numbered tiles.

The victory point tiles were only printed on one side (the other was a stylized background), but I didn’t see a situation where having them face-down would be useful. This resulted in some annoyance, flipping some over to see their number.

Interestingly, this is the first time I’ve seen currency in every denomination, 1 through 8. So instead of finding the “5” and two “1s” to get to 7 points, I just grabbed the 7-point VP token. I liked it a lot and would like to see it used more often.

Yes, that is a stomach and intestinal tract

Scoffton is a silly but not-simple worker placement game with a fun theme, and colorblind players should be able to navigate it without help.

You can learn about Scoffton’s availability from at the Vamoose Co website.

Mmmm, shrimp under heat lamps…

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

Colorblind Review: Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Stuck in the Middle With You

Some of my favorite music moments are award show performances that combined two seemingly unrelated artists: Aerosmith and Run-DMC, Jay-Z and Coldplay, Elton John and Eminem.

Stonemaier Games and Bezier Games captured similar magic with Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, a mashup of Stonemaier’s Between Two Cities and Bezier’s Castles of Mad King Ludwig. Designed by Matthew O’Malley and Ben Rosset, Between Two Castles plays 3-7 (with a 2-player variant) in 45-60 minutes.

Between Two Castles’ hook is that each player must semi-cooperate with the players to their left and right, as each castle is built by a team of two. In the end, each players’ final score is the lesser of the two castles they built, requiring balanced building.

3-player game with end-game scoring completed

I’ve played the game at 3 and 4 players, and I enjoyed both. The game seems like it will scale well from 3 to 7 without adding time to gameplay. Regardless of the number of builders, everyone focuses on two castles.

Colorblind Accessibility

My experience of Stonemaier Games from a color vision standpoint has been hit-and-miss. I can play Wingspan out of the box, and Viticulture is about 95% playable. I had the most trouble with My Little Scythe, which I could not play without modifications.

I asked Matthew how he and Ben incorporated the needs of colorblind gamers during design and development of Between Two Castles. He described how they ensured color wasn’t the only distinguisher for components.

“We double-coded all of the color-related information. Room type icons have a shape as well as a color, and the blue tile border (for outdoor rooms) is only for outdoors and fountains, so those are double-coded as well.”

Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig includes seven primary room types, each with its own type name, icon, and color. The player aid and score sheet clearly distinguish the rooms and their attributes using these icons. I also found that “table talk” naturally leaned toward room type names (e.g., Food, Living), not color, which is helpful for anyone with color vision deficiency. This game is playable in full greyscale, which is the “gold standard” for colorblind accessibility.

Icons on the Scoresheet

Similarly the outdoor rooms are denoted by a blue frame that is easily distinguished from the white frame of other rooms.

Could the icons be bigger? Yeah, a little.

Low Vision Accessibility

Are the icons too small? Maybe a little.

Since I’ve only been concerned with the tiles and castles right in front of me, I didn’t have much trouble at the current icon size. However, if I need to see details of a castle across the table (which I understand might be a mechanism in the upcoming expansion), this could become an issue. Jamey Stegmaier and crew described icon size as a production feasibility issue on their website’s FAQ.

“We would have needed to make the tiles and icons HUGE to make that possible (the icon size is constrained by the tile size, which is constrained by table size).”

The only icon pair that confused me a little were the Special Rooms and Mirrors. As shown below, these are pretty similar in shape. However, they had different purposes (one is a room type; the other is a type of wall hanging), so the icons never show up in the same corner of a tile, and after a couple plays it was a non-issue.

Mirror (left) and Special Room (right) icons were a little confusing during my first play

I would’ve appreciated iconography being 30% larger on the tiles, with the background art still prominent, but I also understand the desire to make the art shine. The selection of most icons is excellent, making this a minor quibble.


If you are already a fan of either previous game, then I can recommend Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig. Regarding color vision accessibility, the game is colorblind-friendly out of the box!

Colorblind Games received a complementary copy of Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig from the publisher for this review.

Colorblind Review: Tussie Mussie

Tussie Mussie Cover
Flower Power

Tussie Mussie, designed Elizabeth Hargrave and published by Button Shy Games, is an 18-card, I-cut-you-choose game set in Victorian England. It continues the Button Shy model of clever game mechanics that fit in your pocket, and within those design constraints it’s also colorblind friendly!

Accessibility

Tussie Mussie uses double-coding to provide a second distinguishing feature among the different card colors. It also adds a clever trick that I’d consider “triple-coding,” as can be seen in the image below.

Tussie Mussie cards

Note the scoring condition of the Violet: “+1 for each of your purple cards, including this one.” Along with clarifying how the card is scored, it literally told me that this card’s color is purple. It also named the card Violet. See that the adjacent card is called a Red Tulip.

Jason Tagmire shared the desire and challenge of addressing color vision accessibility in Button Shy’s designs.

“We usually try to double code as much as possible. 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.”

The Expansions

More Flowers. One new expansion to Tussie Mussie adds two new colors to the mix – orange and green. I start to get nervous seeing yellow, orange, and red in the same game, but it appears from the Kickstarter page that the team has continued to carefully pattern each card to help colorblind players tell them apart.

Ribbons. The current expansion also includes ribbons – new items that can be added to the player’s typical 4-card arrangement for additional scoring. Along with subtle distinguishers that remind me of The Isle of Cats‘ ears-and-tails, each of the ribbon colors is clearly identified by name at the top of the card. Triple coding again!


I’ve had the pleasure to review several of Elizabeth’s games (see Wingspan and Mariposas), and I provided first impressions of the Button Shy 2021 reprint campaign. The Tussie Mussie expansions continue to use clear descriptions and double-coding to support colorblind gamers. From the fun I’ve had with the base game and the look of these new additions, this was an easy Day 1 back for me!

Check out the Tussie Mussie: Expansion Collection campaign for yourself!

Image Credits: Button Shy Games

Note: I’ve had extensive hands-on experience with the base game components. My review of the expansion content is based exclusively on the images in the Kickstarter campaign page. The components and final art may change in the final published version.

Colorblind Preview – Keystone: North America

“Nature invites us constantly to be what we are.” -Gretel Ehrlich

Keystone: North America is the first game from publisher Rose Gauntlet Entertainment. Isaac Vega (Ashes, Dead of Winter, Forgotten Waters) and Lindsey Rode (Labyrinthos) have joined forces, along with a team of co-designers and artists, to capture the beauty of nature in this card placement game. It plays 1-4 in about 30-60 minutes. A basic description of gameplay and general reviews are available on the Kickstarter page.

Following is a first look at the game’s components for those with low-vision and/or color vision deficiency.

Colorblind Accessibility

While I can appreciate a summer sunset or new-to-me bird in the backyard, rarely can I name the colors that bring me joy. With this limitation, I’m always a bit leery to play new nature-themed games, though I’m usually pleasantly surprised by how colors are handled by the designers (see Cascadia, Wingspan reviews).

Keystone: North America’s components and cards include colors I can only guess at based on context (Forest/Woodland is probably green; Summer is likely yellow). However, my colorblindness does not affect my ability to play. The graphic designers used double-coding to create icons that are easily distinguishable from each other, making the cards easy to understand – even in black & white.

Icon descriptions from the rulebook

Other icons and game elements are similar. I can’t confidently name the colors of anything in this game, but I don’t need to.

Minor Issues. I have two quibbles in my initial preview.

  1. Some of the Time Track numbers are low contrast against their background, so a change there would be appreciated. However, since some numbers (4, 6, 8, 10) have higher contrast, it’s pretty easy to work around this issue as a colorblind gamer.
  2. The Species Card Anatomy image above is so useful that I’d like to see it as a player aid, at least for colorblind players, similar to what we see in The Isle of Cats.
Keystone: North America Time Track

Low-vision Accessibility

Having not played through an “on the table” version yet, I’m not sure how important it will be to see opponents’ player boards. While the icons appear to be large enough to see from the Field (i.e., market row) and Species Deck, and on a player’s own board, seeing across the table could be a challenge. Here is a typical set up for 4 players.

4 Player Setup

Based on what I’ve seen so far, I can recommend colorblind and low-vision gamers back Keystone: North America without any significant visual accessibility concerns. It’s a beautiful game, and I’m excited to get my hands on the physical copy!

Check out the Keystone: North America Kickstarter campaign for more info.

This preview is focused on the digital elements available on the Kickstarter page, not a physical prototype. Components and final art may change in the final published version.

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 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