Colorblind Review – Star Wars: Destiny

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“I am your density.” -George McFly

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

Or another Pat Tabler.

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

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

Colors

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

 

Image Credits: Fantasy Flight Games

Colorblind App Review: Lost Cities

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An elegant solution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Thames & Kosmos; The Coding Monkeys

Colorblind Review – Century: Spice Road

 

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Spiceless in Seattle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nope.

Colorblind Mod?

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

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

New Edition, Expansions, Ideas?

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

 

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

Colorblind Review: Fantastic Factories

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“So it’s not just a clever name.” – Wayne Campbell, Wayne’s World

The gold standard of colorblind accessibility is double coding, which provides color-vision-deficient users additional information beyond colors. It is a valuable strategy to help us navigate any experience, including roadways, restaurant menus, and tabletop games. A Portuguese company, ColorADD, has gone so far as to develop a symbolic language around color. They recently added the ColorADD symbols to a colorblind-friendly version of UNO.

Fantastic Factories—designed, developed, illustrated and published by Joseph Z. Chen and Justin Faulkner—is one of 2019’s big hits.

It’s also one of this year’s most colorful games. As Joseph shared with me, this was by design.

“One thing to note in regards to art direction is that Fantastic Factories’ aesthetic and bright colors are very distinct and a big part of the game as a product in regards to shelf and table presence.”

Fantastic Factories is a dice placement, engine building game for 1-5 players who build a set of factories, roll dice, and then use those dice as workers to manufacture goods. It’s a classic easy-to-teach, difficult-to-master puzzle with just enough randomness that I can blame the dice when I lose.

I love it.

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In particular, I enjoy the bright colors, thought I was initially concerned that with so many different colors I might be at a disadvantage. As it turns out, Justin and Joseph considered this and addressed it quite well, though slightly differently than might be expected. They did not run the design through a colorblind simulator to make sure color-vision-deficient users could distinguish between the colors. Back to Joseph:

“The color palette and choices were decided ‘without’ consideration for color-blindness. However, in the graphic design, Fantastic Factories employs double coding in all cases where color plays a functional role.

Wherever color is used, there is an additional visual element that doesn’t use color. For example, the tool symbols above the Contractors and on the Blueprints are both coded with distinct colors and shapes. Card types have the same double coding — utilizing both color and words (Training cards are red, Monuments are gray, etc.).

This was an intentional decision not just for color-blindness but also because double coding can help reinforce the distinct types. In playtests, we’ve had colorblind players and the feedback we’ve received is that with the double coding, the colors luckily have not been an issue.”

But it wasn’t easy. Due to the multiple game elements and their uses, Fantastic Factories required the use of a lot of different colors. This brought with it complications as the team balanced aesthetics and accessibility.

“One challenge we have had is the limited color space. There are 5 types of blueprints and 4 tool symbols. To employ double coding, we needed a color for each thing. For a while we used the same blue color for Manufacturing-type blueprint cards and also for the Mallet tool symbol. Since the blue colors matched, players assumed the two disparate concepts were somehow related when they were not. In the end, we slightly tweaked the color palette so the blues were a little different, and that seemed to clear up the majority of the confusion.”

Interestingly, colorblind gamers do not tend to “match colors” in this way, so it is unlikely anyone with a color vision deficiency related the Manufacturing blueprints to the Mallet tools. I know I have focused almost exclusively on the symbols, enjoying the bright colors without a need to identify their differences for gameplay.

In the end, Fantastic Factories absolutely lives up to its name, and I highly recommend picking it up at Deep Water Games or your friendly local game store.

Photo Credits: Metafactory Games

Colorblind Review: Calico

Here, kitty kitty kitty…

Pastel colors often blend together in my colorblind brain as a strange combination of Easter-egg-Pepto-pink-or-green-or-blue-ness. Real-world quilts and their gamified counterparts tend to make heavy use of pastel colors, which can make it difficult for me to give quilt-themed games a chance.

I inhaled deeply before trying out a prototype of Calico, designed by Kevin Russ, illustrated by Beth Sobel, and published by Flatout Games. Calico is a tile-laying puzzle game for 1-4 players that plays in 30-45 minutes. In it, each player crafts a quilt, and certain combinations of colors or patterns allows them to “stitch buttons” or “attract cats” – each of which earns points.

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The color palette itself is problematic for me, but the team put a lot of thought into accessibility. Each hexagonal quilt piece includes a small icon (mushroom, leaf, etc.) that corresponds to its color and the matching bonus button. This icon was a huge help to me, and it didn’t seem to detract from anyone else’s enjoyment of the game. 

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I asked Shawn Stankewich of Flatout Games about the game’s development related to the use of colors (especially pastels) and colorblind needs, and he shared this about their process.

“As with any game with a lot of color (and especially here, since color is part of the core gameplay) we wanted to be both accessible and also maintain a certain punchiness and brightness to the game. Part of the art direction work was figuring out how to have a relatively colorblind-friendly palette, while also not defaulting to groups of colors that would make the artwork less appealing.”

It’s not an easy balance, and I asked about this push-and-pull between accessibility and their vision (literally and figuratively) of the game.

“Balancing the accessibility needs with aesthetics is always a little tricky. You want to make a game that is accessible for all and that provides the same experience for all (without band-aid solutions) but I have seen some colorblind palettes for 6+ colors that just fall flat when it comes to creating a cohesive color palette that is pleasing to the eye in general. It’s definitely something we constantly try to do better at.”

From my perspective, that is the goal. I don’t want every tabletop game to be black and white (or Crayola Blue and Yellow), but I am hopeful that I will be able to play every game, even if I might need some help. I enjoy seeing a beautiful game on the table, and I appreciate the hard work graphic designers and illustrators do to strike the balance between accessibility and aesthetics.

With any luck, more games will do it as well as Calico.calico3

Calico is available via Kickstarter. For Flatout Games’ other projects, visit their site at https://www.flatout.games.
Photo Credits: Flatout Games

Colorblind Review – Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run

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As I walked from Fantasyland toward Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Disney set the stage, subtly changing the sights and sounds of my environment, taking me far, far away from Snow White and Peter Pan. It was a truly immersive experience.

Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is the centerpiece of this new land and a fantastic theme park ride. One part Star Tours, one part role-playing game, it’s a must-see the next time you visit Disneyland Park or Walt Disney World.

I had two minor nitpicks, one colorblind-related, one not.

Grouped by Color. After waiting in line I was handed a Role Card and led to a holding area – an amazing replica of the Millennium Falcon. I wandered about, sat in the Holochess booth, and waited for our ship to be ready.

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However, when they gave me the credential they didn’t tell me its color. I listened for a cast member to call out “Orangey-Yellow-Maybe-Brownish-Rust,” but they did not. Fortunately, the other members of our six-person crew helped me along, so all was well.

Play Your Role. There are three roles handed out on the Millennium Falcon: Pilot, Gunner, and Engineer. I was hopeful my real-life engineering education and field experience would come in handy to save the galaxy from evil. According to my Ship Operations Credentials, I was “authorized for systems repair, life support, and tow cables.” Apparently they had reviewed my resume.

As it turns out, the real credential required for the Engineer is, “Look at the wall and push flashing buttons. Do not watch the amazing story unfold or everyone will die. Do your job.”

I did my job. I repaired systems. I supported life. I cable-towed. I pushed the buttons.

It was still a fun time, but on my next visit I will climb the corporate ladder to Pilot, a role in which I have high enthusiasm, zero credentials, and little chance of success.

Take Two. I rode Smugglers Run a second time that day. I got stuck in the same Engineer role (womp, womp), but then I noticed that this credential’s design included the color typed on the card. Maybe Disney received early feedback about the color issue and were in the middle of switching all the cards from the original design to this new one? Maybe it’s two-sided and I never flipped it over?

Problem solved – at least for English-reading smugglers.

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Colorblind Review: Tiny Towns

It’s becoming a common experience. I hear about the new, hot game on Twitter or my local friendly game store. I watch a video review or play along. I see a lot of pretty colors, few of which I can identify. I get nervous I will not be able to play the game without help.

Tiny Towns—designed by Peter McPherson and published by AEGis colorful and charming. It accommodates 1 to 6 players, and I’m happy to say it is quite accessible for most colorblind gamers. It’s also a delightful game experience in solo mode, online play-along via YouTube, or multiplayer with friends and family.

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The five resource blocks require color vision, but for most colorblind gamers (myself included), the colors selected will be easy to distinguish.  The game’s buildings use similar colors (e.g., red, orange, yellow), but each has a unique shape to distinguish from the others.

Colorblind accessibility was baked in from the beginning, as I found out when asking Peter how he selected the color palette.

“You made excellent colorblind-friendly choices in Tiny Towns. Was that an up-front decision, part of playtesting, or from another source?”

“Thank you! Though it was a necessary decision—I’m colorblind!”

“There was one (briefly terrifying) point when we got back the latest version of the cards and I couldn’t tell the red and brown apart. We tweaked them until they appeared as distinct as possible to me…”

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Beyond Peter’s own personal experience, he also reached out to colorblind playtesters.

“…I just tried to get the game in front of other colorblind players to confirm that they had no issues.”

I was thrilled to meet a colorblind game designer, and I look forward to seeing how Peter’s perspective will impact his future game designs. I also highly recommend giving Tiny Towns a try!

Colorblind Mode Mod: To make Tiny Towns 100% colorblind friendly, the five types of resource cubes need an upgrade. The Agricola Resource Set from MeepleSource contains replacements for wood, wheat, brick and stone. This leaves only glass, which you can replace with acrylic cubes or just keep using the original blue cubes from the box.

Image Credits: Peter McPherson