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 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.

Colorblind Preview: Cascadia

Eternal Blue. Forever Green.

In Cascadia, players place habitat tiles and wildlife tokens to create their own corner of the Pacific Northwest. Each ecosystem is scored based on each animal’s spatial preferences and the size of contiguous habitats. Cascadia is a quick-to-learn, quick-to-play tile layer that elicits the question, “One more game”?

Board games with natural themes rely on the colors of nature – warm browns, reds, and yellows; cool greens and blues. These real-world hues can be challenging for colorblind gamers, so designers and publishers must take care when bringing the great outdoors to the table.

Cascadia continues a lineage of nature-themed games that handle colorblind accessibility well, and designer Randy Flynn described how he considered this balance during design and development:

“For Cascadia, we wanted the player’s final environment to look like a beautiful section of land. [Beth Sobel‘s] artwork really shines, and we wanted players to see it and imagine an actual landscape. We also wanted to ensure the game was accessible to as many people as possible.”

Cascadia will likely be compared with Flatout Games‘ 2019 hit, Calico. Each is a pick-one-place-one tile layer, and both games elegantly balance art, graphic design, and accessibility. “Like Calico, we were really focused on trying to have an accessible experience while also creating a harmonious color palette,” Shawn Stankewich shared.

While Calico relied on double-coding to help players distinguish colors, Randy described a different approach to balancing Cascadia’s art design with accessibility.

“We didn’t want to use the same solution that Calico used, where it put the button icons on every tile. We felt that would distract from the gorgeous landscape. Instead, we worked with Beth to make sure the patterns for the habitat tile art were unique enough on their own that the different habitats were distinct.”

As the team iterated, Shawn described one more tweak to the tiles. “At one point the wetlands and prairies were too close in texture [for colorblind gamers], so we modified so they would be more easily distinguishable.”

Randy also addressed his approach to the wildlife tokens. “We had a lot of color combinations we needed to work well together. In this case we largely rely on the unique wildlife icons to stand out and be unique.”

The end result is a fantastic game where color supports immersion but is not required for gameplay. You could play Cascadia in black-and-white, which reflects the team’s commitment to colorblind accessibility. But you wouldn’t want to, which is a testament to its beauty. I’ve had a great time playing so far, and I highly recommend getting your hands on Cascadia!

Cascadia launches on Kickstarter September 15.

You can follow Randy Flynn on Twitter at rf_seattle. Reach out to Flatout Games on Twitter, Instagram, or their website.

Note: Colorblind Games received a complementary review copy of Cascadia for this preview. The components and final art may change in the final published version.

Images provided by Flatout Games and Randy Flynn

Colorblind Review – Star Wars: Destiny

destiny01

“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.

Tusken Raider

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:

destiny02

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

lostkosmos

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

LostCities01

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.

LostCities05

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!

LostCities04

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

 

centuryspice01

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.

centuryspice01

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

Screenshot 2019-11-02 at 11.21.06 AM

“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.

fantfac01

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.

calico02

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. 

calico01

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