Selling Colorblind Accessibility?

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Today, the latest Board Game Design Lab podcast episode started with the following ad:

“This week’s episode is sponsored by Weird Giraffe Games, whose game Big Easy Busking is on Kickstarter right now!”

It continued with the normal stuff: theme, gameplay, etc.  Then this:

“Big Easy Busking is easy to teach, has vibrant art, and graphic design that is colorblind friendly…”

What? An ad read that includes colorblind accessibility as a selling point? A recognition that a potential backer who is colorblind might see the vibrant art and have concerns about playability? I followed up with Carla Kopp, who shared Weird Giraffe’s approach to color vision deficiency in game design and publishing:

“I try to make all my games colorblind friendly, as it’s super nice for colorblind people, but it’s also great for everyone else… Less ‘not fun times’ should mean the entire experience is more fun.”

This extra effort sold at least one more copy of their game – to me. I’m excited to follow the progress of Big Easy Busking on Kickstarter and play it soon!

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Image Credits: Weird Giraffe Games

Colorblind Review: Wingspan

I started my first play-through of Wingspan ready to struggle with its wide-ranging palette of orange, red, brown and green. The big pile of pastel eggs didn’t ease my concerns, as I readied myself to confuse white, pink-ish, and maybe-blue for the next 40 to 70 minutes.

The natural environment – home of every named and unnamed hue – is one of the most challenging for the colorblind. In particular, greens, browns, reds, and yellows can blend into an indiscernible greenish-brownish-redish-yellowish, which for me leads to confusion and frustration.

So every time I am introduced to a new game with a nature theme, I prepare myself for the disappointment of not being able to play it, the vulnerability of exposing my vision deficiency, or a need to ask for real-time help or colorblind-friendly modifications.

Enter Wingspan, which boasts all the beauty of nature. Birds, trees, and eggs dominate each player’s game board, and the colors of cubes, tokens, and bits vary widely. I was both excited to try it out and nervous about how it might go.

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It turns out I had nothing to worry about. Wingspan exemplifies accessible graphic design. It is a beautiful, nature-inspired experience that colorblind gamers can play right out of the box.

I later learned that the designer and developer considered colorblindness early in the process. In a Twitter AMA, I asked Elizabeth Hargrave if she had identified any color vision deficiency issues during the design and development of Wingspan.

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For some designers, color can be used as an easy distinguisher to support basic game mechanics, but in many games it is uninspired, and for me, unplayable. By replacing “set collection by color” in Wingspan, Hargrave and the team both improved accessibility for a subset of players and made the game better.

Image Credits (top to bottom): Stonemeier Games; Twitter.

Colorblind Review: Sagrada

I get by with a little help from my friends. 

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Short version: Sagrada was impossible for me to play out of the box without colorblind accessibility add-ons and assistance from other players.

The game: Sagrada is a basic dice placement game with a stained glass window theme. If you haven’t played, read or watch a review, then come back.

The colors: I had the most trouble distinguishing the blue and purple dice. Red and green weren’t as problematic, because in the version I played they were pretty much “Crayola Red” and “Crayola Green.” Of course, your experience will vary.

The game board itself was equally tricky, especially for blue and purple.

Help!: The solutions I used were threefold. First, when choosing a game board I self-limited to one with very few blue or purple squares. Second, my friend Chad (follow him at Cast Iron Game Lab and Twitter) created this add-on that made a huge difference. After each roll we simply sorted the dice by color (elapsed time: 3 seconds) and continued from there. That little piece of paper literally changed my Sagrada experience from unplayable to playable.

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Third, I asked other players to remind me what I was looking at on my board. Since I avoided blue and purple at the front end, I didn’t need this help too often. I tried to not purposely avoid those colors during play, but I’m sure I sometimes did so I wouldn’t have to ask for help as often.

After a few friendly games at work, I went “next level” later in the month, playing in a Sagrada tournament at my LFGS, Blue Highway Games. I brought my paper-boxes tool and asked players to support my needs, which they were happy to do. I was a bit more apprehensive to ask about my board throughout each match, but I still requested help as needed.

I did not win the tournament, but I also did not feel out of place. I was proud to participate in a color-based board game event and grateful for the support from the gaming community.

The verdict: Sagrada can be enjoyable with a friendly group of gamers, particularly those who know you and your needs. It could elicit anxiety if you’re uncomfortable sharing your color vision deficiency.  I know sometimes I am.

The fix: This one is a little tricky. Of course, I managed with the dice-color-boxes and help from other players.  If I owned a copy I could change the purple dice’s pips from white to black, write color names on every square, and/or switch blue and purple dice to black and white. These would solve the playability issues, but at the cost of immersion. I think there is an opportunity to design more elegant solutions that support accessible play while maintaining theme.

Image credits. Top: Floodgate Games.  Bottom: Brian Chandler

Colorblind Review: Splendor

Rubies are red, sapphires are blue…

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I recently played Splendor on PC, based on the engine-building board game from Asmodee. The objective is to collect gemstones to purchase developments and lure visiting nobles to earn “prestige.” The game is engaging, and on PC I liked that up to three AI opponents can be configured by type, like balanced and opportunistic.

The gems themselves are distinguishable by both color and shape, and even the red rubies and green emeralds are “ok-ish” for me. The primary problem I had was with the cards. The placement of colored shapes to indicate gemstones is not consistent, so only color distinguishes them. I personally struggled with green and red, in particular.

The bottom-row counter has the same issue, but it’s less problematic because the order stays the same and generally matches the placement of the gemstones: Top-to-Bottom gems equates to Right-to-Left placement on the screen.  However, I did still mistakenly grab rubies instead of emeralds, and vice versa.

As I started brainstorming ideas to work around the problem, I discovered that it’s already been fixed! The updated version of the tabletop game has been modified with gemstone icons next to each circle or square on the cards. It’s an elegant solution that maintains the game’s theme.

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Have you played Splendor yet, and if so have you run into any accessibility issues?

Top Image Credit: Steam          Bottom Image Credit: The Board Game Family

Author’s Intent

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My intention and hope for Colorblind Games is to share stories of color vision deficient gamers, designers, developers and publishers – including my own. Look for colorblind-focused reviews, essays, and interviews, along with after-market ideas to help us play “color-required” games.

 

 

Image Credit: m_hamberg via Board Game Geek. “Through the Desert” published by Z-Man Games