Board gaming accessibility

If everything with you is working 100% you probably don’t give a lot of thought to accessibility in the board gaming hobby. We don’t mean access to groups, we mean actually being thwarted in some manner by the way a game is designed / made.

We’ve got someone in our team who has quite bad eyesight and it can be a nightmare for her with more and more games using a lot of text and small text at that. “Dead of Winter” is an example of a game that is beautifully designed and implemented, but for those even with a slight vision problem, those cards become an issue.

So what are some of the things to think about when you are designing a board game / tabletop game and it comes to accessibility? Let’s take a look at some of the more obvious problems.

Vision impairment
The obvious one, small text isn’t the only issue here, though it is probably the main one to keep in mind. Try not to use tiny text and try not to use an awful font. You want things as easy to read as possible, big or small. Think of the color of the text and what background color will work best with it (we recently had to preview a game that used small light green text on a darker green background. Even those of us with 20/20 vision struggled).

Color blindness is something else that may come up. Statistically speaking up to 10% of men have some form of colour-blindness. Given the demographics of gamers overall is male heavy, it’s something to keep in mind during the design process. There are also different types of color-blindness, also something to keep in mind.

No vision impairment
Even if the players have no vision impairment some games are designed to make things more difficult . As an example we’re going to look at Escape: The Curse of the Temple and Escape: Zombie City. In Temple everything is clean and clear, Zombie City everything is over busy. Now imagine you’ve got vision problems. Also keep in mind these games are made to be played FAST, you’re on a timer, you’re not meant – by the very rules themselves – to be able to overly ponder.

escape the curse of the temple and zombie city - board game accessibility Too busy? Well that depends on a few factors really.

Motor impairment
Tiny tokens. A lot of games use them. Tiny thin tokens can be a nightmare for even those of us with full fine motor skills, no fun whatsoever for those who struggle in this area. If moving around these types of counters is part of your game, make them thick enough / tactile enough to be easily picked up and redistributed.

Colors with symbolism
If you are using colors to dictate a particular mechanic within a games design, why not try and couple the color with a symbol. If someone has trouble making out color difference, a symbol can aid the differentiation. Example:

Ticket to Ride game accessibility tabletop games australiaJust adding symbols can actually aid accessibility for some players.

Dyslexia
Dyslexia is a multifaceted thing, so keep that in mind here. It’s astounding the amount of people who think someone being dyslexic means they can’t read. Dyslexia is numerous disorders to do with the interpretation of words and they work in different ways for different people. The following suggestions are things you could try with the board gamer / tabletop gamer in your life who suffers from dyslexia.

First up dexterity games, where the main mechanic is movement or flicking or dice rolling. Try and avoid games that use loads of wordage, unless you’re going to use patience. Rulebooks can also cause difficulty for someone with dyslexia (though as we say, not always), so keep in mind if someone in your group is struggling, read the rules for them and explain them out loud or via example. That’s not to say you should assume anything, as that too will be frustrating for the person, always ask. As we say dyslexia is a very complex thing that affects different people differently.

Mobile phones
Never underestimate the power of the mobile phone at the table. Sure you don’t want people checking them all the time, snapchatting the crap out of everything, but for the vision impaired it can be an instant magnifying glass. Use the camera, focus on the card text, zoom in.

A few of us also keep numerous magnifier sheets in our game boxes, so if we take them to events and there happens to be someone whose vision is perhaps less than 20/20 they have something in box to help them.

Board gaming accessibiliy vision impairment tabletop gaming - Gameapalooza AustraliaHandy to keep in your game box, magnifying sheets.

If you’re a board game designer, consider that not everyone who is going to play your game has great eyesight or good motor function. The easier you can make it for everyone, the better the game will be.