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Meeple Like Us

Welcome to Meeple Like Us, the BGG face for http://meeplelikeus.co.uk. Our focus is on board-games, especially the physical, cognitive, visual, emotional and sociological accessibility of tabletop gaming. Get in touch at dice@imaginary-realities.com.

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News @ 11

Michael Heron
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TL;DR: It's basically okay!

Hello there, and welcome to Meeple Like Us Radio – the radio channel for meeple… like you! I’m your friendly local anchor, Bobby Massive, and I’d like to thank you for tuning in. We have a very exciting programme for you today, and one by one I’d like to introduce you to our fantastic team of field reporters that will be bringing you all the news that’s fit to print. And a fair bit that isn’t! First though, we have Pauline with a word from our sponsor, News@11!

“Thank you for that Bobby. Yes, today’s sponsor is the game News @ 11. It’s a collaborative conversation game where everyone plays the part of news readers trying to make sense of a baffling day without the benefit of anything other than the most unhelpful cue cards you could possibly have dealt your way. One player plays the part of the lead anchor, introducing each of the segments, and everyone else plays field anchors. Each anchor has a number of cards, the number depending on whether it’s the morning, afternoon or evening segment. When the lead anchor points the camera their way they need to talk through an appropriate segment using all the words identified on their cards. News @ 11 – available now from – somewhere, probably, We got our copy through Kickstarter”

Thanks Pauline for that informative segment about our sponsors, News @ 11. Now we’ll move on to… hang on, I’m getting a piece of breaking news from our producer. Apparently… apparently we’re not actually sponsored by News @ 11 at all and we should stop saying that because otherwise people will think this review is ‘totally bias’. Also the makers of News @ 11 have been in touch to say that they don’t really want to be associated with our channel for fear it would cheapen their brand. Exciting developments already, and so early in the day. Now, with the obituaries from yesterday, I’m going to pass you on to our Death Correspondent – or Deathspondent – Peter. Peter, who’s dead and why should we care?

“Sad news indeed, Bobby. Today marks the tragic passing of Figel Marage, former leader of the UK Non-Dependence Party. Unfortunately, it seems like this is an end to his experiment to bring the UK to the brink of moral, legal and financial collapse. His death finally gives everyone a face-saving reason to pretend the past few years of collective stupidity never happened. The grifting little weasel died after choking on his own inflated sense of self-importance. We at Meeple Like Us News obviously mourn his passing. Or rather, we mourn that he didn’t pass earlier. Social media has been flooded with tributes to the man. ‘Whiny little shitehawk’, said Pope Francis. ‘A walking clackerbag’, is how her Majesty described him. ‘As thick as a brick sandwich but with none of the value’, remarked his mother. His critics however have been less kind. Back to you in the studio, Bobby”


Yes, every single one of us at the studio is absolutely heartbroken… that we don’t have any champagne on hand with which to properly mark his passing. Unfortunately, we cannot dwell on that because we have an urgent update on an earlier story. We need to return you to our corporate anchor, Pauline, to give you some important new information on our non-sponsor.

“Thank you for that, Bobby. One of the most interesting features of News @ 11 is that the cards you are dealt out for your segment are only part of the story you need to tell. News @ 11 also provides you with a marker pen and a series of open slots on the card. You’ll pick a word that matches the description, and that becomes the two part element you need to incorporate into your segment. News @ 11 as a result becomes something like a legacy game where every future play session is seeded and initialised with the lingering remnants of the in-jokes of the previous. It’s an interesting element that causes the humour of the box to mould itself well to your group… provided your group persists over the long term. Back to you in the studio”

Thank you for that useful update, Pauline. I’d also like to point out the interesting producer cards which permits the lead anchor, or a player reluctant to throw themselves in front of the cameras, can make the game more interesting by throwing an emerging situation into a segment like an unexploded hand-grenade. Ha ha. Ahem. I’m being told by our producer that our weather segment will have to be delayed for a few moments while some technical difficulties are being resolved. Dead air is the greatest sin in broadcasting so I’m going to have to try to keep your attention while the issue is rectified. Uh. An interesting aspect of News @ 11 is that it seems like such a straightforward thing to do – just link a few words together in a segment context decided by a lead producer. It’s amazing though how difficult that can be if you don’t know what’s coming. You know your keywords, and those are the only ones you need to say. The context though – that comes out of nowhere. You begin with two words you need to incorporate, and then you get another, and another. More than this though, the cards from previous segments get shuffled so maybe now you’re left trying to work out how a muffin-induced car-crash on the local road is having a sudden major impact on your sports and culture segment.

That combined with the permanent element of written in-jokes means that this isn’t so much ‘BBC News: The Board Game’ as it is dispatches from Night Vale as retold by someone in a Ketamine fugue state. It can be very, very funny but that depends very much on the group you have and how confident they are with the convincing expression of extemporaneous authority. It’s uneven, which means… ah, never mind. It turns out we can now bring you to Roz, with the weather.


Thank you for that Roz, very helpful! That wraps up the morning edition of Meeple Like Us News. Thank you for listening I have been your host, Bobby Massive. Make sure you come back for our afternoon bulletin where these story developments will undoubtedly continue to, uh, develop.

The setup of News @ 11 makes a convincing pitch – I backed it almost instantly upon hearing it and I rarely back Kickstarter projects. This one though has a little sparkle of magic that appealed tremendously. And by and large, it fulfills the implicit promises the box makes. This absolutely is a fun game of repeating themes and jokes that will keep everyone laughing… provided everyone involved is funny enough to nurture the comedy out of what might be somewhat infertile soil. It’s not that people are as funny as their cards, because that’s not true – this is a more sophisticated game than Cards Against Humanity which is largely the poster child for that style of game. At the other end of that spectrum you have games like Funemployed where comedy is created through the sheer joy of weird juxtaposition. You can be funny in Funemployed because the cards, generally, lead you to comedy. Where’s the joke? Follow the traits and you’ll find it.

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Wed Mar 20, 2019 8:30 pm
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Queendomino (2017) - Accessibility Teardown

Michael Heron
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Introduction

We’re going to hit the same issue here that we did with Codenames and Codenames Pictures. While Kingdomino and Queendomino are not the same game, they do share so much in terms of aesthetics and design that we’ve already sort of covered the accessibility of the latter. You can just look at our teardown of Kingdomino and extrapolate. So assured are we of this observation that it exactly what we’re going to do here. Large chunks of this teardown are going to be identical to Queendomino‘s younger sibling.

However, the economical elements of taxation and towers does change the profile somewhat, so what we’ll mostly focus on here is where we differ from the Kingdomino teardown. I’ll be advising liberally to look to the Kingdomino teardown for full discussions of a lot of this.

On to the work!

Colour Blindness

As with Kingdomino, there are some issues with the palette but these colours are usually accompanied with art that is (mostly) distinctive. For some categories of colour blindness, the town and grassland tiles might be too similar in silhouette to be easily differentiated at a distance. As with Kingdomino close inspection will be enough to tell tiles apart even without support from the table. In that respect it’s a little worse, but not dramatically so. However, the larger problem is that the small size of the market tiles and the fact they often map to terrain can make certain things much more difficult to make out without help.

There is though a welcome improvement in the palette for the meeples you use, although not enough to fully solve the issues we saw in the original. Rather than green, pink, blue and yellow here we have white, purple, red and orange. The latter two are an unfortunate choice but the rest offer much better discrimination.

The improvements and deteriorations basically average out to ‘every so slightly worse’, but not to the point the game is obviously less playable. As with Kingdomino, we’ll recommend it in this category.

Visual Accessibility

Refer to the Kingdomino accessibility teardown for a full discussion of this.

The new issues introduced by Queendomino here relate mainly to the marketplace. This makes use of two-sided tiles which can be relatively information dense and this might be difficult to make out at a distance and even under close inspection with an assistive aid. The ‘face down’ side of the tile includes a graphical icon, information regarding knights and towers to be collected, victory points and special terrain enhancements. Close inspection of these is going to be necessary for most players even under ideal circumstances, and especially so if visual impairments must be taken into account.

The problem with that is the dragon…

One of the options everyone has on their turn is to invoke the dragon to burn down a tile. It can only be done once per round, but there’s nothing quite like someone examining a tile with intense interest to suggest to someone else that maybe they want to spend the coin necessary to remove that tile from play. If close examination is being done on someone’s turn then there’s no time for that to happen before they buy or not. A common compensation for visual impairment though is to examine the game state when no decisions are needed so as to prepare for when they are. This is a point of tension in the design that has a substantive impact on this section.

A second issue relates to placed town buildings, because these may be threaded erratically through someone’s queendom and thus it can be difficult to ascertain what bonuses and scoring opportunities other people may have. There are likely to be a fair number of these across several different play areas and understanding this is key to knowing when you might want to burn a building or claim a tile you might not otherwise want for yourself. Within Kingdomino all you need to know is how many crowns and how large the contiguous sections are. Queendomino needs you to know a fair amount of extra context to make fully informed decisions.

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Sat Mar 16, 2019 7:12 pm
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Queendomino (2017)

Michael Heron
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TL;DR: Probably a hair better than Kingdomino but not enough to give it a higher score

It would be a good idea to check out our review of Kingdomino before you get your tea and your comfy slippers so you can settle down into this review of this. Queendomino is simultaneously a younger and bigger sibling to Kingdomino – brought into the world more recently but still possessed of a size and stature that dwarfs the older scion. However, it’s best to think of it as Kingdominio++ rather than a substantively different game. If it were released on PC this would be the Game of the Year edition and come preinstalled with all the borderline exploitative DLC that had been released over its lifetime. Go read the Kingdomino review because here I’m only going to talk about the original aspects that Queendomino brings to the table.

Back already? Okay… I’ll believe that you read it but if none of this makes any sense it’s pretty much your own fault.

Queendomino presents us with (almost) exactly the same enjoyable game at its core. It’s the Kingdomino experience with a few bells and whistles. You deal out tiles and you select the ones you want slightly out of sync with your ambitions. The result is a game that is like piloting a plane through a semi-controlled descent in the hope that you don’t end setting everything on fire. It’s just as satisfying here as the original, and that’s pretty darn satisfying. Nothing has been lost here in the upgrade as far as this part of the game is concerned.

On to this though Queendomino layers two new elements – a taxation system powered by knights, and town-building terrain powered by taxation. There’s a new terrain type in Queendomino and it represents unbuilt opportunities. At the head of the table sits the marketplace, full of tiles you can buy to configure both your little Queendom and the scoring regime that will reign at the end of the game. These city tiles can be placed on the new town terrain that will come up with the rations during the course of play.

The tiles that you buy from the marketplace will also provide you with knights and towers. Towers might be worth points later, depending on which tiles you claim. The main benefit though is the player with the most of these takes control of the princess and has a discount applied to every purchase from that point onwards. She also gives a sizable point bonus if you have her in your realm at the end of the game. Finally there’s a new dragon that can be used to destroy the tiles on the market that you desperately don’t want someone else to get, except the player with the princess never gets to invoke the dragon.

Got it? Good.

What exactly do you get then for all this extra complexity? Not as much as you might hope, really – the core of Queendomino is exactly that of Kingdomino, and it turns out that’s fun enough by itself without all this frippery and frittering around the edges. The taxation elements don’t add all that much, and the towers seem tacked on as an afterthought. The dragon is situationally useful but realistically a little difficult to employ to any genuinely effective end. There are almost always good options on the market early on in a round so you only occasionally really inconvenience anyone. If you employ the dragon too late then all the best targets will be gone anyway.

To be honest, I could have happily have done away with pretty much all of that. None of it feels like it really added much except extra inertia to my decisions.

Where Queendomino does become interesting though is in the new terrain and the tiles. The economy around these is far more cumbersome than can really be justified and I’d much have preferred something like ‘take a town tile when you play a town terrain’. The tiles themselves add a good chunk of strategic heft to the game and they do it in one of my favourite ways – by creating an asymmetry of value that mirrors and distorts itself within and between players.

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Wed Mar 13, 2019 8:05 pm
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Stay In Your Lane

Michael Heron
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I think I’ve been consistently upfront with what I consider to be the biggest weakness of this site. It’s included as a disclaimer at the bottom of every teardown, and it’s persistently the thing that makes me feel most uneasy about Meeple Like Us on a day to day basis. I could perhaps be considered something of a minor expert on accessibility, insofar as a PhD qualifies anyone to consider themselves an expert on anything. I’m the first to say that is in itself a considerable leap of faith. However, I don’t have embodied experience regarding the vast majority of the things I say. I’m relatively abled, and yet I’m rating games for accessibility in circumstances where I have little day-to-day real life experience. Sure, I have my own minor intermittent impairments. I’m diabetic, with high blood pressure. Those two things occasionally flare up into problems that impact on my ability or willingness to play games. I have chronic shoulder pain that makes certain physical interactions uncomfortable, but not impossible. I spend a lot of time aching. I’m profoundly short sighted. All of those things make a difference, but it’s not the same as living with uncorrectable issues on a day to day basis. They are inconveniences, not disabilities.

I mentioned all of this in my post on imposter syndrome. The observation of the disconnect between site output and embodied experience has led to a persistent, nagging voice at the back of my head. One that constantly makes me question whether I should be doing any of this work at all. It feels appropriative and puts a massive question mark on all of the recommendations that come out of the teardowns I do. After all, why should anyone trust a conclusion when I don’t actually live a life where I have genuine embodied experience?

In case you’ve missed it, here’s what we say about every teardown we do:

A word about teardowns
Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.

Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then this will not be the blog for you. We will not debate with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.

Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.


That’s the real reason why I always tell people to ignore the recommended grades and focus on the teardown texts. I say it’s because recommendations are too flat to be useful (which is true) but the secret message underneath that is ‘I don’t know if they’re even accurate in the best case circumstances’. I sometimes think that it was a mistake to put recommendation grades into the site output but there’s no denying that they’ve been useful for a whole rage of algorithmic and statistical purposes. Still, as we say in the computer biz – garbage in, garbage out. I can’t say for certain that any recommendation, or indeed any teardown, raises itself above the level of garbage. I hope it does, but all I can really can do is hope.

It weighs on me.

This isn’t just a phantom concern either. I know it’s a viewpoint held by numerous people – that those of that are relatively abled should not opine on matters where we have no real experience. That we should ‘stay in our lanes’. That we’ve no business injecting our opinions into the discourse because it’s fundamentally not ours to commandeer. It’s certainly not a universal viewpoint, but it’s one that I think deserves a meaningful response because it’s not unreasonable even if I don’t agree with it. It’s also not an argument that is unique to accessibility work. You’ll find it making its way into a whole range of areas in cultural discourse.

There’s an old adage that authors should ‘write what they know’, but that’s always struck me as intensely unhelpful advice. What if what you know isn’t what gets you excited? What if you don’t have any stories to tell about what you know? It’s advice that tells people to stop dreaming. That their horizons extend only as far as their physical circumstances permit. At its heart this is essentially a gatekeeper’s argument. It demands people stay in their lanes.

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Mon Mar 11, 2019 8:01 pm
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Wits and Wagers Family Edition (2010) - Accessibility Teardown

Michael Heron
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Introduction

I’m not really a fan of trivia games, or trivia in general. Wits and Wagers Family made a decent attempt to solve a lot of the problems I perceive in such endeavours but in the end it fell short of being truly compelling. We gave it two and a half stars in our review, noting that it does do something interesting with the questions but in the end there’s only so far its design can take you into the vicinity of fun. That said, you do need to temper that conclusion with the introduction to the review which says essentially ‘This game is going to have to work incredibly hard for every star I begrudgingly award’.

I don’t think we’ve covered a trivia game before on Meeple Like Us, so this is uncharted territory for the work we do. We’re going in here without a map, and will need some deep knowledge to make progress through this untamed wilderness. Unfortunately, all we have is a list of the national birds of American states and a conversion chart for acres into furlongs. Information is information though, right? That’s the whole point of trivia.

I’m sure we’ll be fine.

Colour Blindness

There are palette problems in the player boards, but the effect they have on gameplay is harder to predict.

Certainly here a player with colour blindness will often be in a position where they mix up ownership of answers, and that has an implication when it comes to placing bids for which is most likely to be correct. If Jessica is the one you think is most likely to be right it’ll be awkward if you can’t tell her board apart from John who is least likely. You can ask who is who, but that will reveal some intention and may give hints to everyone else that you might have a firm idea of the safe bet.

However, it’s not quite as bleak as all that because the answers will also come with unique hand-writing and if you can recognise one person’s writing from another any ambiguity will quickly resolve itself. That does though depend on everyone having a distinctive hand that comes across in numeral form. You might also find that you can workshop something with different coloured erasable pens if you have them handy. Or just have everyone put their initials on the board. The colours are a problem but there are lots of easy workarounds.

The meeples, despite being the same colours, are still easy to distinguish in most circumstances. Unfortunately knowing who has bet what and where is only really useful to know when scoring and so it doesn’t offset the problem with the boards.

The question cards don’t make use of colour as a channel of information. They are clearly marked with question and answer sides and in any case have only a ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ section to them.

We recommend Wits and Wagers in this category. The colour choices are a problem but the fact you’re writing on the boards makes it very easy to work around the issue.

Visual Accessibility

Provided one player (or a set of sighted players) is willing to act as question-master it’s likely that Wits and Wagers is fully playable for those with visual impairments, including total blindness. The determinant factor is whether someone is comfortable marking a legible number on a small whiteboard. If that’s not appropriate, there are other options such as another player marking the board when the initial guessing phase has finished. Ideally there should be no way for anyone to influence anyone else during guessing to ensure that nothing is anchored outside of personal experience but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if it were.

Once the guesses have been made the bidding process also lends itself well to play with sighted support. There won’t be too many answers and they’ll all be laid out in ascending order. All a player need do is indicate which guess gets their biggest meeple and which gets their smallest. That might be guided by what other people have bid but the state of bids is easily verbalizable. ‘Most of us have bid on Jasmine but Roz and Peter have two little meeples each’.

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Sat Mar 9, 2019 7:15 pm
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Wits and Wagers Family Edition (2010)

Michael Heron
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TL;DR: It's fine, I suppose. I guess. Whatever.

I have a kind of seething resentment for the enduring affection people have for of trivia in popular culture. The popularity of trivia games and game shows seems like a constant rejection of the true importance of knowledge. It’s a focus on the inconsequential and memetic rather than on anything as gauche or sordid as genuine understanding. I’m an old curmudgeon and as such I spend a lot of my time railing against the evils of modern society. Mostly it’s tongue in check but not so with trivia. I think our cultural fetish of trivia is genuinely wicked because it makes us all seem smarter while encouraging us to become dumber. It’s all surface, no substance. We know many more things, but we can situate very few of them within genuine meaning. Information becomes knowledge only through praxis – without application and context you have little more than an assemblage of data. Cats are mammals. Fish are delicious. Humanity is obsolete and soon to be destroyed by the AI that has been birthed our own unconscionable arrogance.

Hello everyone. Today’s review is about Wits and Wagers – Family Edition. I’m saying that up front because otherwise the first half of this entire thing is just a repeat of the story ‘old man yells at cloud‘.

You can imagine then how I feel about games like Trivial Pursuits where the name alone is a damning indictment of the activity. Games that reward players for their broad command of truly useless nuggets of pointless facts. People feed their brains with ephemera for the rare circumstance that someone asks them a question for which they are uniquely prepared. When do they get asked for the data? 95% of the time it’s as part of a trivia question. By their very nature trivia questions need to be boring, because the deeper inquiries into meaning don’t fit well into a question card.

In the case of those with genuine deep understanding of a topic, trivia can occasionally be frustrating. Experts often know more than the question setter and as a consequence each question becomes a riddle. Do those asking want the right answer, or the answer that someone that doesn’t know much about the topic might think is the right answer? When they ask how many megabytes would fit into a ten-gigabyte hard-drive do they mean megabytes as defined by hard-drive manufacturers (1,000,000 bytes) or how they’re defined by much of the rest of the computing world (1,048,576 byes)? The entire process can be shown to be farcical merely through the act of requesting important context. It becomes obvious that the only relationship the asker has to the question is as a medium through which it passes. It’s clear no genuine knowledge is being requested when the questioner is asked to clarify the meaning of the inquiry.

Sometimes too there’s a temporal aspect. ‘What is the world record for attaching clothes pegs to a face?’

‘I don’t know – from when are you drawing your figures? The record changed a couple of weeks ago – are you confident in the time-frame of the answer?’

Sometimes genuine knowledge is a terrible barrier to trivia effectiveness.

As a result, trivia games tend to be as interesting as their source material permits them to be – which is to say, ‘not very’. The fundamental flaw in a trivia game is that if you don’t know the answer to whatever tedious irrelevance is slung your way, there’s nowhere to go. You can’t really get better at a trivia game. You can just fill your head full of random nonsense in the hope that you increase the random juxtaposition of question on the card versus answer in your head. To become good at trivia games means to become good at trivia – it’s an act of study with none of the real lasting benefits that learning should bring. Even ‘high end’ trivia shows like Mastermind or University Challenge expect nothing more than the dull recitation of dead facts linked to a specialist subject area. They act as if the facts were what made a topic actually interesting, rather than the context in which those facts are situated.

Trivia games, for all their pomp, glamour and circumstances, are funerals for knowledge.

What if though a game approached this in a slightly different way?

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Wed Mar 6, 2019 8:09 pm
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Decrypto (2018) - Accessibility Teardown

Michael Heron
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Introduction

Codenames is a well regarded game, but Decrypto is the title in that approximate area of the ludic landscape that I’m most keen to play. It’s full of its own quiet and inventive charm and solve a number of the problems I have with its more popular cousin. Codenames can feel a little like you’re not part of the fun at all when it’s not your turn. Decrypto in comparison turns the act of conferring into a tense and risky spectator sport. It’s really nice, and that’s why we gave it four stars in our review. It evicted Codenames from my shelves and I don’t feel a tiny bit sorry about that.

That said, Codenames is a strong performer in the accessibility stakes provided you’re okay with a game that stresses cognitive and language factors and don’t mind the use of external tools. Whether or not Decrypto is going to receive as fulsome an endorsement in the teardown remains to be seen. Get your cipher-breaking tools, we’re going to crack this thing wide open.

Colour Blindness

Most of the game doesn’t use colour as a channel of information. However the keywords are encoded on cards that only show off their contents when slotted into the provided code boards. That has Implications.

Colour blindness does not seem to be a problem with this due to the relatively high contrast, in all standard categories, of the text and the background. However, ‘standard categories’ is the caveat – there is no such thing as a colour blind accessible colour palette – just palettes that work better than others. As such I would be unwilling to offer a full-throated recommendation in all circumstances without a lot more testing than we’d be able to do. It’s probably going to be okay except in very rare manifestations of the condition.

Other than this, colour doesn’t play a role in the game – the only other components are the combination cards (fine), the two different kinds of tokens (also fine) and a notepad (fine too).

We’ll strongly recommend Decrypto in this category, with the proviso that we can’t actually test it in all the circumstances that would be needed to really give the necessary confidence that the grade would stand up under robust investigation.

Visual Accessibility

The design of the game is actually reasonably well set up to support play for those with visual impairments, although there are going to be some complications. First of all, the code boards are not optimally designed for readability and the game cannot be easily played without them. They take obfuscated graphical information and turn it into the keywords that are the core to the game experience.

Those with visual impairments may find the text somewhat difficult to read, although close examination will be sufficient in most circumstances to address that. For those for whom that’s not possible will have a slightly more problematic time with the game.

That said, there are only four keywords and provided a sighted player is on the team they can be indicated quietly to a visually impaired player. The words and their position matter but it’s not an unreasonable memory burden for someone to hold this in mind during play. The slight risk here is that conveying the keywords verbally runs the risk of the other team overhearing and so it may be necessary to move out of earshot. The words don’t change during the course of the game so this need only be done once at the start of play and again whenever a reminder is required.

Playing the role of the encryptor is going to be a more difficult task if the code cannot be read from the card since this is information that should properly belong only to the that player and not to anyone else. The codes are reasonably large but they are not very well contrasted, and close inspection runs the risk of revealing the contents of the card to those that should not see the secret information. That said, there’s nothing really to stop players adopting a different approach to the game – such as permitting the player to decide, in advance, on their own combination.

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Sat Mar 2, 2019 7:26 pm
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Decrypto (2018)

Michael Heron
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TL;DR: It's great! You should probably play it if you can!
It’s sometimes said that St James Park in London is so rife with spies meeting other spies that even the ducks around the Tin and Stone Bridge quack in code. While that’s almost certainly not true unless everyone is working from a uniquely monosyllabic decryption table, it’s certainly something with which I can empathize. Playing Decrypto, on occasion, is like being a bemused waterfowl trying to extract meaning from a statement that may as well for all the world be the first transmissions from an alien species. It’s like confused extraterrestrials took the script of an episode of Eastenders, put it through a universal translator, and then tried to build a meaningful message to the world using only the ongoing domestic crises of Albert Square.

It’s fair to say I was instantly enamoured with Decrypto – a smart, sexy implementation of word-based deduction overlaid with a healthy wallop of 80s retro-chic. You may remember this site’s distinctly lukewarm opinions on Codenames. For those that don’t, basically they sum up to ‘I won’t kick up a fuss if other people want to play but I don’t really know why they would’. It’s a view considerably at odds with the broad consensus within the hobby but that’s not particularly unusual and now it doesn’t even really matter… whenever anyone says ‘Want to play Codenames’ I can simply ask in return ‘Sure, but have you ever played Decrypto? It’s really good!’

I can say that because Decrypto, you see, is really good.

It works like this. You’ll all be on ideally evenly balanced teams, except in the three player mode in which case one player will be focused only on codebreaking. Each team has a board that is configured with four keywords only they can see. Every round, someone takes on the mantle of cluegiver and draws one of their combination cards. They then attempt to give a series of clues that would direct their team to the correct combination. The ordering of the words in the board maps on to numbers, and we need to direct people to clues in the right order. For example you might have to provide the code 4.2.1 which means you need to lead your teammates to the fourth keyword, the second keyword, and then first keyword one after another. They only ever give you the combination, so clarity is important here. They never give you back the words – why would they, you all have that information available at all times anyway.

In our board above we have FOREST, CENTAUR, GIFT and LABYRINTH. We might give the clues… ‘Bowie’, ‘Umbridge’ and ‘Where they took her’. Our team mates confer quietly before writing on their notes sheet what they think the solution will be before they hand it…

NO, NOT SO FAST.

WAIT.

DID YOU HEAR SOMETHING?

It sounded like… it sounded like a bug on the line. Check the lightbulbs… I think someone is trying to overhear our conversation…

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Wed Feb 27, 2019 7:29 pm
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The Soft Power of Word of Mouth

Michael Heron
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In our last special feature we looked at the financials of Patreon and what’s happening behind the scenes of our own campaign. Essentially it was the Patreon post I would have liked to have existed at the time I was planning for our launch day. I’ve had a fair number of emails, tweets and comments from people saying they similarly found it useful for anchoring expectations. However, in the comments of that article was this really interesting observation from Alex Bardy:

… those same sites keep telling me that sharing on social media is just as valuable as financial support, but none of them tell me why that is and how that works. So you’re either all telling fibs and being polite (because physical monies are evidently more tangible), or holding out on why my support via sharing on social media can be so beneficial?


Over on BGG, there was a similarly interesting comment from Alexandre Santos:

I’m not on FB, but… they CHARGE you to push content to your own SUBSCRIBERS? Is this really what you are implying?

If so I’m mind-boggled by the incredible dominant position FB acquired to be able to pull it off.


And you know what? These lead to what I think is a great topic for a special feature. Let’s do another behind the scenes – this time looking into the grubby and uncomfortable world of self-promotion, word of mouth and advertising. Note here I’m going to talk about word of mouth in a nakedly quantified way – how it relates to traffic. The benefits these has for credibility, the fun of the job, and social proofing for publishers are too big a topic to include in here, even though they’re arguably far more important to the success of a site. Maybe that’s a topic for another post if people would be interested.

By far the largest single monthly expense we have on Meeple Like Us is Facebook ads, and that probably seems weird to a lot of people. After all, we have a healthy number of likes on our Facebook page – 1260ish, which while small beans in the grand scheme of things is good for a small outlet like ours. We have a similarly healthy number of Twitter followers – a touch under 4420 at the time of writing. These aren’t Wil Wheaton levels of following but it’s certainly nothing about which we should feel bad. With those modest but respectable levels of social media support, it seems like advertising wouldn’t really be needed. 1000 True Fans and all that. If everyone that liked the site enough to follow it read every post we published, we’d be rolling in views. That alone would give us the better part of three-quarter of a million hits in a year. We’ll probably actually manage maybe 260,000 in our third year of operation.

The problem is that social media numbers don’t measure our ‘fandom’, such as it is. They measure passive interest. They are people who, presumably, like the cut of our jib but aren’t going to take a bullet for us or anything. Of the likes and followers an account has, only a small proportion of them will check out everything you do. Some of them won’t check out anything you do. Not everything is going to be of interest to every person. Some people just decide they don’t want to read what you’ve written because they have other reasons for following your account.

That’s natural and completely understandable, but the thing is that Facebook as a platform takes away the ability of people to make that decision for themselves. Only a small proportion of those following a Facebook page will even be told that you’ve put up a new status update. The rest simply won’t see your updates in their feed, and the longer they go without interacting with you the less likely they are to see anything you post.

A Facebook page gets a fair amount of analytic information sent its way, so I went through our posts for the past few months to grab some figures. I tend to pay for $5 of ads for every ‘mainline’ post for the site and not boost anything that is locked, or from a third party, or of niche interest. Here’s the last post I didn’t ‘boost’ because it seems aggressively in-your-face to boost locked posts.

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Sun Feb 24, 2019 7:01 pm
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Iota (2012) - Accessibility Teardown

Michael Heron
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Introduction


Iota is a difficult game to play and not just because of its challenging and emergent placement rules. It’s just hard to visually process a game state that snakes over your table like a overlong chameleon with an erratic emotional connection to an overstimulating environment. Every card is part of a clue-set with regards to the state of the next, and that means you’re not so much looking at a coherent board as you are series of passive aggressive riddles. Still, it’s a very enjoyable game – far more enjoyable than its diminutive tin would suggest.

We’ve got a different puzzle we need to map out today though.

All those colours, shapes and wildcards– what does each of these elements imply about the accessibility of the game? Let’s work our way through the trail until we arrive at the only possible conclusion.

Colour Blindness

I’d go so far as to say Iota is functionally unplayable if anyone involved is colour blind. Colour is one of the three ways in which cards can differ, with the other two being number and shape. The palette chosen is likely to be an issue for all categories that we consider here. The extent to which it is an issue will vary with severity as is always the case, but there are few scenarios in which it’s going to work out to anything other than ‘very not good’.

The problem is twofold. The first is that your cards are held privately. You can’t really play with open information without radically changing the game because everyone will have a better idea of where your next plays are likely to go. The second issue is that lines must be constructed according to very precise rules where the previous cards set limitations on the next. Being able to tell if the next card has to be red or green, or blue and green, or yellow and green… that’s not just an occasional requirement, it’s pretty much constant and has to be assessed against dozens of lines in dozens of orientations at any one time.

No textures or patterns are provided on the cards to ease in this – it’s colour and colour alone. Generally, we don’t recommend people ‘mod’ their games – it’s our view that games should be accessible out of the box as far as is possible. However, even if you were willing to do that there’s an issue – there’s a lot of cards and adding an iconic representation to accompany colours is going to layer just one more thing that players need to think about in play. That’s in a game where colour is vital because of how strikingly it differentiates otherwise identical cards. Colour permits assessment in the aggregate in a way icons wouldn’t. You’d need to individually texture each card and there are other games that don’t ask as much of their players before they are playable.

We’re giving Iota one of our rare F grades here.

Visual Accessibility

Visual accessibility is another troublesome area. The game is, I think, completely unplayable for anyone for whom total blindness must be considered. I shy away from making a claim like that in most circumstances that because the ingenuity of people should never be underestimated – if people want to play an inaccessible game there’s a good chance they’ll find some way to make it happen. I don’t see at all how that’s possible in Iota without a truly vast amount unpleasant awkwardness. The problem here is that lines, until they are completed, represent slots into which variously shaped cards can go. Sometimes they are invalidated because it’s not possible to complete them – when they intersect with other partially completed lines, for example. Most of the time though they exist ‘in potentia’ as lots to be completed and any game of Iota is going to contain hundreds of possibilities where a card might go.

Any two cards together begin a line, so every card is either part of an existing line or the possible start of another. Where in-hand cards should go is completely up to players within the placement constraints. Sometimes the best place for a card to go is nestled into a nook of other cards so it can take advantage of double line scoring. In addition to this, the state of play is essentially an undifferentiated grid that is almost impossible to meaningfully verbalise. Consider the game state shown above – five lines have been played and already a description is virtually meaningless in terms of guiding people towards meaningful decisions. You can describe it, sure, but not in a way that makes it cognitively parseable in a manner that would convert into actionable play.

Iota is therefore not at all suitable for totally blind players. For visually impaired players, the situation is only slightly better. The game does permit investigation with an assistive aid, and at any one time a player only has four relatively simple cards in hand. However, while examining the ‘board’ will yield some useful information with regards to state and validity it will only be as a snapshot. There are often subtler intersections. Again, consider the game state shown above – if a player extends to the right of the green three square at the left end, then the second card will also need to be compatible with the line it’ll meet coming downwards from the yellow one triangle. That has a massive impact on what would be sensible to play from a hand. More than that, it would be important to know that you couldn’t extend that second line towards the bottom because there is no valid card that can be placed. That also has an impact on what you might wish to do. Checking close up will yield some information, but not the nuances that will generally lead to the most impressive scoring.

Being able to get a sense of the layout of a game is often useful, because then you can fill in the blanks with close inspection. Here though it’s all so precise and meaningful – there is no part of a line that can be ignored, and no part of the game state that would be safe to discount from consideration. It all has a profound impact.

The thing is, Iota is deceptive in this regard – if all we consider is the basic unit of a line, visual impairments will not prevent play in a technical sense. That is – take a card and place it in the emerging layout. Iota is like a crossword where the clues all shift around the answers though, and I don’t think play at any level of competence beyond the most basic levels can be expected from visually impaired players. There’s just too much of the decision space bound up in the context of visual information for that to be realistic.,

We don’t at all recommend Iota in this category.

Cognitive Accessibility

Well…

On its simplest, most technical level Iota is a straightforward game. So straightforward you could be mistaken for thinking it’s utterly trivial when the systems are described. To start off with a positive I can say that there’s little benefit that comes from having a good memory with regards to effective pl ay. The game state shows everything you need to know except which cards are still left in the draw, and there are duplicates of all of them. The fact hidden hands are involved, and that those hidden hands can be shuffled back into the draw deck, means that you can never really know what’s left anyway unless it’s all on the grid. By that time, you’re too deep into the game to effectively leverage that information.

The problem is that both cognitive faculties are intensely stressed by the nature of the game state rather than the rules of the game. It’s not complicated, but it is intensely complex and interdependent.

The playing of a line is a narrowing of the possibility space, but it’s odd because this doesn’t actually reduce the cognitive costs. Every time you look at a line you basically need to mentally re-evaluate its meaning. Two cards create a line, and every card added after that means working out if a placement is valid. Consider the two intersecting lines below – what card is needed to complete the three-card line?

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Sat Feb 23, 2019 8:58 pm
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