A full list of games covered on Meeple Like Us, and the associated accessibility grades, can be found at http://tinyurl.com/meeplelikeus. A secondary internal spreadsheet is used to provide data on titles not yet published on the blog—it is the latter of these that is used to generate the information in this paper. Interested parties can contact the primary author for a copy of the live data. All teardowns are provided on a CC-BY 4.0 basis, and this is indicated on each document. In this section we will discuss the findings in the abstract, with few references to specific games. Grades for each category are awarded based on the average of all accumulated recommendations. For all categories, N = 116.
Colour Blindness, according to the rating and numerical weightings outlined above, averages out at a B grade. Numerically this comes out as a 10.92 average with a standard deviation of 3.30.
By and large colour blindness is a persistent, ongoing issue in board games although it is rarely one that fully prohibits players from engaging in a game experience. Primarily the issues arise in token discrimination where sub-optimal palettes are used to indicate player ownership and control of elements of board state. However, some games also adopt a large amount of colour-based pattern identification and manipulation and these often present a considerable barrier to play. Even in these cases the problems are usually, but not always, situational. Colour blindness is an issue that can be resolved in many cases by board alterations—painting or marking game components so as to ease identification. However, these kind of modifications are outside the scope of the project since it is not the view of the authors that players should be expected to deface their games in order to get a fully playable experience.
More substantial problems exist when relating components to other parts of the game state, such as when colours are used as the sole indicator of category on cards and in manuals. In such cases, even modifying the game is not an appropriate solution to problems encountered.
In many cases, colour blindness problems manifest only for certain categories of colour blindness, and even then often only at the highest supported player counts. In other cases, the number of game components used is small enough that external components can be substituted to track whatever game state the component itself was used for. Figure 2 shows the distribution of recommendations in this category.
There remain some games that present many insoluble accessibility challenges in this category, but by and large colour blindness is a persistent consideration rather than a critical barrier to play.
Visual accessibility, according to the rating and numerical weightings outlined above, averages out at a C- grade. Numerically this comes out as a 7.05 average with a standard deviation of 3.41.
The grade for visual accessibility is artificially skewed upwards because the recommendation conflates games which work for people with visual impairments and yet don’t work for people with total blindness. Later revisions of the work in the second phases of this project are intended to address this to give a more balanced and nuanced view of the category. With that in mind, while the averaged grade is just within the bounds of being tentatively recommended the true state of affairs is that this is not an accurate reflection of the work to date. Future analysis in later papers will correct this deficiency in the analysis.
Even for those with visual impairments this is a hobby that can only be recommended in specific cases and often when dealing with only relatively minor visual impairments. Within this section we work on the assumption that game state can be assessed through the use of an appropriate assistive aid. Figure 3 shows the count of recommendations for this category of accessibility.
Many games require a large amount of ‘table knowledge’ from each player—it’s important that players know what parts of the game are relevant to them, which parts are relevant to other players, and what that relevance means for their own future actions and activities. Other games stress visual and binocularity acuity, such as those where dexterity or aiming must come into play. Others do poorly in this category due to component design such as small or heavily ornamented fonts, busy graphical layouts, and a lack of contrast in game boards and game components. Sometimes games incorporate hidden components, hidden hands of card, or otherwise require players to obscure their own personal game state without being able to reveal it to others. This has a considerable impact on how easily a player can request accessibility support through the course of a game. Time constraints too impact on playability in this category, as the investigation of game components with an assistive aid adds a time burden onto every interaction.
Fluid Intelligence Accessibility
Fluid intelligence, according to the rating and numerical weightings outlined above, averages out at a C- grade. Numerically this comes out as a 7.40 mean with a standard deviation of 3.84.
As with the grade for visual accessibility, this is skewed upwards because each teardown also considers cognitively accessible variants that could lower complexity and the need to consider and evaluate tactical and strategic implications of actions. As such, games as they are presented in the box are far less accessible than their grades would imply in this category. One of the powerful tools available for accessibility support in this area is the use of house rules. Often a satisfying and enjoyable game can be constructed by changing scoring context or emphasising cooperative rather than competitive play. Figure 4 shows the spread of recommendation grades in this category.
However, even with this taken into account it is still the case that those games that receive the most appreciation on BGG and other sites tend to stress deep thinking and clever interaction of game mechanisms. In most cases these traits are not compatible with the needs of accessibility in this category. Most games incorporate a degree of numeracy, even if only implicitly, and many also require literacy to handle emergent game effects from cards and components. An understanding of probability is core to any game that has a degree of randomness in its systems. Some of the more complex games also emphasise synergy of game mechanisms and rules to ensure that players are able to pull off effects of the greatest impact. The result is that there is a considerable degree of variation in this category, and not often in the most obvious games. Some of the simplest games assessed on Meeple Like Us have also been the most cognitively expensive due to the way the game mechanics cohere. In this category we have many games that we would recommend without concern to any player with cognitive accessibility needs, but more that we’d advise everyone avoid because they are unlikely to be at all playable even with house-rules and modifications.
Memory Based Accessibility
Memory based accessibility, according to the rating and numerical weightings outlined above, averages out at a C+ grade. Numerically this comes out as a 8.73 mean with a standard deviation of 3.86.
Those with memory impairments alone are somewhat better served by modern design because games often provide mechanisms for explicitly tracking game state. However, it is also the case that many games make use of deeper historical knowledge to inform tactical and strategic play. Knowing the composition of a card deck is often important. Remembering complex state-dependant rules and mechanisms can be critical. Some games too stress memory as part of their game mechanisms—either requiring players to explicitly remember instructions they have been given or to track the cards another player has laid down before they eventually come to take effect. Simply remembering rules can be a significant burden in and of itself, and rules-heavy games in particular tend to do poorly in this category. Often the job of a player in a board game is to hold a long term strategy in mind and behave tactically in accordance with that strategy. That needs a relatively sophisticated model of a game to be mentally constructed, and it has to evolve along with changing needs and expectations through the course of play. The spread of recommendations is shown in Fig. 5.
However, even given this the nature of the gameplay models and the potential collegiate support of players at the table makes this category of cognitive accessibility somewhat less problematic than it is for fluid intelligence.
Physical accessibility, according to the rating and numerical weightings outlined above, averages out at a C+ grade. Numerically this comes out as a 9.24 mean with a standard deviation of 3.48.
The relatively strong performance of board-gaming in this category is derived almost entirely from the fact most games permit a degree of verbalisation even if their physical interactions are likely to be onerous. They permit a player, even one that cannot interact with a board or game state in any meaningful form, to issue instructions for another player to act on their behalf. In conjunction with a card holder, this arrangement permits a very wide variety of games to remain playable and enjoyable because the fundamental enjoyment does not derive from the tactility of the experience. Figure 6 shows the spread of recommendations in this category.
However, this is not universally the case—some games focus on the physicality of interaction. Some games work based on principles of physical dexterity, and others have an interaction model that is real-time and prohibits another player from helping someone else. In such circumstances either the fundamental enjoyability of the experience is lost through verbalisation, or an accessibility compensation becomes something that can only be enacted by someone not actually engaged in the game. It is important to note here that board games are enjoyable, at least in part, because they are something with which you physically interact. There is a low-grade, persistent satisfaction that comes from manipulating game components in an agreeable way. To lose that is not insignificant in any game, but it depends on where the bulk of the fun in a game is to be found as to whether or not we would go on to recommend it in this category.
Emotional accessibility, according to the rating and numerical weightings outlined above, averages out at a C+ grade. Numerically this comes out as a 9.44 mean with a standard deviation of 3.33.
To a certain extent, all recommendations in this category must be viewed through a social lens. Even the most emotionally accessible game can be made intolerable by a bad winner or a poor loser. Any game can be a trigger for emotional upset if it’s played by people actively out to undermine the fun of others at the table. However, there are also a number of game systems that tend to exacerbate and intensify issues in this category. Some games for example permit players to gang up on another to prevent them winning, or for one player to remove progress from another. Other games require players to interpret complex social cues or bluff their way through a scenario. Some games, chess being an old-fashioned example, have a sheen of ‘intellectualism’ about them that adds an additional sting to losing. Other games focus on building patterns but do not necessarily permit those patterns to be completed. All of these issues and more are what end up texturing an accessibility recommendation in this category. Figure 7 shows the distribution of grades.
One feature of modern board-gaming is that many games eschew competition in favour of either a collegiate model of collaboration or a kind of ‘fun economy’ where people play until they get bored rather than to any conclusion. These in turn add new and interesting factors in this category. Co-operative games as an example ensure that everyone wins or everyone loses, but they also tend to be balanced around a pivot point of intense difficulty to ensure players are challenged. This creates a kind of ‘despair curve’ where failure is anticipated, expected, or perhaps even inevitable. It takes a certain amount of emotional control to be able to enjoy these kinds of experiences.
The majority of games though retain a degree of competition, and this makes numerous games a problematic fit if issues in this category must be considered. As with the results from the category on fluid intelligence, there is a wide variation in how games here are assessed. Many can be played without any serious concerns, whereas others should be avoided at all costs if a pleasant evening is to be enjoyed by everyone at a table.
Socioeconomic factors, according to the rating and numerical weightings outlined above, average out at a B. Numerically this comes out as a 10.79 mean with a standard deviation of 3.06.
A tongue-in-cheek article from a hobbyist board game siteFootnote 7 suggested that you were more likely to see a sheep on the cover of a board game than you were a woman. Broadly speaking that is true, and overall board games share a feature with video games in that their representation of women is often half-hearted and occasionally regressive (Heron et al. 2014). Issues of representation are important not in terms of the accessibility of play but in terms of the approachability of the culture. In order to see that one is welcome in a hobby, it helps if one can see other ‘people like me’ participating. In terms of gender balance, board games have improved a considerable amount over the past five or so years. There is a considerable distance left to travel in terms of ethnic representation—most games still present a sea of white faces whenever human figures are shown. Figure 8 shows the distribution of recommendations in this category.
With that in mind it might be strange to see the grade skews so high. Partially this is because many games have no art at all that might be considered representative of humans. A large number of games are abstract, having no strict theme they attempt to express through aesthetics. Many games use art that is thematic but does not contain any people—spaceships and castles and dark forests. Other games make a special effort to address the representational barrier, doing an excellent job of including a range of ethnicities and genders, even occasionally non-binary. These raise the recommendations upwards even as others drag it down somewhat. There are though still many games with overtly sexualised art, demeaning portrayals of women and minorities, and that are homophobic or transphobic in language and mechanisms. Many of those do not fall within the remit of Meeple Like Us, but they are still out there.
Also complicating an aggregate rating in this category is the fact that cost is explicitly linked into the sociological context. This is important because there is a tight relationship between financial constraints and ethnic background (Goodley 2016; Dawson 2014) in many circumstances. Socioeconomic factors inform and shape each other, and as such the two are inextricably linked in a real-world context. However, this does mean that it is somewhat difficult to unpick the contributory factors in the flattened statistical analysis shown above. A cheap game with poor representation will be lifted upwards as a consequence of the conflation. Individual accessibility teardowns are more precise in this regard.
Germane to this discussion are issues of cost and associated business models. Some games operate on a collectible model, where ‘booster’ packs give randomised access to common, unusual and rare game components. Such game stress an ongoing an escalating financial commitment where a player may invest considerable money without ever getting the specific thing they were seeking. Other games are presented as ‘core sets’ which give an initial sampling of the game but are only a down-payment on a cycle of expansions and supplements that are necessary to enjoy the full experience. Other games are offered as a single, complete product with no expectation of ongoing cost. Some games offload issues of representation into expansions, essentially creating the circumstance where baseline diversity is only available through ongoing purchases of extra material.
Some of these business models are difficult to describe as anything other than exploitative, but they are still relatively rare in an environment where expansions are optional, rather than expected, additions to a game experience. As such, at the current time, this is a hobby that is relatively well served in this category because explicit transgressions in terms of representation and cost remain relatively unusual within the scope of this particular project.
Communicative factors, according to the rating and numerical weightings outlined above, averages out at a B+. Numerically this comes out as a 11.47 mean with a standard deviation of 2.89.
Specific need for communication remains relatively rare in games—table talk is an important part of most social gameplay, but it’s only rarely an actual game mechanism that must be navigated and mastered. There are games that work on this basis, but by and large if someone is reasonably literate games rarely present significant barriers in this category. For those for whom literacy may be an issue, there are many games that make use of abstract symbology alone to convey important game state and mechanisms. Figure 9 shows the distribution of recommendation grades in this category.
There are though occasionally games that stress communication under difficult circumstances, or within time constraints, or where the sophistication of communication is such that it places a supererogatory burden on both expression and interpretation of speech. Such games tend to explicitly focus on this rather than have it as an unintended by-product and we must accept here that sometimes the fun in a game comes from its explicit inaccessibility. If a game is about bluffing your way past your friends and trying to convince people that others are lying, it is only to be expected that communicative faculties might be stressed beyond the feasible limits of accessibility. By and large though this is a category where the prime unit of concern is the individual title rather than the hobby as a whole.