Accessibility of Tabletop Games — Part 1

Gary Bartos
6 min readSep 29, 2023
Discussion with Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games about vision-friendly tabletop games

Earlier this year Stonemaier Games published Vision-Friendly Card Sets for their award-winning game Wingspan. My company contributed design ideas that were included in the Vision-Friendly Card Sets.

More recently, Stonemaier Games co-founder Jamey Stegmaier and I discussed the vision friendliness of a number of tabletop games. Check out the YouTube video linked above!

This is the first post of a series in which I’ll expand on topics Jamey and I touched on, such as types of accessibility, simulations that highlight accessibility issues, and potential design fixes for accessibility problems.

Three Questions about the Value of Accessibility

Spoiler alert: you’ll want to answer “yes” to at least two of the following three questions.

  1. Would you like more people play and enjoy your game?
  2. Would you like to be recognized as a game designer or game reviewer who understands the value of accessibility?
  3. Do you want to be better prepared to identify accessibility barriers in games you play?

If you answered “no” to most of those questions, then you might want to skip the rest of this post and think about cute Corgi puppies instead.

But I’m living proof that you can adore Corgis and be motivated to improve accessibility.

Trickle-Down Accessibility?

Lists such as the 10 best games for the blind and visually impaired and 16 fun board games blind and visually paired can play are dominated by classic games such as chess, cards, and dominoes as well as family games such as Connect Four.

Many of these games have been played widely over decades, or even over centuries. Is accessibility a trickle-down problem?

Please follow the example of Stonemaier Games!

The Stonemaier Games release of the Vision-Friendly Card Sets for Wingspan encourages me to think that we’ve reached a turning point. Wingspan was released in 2019, just four years ago, and already we have Wingspan cards that are more accessible.

There are also companies like 64 Oz Games that sell accessibility kits for other popular games such as Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders, Catan, and so on.

With this series of posts I’ll encourage game designers to make games accessible from the start. Identify accessibility problems early in the design process. Actively recruit gamers who can give feedback about accessibility during playtesting.

Accessibility Reviews

Just as you can learn a game by watching, you can learn about accessibility by reading reviews of the accessibility of popular games.

The home page of MeepleLikeUs.co.uk indicate that the site is “On Hiatus,” but there are numerous “accessibility teardowns” of popular games such as Carcasonne. Check out pages specific to disabilities such as the list of games recommended for people with visual impairments. The site even features a recommender tool!

Colorblind Games is another worthy site. Check out A Buyer’s Guide to Visually Accessible Board Games.

The mention of Colorblind Games leads us into our first section addressing a specific type of accessibility.

Color Blindness

You likely know someone who is color blind! Color blindness is more common in men (1 in 12) than in women (1 in 200).

Although nearsightedness is more common than color blindness, color blindness can not be corrected.

Google something like “color blind friendly game” and you’ll quickly find a number of posts on the subject. This short post is meant just to get you started.

Simulation of Color Blindness

If you are sighted but not color blind, then you can simulate color blindness. Simulation helps you judge the impact of color choices on the accessibility of your game.

Photoshop can simulate color blindness. For a free tool check out Coblis, which I used to generate the simulated image below.

Color Blindness Simulation for Azul

If you are sighted and not color blind, then compared the following two images from the game Azul.

Image of the game Azul from boardgamerequest.com
Simulated deuteranopia (a type of color blindness) — Azul

The second image simulates red-green color blindness. Some of the tiles are a bit harder to distinguish.

The aqua tile at far left appears to be a pale blue in the simulated image, diminishing the color contrast with the pure blue tile. However, the aqua tile has a white pattern that makes it distinguishable from the solid blue tile. Geometric patterns make it possible to distinguish the tiles more easily.

Color Blindness Simulation for Splendor

Color is a bit more problematic for Splendor.

Splendor tokens feature realistic-looking gems
Simulated deuteranopia — Splendor tokens

In the simulation the Splendor tokens are still distinguishable, but some other potential accessibility problems become noticeable.

Shadows, reflections, and glow lend a sense of realism to the gems depicted on the tokens. To my eyes, though, these graphical elements make it harder to distinguish the gems from the background.

Visual clutter presents a problem for many and possibly most gamers. We’ll delve into the topic more deeply in a later post in this series about Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI).

Fix: Pair Color with Graphical Elements

Avoid using color alone to distinguish game pieces from one another.

The geometric patterns for Azul are distinctive but busy. For many games a simpler design aesthetic could involve geometric elements such as broad stripes, checkered patterns, game pieces that are half one color and half another color, and so on.

Fix: Vary the Hue, Saturation, and Brightness

For people with a red/green color deficiency, the cheerful reds and vibrant greens common for game pieces present a problem. Consider using a different color combination.

For party games and family games a basic color palette may be appropriate. But for more complex themed games a rainbow of colors may be too garish.

Test your colors with one of the color blindness simulators mentioned above. Then vary the hue, saturation, and/or brightness of the colors and retest. Although saturated red and saturated green are problematic for people with red/green color deficiency, you could consider pairing a pale yellowish green with a dark purplish blue.

Limitations of Simulation

Although color blindness simulation can help you identify colors that are likely to be problematic, the simulations won’t necessarily match the vision of your color blind playtesters. Three playtesters with red/green color deficiencies may perceive color contrasts slightly differently.

Playtest, playtest, playtest!

Invite color blind gamers to review your game designs as early as possible in your design work, even before proper playtesting. Think of designing your game with different communities rather than for them.

(Edit) Universal Accessibility for Gaming

Eight months after I originally wrote this post, I’ve written a new post about universal accessibility in gaming.

That new post is the third in a series of proposals for technology that should exist, but doesn’t.

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Gary Bartos

Founder of Echobatix, engineer, inventor of assistive technology for people with disabilities. Keen on accessible gaming. echobatix@gmail.com