A topic that never occurred to me when I started designing my board game was colour blind accessibility. It wasn’t until I stumbled across a thread by Charles Ward that I became aware of the issue. In the thread Charles was trying to find a colour palette that would allow his upcoming colour matching game KIKA be playable by anybody with colour blindness.
Something that struck me from the thread however, was how many colour blind players had to modify their games so they could play them. Some would take a Sharpie and mark the pieces, others would place their pieces facing a certain direction and ask others to not point theirs the same way. Some of the solutions weren’t perfect and couldn’t work for every game. The responsibility of making the game playable shouldn’t be on the players. It should be an important step in the process of all game designers to make the game accessible.
So how does a designer make their game accessible for colour blindness? Well, Charles conducted a number of polls and tried to find the best colours to use. He learned however, that there are many varying types of colour blindness which made finding a suitable palette very difficult. The feedback also indicated that even if he did find a good palette, then he has to consider that it might work in a bright room but in poor light the same problem could come up again.
The conclusion of the thread was that if you wanted your game to be accessible then you should design it so it is playable by someone who can’t see any colour. This might seem quite difficult for a colour matching game to be designed with no colour, Charles managed it rather simply by designing four different patterns to go along with the four colours. Another famous colour based game UNO used symbols in 2017 with the release of a colour blind edition. It uses a system developed by ColorADD where each primary colour is represented by a symbol and you can create other colours by adding the symbols together.
Along with patterns and symbols you could make each players game pieces a different shape. This can help immerse your game in the theme and make it stand out even more. Take Scythe as an example, instead of just identifying each player by colour, you also get a uniquely themed piece that relates back to the faction they play as. Our game will be about car racing and our solution will be to get unique numbers printed on each car.
The key to making any game accessible for colour blindness is to make colour secondary to shapes and symbols as identifiers. I think it is also important to ensure that the game is fully accessible and no half measures are taken. Charles could have settled for the colour palette he discovered, it would have worked for the majority of people but not everyone. He took a few extra steps to make KIKA fully accessible. Unfortunately for Mattel however, I was disappointed to find out that you can only buy the colour blind edition of UNO from their online store and at time of writing it is out of stock. Mattel also released a 50 year anniversary edition of UNO this year and the cards are not colour blind friendly.
If it’s possible for a game based around colour matching to be colour independent then it is surely possible for any game. The best way to test if your game is accessible for colour blindness would be to print all the components in black and white and try to play the game. If it’s impossible or there is any difficulty, note it down where and see how you can change it.
Is there any other accessibility issues in board games that you feel needs addressing? What game do you think tackled the issue in an innovative way?