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June 16, 2019
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Creating an Accessible Tabletop Game Library on a Budget (2017)

by Michael Heron on 05/05/17 09:24:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


This is a modified version of a post that first appeared on Meeple Like Us.

You can read more of my writing over at the Meeple Like Us blog, or the Textual Intercourse blog over at Epitaph Online.  You can some information about my research interests over at my personal homepage, or on my profile at Robert Gordon University.


It’s all well and good we here at Meeple Like Us telling you about the games we’re examining and how accessible they are.   That’s valuable work but it doesn’t answer a question I am occasionally asked – ‘where would I start building an accessible game library?’. What should you do if you’re running a care home, or a games club for people with particular accessibility requirements? What about if just want to make sure that your own collection can support player impairments across the board?   What games should you prioritise to get the most out of a fixed budget while making sure that you have a library of games that a wide spectrum of people can play, and importantly play together?

I make no claims that this is an exhaustive list – it’s sampled from the games that we have covered here on Meeple Like Us.  it’s going to omit a whole slew of games that we just haven’t covered yet.   I’ll return to this topic again in the future, probably on an annual basis.

Here, I’ve been influenced by my own personal feelings on games but I haven’t let that be the key determinant.   For the most part, if a game is reasonably well liked (defined by being in the BGG top 1000 or on one or more ‘best of’ lists) it’ll be included here.

For choosing games, a hard limit of £30 for a game is placed on its inclusion.   If a game costs more than £25 though, it has to have special elements that justify it.    Many of the games cost less – the average price of a game on this list is a touch over £18.50.  If you put aside £20 a month you could buy each one of these games monthly over the course of a couple of years.  There are often sales and special offers that will drive the price down, and we'd recommend keeping an eye on price fluctuations to take advantage of the best deals when they are available.  Note too that prices can spike up as a result of temporary (or permanent) unavailability - we don't recommend an order in which games should be purchased for this reason.  Buy as low as you can, when you can.  Prices were correct at the time of writing, but are at best approximations in any case.  As a further note, if you run a public organisation you can often contact the publisher for free or discounted library copies.

For inclusion on the list, a game can have a grade no lower than a C for any relevant section of the accessibility teardown.   If there is a C, the game has been included because there are valid compensatory strategies that would make the game playable, albeit with support.   Some of these games are drawn from teardowns we haven't yet published, but I'll link in the appropriate documents as time goes by.  If there's no link for review or teardown then we've done the work but not yet posted it.  Keep an eye on the site, or consider subscribing if you want to know right away when we publish new posts.  If you want to subscribe, you can find the box to do it on the right sidebar.

Games you really must have

First of all, let's discuss the must haves.  These should work for anyone regardless of their accessibility requirements.

Game Price Comments

review | teardown ]

£15 If you are on a very tight budget, you can make your own version of Skull using nothing more than a pack of cards.  Take three cards of a black suit, mix in a card of a red suit, and you have a fully playable version of Skull.  I’ll assume here you want this beautiful version though.
Love Letter
review | teardown ]
£12 Appropriately for the name, Love Letter is widely adored by many.  It's small with a very likeable and distinctive theme, and came out of our accessibility teardown largely unscathed.
review | teardown ]
£28 Lanterns is a little pricier than most of the games on this list, but not so pricey that you shouldn’t consider it.  It's is a lovely tile-laying game of ornamental lights that earned high grades across the board in our teardown.


Games you really should have

Next we introduce the should haves, which may require some players to be supported in some way during play or might perhaps need sensitive handling for one or more groups.  All of them though are likely to be workable for every group provided you don't mind fudging things a little. Check out the associated teardowns for details.

Game Price Comments
Forbidden Island
review | teardown ]
£18 You perhaps may wish to be a little wary of Forbidden Island when first setting up your library since it sets up a scenario in which players are expected to fail.  It's definitely something to consider though when your group is more comfortable with modern board gaming conventions.
review | teardown ]
£16 Jaipur one supports two players but it’ll keep you engaged for the long term.  I might even recommend buying two or more copies so you can have games going in parallel.  Jaipur really is that good.
Lost Cities:  The Card Game
review | teardown ]
£16 We have only done a teardown for the Lost Cities board-game, but the card-game would be a more appropriate choice for a budget conscious purchase.  You can play the card-game using the components in the board-game box too if you wanted to spend a little more.
Sushi Go!
review | teardown ]
£12 Sushi Go takes the core concept of card drafting and integrates it into an intensely charming aesthetic.  You could also reasonably consider picking Sushi Go Party for this – it’s a little more expensive but it gives you a lot more variety.  I haven't actually seen it to confirm for sure, but I'm told it is broadly equivalent in terms of its accessibility.
review | teardown ]
£25 Splendor is a little bit pricier than some of the games on the list, but it’s going to be a perennial favourite.  The rules are simple, the components heavy and pleasingly tactile, and the game itself deep enough to drown in.
review | teardown ]
£25 CV is a dice-based game that lets players buy pieces of a fictional life in order to explore the path not taken.   It consists of yahtzee style mechanics used in an interesting way - it's as much a game about storyteling as it is about the acquisition of points.
King of Tokyo
review | teardown ]
£25 King of Tokyo is Yahtzee, but with massive monsters fighting over control of the city of Tokyo.   You all beat up the King, and then you find suddenly tha't you’re the king and everyone is beating you up.  It's fast, funny, and broadly accessible.
[ review | teardown ]
£13 It's probably best not to play Coup with people that don't handle player elimination well, and there are some concerns regarding those with fluid intelligence impairments. Overall though, we think this one is a solid pick for your game library.

Your Baseline Game Library

If you grabbed each of the games on these two lists, you’d have a good library of games with an outlay of under £205.  These would incorporate a good mix of mechanics and themes and would support a varied range of player numbers.   It’s useful in scenarios like this to be able to scale up (Skull goes up to six, Sushi Go to five) as well as down to smaller pairings.    Running multiple games in parallel for larger groups is usually a better solution than finding a game that works well for bigger player counts because those games rarely excel at lower counts.  Flexibility is important if you’re making a general purpose games library available.

We’re not done yet though!  The £205 we’ve spent here represents a good investment in a range of games that would give you many hours of enjoyment.  There are though many oher games that you could also think if picking up if you were able to be more flexible about the accessibility categories you support.   This would be the case if your specific needs don’t include people of impacted categories, or if you’re willing to have games on your shelves that some subsets of people might not be able to play.   For the latter scenario, it is the collection as a whole that should incorporate games that are accessible for everyone, even if any individual game may not be accessible to all players.

If Visual Impairment is not an issue

Visual Impairment often goes hand in hand with physical issues, but there are a few games where the limiting factor is eyesight only.

Game Price Comments
[ review | teardown ]
£27 Karuba is little pricier than some of the games we’ve included here but it's a really fun game that takes the basic formula of Bingo and turns it into an archaeological race against time.  The interesting thing about Karuba is that it’s also infinitely scalable – if you buy multiple copies, everyone can play it together without it impacting even a little bit on play-time.
[ review | teardown ]
£20 Tsuro is a calming, meditative game of placing tiles and following the paths you lay before you.  It's intensely relaxing but the nature of the path-laying makes it intensely difficult for anyone with visual impairments.
Port Royal
[ review | teardown ]
£10 Port Royal is a push-your-luck game of piracy and plunder – and at a price-tag like this, it’s an obvious inclusion for our list.


If emotional factors are not an issue

 Some games are generally very accessible for most people but tend to have features in their game design that might generate stress, or upset.   The games on this part of the list would be accessible if you didn't need to take that into accont.

Game Price Comments
Billionaire Banshee
[ review | teardown ]
£20 Billionaire Banshee is a cheerful, engaging game about exploring the attitudes your friends have towards dating in unusual circumstances.  Can be a little adult in tone, but the cards come with symbols that permit you to remove the more risque content if needed.
Cards Against Humanity (NSFW)
review | teardown ]
£25 Be warned – Cards Against Humanity is not at all for the easily offended.  Or the moderately easily offended.  Or anyone that can be offended at all.  However, if you have a group of people willing to make filthy, horrible jokes at the flip of a card you'll find this is usually a crowd-pleaser.


If cognitive factors are not an issue

Cognitive factors eliminate many games from inclusion because board-games in particular tend to thrive in tactical and strategic problem spaces.   Those spaces also tend to stress cognitive factors such as fluid and crystallised intelligence. If that isn't going to be a problem, a number of games become good candidates for inclusion in this list.

Game Price Comments
review | teardown ]
£16 Endlessly variable, Codenames is hugely popular and a hit with almost everyone that plays it.  You will need to make some accommodations for any visually impaired players, but the nature of the game makes that easy to do.
[ review | teardown ]
£11 Fungi is a nice, calming game about collecting delicious mushrooms and frying them up.   It has a fair bit of forward planning in gameplay, but is otherwise broadly accessible.
Isle of Skye
review | teardown ]
£25 Isle of Skye is a recent winner of the Spiel des Jahres, and an interesting exercise in collaborative clan-building.   While it occupies a similar design space as Carcassonne, it also has more varied gameplay and eliminates some of the physical accessibility issues of that game.
Welcome to the Dungeon
review | teardown ]
£12 Small but perfectly formed – Welcome to the Dungeon is a game of stepping away from a ticking bomb early enough that you won’t need to be the one to disarm it.   It asks a lot of the memory of its players, but we recommend it in every other category.

If physical factors are not an issue

Unfortunately, physical factors tend to converge with visual factors – precision of movement such as you’ll find in a dexterity game is an issue of visual parsing as much as it is of movement.   However, if you don't need to address physical factors, you might also consider the following games.   

Game Price Comments
review | teardown ]
£15 Patchwork is only a two player game but people will find reasons to play it again and again.  Players with visual impairments may need some support, but there are workarounds that keep the game playable.

If Communicative Factors are not an issue

 Some games stress communication between players, either as a result of collaborative strategy; negotiation; or bluffing and misdirection.   This tends to disproportionately disadvantage players with hearing and articulation impairments.  If that doesn’t need to be taken into account, you might want to consider the games on the following list.

Game Price Comments
One Night Ultimate Werewolf
review | teardown ]
£22 You’ll need to be prepared to make some compensations here during the night phase to make sure nobody is advantaged or disadvantaged by environmental clues or swapping of cards.  It’s very doable though, and it’s a game that works well for a range of player counts.

For More Sophisticated Use Cases

You might want to check out our accessibility masterlist if you have more complex intersections of requirements.  We update this on a weekly basis, so keep us in mind if you want to see when new games get added.  As ever, you can get in touch with me at [email protected] if you want to chat games accessibility and your own specific requirements.  I can’t guarantee an especially speedy response, but I’m happy to help whenever I can.

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