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Gaming with the Blind: a story
Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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Three years ago, when I entered college, I met a very peculiar and interesting man whom I became fast friends with. I worked with him on many projects, and as we spent time together, I realized that not only was he an incredible friend, but that he had a deep interest in board games as well as I did.

His name is Adam, and there was only one issue.
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1. Board Game: 3 Blind Mice [Average Rating:6.50 Unranked]
Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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Adam is blind. He lost his eyes very early in his childhood due to illness, and has been blind for over 14 years. He has two plastic eyes which fit into his sockets, and usually carries a cane to get places. Having spent time with him, I have realized that Adam is very OCD; not out of any psychological issues, but out of need. If I were to misplace a phone on a crowded desktop, most of the time all I would need to do was to quickly scan the tabletop and look for my phone, but Adam has no ability to take in visual input. To find an object, he must search for it with his hands, or ask someone to hand it to him. This produced a need to know where everything is and a wicked good memory, one which tends to fox me when I've played games with him. Adam also has very good hearing and sense of place; He took martial arts shortly after his illness and has benefited greatly from it. More than once I've walked up to him, and even before I've said anything he knows it's me. To this day I don't know how he does it...
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2. Board Game: Savage Worlds [Average Rating:8.14 Overall Rank:2319]
Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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I first learned of Adams interest when he heard I played role playing games, and convinced me to start a Deadlands campaign with some other friends. Having played with miniatures and grid mats all my life, I had to make a large adjustment to adapt to Adam's disability. But it has really helped. I've been much more descriptive of fights, which makes them much more interesting to listen to and fun to imagine, and I've also had to break a habit of saying "You" when I refer to a person. Most people understand the visual cure of the GM looking at them, but Adam can't. I tend to refer to characters instead, which again makes role playing in general more descriptive and just plain fun to listen to!
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3. Board Game: The BoardGameGeek Game [Average Rating:6.13 Overall Rank:2744]
Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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But I am a Board Game Geek as well, and I soon realized that I had a potential gamer by my side. The problem was that though I had a few great games, Adam was incapable of playing with them! The same visual cues and boards that I could understand at a glance were completely incomprehensible to him! I knew this was something I could change, and so I set out to find what exactly made a game "accessible" to Adam.
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4. Board Game: Chess [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:320]
Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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Games Already Playable

Chess is one of Adam's favourite games, and it's a set he's made himself. Adam built a wire grid suspended by blocks of wood about an inch into the air. He also took the black pieces and put a blob of hot glue on the top of each one. He places the chess pieces inside the wire so that they cannot be knocked over, and will play quite easily by feeling the pieces as we play. If I announce my move to him, it's easier, since he has a pretty good idea of what the board looks like beforehand.
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5. Board Game: Mancala [Average Rating:5.84 Overall Rank:3010]
Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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Mancala is one of the few games that needs no changes to allow Adam to play it. Get a bunch of glass stones and a Mancala board and he's ready to go.
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6. Board Game: Spades [Average Rating:6.78 Overall Rank:899]
Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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Adam has a deck of plastic brailled cards that we can play with. It has pictures for me, and braille in the corner depicting rank and suit for him. My only grief with the cards is that braille makes the cards very thick at each corner, making the deck large and unwieldy. But concessions must be made in order to make games accessible.

Which leads me to my next topic...
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7. Board Game: Game Design: Theory and Practice [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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Making Games Accessible

So Adam has a bunch of games he can play, I thought. Rubbish! He's only just felt the tip of the iceberg, and there are so many other board games, good board games, that I'm sure he would love. I myself had a few of them. But the problem is, making a board game usable by the blind is a very hard task.
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8. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:8.13 Overall Rank:6]
Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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Limited State

Some board games have bits. Lots of bits. So many bits that the box weighs 7 pounds. And I can't even look at those games as a possible game for Adam.
You know why? State.
For those of you who don't know, state is a techie term for every possible configuration a program or other dynamic machine can have. And when considering a game, the first thing I have to look at is how much state has to be kept.

Agricola is a good example of a bad state game. Bits everywhere, boards, cards, different advancements, and several dozen things to keep track of. You and I can see all that by looking at the board. Adam? Even he doesn't have that good a memory. If a game does have a decent amount of state, it must be easily traceable by him; either we verbally announce the state when it changes, or we make him able to "feel" the state without disturbing it. Like the chess set, Adam should be able to feel every piece without disturbing where it is or knocking it over.
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9. Board Game: Magic: The Gathering [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:120]
Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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Limited Text

Just like state, with text, the less the better. Now, we can convert text into braille fairly easily, but braille takes up a lot more space than printed characters. The same 120 page textbook I keep in my backpack takes up 2 full volumes in Adam's study. If a card has more than a word or two on it, it simply takes up too much space and takes too long for him to read.

If a game has a limited number of types of cards with text, I'll often just print the names, or shorthands of the names, and give a reference card to Adam. He usually memorizes them all within a play or two.
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10. Board Game: Stratego [Average Rating:6.01 Overall Rank:2088]
Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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Strategy

Now this is technically not a blind-specific hurdle, but it is worth mentioning. Adam is a fan of games that require thought and strategy, and tends to shy away from games that require little thought. This creates an interesting contradiction. On one hand, I need games with simple states. On the other hand, games that require thought often have very large and complex states. So for the most part, I have to find games that create a complex and deep game with only a few bits.
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11. Board Game: Tichu [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:63]
Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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Tichu

Tichu was the first big hit with Adam. Cards are easy to create, and since Tichu requires little other known information then your hand, it was dead easy to pick up a Tichu set and braille the cards. Adam loves the multiple tactics and deep decisions this game gives him. And he beats me more often than not, due to his wicked good memory.
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12. Board Game: Hive [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:143]
Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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Hive

Now you wouldn't think this game would be good for Adam, but you're wrong. Hive has a rather limited state, since it only has 22 pieces at the maximum, and only a few of them can move at any one point. The breakthrough was when I realized that I could glue sticky-mat material to the bottom of the pieces. Now when he feels the state, they don't shift at all, and with the addition of brailled tops, we can easily break out a game, regardless of where we are!
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13. Board Game: Paparazzo [Average Rating:5.81 Overall Rank:7499]
Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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Rather unsurprisingly, this game wasn't very popular with Adam and the group I game with, but it's a good example of a game with just the right amount of state. The only thing we have to track for Adam is the current cost of each picture, which we state whenever we play a new photo to the center. The hardest part about making this game accessible was figuring out how to differentiate the money- the pieces that come with the game are too similar in size and texture for Adam to tell them apart. We use Adam's brailled monopoly money instead.
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14. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.15 Overall Rank:5]
Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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Now this seems like an example of a game with too much state. But I have a feeling that with some work, I could make this game accessible.

The trick, I think, is that your plantation doesn't have to be represented with cardboard bits and wooden bits, which are hard for Adam to recognize. If I represented Plantations, Buildings, and even Resources as cards, which are easy to convert to something Adam can read. I'm still not sure how to represent workers, but with some more thought, I could make this game work.
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15. Board Game: Acquire [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:144]
Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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I bought this version of Acquire at a thrift store for $5, and I'm debating whether to make this one accessible or not.

After much deliberation, me and Adam agree that this one could be easily converted. The raised grid and inset tiles are easy enough to read, and the stocks can be brailled for easy reading. The only problem that I could see is that for Adam to differentiate between companies, I may need to make some textured tiles for each, so that when a company is formed, we replace all the tiles forming that company with company-specific tiles.

As for money, again we can use Adam's brailled monopoly money as a substitute, but I have been thinking of other methods...
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16. Board Game: Poker [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:675]
Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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Poker Chips

What gamer doesn't love poker chips? The can be used for a variety of games, and due to their stackability and bright colours, they're easily distinguishable from each other!

But not for Adam All poker chips feel the same, and while gaming, I have to tell him what colour chips he has. I've been thinking of a couple solutions to this problem.

I think that if I bevel some markings in the edges of the poker ships, Adam will be able to feel them and know the denomination of the chip. One indent for the first denomination, two indents for the next, and so on.

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Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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That's all I have for now, folks. I'd be happy to take suggestions and questions, and once I have more ideas I plan on posting them here. But for now, I'm just glad you read through my incoherent rambling. Thank you all!
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18. Board Game: Citadels [Average Rating:7.19 Overall Rank:210]
Murray C
Canada
Vancouver
British Colombia
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I think this game might work. Each card will need a braille number at the top for the cost and a braille letter at the bottom to represent the color (Blue, Red, Green, Yellow, Purple). Most people memorize the role card turn order and abilities within 2-3 plays anyways, so you'll just need a reference card and to mark a braille number on the role cards, maybe something like RC1 through RC8 to differentiate them from district cards.

The only problem would be the Purple district cards, which all have different special abilities. You may need a reference sheet for this or simply play without invoking their abilities.
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19. Board Game: Ca$h 'n Gun$ [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:610]
Murray C
Canada
Vancouver
British Colombia
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This might work, but I'm not sure if it would be appealing to your friend as there isn't that much strategy involved.

The cards will need a quick modification so that you know if it's a Bang!, Triple Bang! or Click. Luckily, only one set needs to be modified in this way. At the count, Adam could either point his gun or simply say the name of the person that he's pointing at. A lot of communication would be required, but it can't hurt to try this one out.
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20. Board Game: Shear Panic [Average Rating:6.42 Overall Rank:1178]

Lacombe
Louisiana
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Suddenly a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.
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Strangely enough, almost every game I really really like is probably blind-friendly.

For Shear Panic, just braille-code the different colors of sheep. The state changes a lot, but there are only nine very large pieces so it would be easy for him to "read" the board between turns.

In addition, there are only half a dozen possible moves to make, and they are all positional rather than abstract [like increasing the value of a stock, for example]. Once he learns the moves, he'd cream you.
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21. Board Game: Samurai [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:126]

Lacombe
Louisiana
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Suddenly a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.
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Figure out a way to make the pieces stick and braille-code the tiles, and you're good to go.

The board has a lot of possible states, but each set of figures you're competing for is distinct.

At most, he'd have to read 6 tiles around a particular location, then see if anything else is nearby.

Holding the entire board in memory might be difficult, but it's easily read if you can keep the pieces still.
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22. Board Game: Zendo [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:484]

Lacombe
Louisiana
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Suddenly a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.
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Ignore color and this could be an entirely tactile game.

It might be difficult for him to "scan" the field, though.

But, if you make sure everyone builds stable koans, it'd work.

He could feel them all as much as he wanted and they wouldn't move.
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23. Board Game: Go [Average Rating:7.71 Overall Rank:65]
Zach Hoekstra
United States
Fort Collins
Colorado
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Adam has expressed some interest in Go, and after some research, I have found that there are blind Go players in Japan. They have boards with circular indents, and the stones all fit nicely into the board, with indents to mark one of the colours.

I'm hoping to find or make a pegboard and some textured pegs so I can teach him some time. I know he can handle a 9x9, but a 19x19 board may be just a bit too much.
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24. Board Game: Zooloretto [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:428] [Average Rating:6.90 Unranked]
Murray C
Canada
Vancouver
British Colombia
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Just thought of this one. If you're willing to do A LOT of communication and announcing every move, then it could work out just fine. Not sure if it's worth the effort, but it's definitely not hard to scan if people just remind Adam of what's on their boards.

Velcro or magnets might help keep pieces on Adam's board better if you braille the tokens.
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25. Board Game: Quoridor [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:762]
J. Romano
United States
Denver
Colorado
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If your friend likes Chess, there's a good chance he'll enjoy Quoridor. It should be possible for him to "see" the pieces by touch.
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