Meeple Like Us

Welcome to Meeple Like Us, the BGG face for http://meeplelikeus.co.uk. Our focus is on board-games, especially the physical, cognitive, visual, emotional and sociological accessibility of tabletop gaming. Get in touch at dice@imaginary-realities.com.

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We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you this breaking news

Michael Heron
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Gothenburg
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Persistently controversial. The bad boy of board games.
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It’s that time of year again it seems – I’m calling another halt to normal operations of the site for a bit. It’s like this has become my present to the site on its birthday.

When I took my first hiatus after four years of running Meeple Like Us, there were a few reasons behind it. One was the workload I had inflicted upon myself. I was covering a game a week, which meant a review and a teardown… but mainly, what it meant was a punishing schedule of actually finding the time to play each game often enough that I could be confident in what I had to say. On top of that there were three Patreon exclusive posts (there still are), and two special features. That is to say – I was writing a lot every month and it was burning me out like an old-timey lightbulb.

The approach after my hiatus ended was to cut back on output. I’d alternate reviews and teardowns. Special features went away as Patreon income declined, which wasn’t unwelcome. The Patreon posts are different – I write them as I go along through the month so they’re never really a chore.

The good news is that this is a completely sustainable pace of content production for someone that is basically just documenting his own personal research project. This approach has completely frozen the rate at which my burnout accrues. I feel like I could do this pretty much forever.

But here’s the thing…

I arrested the rate of burnout, but I never really addressed the previous build-up. After the first review I wrote after I returned to the site, a friend and patron said ‘Wow, you’re obviously still burnt out’. That review was Corinth, and yeah – I think he was right. It’s an honest review – and I think a generally fair review – but it’s also a mean review. It reads to me like the weary sigh of someone saying ‘Okay, time to plough through this shit one more time’.

One of our patrons on Discord the other day said something about how their favourite thing in our reviews were the jokes. And it made me pause a bit because I suddenly remembered – ‘oh yes, there used to be jokes in these reviews’. It has been years since I’ve really felt like trying to be funny, because that requires at least some light-heartedness. I think our reviews used to be fun. They used to reflect my own enthusiasm for the games I was playing. I think the quality of criticism is still consistent. And, to blow my own horn for a moment, I think it’s consistently quite high. It’s just that now these reviews have all the academic detachment of someone that is merely studying the hobby rather than joyfully participating within it. It’s like I’m dissecting fun under a microscope and that’s a ridiculous approach because that’s not where fun lives.

I think there’s been a bad energy running through the site’s output over the past twelve months. Some of that is understandable – it’s been an incredibly shitty year with very little to celebrate. Mainly though it’s because I don’t think this is a fun hobby any more.

Part of that is the toxicity of the broader ‘community’ has been stirred up into something genuinely poisonous over the past few years. Harassment, bullying, clout-chasing crusades, dogpiles, slander and more have become not just an unfortunate part of the hobby but one of the primary reasons I have started to recommend people avoid it entirely. Theres nothing quite like the worst amongst board gamers to put people off of the best amongst board gaming.  Obviously I don’t count any of our regular readers in that observation – you’re all lovely – but that still leaves a lot of people implicated.

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Mon Mar 29, 2021 1:28 pm
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Blades in the Dark (2016) – Accessibility Teardown

Michael Heron
Sweden
Gothenburg
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Introduction

I have perhaps become a little too emboldened by doing the teardown for Thousand Year Old Vampire. That was a nice, self-contained little creativity exercise that was more amenable to this kind of process than many other RPG systems. And now I’m doing Blades in the Dark which is a much more difficult prospect. For one thing it’s a more mechanically sophisticated system even if its focus is very much on the fiction aspect of collaborative storytelling. For another, it moves into territory where the rules as written (RAW) are only guidelines for the creativity of the GM.

It’s worth a go though! Let’s take a look at the accessibility of Blades in the Dark and see if we can get something useful out of the process.

Don’t be surprised if the answer is ‘no’.

As with Thousand Year Old Vampire I’ll look at both the PDF and the book, but also the excellent online resource that’s available.

Colour Blindness

Colour blindness is just not a problem at all. The book and the PDF are both greyscale and colour is never used as a channel of information. The game itself has no colour at all used in its systems, and as such this gets our strongest of strong recommendations. It’s doesn’t even merit a CV Simulator photograph because it just looks like the normal text.

Visual Accessibility


There isn’t a lot of art in the book or the PDF, and the layout of both is almost optimal. It occasionally slips into column mode and there is the occasional chart or table that needs close inspection, but the vast majority of the game is presented in clear, sequential text. It’s sparsely ornamented, with bold being used to link to specific gameplay terms. Page numbers are clear, and contrasted against art where it’s present. There’s not a lot of that in any case.

The PDF is immaculately bookmarked, but not quite so immaculately marked up for accessibility. Tabbing through takes you only to the next clickable link, and clicking on individual parts of the book will usually only identify a line, rather than a block, of text to be read aloud. When it doesn’t identify a line, it’s because it’s only identifying part of a line. There’s no easy way I could see to simply identify that the text should be read out line by line, but that will obviously vary from tool to tool. Within Adobe’s own screen-reader software though it’s a hassle.

For rules themselves though it’s not really that much of an issue because they are much more accessibly presented on the Blades in the Dark website. There they are shorn of pretty much all the structural problems you’d find in the PDF. The only issue there is that the setting information is, as best I can tell, only available in the PDF. Essentially the website gives you the creative commons ‘Forged in the Dark’ ruleset. Fine if you want to, as I do, homebrew your own campaign. Less good if you want to adventure inside the excellently evocative world of Duskvol. As I say, some software will work better than others for navigating the PDF but I suspect it’s going to be something of a chore regardless. In any case, I couldn’t find any alt-text marked consistently throughout either and so even if you get that working you’ll still likely be missing important information.

We can only tentatively recommend Blades in the Dark in this category for those that require a screen-reader. It will be Software Dependant. For those that can get by with close inspection though, Blades is a generally positive experience thanks to the well structured PDF, the clear text in the book, and the supporting website.

We’ll recommend it overall, but only just.

Cognitive Accessibility

Mechanically Blades in the Dark is not especially demanding. Arithmetically all someone needs is the ability to identify the biggest number rolled in a poll of dice. Everything else is largely a negotiation between players and the GM. You could feasibly play the game, and well, by doing nothing more than saying what you want to do and have the GM enact it in the game rules. ‘I want to help Pauline by kicking the dog’s ball away’. From that alone the GM can work out everything else from the roll you’d want to use, the effect, and the complications. If you want it, Blades in the Dark can go from Rules-Lite to Rules Negligible as long as you and the GM are okay with it.

But that doesn’t mean it’s plain sailing here.

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Sun Mar 28, 2021 6:55 pm
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A Career Ending Talk

Michael Heron
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Gothenburg
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For years I've wanted to give a talk on imposter syndrom for students. Today I finally got the chance!  If you're interested, I recorded it and make it available for you enjoyment.  If you like.



Some of you might recognise it as a spoken version of this post from years gone by.
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Tue Mar 23, 2021 9:56 pm
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Blades in the Dark (2016)

Michael Heron
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TL;DR: Absolutely amazing! Don't bother reading any farther, just go try it.

You know all those caveats and warnings I put on my review of Thousand Year Old Vampire? Imagine they’re replicated here. The TLDR summary is ‘I don’t really know enough about playing RPGs to be a truly credible commentator and even if I did they’re not really within the scope of Meeple Like Us’.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to tell you how much I have fallen in love with Blades in the Dark.

It’s really an incredible pitch for a game. Set in a dark, gothic city where the dead have forgotten how to die. A city where rampaging hordes of murderous ghosts are kept at bay by enormous lightning barriers at the periphery of civilization. A lightning barrier that is fuelled by the blood of eldritch abominations that lurk in the depths of the Void Sea. The city acts as the gateway between the hunters that harvest these monstrosities and the wider Empire in which it sits. It’s incredibly Extra in a wonderful way – the perfect pitch for a city steeped in wealth, corruption, and cosmic horror.

And yet, it’s not the reason why I love Blades in the Dark. Indeed, it’s not even the setting that my own Blades in the Dark campaign uses. The city of Duskvol is amazingly cool – a reason by itself to play the game. But I was planning to play with mostly novices and I didn’t want them to have to learn dozens of pages of ‘lore’ to understand the geography and context of their adventures. I felt like introducing them to a brand new world as well as a game with a ruleset I had never used before was a little bit much. But all my players are fans of Discworld…

I loved the game so much from the first time I saw it in action that I instantly leapt to ‘homebrew’ campaign – not because I thought I could do better, but rather than I felt in my bones a deep desire to create within this marvellous framework. That has led to my running bespoke campaign – Blades in the Dark as applied to Terry Pratchett’s city of Ankh-Morpork. Those getting our $3 Patreon updates will be seeing regular updates on how that goes, but it’s not really the focus of the review here. I bring it up primarily to illustrate BitD’s most compelling feature – it’s an inspirational game system.

The game runs on the ‘Forged in the Dark’ ruleset. Or rather, it’s more accurate to say it’s the progenitor of that ruleset. This is a fiction-first system that emphasizes the narrative much more than it does the rules. You don’t need to memorize lookup tables or do a lot of arithmetic here. You don’t manipulate skills and spells so much as you use skills and spells to shape a collaborative story. And yeah, that’s true of any RPG system but Blades in the Dark doubles down on the concept by putting pretty much every significant tool of control directly into the hands of the players. And, like handing a loaded gun to an excitable child, that approach is what gives the game its nervous, compelling energy.

GM: Okay. You arrive at the Cockbill Street repair yard to find that what is supposed to be your ‘headquarters’ has in fact been taken over by the Guild of Beggars. The place is teeming with them – and some of them look like they might be the kind that follow you down dark alleys and demand money with menaces. Urchins run in and out of the building, which seems to be acting as a kind of doss-house for those that have made it a home. Your first order of business, it seems, is taking ownership of a building that is far less abandoned than you have been led to believe.

The GM, as is traditional, sets the tone and context of what’s happening. In a traditional RPG you’d often find this is the point where things start to get bogged down in details and planning. Blades though dispenses with all of that – its style of story-telling is far more Oceans Eleven than it is Lord of the Rings. You don’t set detailed plans or source customised inventories. Instead, you define a rough style of approach (assault, deception, stealth and so on) and then a ‘detail’ that contextualises that approach for the specific scenario (or ‘score’) you’re facing. Players chat for a bit and then give the overview of the strategy.

Player: We’re going to make a social approach – we’ll grab one of the scuttling urchins and convince them that the Thieves Guild have just bought the property and won’t be happy if they have to evict the rest.

That’s it. That’s your plan. Next, players define their ‘loadout’, which is the number of items they have available for the rest of the score. And here, they just choose ‘light’, ‘normal’, or ‘heavy’. Everyone has a list of things they have generally available as equipment, but they don’t commit to having brought any of it until they decide to use it. It’s like everyone brought a Mary Poppins bag with them into a heist. Nobody is left in the circumstance where the thing that stands between them and their goal is the lack of a critical item they didn’t know they’d need. It’s assumed, within Blades in the Dark, that your characters are competent. They did all the scoping out of the joint ‘off screen’. The specific intersection of requirement and situation is a quantum wave of possibilities that you can collapse at will. You needed a fancy set of lockpicks, which of course you packed in advance because you knew you’d probably need them.

Once all this is decided, the GM makes the ‘engagement roll’, which is ‘how well did this go’. Blades uses six-sided dice exclusively, and the more you roll the more chance you have of meaningful success. You pick the highest die from your roll. One to three is ‘fail’, four to five is ‘success with a complication’, and six is ‘success without a complication’. Two sixes in the dice pool mean ‘a critical success’. For engagement the GM gives a die for luck, and then adds dice based on whether the plan is especially audacious, attacks weak points, makes use of connections and contacts and so on. Mechanically there’s no reward to over-stressing it. There’s no point spending your time in the prologue when there’s a main story to tackle.

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Fri Mar 19, 2021 9:22 pm
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Thousand Year Old Vampire (2020) - Accessibility Teardown

Michael Heron
Sweden
Gothenburg
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Introduction

If our review of Thousand Year Old Vampire was an experiment in exploring outside our comfort zone, it’s the laboratory of the accessibility teardown that has the results in which I’m really interested.   There are lots of reasons to believe a teardown on a roleplaying system can’t be a useful document.  It’s a bit like giving a review of a live performance – the fact it went well, or poorly, on one night doesn’t mean the experience will be the same on another.  So much about roleplaying as an activity is driven by group chemistry and DM philosophy that I’m genuinely unsure whether it’s even worth going through the process.

This is a bit of a ‘proof of concept’ teardown then.   If it works, perhaps a sign of things to come in the future.  If not, at least I’ll have done the initial shakedown tour and decided on what work is needed before we venture out into new and unfamiliar oceans.

I often say at the start of a teardown that I’m likely to be as surprised at the result as anyone.  It’s never been truer than it is here.   Let’s find out if this even works.

I’m going to talk about this as a book and also as a PDF.   In the latter case I’m going to be guided by the excellent article that Sightless Fun have written on the topic of ‘the accessibility of digital manuals’ when it comes to assessing visual accessibility.

Colour Blindness

You can get the game as a book, which has some visual issues in its presentation.  As a PDF though you get a lot more tools for ensuring its accessibility.   Here though it’s not especially important which you get – colour is only ever used as ornamentation.  Colour is not a significant channel of information in any sense – you’ll mostly be working within a word processor or your own written notes, and the prompts are uniform in their colours.    The rest of the text is readable regardless of flavour of colour blindness.  For example, instructional text:

And the main set of prompts themselves:

As such, we’ll strongly recommend Thousand Year Old Vampire in this category.

Visual Accessibility


Let’s consider this from two angles – first, the accessibility of the layout and typography and then how well the PDF conforms to the requirements of screen-reading in the context of the gameplay.

First of all, as a book it’s a bit of a cluttered confusion.  I’ve certainly seen busier layouts but the problem for those trying to make out the text is that it’s often very small, overly ornamented, and inconsistent in its placement and conventions.   For example, the information about ‘playing safely’ is represented as a kind of post-it note sellotaped onto a page and it partially obscures the header below.   It’s certainly in keeping with the theme of the book but this kind of ‘pretend feelie’ is commonplace through the instructional material.

Text is usually well contrasted against the page upon which is placed though making it at least relatively easy for players to tell what is ‘main’ content and what is a flavourful addition.  Text is written mostly in columns, which isn’t ideal, but switches up repeatedly in the course of the document.  The prompts for example are single column and split into three sections for those that land on the same prompt more than once.   Alternate prompts, in the appendix, are instead in list format in a much smaller, harder to read font.   There are then additional prompts.  These are hard to read against the background given the font choice, and then inconsistent in the font use and the weight of the font against the page.   They alternate between dark and faint in a way that is really unhelpful.

For those without access to a ten sided dice and six sided dice, the game offers a kind of ‘lookup table’ where you pick a cell at random and use the number in there.   That’s great for those that don’t have accessible dice, but not so great for those that can’t easily read the figures.   Visually impaired players are far more likely to have an accessible d6 than an accessible d10, but honestly there wouldn’t be that much difference in rolling 2d6-1 and then subtracting 1d6.  It would change the bend of the chronology ever so slightly but it wouldn’t ruin it.

The way in which you use the dice is that you take the prompt you currently occupy and then add the result of the dice rolls to it to find the number of new prompt.    There is one prompt per page, which is excellent, at least as far as the standard prompts go.   Moving into alternate or additional prompts is a more fraught exercise.

So, the book is an inconsistent jumble from the perspective of clear accessibility and we wouldn’t advise you to get it as a physical product if visual accessibility is important.  PDFs though can be a lot more amenable to exploration if they are well structured.

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Fri Mar 12, 2021 9:37 pm
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Thousand Year Old Vampire (2020)

Michael Heron
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This review is a little bit of an experiment in branching out from the site’s core remit. Thousand Year Old Vampire bills itself as a ‘solo roleplaying game of memory, loss and vampires’ and I discovered it largely by accident. One of the things I’m doing this coming academic year is a course that involves roleplaying games (my job is great, if I haven’t made that clear before) and I wanted to broaden my experience beyond the confines of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s led to a borderline obsession with Blades in the Dark, and a small but growing collection of ‘weird’ RPGs – boxed, book, and PDF – being added to my physical and digital shelves. Thousand Year Old Vampire was mentioned in passing in a forum post and yeah – it was a strong enough pitch that I felt the need to check it out.

Since this is an experiment though, I need to make a few things clear. I don’t really have a deep mental bench when it comes to RPGs. My real experience is limited to a few forum RPG experiments and one live session at a convention. For unrelated reasons though I do have a very broad experience with the creation of characters in a lot of systems. I’ve owned a lot of systems. I’ve read a lot of sourcebooks. I just haven’t played much because they require one important and valuable resource – friends with the time, and desire, to play these games. And, you guessed it – I don’t have any friends.

That puts me in a weird position in that I can, for example, outline the rules of THAC0 and how the DC of later D&D editions refined and simplified the often archaic arithmetic that AD&D inherited from Chainmail. I can go on at length about the troupe based conventions of Ars Magica, and how the sheer specificity of the Warhammer 40K universe is a detriment to novice roleplaying. And yet I can’t really drill down into what it feels like to level up a character that’s part of an ongoing, vibrant campaign. I’m like an old-timey pirate you’d meet in a bar only to find out they’d never been on a ship more exciting than a local ferry.

The second thing that’s important here is that RPGs don’t lend themselves well to the MLU formula. How do you do an accessibility teardown on a game system that is found more in its players than in its sourcebook? How do you talk about – say – the emotional accessibility of D&D? The experience of players with a DM that wants to make them act in an overtly sexualised campaign is very different to those that make use of the various safety toolkits that have become fashionable over the years. The DM relays the world, interprets its rules, and makes up systems on the fly to accommodate human ingenuity. I’m not sure you can realistically pin any of that into an academic analysis of accessibility and – first and foremost – that’s what this site is about. But Thousand Year Old Vampire is a game that I think permits it more than most. It’s a good system for sticking a toe in the water.

Raise your hand if you’ve got an issue with any of that. No, put your hand down you fool. I can’t see you. We’re going ahead with this regardless. Just keep all those caveats in mind. They are the first of the memories you’ll record through the course of the review.

Thousand Year Old Vampire works on the basis of a series of numbered narrative prompts that you progress through – forwards and backwards – as a result of dice rolls. You roll a ten sided dice, subtract the value of a six sided dice, and add the result to the prompt where you currently located. The trend of the game is ‘upwards’, and as you won’t be surprised to know the last few passages in the book are all about endings. Your vampire might be a brief, unhappy thing overtaken by time and destroyed before it has a chance to unlive. It might buck the trend and revisit earlier passages again and again, where they encounter the prompts that trigger on a seond and third visit. You don’t know – your vampire merely has the potential for a lifespan of millennia.

Before you plunge into this process though, you create your character. There are few rules or restrictions here – the game itself is so loose in its prompting that really it’s an exercise in enforcing consistency with your own creativity. You’ll decide on a a few mortals that you know and an immortal that sired you. You’ll define a background, and some skills and resources with which that background furnished you. They might be grand things like ‘A massive army that can defeat all foes’, or small mementos such as ‘the bible I was given by my abbot’. Your skills can be anything from ‘I can work magic’ to ‘I am passingly literate in Latin’. It doesn’t matter – these things have no mechanical weight.

Most important are your memory slots, and it’s here where Thousand Year Old Vampire becomes a genuinely poignant experience.

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Sat Mar 6, 2021 8:06 pm
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The Quacks of Quedlinburg (2018) – Accessibility Teardown

Michael Heron
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Gothenburg
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Introduction

Quacks of Quedlinburg is a push your luck game where fortune winks and says ‘Oh wow, you’re so brave, good for you kiddo!’. This, despite knowing full well, that this is gambling with the training wheels on. The risk built into its mechanisms is illusory, and as a result it’s about as friendly a take on the concept as I can imagine. That means it lacks the edge I like to see in games. I like the creases in a design to be sharp enough to draw blood. That’s why we gave Quacks a lukewarm three stars in our review.

That means though it’s more approachable in its sensibilities than a lot of games I might consider part of this niche. That probably bodes well for an accessibility analysis, but we’ll see for sure when we make it to the end of the text.

Let’s see what we can brew up.

Colour Blindness


Each of the tokens you draw has its own indicative icon that shows what it represents, and the coloured ingredient books that show their effects are likewise double-coded with art. Really the colours don’t matter much – they’re more for decoration. All of that is fine.


There is a problem though when it comes to tracking player position on the score board, because we see the usual quad of colours – red, green, blue and yellow. For your own droplet token and rat tails it doesn’t matter. And likewise it doesn’t matter for the colour of your cauldron. It does that matter when looking at who is where on the board:

This is more than just ‘I need to ask who is where’ because those behind the leader are entitled to thicken their potion with a number of rat tails based on the distance between them and the first player. As such, correctly identifying how many of those you’ll get is important. It’s not likely to be the case that a player will make long term decisions based on where they are in the tracker but they certainly want to make sure they’re getting their fair share, and (if they’re honest) that they aren’t taking more tails than their entitlement.

This isn’t a critical issue, but the weird thing is that it’s actually solved sort of with the rat and droplet tokens., Thehave icons printed onto the surface. If it can be done there, it could surely have been done to uniquely identify each score token with an icon of its own.

Anyway, as is usually the case you can replace the circular scoring discs with anything you like. All the other discs live safely on your personal board.

We’ll recommend, just, Quacks of Quedlinburg in this category.

Visual Accessibility


Oh boy, every part of the game is a problem in this category. It’s at the point that I don’t think it’s possible to play without considerable support from the table, perhaps even a dedicated support player. The more severe a visual impairment is, the more that becomes the only feasible option.

Let’s begin with drawing tokens from the bag. While they are all vibrantly coloured, they each have the same form factor and they can’t be differentiated by touch. That’s inevitable, otherwise people could simply pull whatever token they like out of the bag. But what that means is that every time a blind player draws a token they’ll either need to do some close examination or have someone else tell them what it is. That’s not great. Although the contrast on the tokens is good, they’re still quite small.

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Sat Feb 27, 2021 9:24 pm
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The Quacks of Quedlinburg (2018)

Michael Heron
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Gothenburg
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I have a number of things that aggravate me about Quacks of Quedlinburg but none are quite so intense as my hatred for whoever named it. I have never once written it down correctly the first, second or even third time. It’s given my spell-checker a stress headache. Whenever I talk about it I have to look at the smeared out writing on my palm, at which point it becomes ‘Quorks of Cuisinart?’. This is a game that has built its search engine discoverability around what it found in the recovered escape plans of Osama Bin Laden. Even now, writing this review with the box right in front of me I’m still not sure I’ve spelled it correctly.

Still, aside from the name there’s a nice pitch in here. For those of you that may struggle with imposter syndrome, this is a game that will give you something of an outlet. Here, it’s not a syndrome at all – you genuinely are an imposter. You’re a traveling peddler of snake oil and other reptile based unguents, plying a trade where healing potions use chunkiness as a first order selling point. How else could you explain a game mechanism that lets you use rat tails as a bulking agent? I mean, that’s how I get the appropriate blend of textures in my home-made soup but I had assumed that was my own innovation.

Mostly what you spend your time doing in Clacks of Quindington is worrying. It’s a game built almost entirely around the idea of catastrophising. And yet you really only make two significant decisions during any round of the game. At the end of every phase of potion brewing, you get to buy fresh new ingredients for your future hideous concoctions and add them to the cloth bag that acts as your storage pantry. That’s decision one. Decision two is a less sophisticated instrument. You get to say ‘stop’ when adding ingredients to the boiling pot of your kitchen cooker.

Everything else is set dressing.

Ingredients you draw from your bag have a colour, which may have a special effect either when placed or at the end of the brewing phase. Each also has a number, which is how many spaces along you place it from the last ingredient. The further along the potion track you get, the more points you’ll be awarded and the more money you’ll get for buying new ingredients.

The problem is that your ingredient bag contains some special tokens that add bulk to the body of your potion, but also instability. If you draw a sufficient number of these that their numbers exceed seven your potion will explode. It presumably ;eaves you comically drenched in a children’s TV style gunge as you stare dejectedly at the camera, wondering how you have found yourself in such low station at your decrepit stage of life. It’s like an episode of Breaking Bad if it had been written by Timmy Mallett. It should have been called Wacadays of Chesingtons instead of Quirks of Quasimodo.

There’s some other stuff relating to droplets (how much of a start your potions get each round), rubies and fortune cards but those don’t really matter. Quicks is heart and soul a game about ‘saying when’. Imagine if rather than adding sugar to your coffee, someone was repeatedly ladling a spoonful of magnesium into your cup. ‘When’, you’d scream. ‘For the love of God, when!’

And yet, for something so simple it is an intimidating game to set up. So many different ingredients, so many different modular effects for each. The cauldron looks positively alarming, like a spreadsheet someone distorted through a spiral filter on Tiktok. Much like the façade of competence you are projecting into the game, it’s all a trick of perception. At its core the game is exactly as simple as I have described. And yeah, it’s fun. But also, it’s not a lot of fun.

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Fri Feb 19, 2021 9:25 pm
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Walking in Burano (2018) - Accessibility Teardown

Michael Heron
Sweden
Gothenburg
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Persistently controversial. The bad boy of board games.
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Introduction

I didn’t really get a lot of joy out of Walking in Burano. It’s one of an awkward class of games to review – ‘games that don’t give you a lot to talk about’. Those that do this kind of work professionally – or even just more diligently than I do – have the luxury of choosing only to cover those games that are fodder for easy reviews. Me, I have so much other stuff that needs to be done that I’m stuck with reviewing what I’ve played. On the plus side, it means that this site covers a lot of things that would otherwise go by the wayside. On the negative side, sometimes reviews are a chore to construct – not because the game is bad but because the game doesn’t give a lot of purchase for a reviewer’s probing fingertips.

Walking In Burano isn’t for me, but I definitely think people that enjoy their friends more than they do cardboard boxes might find it more worthwhile. But really, our reviews are only a part of what we do here. Our biggest contribution is the accessibility analysis we do of each. Let’s get walking. In Burano.

Colour Blindness

It is Pretty Bad. There are six different colours of buildings, and that colour is important for placement. Buildings must be all the same colour, and no two adjacent buildings can share a colour. So when you have an offering like this…


You can see some of the problems. There are lots of identifying details on each card, but those are independent of colour. The presence of a flower pot implies nothing about the colour of the building to which it is attached.

This is the only area of the game where colour is a problem, but it’s also pretty much the entire game. A side by side comparison of colours will often allow someone to tell when shades differ, but that doesn’t help in identifying at a distance which row of cards, and how many of them, you should be collecting. You can ask, and the risk is minimal. Or you could play a game that doesn’t require that of you.

It’s not even as if it’s a difficult problem to solve. Coloretto is probably the best example of a game based around colour that is still accessible to people with colour blindness. Just add texture so they are identifiable.

But there’s a twist here, as indicated by Greg Darcy in the comments below. Walking in Burano actually does come with icons in the centre of each card that can be used in place of the colour, so it is in fact colour blindness accessible. The problem is – I didn’t even notice. Usually I’d say ‘Well, that’s on me’ but the symbols used here really aren’t done well at all. They are very small, poorly contrasted against the background, and inconsistently positioned. They are there though. The first published version of this had is category at a ‘don’t recommend’ but I’ve raised it to ‘tentatively recommended, leaning towards recommend’. I don’t think this is a good implementation of accessibility but it’s good enough that it clearly makes the game playable as per the comments. You still shouldn’t be in the position where you have to be straining yourself.


Visual Accessibility


This is another problem area, because the link between scoring and buildings is fluid. You may, or may not, have to worry about cats, or flower pots, or street-lights and it depends on how much value you think a visitor or tourist might provide if you select them. Every time you place a building, you narrow the solution space a little but in the end it’s in constant flux between what you have, what you can get, and what you can score. There are a lot of features that need to be tracked, and they’re often very small when viewed in the context of their card.

It’s not impossible for someone with visual impairments to be querying the table for that information, but the focus of those questions will reveal gameplay intention. And, even if that wasn’t a problem, there will be a lot that needs to be asked because the tableau changes regularly. Everyone takes part of a row during their action – it’s not an optional choice. In a two player game, cards at the end of a row are discarded and refreshed. The churn, in other words, is high. And it’s also complicated by the difficulty in getting exactly the card you want if you need a first floor card – you’ll be getting at least a roof or a street as well.

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Sat Feb 13, 2021 9:07 pm
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Walking in Burano (2018)

Michael Heron
Sweden
Gothenburg
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Come see us at http://meeplelikeus.co.uk
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Persistently controversial. The bad boy of board games.
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I love the art of Maisherly Chan so much that I will buy a game on its presence alone. Shadows in Kyoto was one such game, although its link to the dense extended universe of the Hanamikoji franchise certainly didn’t hurt. And so we find ourselves here, with Walking In Burano arrayed in front of us. The moral of the story I guess is that art is important and I am an uncritical consumer.

But also as we know I’m certainly not a uncritical post-consumer…

I’m not going to go in hard on Walking In Burano. It is what it is – a pleasant time-filler. It’s not particularly adventurous in its design or in the experience it presents to you as a player. It’s just nice. Gentle, even. Its cover art is an almost perfect encapsulation of what the game feels like to play – it’s like being a tourist somewhere agreeable. No pressures and no stresses. It’s just you and a slow-paced exercise in people watching.

It works like this – a set of cards in three categories are dealt out into a tableau. They represent the three possible levels of a building, and the various configurations in which they might appear. Every round, you get to choose a row of these. You start collecting from the top or the bottom, and you collect between one and three cards. If you only want the middle card, you still need to take the one that leads to it. You have a hand limit and it costs money to place them down. The fewer cards you take, the more money you get. The more cards you place, the more money it costs. Placement has to be done according to some relatively strict rules, such as ‘everything has to be the same colour in a row’, or ‘You can’t place cards if you don’t have the right foundations in place’, ‘adjacent houses cannot have the same colour’ and so on. You can break these rules, sometimes, but at a point penalty.

Making your job a little easier is the existence of several ‘scaffold’ cards which you can use to create temporary arrangements of legal card placements. You can place a first floor even if you don’t have a street card as long as you place a scaffold there. Scaffolds are reconfigurable, and each player gets two. Moving them around is a free action although they are also bound by the game’s placement rules. They do though make those placement rules much less of a burden on your street.

When you finish constructing a row, you choose a inhabitant or a tourist to come visit the building and they determine how scoring works. One might score you based on the number of cats in a building, another perhaps by the number of lights across a street. Once a player completes their fifth building, the game is over and you go into scoring. The player closest to the average number of points without going over wins.

Haha, no. The player with the most points wins. I let myself get carried away there with a brief flight of fantasy into the realms of the ‘passingly innovative’.

If it seems like there’s not a lot of meat on these bones, you’re right. Scaffolds pretty much remove any weight of consequence in card selection. Your ability to bypass placement rules with a point penalty means that you can make choices based on a simple arithmetic weighting. Bundling up the collection of cards and money in a single action removes decision tension. Despite Walking in Burano having all the trappings of a modern board game, it feels like an old fashioned card game. Something like Whist, or Go Fish, or even Solitaire.

Does that make it a bad game? Well, no. It is though certainly not something that’s going to get out of this review with anything approaching a recommendation. It does present you with decisions, but I’m hard-pressed to define any of them as ‘interesting’. You do have a rule-set to navigate, but it’s too pliable to be challenging.

Does all that make it a bad way to spend your time though? Maybe the answer to that question deserves a bit more attention.

Read the rest of this post here.

The Meeple Like Us Geeklist is here.

If you can spare a dollar (or more) to support our quest to improve the accessibility of boardgames, we'd appreciate your consideration of our Patreon.
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Sun Feb 7, 2021 6:56 pm
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