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Where have all the board games gone?

Board games are enjoying a renaissance, yet fewer and fewer are available to visually impaired people to play without having to adapt them first. Why is that?

There’s evidence that board games can sharpen cognitive skills and help us to connect socially. So why are the numbers available to visually impaired people dropping?

There have always been fewer games available and most of us will have had to adapt a game or do something to make it work for us. Brailling your own cards, sticking bump-ons on boards and game tokens and having clues and questions read for you by someone else. But should the onus always fall to us?

Three guests discuss the barriers to making more board games accessible: Michael Heron – accessible board game blogger, Kate Evans – Marketing Manager at UK Games Expo – and Dan Rugman – from the Braille Chess Association.

Presenter: Peter White
Producer: Lee Kumutat

Available now

19 minutes

UK Games Expo

The UK Games Expo is happening Friday 31st May to Sunday 2nd June at the NEC in Birmingham and the Hilton Hotel.

Let's Play Together

Adaptation Guidelines of Board Games for Players with Visual Impairment

Meeple Like Us

Meeple Like Us is a review and analysis site that focuses on the physical, visual, cognitive, emotional and socioeconomic accessibility of board-games.You can also visit their master-list of reviews here

Braille Chess Association

The association aims to bring blind and partially sighted chess players together to compete with one another in tournaments organised by them and the International Braille Chess Association.

64 Oz. Games

Richard Gibbs and Emily Gibbs are teachers dedicated to making a wide variety of board games accessible to the blind. The 64 Oz. Games website provides accessibility kits.

American Printing House for the Blind

The American Printing House for the Blind is an American non-for-profit corporation in Louisville, Kentucky promoting independent living for people who are blind and visually impaired. You can find specialist games on their website.

In Touch Transcript: 28-05-19

Downloaded from www.bbc.co.uk/radio4

THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT.  BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.


IN TOUCH – Where have all the board games gone?

TX:  28.05.2019  2040-2100

PRESENTER:           PETER WHITE

PRODUCER:             LEE KUMUTAT

 

White

Good evening.  Today, we’re talking about a mainstay activity of many a showery bank holiday weekend – board games.  They’ve had a makeover in recent years – we’re not talking about Ludo and Snakes and Ladders, although they have a place too – we want to find out why, given that there’s about 3,500 new games coming out annually, there are only a handful accessible to visually impaired people.


It might not be absolutely top of the list of things you’d like access to but there’s evidence that board games can sharpen cognitive skills and help us to connect socially.  So, why are the numbers available to visually impaired people dropping?  There have always been fewer games available and most of us will have had to adapt a game or do something to make it work for us – brailling our own cards, sticking bump-ons on boards and games tokens and having clues and questions read for us by someone else.  But should the onus always fall to us?

 

The Lanes are a family of five and both parents – Rachel and Barry – are totally blind.  The board game enthusiast among them is Rachel and she’s struggled to find adapted games that she and Barry can play with their sighted children. 

 

Well our reporter, Tom Walker, dropped in on them, during a game of Junior Monopoly.

 

Actuality

A three, well done.

 

Right, moving, where’s your car.  Wait a minute Isaac.  Where’s your car?  Yeah, right.  One, two, three, four, five.

 

Barry

Okay, so here’s the Monopoly board, so, how I made it accessible is I had some foam that I cut into long strips and where each rectangle of the properties starts and finishes I put a little strip of foam, so you can – it’s tactile, basically, so you can feel where each property starts and finishes, the corners as well.  So, you’ve got at the start, you’ve got Go and in this corner here, nearest me, you’ve got Jail, Free Parking and Go to Jail.  And then in the middle, where the Chance cards sit, it’s a rectangle of foam, so where the cards sit.  So, then I bought a braille dice because obviously when you buy the game it comes with a normal dice that you can’t feel, so I bought a braille dice and then I recorded on a Penfriend, I recorded each property, so you can hear where you land, each property has a sticker on it and then I recorded – someone told me what they were so then I recorded on my Penfriend what each property was.  So, for example…

 

Electronic voice

Ice cream parlour.

 

Barry

And then further round is….

 

Electronic voice

Museum.

 

Barry

Museum.  Obviously, this is Junior Monopoly, so obviously the properties are different to what you get on the main Monopoly.

 

Walker

How inclusive are board games generally in your experience?

 

Rachel

I mean obviously there’s a very small variety that are available for blind people to use.  There’s nothing sort of modern.  Like, for example, Isaac loves Pokémon and there’s a Pokémon board game and we’d love to be able to play that with him but that’s not accessible.

 

Walker

Do you go to organisations, like the RNIB, and ask them to produce these games in an accessible form?

 

Rachel

Not personally, I know there’s sort of campaigns and stuff on Facebook about that sort of thing but I just sort of work with what there is and then obviously try and adapt stuff as well.

 

Walker

Why board games?

 

Rachel

I think it’s really important to have family time, so board games is much more about spending time with the family, which other things aren’t necessarily going to promote that as much.

 

Walker

And I guess, for us, as well, obviously board games involve an awful lot of talking, which can generally be rather helpful for us.

 

Rachel

Yeah, yeah definitely.  Isaac’s quite bossy and tries to take over but with board games we can sort of compete on a level playing field, as it were, whereas sort of playing football and things like that with him is harder, we can do that as well but I can play chess just as well as anyone else.

 

Walker

You mention that you don’t use many mainstream games, do you think the manufacturers should do more to make them accessible for people like you?

 

Barry

It would be great definitely, to give more variety of games that you can play, especially at this level for playing with your family.  I don’t know of any accessible games that – because obviously there is Monopoly but it’s the main Monopoly but that’s not really suitable for a five-year-old.

 

Rachel

I don’t think it would be too much effort to put some sort of tactile markings around the spaces, rather than it just being a flat board.  Obviously, the Penfriend stuff we’ve had to do that yourself because Barry can’t read braille, so braille wouldn’t be helpful anyway.  But it would help if boards were tactile to start with, I don’t see that that would cause a lot of effort.

 

White

The Lane family talking with Tom Walker. 

 

So far so traditional then but what about the new games being brought out that we’re not getting our hands on?

 

The general revival of board games seems to be a response to technology fatigue and the need to reconnect in an old-fashioned way.  Many of the new games available put the emphasis on players working together to win rather than just playing against each other competitively.  The big question is just how much are visually impaired people missing out by not being able to play these games.

 

Michael Heron can answer some of these questions.  He’s a lecturer at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen and he blogs about games and accessibility across the board, so to speak, on his site Meeple Like Us.  And for those of us who don’t know – and I didn’t until recently – a Meeple is the name of the figures or tokens that represent the player in a game. 

 

Michael is in a studio in Aberdeen.  How great are these new games?

 

Heron

We often say there’s a golden age or a renaissance of board games and I think that’s truer than it’s ever been.

 

White

So, is it true that there are fewer games that are accessible to visually impaired people and if so why?

 

Heron

I mean I wouldn’t even just say that there are fewer games, I think even those games that are accessible are often just accidentally accessible.  Of the games I’ve looked at for the site, I mean we’ve looked at maybe 200ish so far and visual accessibility is a category that tends to do really badly in these games for the wider spectrum of accessibility but they’re particularly bad for total blindness because they often have large amounts of game state information, large amounts of tokens, complex boards, complex game states.  The ones that are most complicated are the ones that require you to not just think about what you’re doing but what your opponent’s doing and what your opponent is going do in reaction to what you do and that’s a lot to keep in mind.

 

The package you just played there had an interesting point about tactile boards and such.  Whenever you buy one of these board games nowadays you have die cut boards where you punch out all the tokens, you have little individual tokens, you have dice, you have all these different kinds of things.  You might have five, six, seven different kinds of token and they’re all circles of roughly the same size.  And that’s difficult to track for a lot of people, I mean there’s no tactile indicators on there to tell you you’re working with your points versus your money.

 

White

Stay with us Michael and we will be talking directly to the industry in a moment.  But Ellen is mum of 12-year-old Theo.  Now Theo’s been blind from birth.  Ellen has seen for herself how an accessible game can open up social opportunities for Theo, as well as teaching him about strategy, spatial perception, winning and losing.  Well here’s Ellen and Theo reminiscing about playing a game at a family occasion.

 

Ellen

So, all the children were gathered around the iPad, did you know they were playing games?

 

Theo

Yes, George, my dad, told me that they were playing these games with this counter to a train track to try to move the counter to a particular spot on the game board to win on the iPad.

 

Ellen

So, he was trying to describe the sort of visual game for you was he?

 

Theo

Yes but it was very hard because it changed so quickly.  When they got a game out everybody can play the same game.

 

Ellen

And what game did we get out?

 

Theo

Mercado.

 

Ellen

Which is a kind of game – it’s a bit like Pick-a-Stick but a tactile version isn’t it?

 

Theo

Yes, like you have this board with this wooden side basically, constantly putting pressure on the pieces, and if the plunger or whatever – the wooden thing – gets moved when you take the piece out, if it doesn’t move then you win that piece and all the pieces are different point values.

 

Ellen

Exactly and actually some of your Swedish cousins were really good at this, weren’t they?

 

Theo

Yes.

 

Ellen

I remember Victor and Eric were quite good at it.  And actually, did you have fun playing the game?

 

Theo

Yes, I had loads of fun.

 

Ellen

Good, good.  And – they’d seen it before, hadn’t they, so they all knew the game.

 

Theo

Yes, they had.

 

Ellen

Yeah and we could all just – well you could all just play together.  In fact, that’s the thing, the grownups didn’t have to play did they, so George and I could go off and talk to the other parents and…

 

Theo

Yes, I know it was so exciting.

 

Ellen

You could just play with your relatives, couldn’t you, with the other children?

 

Theo

Yes.

 

Ellen

Would you recommend if somebody else was going to a family party where there might be children doing that, would you recommend they take this Mercado with them?

 

Theo

Well I definitely would because it would stop people just playing on the iPad and blind children being left out really.

 

White

Theo and mum, Ellen.

 

So, does the games industry think about the visually impaired when it’s coming up with new titles?

 

Kate Evans is the marketing manager for UK Games Expo, which is the third largest exhibition of board and table top games.  She’s in our Birmingham studio.

 

Kate, as we’ve heard, there are some games that will work for visually impaired people out of the box, such as games with good colour contrast or different shaped or sized meeples but is that mostly through good luck or good management?

 

Evans

People think a lot about design of games, it’s not just a – hey I’ve got an idea of a game – and then boom, there it is, there’s an awful lot of development and play testing that happens.  I know, for a fact, that a lot of second edition of games, for example Star Wars X-Wing, where you get to fly little spaceships around a board and essentially blow each other of space, they’ve actually changed a lot of the colours and a lot of the sizes of the symbols on things in order to take account of red, green colour deficiency.  Actual tactile versions of games are not as accessible and not as prevalent as we could have them.  I would say that there’s an interesting thing – so Cranium is a game where you have a party game, you have a number of different problems and things you have to solve in time.  One of the rounds is a tactile one, so you have a whole set of cards all with different images on, all of which are also printed and embossed, so there’s an actual tactile element and you have to guess what the thing is without looking at it.

 

White

But that is one round, isn’t it, things seem to be fairly random at the moment, that it’s not absolutely built-in to design that it’s got to be accessible?

 

Evans

No, and I think one of the issues with that is firstly the one of scale – you care talking about thousands and thousands of games being released every year.  What I think it’s also a case of is that a lot of the cues for board games are visual, it’s colour, it’s a pattern, it’s a shape of a thing which definitely you could look at having a tactile version.  I think it could be a print thing because obviously you start adding embossing or tactile stuff the price of the games goes up.

 

White

But having to adapt a small percentage of each game wouldn’t eat into their profit margins much would it?

 

Evans

So, I think that if you could show that there was general interest in games in this fashion, then I think it would definitely be a consideration for manufacturers.

 

White

Well Michael Heron, do you think the games industry could be doing more?

 

Heron

Oh definitely, and a lot of it doesn’t even require that much in terms of cost.  When, for example, we’re talking about the colour blindness issue, there are games released even nowadays that colour blindness is not taken into account and for a lot of it it’s really just a case of well don’t just use colour as the only way you provide information to the player, provide symbols as well.  And that relatively small change, that doesn’t necessarily cost anything on a per unit basis, is something that often isn’t done.  And when it comes to things like tactile indicators in games and game state and such, there are a lot of relatively easy things that could be done but, as I say, a lot of it is just a case – publishers don’t realise these are things that actually can be done at minimal cost.

 

White

But what about the argument that it is a niche market?

 

Heron

Well, I mean, any market is as niche as you support it.  There are millions and millions of people with visual impairments in the world and that is – you either look at that in terms of well that’s pandering to a small group or you look at it as – there’s a massive demographic there that if we make a bit of effort we can sell games to.

 

White

So, Kate Evans, they could do more?

 

Evans

So, I believe so, I think that’s the problem with everything like this is that there could always be more that’s done.  I think what we need to do is make people more aware of this.  In terms of modern games, Bananagrams is about the only one that I could find that was reasonably modern.  Things like Cobra Pool have both symbols and a colour on to make it accessible and the same for Jungle Speed.  But again, it’s a small percentage.

 

White

Stay where you are, you too, let me bring in Dan Rugman, who’s in our London studio.  Now Dan’s a trustee of the Braille Chess Association here in the UK.  Chess is played on a tactile board with differently shaped pieces and in the past it’s been relatively easy to get your hands on one, is that still the case Dan?

 

Rugman

It’s not as good as it used to be.  I remember when I was much younger you used to be able to get a whole variety of different chess sets from the RNIB catalogue.  They do still sell one, which is a more standard set.  And the Braille Chess Association actually get sets made for us because we’ve had lots of problems in the past with getting hold of reliable sets. 

 

White

And you don’t know why that is, that this is more difficult than it was in the past?

 

Rugman

Not really, no.  So, the sets have to be specifically made because you have raised dark squares and they put pins in the top of the black pieces and all the squares have holes in, with pegs in the bottom of the piece, so you plug the piece into the board to keep it still whilst you’re feeling around the board.  And the pieces are just ordinary chess men, because they all have different shapes anyway.

 

White

So, it can be played with anybody, socially and in tournaments.

 

Rugman

Oh absolutely, I mean I play for the Hammersmith Chess Club and I’ll be off tomorrow playing against one of the other London clubs and it’ll almost certainly be a sighted person I play tomorrow.

 

White

Now we know some specialist companies are making games and game components in accessible formats, like the American Printing House and there’s a company called 64 Ounce Games, which is producing brailled sets of cards for some games including the popular Cards Against Humanity.  But these are available, they can be quite expensive, up to $65 we’ve seen.  Dan, do you accept that because it is a niche market if you want to play these games you’ll have to just pay extra?

 

Rugman
It seems to be the way.  I mean obviously there is a higher manufacturing cost because they have to find special ways of doing it.  I mean again going back to when I was young there were more games available, full stop, they were the more traditional games – I mean we mentioned Ludo and things like that – but those seem to be hard to come by as well.

 

White

So, how much do you feel the blindness charities could be doing more in this area?

 

Rugman

I think they certainly could.  I mean we subsidise the sets that we sell, if you join us as a member we’ll sell – give you a chess set at a discount.  And one of the particularly difficult things with chess is chess clocks, because when you play competitively it’s all times, and those aren’t normal clocks and those have to be made specially and those do cost a lot of money because I mean the new ones are digital and have to be programmed to speak and they’re definitely not industry standard.

 

White

Of course, we did invite the RNIB on to our programme who do have some games available in their catalogue, and Dan’s talked about that, they said they had nobody available.  If I can ask you all really, what do you think needs to happen to give visually impaired people more game choice?  Michael, let me start with you.

 

Heron

Two different things that could make it easier to make this particular case.  One is to show the demand and the other one is to make it as easy as possible for publishers to include accessible design in their games that’s not going to necessarily raise this issue of this per unit logistical cost that comes with some kinds of accessibility support.

 

White

Kate?

 

Evans

Awareness of the whole situation.  People are very keen to be accessible and welcoming but if you don’t know about a thing and I’m sure a lot of people don’t in the games industry, which is daft, then we need awareness from it.

 

White

Who should be making sure that that happens?

 

Evans

I think it would be a case of all gamers, who are keen on gaming, to introduce as many people as possible, I think it’s all of our own responsibility.  You could make it into a challenge to say – next year we want to have a top 10 visual impairment and blind accessible games and we can show them off at a thing and say here, here is how you could do this.

 

White

So, run competitions for example?

 

Evans

Yeah, why not, again it’s another game, it’s a competing thing, it’s here’s how you do your best at this particular thing.

 

White

Dan, do you think we should actually push harder as consumers?  It’s all very well always to say oh nobody’s doing it, is there some responsibility on us to do it?

 

Rugman

It’s always worth pushing especially these days with social media the way it is, if lots of blind people all went on Twitter and started bombarding some of these companies and saying why can’t we play these games, that might help.

 

White

Michael Heron, Daniel Rugman, Kate Evans – thank you all very much indeed.

 

And if this discussion has whetted your appetite the UK Games Expo is on at the NEC Arena in Birmingham from May 31st to June 2nd, in other words next weekend, so the perfect opportunity to check out what’s available in person and may be do a bit of lobbying while you’re there.  And if you’d like some guidelines for adapting games, we’ll put up a link on our website, as well as a link and phone number to the Braille Chess Association.  So, how do you play your table top games?  We’d love to know, feel free to email us – intouch@bbc.co.uk.  You can call us to leave a message with your comments and suggestions, that number 0161 836 1338 – 13 38.  And our website address is bbc.co.uk/intouch.

 

From me, Peter White, producer Lee Kumutat, our guests and the team, goodbye.

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  • Tue 28 May 2019 20:40

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