In the second part of my transition from video to board games, I will talk about how I got into this hobby and why it is a fantastic alternative to video games for the blind and visually impaired.
If you haven’t read the first part of this topic, you can follow the link below to check it out:
Part 2 - Discovering a world that lives on a tabletop
Without further ado, let’s get to it.
It All Started With a Party Game
One cold evening back in January 2016, I was bored, browsing Reddit and trying to find something interesting to do. My brother was watching some live stream on Twitch and kept laughing now and then. Not finding anything interesting to do, I decided to take a peek at his monitor to see the funny thing he was watching.
Initially, all I could see was a top-down view of a table with some cards on top. This was unusual for him, since the only game he watched on Twitch back then was Hearthstone, a collectible card game developed by Blizzard Entertainment. I got curious and I asked what he was watching. “Oh, I’m watching TotalBiscuit play Secret Hitler with his friends.” - he said while chuckling at something that happened in the game. TotalBiscuit was a famous YouTube Game Critic, well known and highly regarded in the video gaming scene. If he was playing this game, it probably was something interesting.
I grabbed a chair and asked my brother to turn the speakers on so I could listen to the live stream. Hethen told me the main rules of the game so I could follow what was currently going on. Secret Hitler is a social deduction game set in pre-WW2 Germany. There are two teams, Fascists and Liberals, to which players are randomly assigned to. One of the Fascist players takes the role of Hitler. The goal of the Fascists is to either put Hitler in power or enact a set number of Fascist policies, while the Liberals need to kill Hitler or enact a set number of Lieral policies without putting Hitler into power. The catch is, the Liberal players have no idea which party the other players belong to. The Fascists, on the other hand, know which player belongs to which party, but since they are fewer in number, they need to manipulate the Liberal players in order to win.
After watching a couple of rounds, I started tuning in to TotalBiscuit’s stream whenever they played Secret Hitler. I also researched to see if I could buy the physical version of this game, and found that the Kickstarter funding was over, but to my pleasant surprise I found that the developers provided a free print-and-play PDF version of the game. The next day, my brother went to the printing shop to get it printed.
Image showing the colored print and play version of Secret Hitler
Now that I had the game, I started reaching out to friends and family trying to schedule a gaming night. Long story short, everyone we introduced the game to loved it, and more importantly I had found a new group activity I really enjoyed!
We played Secret Hitler a lot in the first couple of months after I got it, then that reduced to once or twice a month until eventually we forgot about it for a full year.
RP’s Attempt to Put Me Off the Hobby
A year or so after our last Secret Hitler gathering, I got a message from a friend who was trying to get a group going to play the game again. We scheduled a meet the next day, and I realized that I would have a lot of trouble with the game now that my Retinitis Pigmentosa had significantly reduced my vision.
The initial role assignment in the game requires the player to have normal eyesight. What happens in the beginning is, after each player is dealt a role card, they all close their eyes. Then, the Fascist players open their eyes to see each other, while Hitler puts a thumb up, so that the other Fascists can see him. So, if I was a Liberal or Hitler player, it was fine since those players do not open their eyes. As a Fascist, however, I was severely handicapped, since I couldn’t see my teammates or Hitler’s thumb up gesture.
The night before the meet up, when I went to bed, I started thinking how I could solve this problem without breaking any of the game rules or prolonging the set up time too much. I came up with an idea for a smartphone app. The next day, I got up early to make a prototype before we met with the group. In the app, you add the players, and it randomizes and assigns roles to each player. Afterwards, each player looks at his own role, then passes the phone to the next player so they can look at their role. If a player is assigned to the Fascist role, they can see the names of the other Fascists and Hitler. I finished the prototype 30 minutes before the game started, so I brought it with me to give it a test in real-world conditions.
The prototype turned out to be a great success! My friends weren’t put off by the experience, it did not break any of the game’s rules, and my vision did not handicap me anymore. Ertay 1, RP 0 :).
A New Discovery
After creating the prototype, I started thinking about other board games that can benefit from something similar. So, I started looking into other similar party games. The Resistance turned out to be a great fit since for me it had exactly the same problem with the initial role assignments. While looking into other games, I started watching gameplay videos on YouTube.
I realized that with my disability, I can play many games that have limited or no hidden information whatsoever. These games are mostly cooperative, but I managed to find other competitive games as well. At this point, I was sure that I will purchase my first board game, but I couldn’t decide what to get due to the several options I had. After watching reviews for another few days, I finally decided to pull the trigger on Pandemic, a cooperative game where you and your friends try to stop deadly diseases from destroying the world’s population.
Because I am planning to write a review for Pandemic, I’ll just say that I hit the nail on its head with my decision. I have spent over 20 hours total on that game with different groups, and there’s yet to be a group that did not enjoy the game. Since you are collaborating with your friends and there is no hidden information, it is a great game for the visually impaired or blind. You can simply ask another player about the state of the board or about the cards that you (or they) have in hand so you can plan your actions.
I also wanted to have an introductory competitive game as well, and I purchased King of New York, a dice-chucking game where each player is a Kaiju (monsters like King Kong and Godzilla), battling it out in New York City. This game uses Yahtzee-like mechanics, but instead of the ordinary 1-6 numbers on a 6 sided dice, you roll for attacking, healing, destroying buildings etc. This was then followed by a betting game, Camel Up, where players bet on racing camels!
By now, I was sure that I was on to something. I was discovering a hobby that would fill the empty hole created by the lack of my ability to play video games. Slowly this was becoming an addiction. I began listening to board game podcasts, finding board game related YouTube channels, and checking the /r/boardgames subreddit 5-10 times a day. Right now, my board game wish list slowly but steadily keeps growing. However, I must resist the urge to purchase more games until I’ve become bored of the ones I have. One of the reasons I started this blog was to prevent myself from making poor financial choices by ordering more games than I could play. I decided I will not get a new game until I have written visual accessibility reviews about the games I already have.
Moving from virtual to physical components is a great experience. Touching objects is a key part in a visually impaired person’s life. The white cane is basically an extended hand that makes you touch things further in the distance so you can navigate as a blind human. From the fresh smell of high quality printed cardboard, through the sound of rolling dice on a tabletop, to the roaring laughter and cheering around the table, board gaming was turning out to be super exciting for me.
So, there you have it, a short story of how I came to find a new fun thing to do in my spare time. Maybe if it wasn’t for TotalBiscuit (may he rest in peace) and his live stream of Secret Hitler, I would have never looked into any of this before. Perhaps RP took away many of the things I enjoyed doing, but the adaptation to living with the disorder has led me to discovering new things that maybe previously I never would’ve shown interest in.
I’m looking forward to giving a more detailed look on the board games I have and I hope they also bring you joy as they did for me.
I will list some resources below you may find useful if you want to learn more about board games.