Are you thinking about inviting your blind friend for a board game night? Have you ever thought about how you can improve the experience for a visually impaired player? Paying attention to a few simple things can go a long way in improving the overall experience for a blind player.
In the past couple of months, I have been mostly talking about visual accessibility in board games and providing some simple ideas to work around issues blind players may encounter with certain games. In this post, I want to talk about how sighted players can make the whole experience much more pleasant for the visually impaired and make them feel more engaged.
This post will consist of a few things sighted players should know when inviting their visually impaired or blind friends to play.
Choosing a Game
Let’s start with the basics. When you invite people over, you either inform them of what you will play when organizing the meet up, or you will all decide when everyone arrives and starts pointing at different games on your shelf. Inviting a blind or visually impaired friend, however, requires some more thought as choosing a game that is barely playable and inaccessible may ruin the fun for everyone.
If you are introducing your friend to the hobby, you should narrow down your choices to gateway games. You may be tempted to play something more advanced if everyone else in your group is more experienced, but introducing a visually impaired player to a game like Istanbul or Power Grid may be overwhelming. Technically, this also applies for new sighted players, but the ability to see can speed things up when learning a new game for the first time.
On the other hand, if the blind player has prior experience, make sure to ask them about the games they’ve played and enjoyed. You may not own those games, but it will be helpful in narrowing down the choices.
Next, you need to consider one of the biggest visual accessibility problems: hidden information. You probably do not own any Braille conversion kits or do not want to mark your cards with stickers, so if possible try to avoid those games. Cooperative games usually have no hidden information, so that is a good place to start. Games like Forbidden Island / Forbidden Desert, Pandemic or Burgle Bros. fall into this category.
There also are competitive games with no hidden information. Some examples are King of Tokyo / King of New York, Camel Up, or No Thanks!. Other good alternatives for intermediate players can be Dice Forge or Grand Austria Hotel. This does not mean that games with hidden information are off limits, but they usually require some kind of modifications or visual aids to be playable.
Another thing to be aware of when choosing a game is the size and shape of the components. Blind people can distinguish two different components by touch, so it is important to have different size or shape for different types of resources. As an example, Camel Up has different sizes for each denomination of the money. One Egyptian Pound is a small cardboard coin, 5 Egyptian Pounds is a slightly larger coin, 10 Egyptian Pounds is a card etc. Now, imagine if all of the denominations were the same and the only way to distinguish them was just by reading the numbers. At the end of the game, when everyone counts their own money to see who the winner is, the blind player would need to sit there and wait for someone else to do it for them.
To summarize, the main goal is to engage the blind player as much as possible, so it is a good idea to spend some thought when choosing a game to play. The less downtime the blind player has, the better the experience for everyone involved should be.
Setting Up and Tearing Down
Usually, these parts are considered to be the most boring parts in the game. However, if everyone is tasked to do something, it can both be faster and more entertaining than just sitting there and waiting for the host to set up everything.
Blind and visually impaired players are at a disadvantage here as there are some things that they are not able to do or it simply takes longer for them to do. This does not mean that you should completely ignore them during these two stages of the game. A blind player can still shuffle cards, deal cards or other types of resources, count components and store components in plastic bags.
For instance, they may not be able to remove the Epidemic cards from the player card deck in Pandemic for the initial card deal phase, but they can still shuffle the deck if another player removes the Epidemic cards, deal the player cards, make a few stacks, add an Epidemic card to each stack and finally shuffle each stack.
We should also mention the board orientation and positioning here. You can easily overlook this detail, yet it can make a huge difference for a partially sighted player. If the partially sighted player is new to the group, or simply shy by nature, they might not tell you that positioning the board closer to them helps them see the stuff on the board better. Make sure to ask this player how they want the board to be positioned, however, do not forget the sighted players as you don’t want to accommodate one player while making gameplay uncomfortable for another.
Assisting the Blind or Visually Impaired Player
There are games that blind people can play without any assistance, but for most modern board games, a sighted player will need to assist in one way or another. From my personal experience, most of the time it comes down to updating the blind player on the current board state. With the increase in plays of a certain game, and as the player gets more comfortable with the rules, they will require fewer updates from other players to refresh their memory on what is happening on the board. Announcing your own moves is extremely important as well, we discuss this in a little more detail in the next section.
If the game has text on the board or cards that are public knowledge, unless the cards have Braille or some other kind of marks, one sighted player will be required to read the text aloud. Note that, the blind or visually impaired player may not know how to read Braille, so even if you have a Braille kit, they might still require sighted assistance.
Another area where sighted players can help is arranging cards or other components that are supposed to be hidden from other players in some order the blind player can memorize. This way, they won’t require external help during the game. One issue with this is that it will only work for a small number of cards or other components.
An example would be, in Camel Up, the race winner and loser bets are supposed to be hidden from other players. What you can do to work around this is, at the start of the game, you can sort the 5 different cards in the order the blind player prefers, e.g. blue, yellow, green, orange, and white. It is easy to memorize a sequence of 5 different colors, so the blind player will not require assistance when they decide to place a final bet face down in the race winner or loser piles.
The best tip I can give you here is to be patient, especially if the blind or visually impaired player is playing a game for the first time. I constantly try to come up with more efficient ways to consume the game state information so that I can minimize the required assistance as much as possible. I should also stress here that blind people are not as helpless as many sighted people perceive. Yes, we need assistance in some areas, but we also adapt to low or no vision and find different ways to consume and memorize more information.
Announce Your Moves
We briefly mentioned this, but let’s explain why this is important. When sighted players play, explaining to the others what you are currently doing is not very common, since they can simply see what is happening on the board. All the blind player will know is that a dice has been rolled or a tile has been placed on the board by hearing a sound. This happens to me in almost all the game nights I have organized, and I kindly need to ask the sighted player what their move was. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that they are doing this deliberately to get an advantage, it is because they are used to consuming information by sight, so they simply forget to announce what they just played.
Announcing your moves lets the blind player keep track of what is going on. It is much easier to know how the board evolves in every step rather than wait until it’s the blind player’s turn and then give them a full update on the current game state. You should also remind another sighted player to announce their moves if they forget because the blind player may be shy and might stop asking after a couple of times. Bonus points should be awarded to the players that announce when their turn has ended and it is the next player’s turn!
Perhaps some of the things I have mentioned here sound like a no-brainer and obvious to you, but it is astounding how these little accommodations improve the experience both for the visually impaired person and others around the table. Personally, I have a good time when I see that everyone else is having a good time. If there’s sighted person around the table that struggles with a game, perhaps because it is too complex for them, I do not enjoy playing that game, even if it was my favorite game.
I hope some of the points made above will improve your overall experience when you have a blind or visually impaired player around your table. If you were considering inviting a blind friend to play tabletop games with your group, but weren’t sure if they would be able to play, try to follow the advice above and you should all have a great time!
For those of you that already play with blind or visually impaired friends, I would love to hear if you have any other suggestions to improve the quality of a gaming night.