Blank accessibility teardown


Blank (2017) – Accessibility Teardown

Context of Document

This is not a review of this game. You will find the review linked in the introduction.

Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.

Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then please stop reading now. This will not be the blog for you, and we have no interest in debating with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.

Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.

A review copy of Blank was provided by the Creativity Hub in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Version Reviewed

Unreleased Review Copy.  I’m assured though that the components save for the insert are what the production copy will be.   The insert is loose paper like the nest of a baby bird, and has no bearing on the accessibility report.

Introduction

If Blank gave me a problem for the review it’s nothing compared to how much trouble it’s giving me for the teardown.   We gave Blank three and a half stars but really you should interpret them as standing in for a massive perplexed shrug.  I don’t know how good it’ll be for you – it could be very, very good.  It could be very, very terrible.    It depends on the rules you decide upon.  It depends on the people with which you play it.  It depends on the very concept of how you interpret the word fun.  What even is fun? What are we doing here with our lives?

Imagine what it’s like to try and pin a game like this down into already compromised accessibility categories.   I know in advance what almost everything is going to say – ‘Oh God, I don’t know – it’s up to you in the end’.

Let’s get to it though.  Just bear in mind going in – Blank is (almost) as accessible a game as you want it to be.

Colour Blindness

Support for colour blindness is top notch since the only components are cards and all colours are presented with a supporting symbol.   When colours are referenced in the game rules they’re indicated with the colour icon to go with them.  At least, they are in the standard rules – consistency with this will be up to you as the game grows and evolves.

Colour blind rules

Off colour rules

For example, you might write a rule that requires something to be done when an orange card is played, but you’ll also need to remember to draw the symbol.   Even that’s been made as easy as possible for you because the icons used are provided in an obviously ‘rough’ format that implies a degree of variation in the aesthetic.

Close up on icons

You’ll be fine

We’ll give Blank a strong recommendation here but it will depend at least in part on whether you remember to enforce the iconography in the rules you write.   Blank itself though, as a component set, is fully accessible to those with all kinds of colour blindness.

Visual Accessibility

This is a card game, and as you might imagine that makes issues of visual accessibility something of a problem.  To an extent this is obviated by the simplicity of the game – most cards have only a colour and a number to go with them.  The number is well contrasted in all circumstances and it’s in a reliable location.  Numbers can be made out, perhaps with an assistive aid, in all circumstances.

Blank card

An empty card, full of promise.

It gets a little bit more problematic when pictures and special rules on cards start to make their way into play.   The pictures have limited impact on the game – unless you choose for them to become more important with additional rules.  Special effect cards come with relatively simple effects and the major issue here is that they’re part of a hidden hand and require a degree of visual acuity to read.   Standard card effects though are expressed in reasonably short chunks of text and this shouldn’t present a major barrier to play for those for whom some degree of visual information can be ascertained.

There are though a few card effects that will likely have an impact on this.  One of my favourite cards, in terms of the effect it has on play, puts an instant two minute countdown clock on the rest of the game.  Time limits, particularly tight time limits, are an accessibility problem wall to wall in every category.  This one is particularly pronounced because it can potentially come out of nowhere.  If timed events are accessible, and as I say they rarely are, they tend to be as accessible as the preparation they permit.  You can take that card out of the deck, but it has an impact on the balance of card distribution.  A small one, largely an insignificant one, but a tangible one.

Perhaps the more significant problem here is when we veer out of the realm of the provided components and into what we might think of as ‘user generated content’.   Here are two rule cards.  One from Mrs Meeple, and one from me:

Handwritten cards

‘Fall Omer Plingrs must draw a caro’

My hand-writing has always been terrible.  No word of a lie, I once came fourth in a handwriting competition that only had three people in it.  My handwriting was so bad that I couldn’t even get the default ‘bronze medal’ that was my birthright through simple arithmetic.    Within Blank, clarity of writing and drawing is an accessibility issue that needs to be taken into account throughout play.  For the rules cards it needn’t be a major problem – they’re open information for the table.  For other cards, interpretation might be as difficult as actually seeing the written text in the first place.    If you have a printer and some labels, you could get around the problem by ensuring readability in that manner.

It comes back again though to the open ended nature of the game itself – you get to solve these problems through the game rules if you like.  You can have a rule that mandates people play their cards face up, for example.  You can remove those cards that are likely to have the most negative impact, or mitigate the impact through rules and special effects.   Some card effects too act as shields against other effects, and they could be emphasised or de-emphasised as is appropriate to provide a kind of ongoing balancing against accessibility considerations.

For those for whom total blindness must be considered – well, Blank could be made an accessible game as time goes by but it’s still the case that there’s no way you can determine card status without being able to see them.  You can fix that problem if you like, but it’s not fixed for you.  You could move to a game system where the existence of a card, rather than its face values, is the primary vehicle of play.

Overall, we’ll recommend Blank in this category for those that have some degree of visual discrimination.  We’d still have to advise those for whom total blindness must be considered to stay away though – while you could modify it, you’re still working with cards and there’s a ceiling on how far you can go without completely replacing components.

Cognitive Accessibility

Constantly saying ‘Well, it’s up to you really’ feels like a cop-out in a teardown, but honestly – it’s up to you, really.  The base cards you get for rules and special effects aren’t very cognitively complex.  One card reverses game flow, which can be a worry factor in some cases.  One card adds a time limit which, in a more complicated game, would be a major source of concern here.  If those cards aren’t appropriate you can remove them from the deck without too much impact.

The core game system is playing down cards that match a top-most card – matching here is either ‘share a colour’ or ‘share a number’.  Numeracy required is therefore very low – recognising numbers is as far as it goes, and even then matches can be made based on the number’s shape rather than its meaning.   A few cards require some degree of general knowledge (name a city, or name an animal) but whether this is too onerous or not depends on the players at the table and the extent to which you’re going to be permissive in the requirements.  And, of course, whether you play with those cards in the deck at all.

Star Fluxx got a fair kicking in this section in our teardown, and it seems reasonable that Blank would suffer the same fate.  After all, the rules are mutable and can evolve over the course of play – you can start with a rule and find it changes as the game goes on.   It’s a legitimate area of concern, but I think it works here for several reasons:

  • Churn of rules is glacial rather than the default expectation during a turn.
  • Churn of rules is optional – you can simply play without any rules or cards that permit them to change.
  • You only have three rules in play at any time under most game circumstances.

The randomly drawn rules too are simple – at least the standard ones.   Some examples:

  • If a 2 is played then the player must take another turn.
  • If a 6 is played then the player may take the top card from the discard pile.
  • If a player says another player’s name then the player who said the name must draw two cards.

Some of these rules are linked to actions, some are time dependant, and some are easy to miss in the time-frame in which they are applicable.  When a rule is missed, or various other mistakes are made, a penalty draw is required.  Whether or not you want to enforce that is up to you, but the cognitive complexity can be kept low by simply encouraging everyone to check each rule, one at a time, before and after they make a play.

Standard cards

Few of these pose serious problems.

Beyond the standard game set then cognitive complexity is entirely up to the players at the table, and the game encourages players to mark up cards so as to permit easy separation of sets.  You might place a mark on cards likely to be complicated, or those that require numeracy, or ones that have game effects that stress tactical or strategic thinking.    There’s even a space for that in the bottom right of each card.  As such, if the game ends up being too difficult for players around the table it’s possible to gradually curate the deck so it will work for all groups.  The great thing about Blank is that, in its simplest incarnation, it’s likely accessible for almost anyone in this category and anything beyond that is a collaborative output of everyone at the table, including those with accessibility needs.

Memory is well served too since the rules are all displayed prominently where everyone can see them, and the discard deck is open information.  Strictly speaking deck composition is a property that can have a gameplay impact but it’s hard to imagine anyone taking Blank sufficiently seriously as to memorise what cards have been played and which are still left.   In any case, it’s very easy to solve – have a card, or a rule, that requires the discard deck to be shuffled into the draw deck at various intervals during play.

One area of concern I might have here comes in the reward for winning – you get to customise the deck.  In the review I spoke about how the fun you get from playing Blank is going to be highly dependent on the rules people put in place.  This is a game with lasting, permanent consequences for the winner because a bad rule can make all other rules grind unpleasantly against each other in an unplayable mess.   Coming up with a good rule is a creative act of considerable cognitive complexity.

Rules for customisation

Card customisation

It’s good then to see that’s been anticipated in the rules – saying that the reward for winning is to add a new rule is not strictly speaking accurate.  The reward is that you get to customise a game card.  That could be adding a rule or adding a drawing.  It could be giving a card a name, if you like.  Winning needn’t be complex or stressful – it can be as simple as someone gets to add a nice picture to a card.

The handwriting issue is important here too, because the game does require a degree of literacy and that literacy requirement increases as interpretation becomes harder.  However, there’s nothing to stop you stressing simple language, or even symbolic language, in the rules you add into play.   You can have the person with the neatest handwriting commit the text to the card, or even print the rule onto a label and attach the label to the cards.

We strongly recommend Blank in this category, but bear in mind – how accessible, or otherwise, it ends up being is entirely up to you in the end.

Emotional Accessibility

Again, entirely up to you.  The only trigger area in the core game rules is that there’s a lot of pressure on the winner to make a good modification.  As outlined in the section on cognitive accessibility though there is no reason a modification need be as significant as a game rule.  It can be adding a graphical flair or flourish to a card.

Any other anxiety or angst is going to come from what you add into the rules.   There are a couple of ‘silly’ cards that add a performative aspect to play (talking very slowly, or having to moo when a card is played) but none of them require anyone to make a fool of themselves.   You’d need to layer in reasons to trigger emotional upset yourself, and you’ve got every opportunity to do that if you like.   You’ve got just as much opportunity to avoid it if you prefer.  If you don’t think your group can handle mature content or content that requires people to be the centre of sustained attention then either don’t add those rules or mark them up so they can be omitted from the deck when necessary.

Risque card

The Sex Act? I thought they closed that place down years ago

There’s no such thing as a score disparity in Blank, but there’s certainly a possibility for asymmetry of impact.  If you don’t win a game you don’t get to customise a card.  If you don’t get to feel a sense of ownership over the evolving game then it’s easy to feel left out of the fun.   That, again, is solveable with rules if you like.  ‘If you haven’t added a rule in the past three games, then you add a rule instead of the winner’.

If you want the game to be as clean as a whistle and something you can play with all groups, you can have that.  If you want it to be absolutely filthy and something that would put Cards Against Humanity to shame, you can have that too.   The key thing is – the choice of that is yours, as is the choice to put those cards into the random draw pool for the game.

We strongly recommend Blank in this category.

Physical Accessibility

There is a need to hold a hidden hand of cards – a hand starts off with seven cards in it and if all goes well it will only get smaller as time goes by.  Penalties can be triggers that force another draw, and some rules and special cards will also require new cards are drawn.  If you can’t play a card, you also take a penalty.   Your hand size is going to shrink and grow as time goes by, but it’s not a hugely significant burden.  Most of your cards will fit compressed into a standard card holder – only those with special effects on them will need to be visible in their entirety.

Occasionally cards will require physical acts, such as ‘If a blue card is played then the player with the least cards in hand must cover one eye (like a pirate) until the next turn’, or ‘If a red card is played all players must put a finger on their nose (the last one draws a card)’.  As is regularly the case here, if it’s going to be a problem you can exclude those cards from the deck without a lot of difficulty.   Similarly with the card that adds a stiff, severe time limit to the rest of the game – either ignore its special effect or don’t leave it in the deck at all.  Or add a rule that lets you deal with the accessibility problems it might cause.

Verbalisation, if necessary, is a little cumbersome because a play might involve several cards distributed erratically through a card holder.  The order in which you play them isn’t hugely significant except that the one that will be top-most at the end is one of the most substantial choices you’ll make – it determines what will be valid for other players as well as what special effects you trigger, if any.   It’s not going to be impossible, or even particularly difficult, to handle this – it’s just going to need a little bit of formality in how instructions are expressed and followed.  Adding a rule at least can be as simple as stating how you want it to appear on the card, and having someone else commit it in writing.

We strongly recommend Blank in this category.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

The only genderable art is on the back of the box, and it’s a child of non-specific gender.   I don’t know, really – all kids look alike to me but it looks like it could be a boy, a girl, or anything you prefer.  All other art on the cards is drawn from a wide library that includes skateboards, coins and bee-hives.  It’s hard to fault, which is a shame because as you well know I really like faulting things.

Back of the box

Your guess is as good as mine.

The RRP of the game is a pleasingly small sum of £12 – given it supports two to six players and it will gradually evolve to become the game you want it to be, it’s as hard to fault it on price as it is to fault it on representation.

We strongly recommend Blank in this category.

Communication

There’s a need for literacy, and some cards do require a degree of articulation and sometimes demand rapidity of interpretation or the ability to discern audible information.  For example, ‘If a player says another player’s name then the player who said the name must draw 2 cards’.   These cards aren’t common, and as is a regular refrain here whether you choose to play with them is entirely up to you.

Literacy then is the key communication issue that is relevant, and it’s compounded to a degree by the handwriting of the people adding new rules.  Poor handwriting makes comprehension more difficult, and you’ll be trying to discern the meaning of cards that are on occasion hidden in your hand.  Familiarity will hopefully help with this though and as mentioned above you can help resolve this by printing new rules onto a label that is then affixed to the card.

We recommend Blank in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

It’s all good here, with the possible exception of a compound of physical and communication impairments.  Being able to clearly articulate a collection and order of cards is important for verbalisation, and being able to precisely express a conditional rule is a key part of being a winner.   There’s an interesting intersection here in that those with physical accessibility issues that impact on fine-grained movement will find themselves likely having to add a rule as their prize for winning since drawing a picture is potentially a problem.   Perhaps not, of course – art therapy is a common activity for those with physical impairments.  It all depends.  Something though to potentially bear in mind if the cognitive or emotional issues of being responsible for changing a rule are also going to be an issue.

Blank plays very quickly – the box says ten minutes and that’s going to be true in the majority of cases barring accessibility compensations.   Some games might last longer due to rule complications, especially if rules focus around adding new ones as time goes by.  Some might be shorter if the rules in play emphasise rapidity.  In any case, it’s not likely to be long enough to exacerbate issues of discomfort.  It’s also a game that reasonably easily supports dropping out since all you have to do is stop taking your turn.  The cards in your hand can either be shuffled in to the draw deck or left discarded – there are duplicates of colours and numbers so it’s unlikely to be a major cause for concern even if people are invested in the win.   And they should be – after all, winning is how you change the game.

Conclusion

Its intense modifiability and its permissive approach to rules is what ensures Blank has a very strong performance across the board.  If there’s a problem with the game, you can solve it – not with house-rules but with actual rules that become part of the structure of your copy of the game.   The core set of Blank is playable I think by everyone – whether it remains that way is up to you.

Colour Blindness A
Visual Impairment B
Fluid Intelligence A
Memory A
Physical A
Emotiveness A
Socioeconomic B
Communication B

This performance in fact is so strong that it just, only just, nabs Blank the title of ‘most accessible game we’ve looked at on Meeple Like Us’.   I can’t guarantee it would stay that way once people got their hands on the rules, but that’s far out-with the scope of what we can address in a teardown.   However, if you’re reading this post with regards to accessibility advice you probably have someone with real embodied experience with which you’re playing.  You can rely on them to guide you far better than I could in that respect.   Life experience trumps my theorycrafting any day of the week.

Blank is easily the oddest game we’ve discussed here on Meeple Like Us – a game that defies review, and a game that is not really amenable to an accessibility teardown in the normal sense.  It’s a game that you’re going to create, not a fully completed product of which you take possession.  It’s either the best, most accessible game you’ll play or the worst, least accessible thing through which you’ll ever suffer.  In a real sense, where it falls on that spectrum is entirely, absolutely up to you.

A review copy of Blank was provided by the Creativity Hub in exchange for a fair and honest review.

 

 


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