Concordia Accessibility Teardown

Concordia (2013) – 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.

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Version Reviewed

English/German second edition

Introduction

It’s probably no great shock to suggest that our 4.5 star review of Concordia means that we absolutely love the game and would encourage everyone that has a chance to check it out. Sadly, we live in a world where a game being excellent doesn’t necessarily mean it’s also accessible. Where does Concordia land in that bleak landscape? Let’s send out our prefects to exact tribute until we find out.

Colour Blindness

Oh, there’s nothing I hate more than when a game I love doesn’t cross the Rubicon but instead falls face first into it. Concordia has a colour palette problem – because of course it does. We’ve done these teardowns for a fair few games now, and this is by far the single most common thread throughout the work. First of all, let’s look at the scoring tokens:

Colour Blind Scoring

A nice tower

And then at the settler tokens:

Colour blind meeples

‘I don’t really see colours. They just look like meeple to me’

And then the full map with houses placed:

Colour blind map

If I could find my keys, I could get into my house. If I could find my house.

Concordia is a game in which settler logistics and property management is absolutely core – it’s fundamental to knowing what your options are, and what your actions mean. Surprisingly, those with Tritanopia are probably going to be fine with this. There’s sufficient discrimination between the green and blue tones to render the pieces identifiable even if occasional slips are going to be inevitable. Those with Protanopia or Deuteranopia are less likely to find the game easy to play – while there’s differentiation between the red and yellow, it’s almost impossible to tell the yellows from the green.

For other pieces of game information, it’s fine – all the goods tokens differ in look as well as colour:

Colour blind goods

Are those wine coloured bricks, or is it brick coloured wine?

And the cards contain plenty of identifying information that doesn’t depend on the colour coding. Money is marked with the denomination, and the province bonuses are clearly identifiable even without colour to aid:

Colour blind provinces

This is wine? I thought it was wheat. YES I’M STICKING TO THAT STORY.

The scoring issue isn’t likely to be too much of a barrier.  You can replace the token with a different kind, and the scoring is only done at the end anyway. It’s easier to remember where you are because your attention is focused directly on the point accumulation. Most games require constant context shifting, away from the scoring to your turn and then back again. Concordia waits until you’re done before allowing your attention to settle on the scoring.

The settler issue though is more significant – there’s a difference between land and sea settlers, and you’d need three of each if you were going to replace them with other meeples from other games. You’d also need fifteen tokens to represent your settlements. You absolutely need to be able to tell where your settlers are, and where your houses are located. If you’re playing a game with fewer than five players, it’ll probably be okay. If you want to scale all the way up to five, it’s going to be a problem.

As usual, there’s really no excuse for it. You can still play the game if you make some changes, or if you play with fewer than five players. You’d be well within your rights though to refuse to accommodate the indifference of publishers to this issue. We recommend Concordia here, but with bad grace.

Visual Accessibility

There are also problems for those with other categories of visual impairment. Many of the tokens are very small. While font choices are thematic they’re also sometimes less than readable, such as when dealing with the name of Gods on the cards. There’s identifying colour information there too, but it’s not an ideal state of affairs. Cards often contain densely cropped text indicating instructions, and if you need to look up the details in the manual you’ll find it’s printed in a tiny font:

Tiny text in the manual

I’m going to need my reading binoculars

Luckily, once you understand the rules of Concordia it plays reasonably simply – you won’t often have to refer to the documentation. More of an issue is the amount of information that’s spread over the board, and how visually inaccessible it may be. The print of the goods to be produced is quite small on the city tokens, and while it’s again colour coded that may not be sufficient for certain combinations and categories of visual impairment:

City tokens

I’m looking for the wine. I don’t really care about anything else.

The text on the provinces too is tiny, and the provinces themselves suffer from poor contrast. Again, familiarity will deal with this problem, and a basic grasp of geography will help – but then we get into the issue of visual clutter.

Game map

It’s not the size of the landmass…

Look at Hellas, for example – there is route information, city information, token information, and eventually settler and housing information all shoved into a very small part of the board. Provinces like Mavretania on the other hand have generous proportions but the contrast of the routes is very poor. Sea routes on the map are uniformly badly contrasted – look at the seas south of Britannia for example. The colour ratio there is 1.14:1 when we’d be hoping for something like 4:1 given the size of the paths. The paths through Mavretania can dip down to 1.09:1. Even in Hispania, the ratio is a disappointing 1.44:1.

The city letters too don’t have great contrast in some regions. In Germania for example, the contrast ratio is 2.2:1 – for text of that size, we’d probably be okay with 3:1, but we don’t get even that.  That’s only an issue for setup, but just because the problem is transient doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

The currency is all circular, and difficult to differentiate with touch. All the denominations are different sizes, but not sufficiently different that you’d be able to reliably tell them apart. You could probably regularly tell the difference between the one and the ten, but any other comparison is going to be difficult. They’re mostly different colours, although the one and the five coin are very close in tone, and the contrast on the coins is shockingly poor:

Coins

‘Uh, yeah – I gave you four tens’

The difference in size between denominations of coins is on the order of millimeters:

Stack of coins

There’s not a lot of difference here

In such circumstances, it’s fine to make use of real money to deal with this problem, but you really shouldn’t be forced into that. The design of coinage is a solved problem for the most part, and all it takes is for board-game designers to borrow those lessons and apply them to cardboard tokens.

The goods all have different tactile profiles, and you can easily identify them by touch alone. However, they are small and fiddly and the warehouse slots you have for them aren’t at all generous.  Luckily, the warehouse isn’t actually *necessary*.  You could just give yourself a budget of twelve things to store and keep them separately in front of you.  The good price along the top is useful to have, but there are only five you’d need to memorise.

Warehouse dimensions

We’re storing human sized bricks, or possibly brick sized humans

It’s not a game that we’d recommend to anyone with visual impairments. The game however is playable provided someone is present to give support and clarify the type and location of things. Much of the game though is embedded in knowing the state of the provinces, the location of the settlers of all players, and the state of play of each player’s decks. We don’t have a lot of confidence that you’d get the best out of the game even if given significant support in play.

Cognitive Accessibility

There’s not a lot of good news in this category either. There is a deep level of synergy in the rules and the card-play, and that’s predicated on absorbing the rhythm of the tribune card as it shapes the game flow. Much of what you do is conditional – the diplomat will change function depending on whom you play it and on what they last played. The prefect may or may not be able to enact tribute in a particular region depending on the state of the provinces. Or they may claim money, and no resources. The amount of resources a province will provide and to whom will depend on the changing state of the game, and will be influenced by the presence of the Prefectus Magnus card and how it’s played. The cost of building in cities is not only different depending on the resource, but increases depending on how many settlements are already present. Settlers may or may not be able to take certain routes depending on how they are positioned, on what category of settler they are, and even the movement budget you have for settlers may change. Trading in a mercator may involve two transactions, or no transactions, and can only involve two goods at most.  You get three coins for playing the mercator you get in your hand to begin with, but purchased mercators give you five.  There’s not a lot to keep track of in any action you take, but almost every action is going to involve some conditional consideration.

More significantly, it’s a game that requires deep thinking over a relatively long period of time. Being ready and able to take advantage of opportunities that come along for settlements requires a plan for acquiring and holding on to resources. For this, a certain amount of strategy is needed for handling marketplace transactions in a way that will facilitate development. Even when it comes to buying cards, you need to be able to understand the costing implications, and the symbolism used throughout the game doesn’t really lend itself to easy cognitive accessibility.

And then there’s the scoring – one of the coolest things about Concordia is how it allows a player to alter the foundational elements. They can choose the Gods that favour their strategy and engineer the circumstances that bring the appropriate personality cards into their hand. Unlike many games where you gain a certain number of points for a particular action, the value of your early choices will alter depending on the Gods represented in your deck. To be fair, you can play an enjoyable game of Concordia without worrying about any of that, but the flexibility of the scoring is one of the things that’s especially neat about the game and it would be a shame to lose it.  It’s highly individualised, and a core part of developing a rounded and controllable game strategy – and it needs you to be thinking very far in advance to do it well.

The game state rapidly becomes very complex at the end stages.  In the last few turns of play you’re balancing not only the resources your cities produce, but the interconnected card-play of everyone at the table. You need to make sure you’re timing things so that when they play their vintner, for example, you have your diplomat ready to go. You need to be able to chain cards together over rounds, so that you employ your prefect, then use the senator to buy the mason, then use the mason to produce bricks, then the architect to build the cities those bricks enable before playing down a tribune and beginning the next chain. It’s all very satisfying, but depends on being able to keep an economic engine smoothly running over the course of the entire game. That’s cognitively demanding, both in terms of fluid intelligence and in terms of memory.

With games such as Carcassonne and Patchwork we suggested a very light, non-scoring variant that allowed for keeping a lot of the meaningful activity without the burdens implied by competition. Concordia, while a game that does allow for a great degree of satisfaction by developing supply chains and leveraging your resources to build, doesn’t lend itself well to this kind of play. It’s too deep, with too many interconnected parts. Its puzzles are too tightly coupled. All of that is great from a gameplay perspective, but it doesn’t support meaningful play for those with cognitive impairments.

We don’t recommend Concordia in this category.

Emotiveness

Concordia has an unusual degree of collegiate thinking in its rule design – when a prefect exacts tribute in a province, everyone with settlements there gets resources. When a card is purchased by another player, you can still gain access to it through your diplomat. When you claim a city, everyone else can still settle there – the cost just increases. The only thing you can really do to get permanently in the way of someone else is to leave one of your settlers clogging up a route – settlers can pass through each other but can’t share. Even then if they have the movement budget they can pass through, or go a separate way. It’s very difficult to do lasting harm to another player.

However, the scoring element that we lauded so much in the review can make a lot of gameplay seem very arbitrary. It’s important to know that ‘there is no fate but what we make’, but it’s possible to seem as if you’re absolutely nailing the game and end up losing because you didn’t collect the right personality cards. That can be frustrating.  Once you’re in the full-swing of the game, those cards absolutely define your future success and there’s no trading cards back and forth between players.  Changing your scoring context is glacial, and extremely difficult to do well.  You can easily be left with a situation that doesn’t lend itself to adaptation.  I’d say that the fact you’re stuck in a trap of your own making tends to mitigate the emotional impact of this, but as ever your mileage will vary.

The larger problem with that is the end-game tally too has the potential to enable very significant score disparities – someone that invests heavily in personality cards is going to inevitably rocket around the scoring track. There’s more work that goes into building up a sustainable economic engine for building cities, but the cards act as a multiplier on that effort. This can result in someone getting many more points for smaller accomplishments than another player. That too can be an issue of frustration.

These are reasonably minor quibbles though in a game that has made special effort to eliminate the cut-throat contention over resources that many of these games enable and encourage. Competition is still present, and is still meaning*ful*, but isn’t mean-*spirited*. We’d recommend Concordia in this category.

Physical Accessibility

There’s not a huge amount we can say here that’s positive. So let’s say the good stuff first and get it out of the way.

There are cards in Concordia, and the hidden hands you begin to build will grow in size as the game goes on. However, there’s not a huge amount of card management necessary and a couple of standard card-holders should be fine for accommodating this element of the game. The cards are of reasonably generous size, and aside from a limited amount of setup at the beginning of the game there’s no shuffling required.

The game also benefits considerably from having a clear opportunity for verbalised instructions. Provinces are all uniquely named, as are the cities. Actions from cards can be clearly expressed in relation to the state of the board:

  • Move my land settler from Rome on to the road between Rome and Novaria.
  • I would like to spend a bale of silk, a brick and five coins to buy a settlement in Londinium.
  • I want to play my Diplomat on Jane, to get a prefect action. I’m then going to claim tribute for Hispania.
  • I want to buy the sixth card on the personality track for two bales of silk and a tool.

Now onto the bad stuff.

There is an awful lot of reaching over the board in Concordia. You need to reach over to flip province tokens, collect cards, place houses and move settlers. Sometimes you’re going to be doing that in very cluttered regions of the board where there’s not a lot of room to maneuver. The houses are tiny, and the settlers are not particularly generous in their proportions. The city tokens too are only laid atop a somewhat glossy and shiny board – a hand spasm at the wrong moment may end up greatly changing the political reality of the Mediterranean. If you can’t actually get up to examine the board, you’ll be reliant on other people to tell you the state of the various provinces, what cards are available, and what they cost. More, you’ll find it difficult to ascertain the state of play with regards to other players – where their settlers are, what resources their cities produce, and where their properties are located. Obviously this is dependent on where you’re sitting and your angle of view, but it’s more difficult than it should be.

You’ll constantly be manipulating your warehouse. You’ll be removing goods to build or buy cards, and you’ll be collecting resources from prefect activities. When you play a mercator card, you’ll be trading goods and dealing with money. You’ll be making a lot of change as you spend and collect cash. All of that requires ongoing interaction with tiny tokens and small currency markers. Some of the resource pieces too don’t lend themselves well to manipulation if a lack of fine-grained motion is a problem – silk and bricks for example don’t have any ridges or bumps that would stop them from being dropped or inadvertently discarded. All of this is coupled to a tight fit in terms of warehouse dimensions. You don’t actually *need* to use the warehouse of course, and we’d recommend not bothering with it if it’s going to be anything at all of an issue.

If all players have physical impairments, I’m not sure you could even set up the game. It involves a lot of sorting of tokens, distributing them around the board, and placing of the appropriate province bonuses on the province track. It’s an awkward enough process without taking into account issues of mobility.

If you are working in a mixed ability group though, the ease of verbalisation does mean the game lends itself to play with support. As usual, we don’t particularly like to be too effusive about this as a solution since it means denying the importance of agency in play. Still – it means a tentative recommendation.

Communication

The only issue here is one of reading level – the game requires the ability to interpret not only some reasonably complex instructions, but also to navigate the thematic naming of cards – Prefect, Mercator, Prefectus Magnus, and so on. However, there isn’t a huge amount of this that needs to be mastered, and the rules are sufficiently straightforward that they lend themselves well to memorisation. Despite it being a game of trade and resource management, there’s no intra-player trading permitted, and no need to negotiate, communicate or bluff.

We recommend Concordia in this category.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

There’s a lot to like here. Although the woman on the cover looks like she’s about to take a bite into someone’s brains, she is neither overtly sexualised, explicitly gendered in her role or diminished to supporting cast level. The rest of the supporting material adopts mostly descriptive artwork, showing the game at various stages of play. The manual alternates between genders, avoiding the common assumption of masculinity in players. There are no obvious troublesome elements in the theme, except perhaps for the idea of Roman Imperialism which I suspect is sufficiently historically distant to avoid being troublesome.

At an RRP of £45, it’s not a cheap game but it is one that offers considerable value. The map is double-sided, adding replayability and the game scales well to between two and five players. It’s also a game that is good enough to see regular play, meaning that while the upfront cost may be on the steep side, it still has considerable value for money and a reasonably low ‘per player’ cost. It’s also stuffed full of lovely components, giving it a very welcome sense of worth. When you open it up, you’re not wondering where your cash went.

We’d strongly recommend it in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

There are a fair number of intersectional issues we need to consider. The tiny tokens, and the amount of time you spend manipulating them, is a serious issue in terms of visual and physical accessibility. It’s a compounding issue when we consider the combination of these. There’s a considerable amount of precision required to deal with the game markers, and you’re often trying to place them in areas with considerable clutter. Houses, settlers and game tokens all compete for relatively sparse board real-estate.

The game involves hidden hands. This isn’t as significant as in other games – what’s in your hand is common knowledge. Everyone sees what you buy from the personality track, and everyone starts with the same set of base cards. Similarly, everyone sees the cards you play. Having the hands hidden forces other players to memorise who bought what and when, but there is only a limited game impact to simply playing with your hands open for everyone to see. That’s a considerable benefit when dealing with the intersection of physical and cognitive complexity.

As usual, if physical impairments are paired with a communication impairment, the work-around of verbalising game instructions may not be possible. It’s necessary to be mindful of this when deciding on the appropriateness of the game.

For those with cognitive and visual accessibility requirements, the heavy use of symbols throughout can be an issue – none of the symbols are especially complicated, and all make sense in context. If though they can’t be fully visually ascertained and this is coupled with a memory impairment that may require prompting as to meaning, this can escalate into a relatively serious problem for smooth game flow.

Concordia comes in at a meaty 100 estimated minutes of playtime, but has reasonable support for dropping out. If forced to leave the game temporarily, your settlers may end up blocking routes but that’s about the only impact it’s likely to have on other players. There’s a floor of two players for the game, but it plays well at all levels and so if discomfort is an issue there’s no significant impact if a player takes a break. If the break is extended, you can house-rule solutions to this – removing their properties from the board for example so as not to penalise other players in terms of cost to enter cities. Nobody need feel that their participation is critical to the game continuing though, unless they’re one of two players.

Conclusion

Concordia is a glorious game – it got a richly deserved 4.5 stars in our review. Unfortunately, the things that make it a delight from a gaming perspective cause numerous problems in terms of accessibility:

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

It’s not all bad – while the depth and sophistication of the game does create serious cognitive barriers, the considerate competitive design alleviates emotional issues. The tiny tokens are a problem from a visual and physical impairment perspective, but add considerably to the sense of value from a socioeconomic one. Some of these issues are ingrained in the game design and there’s nothing that really could be done to deal with them without substantially changing the nature of the game itself. Some issues though are in the component and card design although it’s always hard to be be too critical of a game which doubles down on the aesthetics of a theme. It’s always important though to be mindful of the readability issues that may go along with font choice, contrast, and the colour palette. There’s much that could have been done better in Concordia without risking all that is good about it.

Radar chart

Feels like five sestertii to me

We would have no problems recommending Concordia to anyone on a gameplay level. It’s a more complicated prospect from the perspective of accessibility. As usual, we recommend that you interpret our comments with regards to whatever accessibility profile is appropriate for you, and make your own mind up. If you think you can play it, you owe it to yourself to give it a go.


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