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.
CV has a great set of bones to it but the flesh around them is somewhat emaciated. There’s just not a lot of content, and you see the same cards each game so the novelty rapidly diminishes to a vanishing point after a handful of plays. That’s fine in a game that has the mechanical complexity to stand on its own merits – nobody argues Chess needs an expansion pack. CV though lives and dies on the combination of life choices it puts in front of you. Nonetheless, we gave it three stars in our review because it’s intensely charming and a very worthwhile experience while it holds you attention. Can you make it a meaningful part of your life? There’s only one way to find out.
There isn’t a serious problem here. The backing to the different age cards are only used as part of setup and clearing away, but they’re well differentiated for all categories of colour blindness. Even if they weren’t they come with symbols marked prominently in the centre:
The face-up cards have some minor colour clashes, but they’re unlikely to meaningfully interfere with play. Really, you only need to know for the purposes of scoring to what category a card belongs, and it’s usually easy to make a guess based on the name of the card itself.
However, while the cards all have symbols to indicate their category, which technically satisfies the criteria that colour isn’t the sole channel of information, the icons in the top right corner are presented in the smallest, and most derisory form:
In the situations where colour-blindness does kick in, it’s going to be tricky to get close enough to investigate the cards without potentially leaking a significant amount of information as to intent. Some of the scoring conditions for the game are secret, and as such you might reveal something of what cards are important to you, and hint at what scoring conditions you may be working towards.
We’ll recommend CV in this category though – what colour blindness issues exist are offset, at least in part, by the relatively limited impact they have on round to round play.
The cards are large, with big fonts and well-contrasted text. Some of the instructions are a little wordy, and some conditional clauses on acquiring a card may be a little difficult to make out at a distance. Overall though if you can read with the aid of an assistive device the text is unlikely to present too great a barrier to play.
The game employs a symbolic language for cost and benefit, but it’s very simple for the most part since the symbols correspond to what’s on the dice. There are some symbolic forms that are a little obscure, but mostly it’s easy to differentiate one symbol from another and it can be relatively easily internalised with a little practice. For those cards where the effects may not be transparent there is explanatory text in the manual to help you out. Like the category information though, card numbers are presented in an insultingly tiny font in the corner of the cards.
The most significant issue in this category is in the non-standard dice. You roll four of these at a time at a minimum, and may roll as many as seven. While they’re standard D6 form, they all have custom faces. You’ll need to construct a lookup table for play if you want to make use of accessible braille or oversized dice, and you’ll need as many of seven of the dice if you want to play effectively. Since you can hold and reroll combinations of dice, if you’re making use of a shift system for rolling (rolling a d6 five times as opposed to rolling five at a time) you’ll rapidly find the cognitive cost of the game spiking up into the stratosphere. You’re probably going to need to spend a fair amount of time examine the dice with an assistive aid before you make decisions. Alternatively you’ll be cross-referencing against a lookup table. In both cases you’ll then be comparing the results against the cards you have and the cards on the track. It’s not a game-breaking situation, but it’ll have an impact on the smoothness of play.
You get reminder symbols for passive bonuses, and I tend to put these in the dice cup (yes, I use a dice cup) and add them in to what gets rolled on the tray YES I HAVE A DICE TRAY. That limits some of the complexity of working out what you’ve got and what you’ve spent, but it doesn’t get around the fundamental inaccessibility of the dice. King of Tokyo, as a comparator, solved the problem to an extent by making the dice symbols recessed and the dice themselves oversized. CV on the other hand uses the normal size one would expect from a d6. It’s interesting to note too that the dice in King of Tokyo are also just more fun to roll.
There aren’t a lot of moving parts to the game really. We suspect CV is reasonably playable if you can find a workable solution to the issue of the many dice you’ll need to roll. As such, we’ll recommend it, just, in this category
There aren’t a lot of decisions you need to take in CV – while you want to collect sets of cards for the scoring, there are various routes to victory points that don’t need you to play particularly strategically. For example, focusing on purchasing luxury goods, or simply collecting as many cards as you can of a particular type. The game supports competition in a cognitively undemanding way by making various paths viable.
However, the end of game scoring is a little more arithmetically demanding than it could be. Opening the box you are greeted with the disheartening sight of this little bugger:
The cost of allowing meaningful competition without deep, cunning strategy is that it becomes an exercise in numeracy – that exercise involves a degree of multiplication as well as simple addition. Obviously, there’s nothing to say that the final game calculation has to be done by any given person, but it still puts a layer of obfuscation between the player and their final tally.
There are two further areas of potential complication as far as cognitive accessibility is concerned. The first of these is that it’s a game of dice-rolling and pushing your luck. Such games require an intuitive sense of probability, even if there is no requirement for a formal understanding. You need to appreciate roughly the chance of ending up with three bad luck symbols with regards to the dice you’re rolling and the dice you’re saving. That probability curve changes as you gain more dice – rolling seven dice is a riskier proposition than rolling four. It helps to have an understanding of what that means.
Spending your dice to buy tokens has the potential to be cognitively costly since it requires you to re-roll dice while saving some symbols and then adding in passive bonuses/penalties and then potentially spreading the rolled symbols across two cards. If this were an arithmetic exercise it would be a problem, but it’s actually quite easy to do thanks to the passive symbol tokens the game gives you. I suspect this wasn’t done as an accessibility aid, but it is outstanding in that capacity since it turns a task that is fundamentally about numeracy into one of symbol matching. You can just put the rolled dice and symbols onto the cards in which you’re interested, leaving you with the change that you can potentially spend on other things. It’s nice.
There is a very small reading level required of some cards, but most don’t need anything other than an understanding of the simple symbolic language of cost and benefits. As mentioned in the section on visual accessibility, some effects are conditional and not entirely intuitive. Overall though it’s not likely to be especially taxing in either category of cognitive accessibility.
The game flow is consistent and easy to follow – roll and reroll dice, play event cards if needed, buy cards, refill the track. After every full round (or every turn if only two players) you drop a card off the left of the track and refill from the supply. The game continues in this way until you reach the end, with no variation in turn structure or composition. There are no unexpected synergies, and while some cards are bought and played later there is in general no decoupling of outcome and action.
Since everything is represented in front of you during play, there’s no significant burden on memory. Even the time left to go can be inferred from how many cards are left to draw from the age decks.
We strongly recommend CV for those where memory impairments may be a significant issue. For those with other cognitive impairments too we offer a recommendation. This though is tempered slightly by the need for an appreciation of probability and the slightly awkwardly numerate scoring calculations.
The only bad thing that can happen to you in play is that you lose one of the active cards you’ve accumulated. That’s merely annoying rather than anything else. It can be a little frustrating to roll your dice and instantly get three bad luck symbols, but that’s inevitable in these kind of games. You get a fair bit of control in terms of how bad it’s going to be in the end with judicious activation of cards. I don’t think it’s a major issue.
The game goes out of its way to avoid anything that might be considered thematically challenging. I found that to be a missed opportunity, but it does mean that you’re not going to be presented with all the horror life can bring at the gaming table. Everything is very sweet and cheerful and as such the charm of the game can mitigate what little unpleasantness the game mechanics can inflict. Life is invariably on an upward trajectory in CV, with only the most incidental of occasional set-backs.
The game does permit a certain degree of ganging up if you reveal too much of your goal conditions, but the nature of play is such that it doesn’t really become much of an issue. It’s easy to score in almost all situations, and the limited choices presented by the track at any one time mean you can never truly be locked out of what’s important to you. The flip-side of that is that if a card is revealed at the end of your turn it might disappear before you get a chance to buy it. There are no explicit take-that mechanics, and no way for players to be eliminated.
Score differentials, as a consequence of all this, tend to be relatively small in most circumstances.
We strongly recommend CV in this category.
There’s a lot of dice rolling in CV, and this is the key area of physical difficulty. The nature of apportioning dice between cards too puts a fair degree of stress on your ability to reach across a table, distribute dice and tokens, and collect them all back in. That’s not necessary, of course, but it does help in your calculations and planning to be able to partition up your dice. The card manipulation is only cursory though, consisting entirely of collecting and returning cards as needed. Everything else is entirely abstracted through the possession and positioning of cards in an open hand.
As such, the game verbalises very easily. You just need to say what you want to keep and what you want to reroll. ‘Keep three dollar signs but re-roll the rest’ for example. Each card has a unique name that identifies it, and since all cards are played open in front of you so there’s no need for hidden hand management or awkward secret organisation of your accumulated life events.
We recommend CV in this category.
There is no formal need to communicate in CV, but as we discussed in the review we think of it as a primarily a storytelling game that just so happens to make use of dice. As such, while you don’t need to talk over what’s happening, you gain a lot of immersion and value by discussing the lives you’re constructing in front of you. This requires a degree of ability to improvise a story based on juxtaposition of cards. It doesn’t though need the same conversational fluency that would be associated with something like Once Upon a Time. You can approach it more selectively, ignoring those cards that do not contribute to the narrative arc and focusing instead on the ones that generate unintentional hilarity. Mrs Meeple, for example, earned a PhD early in one game and lost it to bad luck, which I alleged was as a result of academic misconduct. Later on, she became a professor. It was fun to discuss that life course, relate it to our own and to the people we have known. It facilitates discussion about and around these topics. That’s true even though much of what happened during the game had no bearing on that central narrative. It’s a bit like thinking ‘How would people describe me if I died right now’ – morbid, but still a fun thought experiment.
So, while we recommend CV in this category, bear in mind a lot of the enjoyment comes from collaboratively constructing the emerging biography of your character. That will require a degree of shared communication to really carry it through.
This is an interesting one. The card art is fantastically wicked in a lot of places, striking with an understated ferocity. As a result, the portrayals associated with some of the things can be somewhat insulting, playing to lazy stereotypes and the worst kind of clichés and hyper-0masculine wish fulfillment. For example, the marriage card, or the blood donor:
The marriage card shows the ‘overweight, overbearing bride’ so beloved of end-of-the-pier comedians. The blood donor card shows a man surrounded by buxom nurses like something out of a Penthouse reader’s letter. So, the art is clearly playing with some unpleasant clichés. And then you get cards like ‘psychotherapy’ which reflect a somewhat dismissive attitude regarding mental health:
Look at the child card, or the athlete, or the college friends. Look at the Wikipedia author. Look at the Boardgame club. Look at the freelancer, who is clearly freelancing as one of the more brutal varieties of contract killer.
This is not a game that is trying to endear itself to anyone. I can’t really think of an example of ‘biting the hand that feeds you’ more perfect than how it portrays those of us that congregate socially around tabletop gaming.
The key issue when it comes to making jokes, even visual ones, at the expense of other people is the extent to which it’s punching up or punching down. Such jokes, without the implied context of a social group to mediate meaning, are either subverting social power structures or reinforcing them. A treatise on the nature of humour is obviously beyond the scope of this teardown, but the TL;DR summary of my view is that I believe absolutely everything is a valid subject for humour, but that you need to be very careful in how you express humour in social contexts you don’t control. Humour either brings people in, or it keeps people out. You need to treat it differently depending on what it is you’re looking to do with a joke. You also need to understand how the audience of a joke will interpret it – do you trust that everyone hearing the joke is going to treat it as such, rather than as corroboration of their own internal biases?
So, does CV punch up or punch down?
I don’t think it does either. I think it punches wildly in every direction. The dark satire in the cards is (mostly) an equal opportunity offender, and as such I think it’s absolutely fine. Your mileage will obviously vary, but I think you can play this game with all kinds of complex mixed company without worrying about any specific person feeling targeted.
A life simulator game could so easily have gone into some dark places, and CV avoids it entirely except in the art-work. I think it’s a weaker game for it, but it certainly doesn’t do it any harm in this category of accessibility. I still think it needs an ‘after dark’ expansion that can be seeded through the decks to really make play meaningful rather than cartoonish. It doesn’t have that though, so it’s safe for all kinds of consumption. There are no clear triggering issues that you’ll encounter. It’s life as lived when wrapped in cotton wool.
CV supports up to four players, and with an RRP of £25 it’s an affordable experience that has a lot of charm. However, as we discussed in the review there is a seriously downward trend to its replayability curve. After two games you’ll have seen almost everything the game has to offer you. Twice. Certainly people will disagree, but I just don’t see this being something you play more than a few times before you suck all the juice out of it. You’ll leave it on the shelf for a year and the passage of time will have dulled its familiarity, and then you’ll enjoy it once more. It’s not something that’s going to become richer and deeper the more you play it. That makes it a dubious investment over the many games at this price-point that more consistently generate fun for longer.
Nonetheless, we’ll recommend CV in this category.
The relative simplicity of the game mechanics mean there are only a few intersectional issues to consider. The presence of dice that must be partitioned between ‘those we’re keeping’ versus potentially two ‘cards we’re buying’ might become a problem. It means that if there is a combination of physical and visual impairments to consider it may be slightly more difficult to do your budgeting. It’s not a major issue, and the presence of the temporary tokens is a big help in this regard. Nonetheless, the combination of non-standard dice and multiple purchases means this needs to be taken into account.
The game tends to drag on a little, but it still tops out at around an hour. You’d need to take into account accessibility considerations there, but since the game is reasonably accessible out of the box it’s unlikely to be a serious time investment. The game permits easy dropping in and out, since nobody is hoarding components that should eventually be recycled back into the game. Cards, once bought, are retained or discarded – they don’t make their way back into the supply. The game has a nominal floor of two players, but if necessary it could be completed as a solo experience, or simply scored at the point that the game prematurely ends. There are no grand, sweeping master plays underpinning CV – you’re not luring people into a false sense of security before you spring the trap and win the game. You’re just responding to a series of upcoming cards and buying the ones that seem the best. As such, any ending point is approximately as good as any other.
There’s a lot to like about CV, even if it rapidly loses novelty over even a handful of playing sessions. Some of its features though are lovely from an accessibility perspective. The temporary symbols in particular are great in that capacity, showing once more that good accessibility is good for everyone.
Overall, CV is a game that has a lot to recommend it here Even those areas that are often a flash-point for our teardowns, such as in objectification in art, aren’t a problem if you’re willing to accept the tone is applied reasonably consistently and that everyone is the target.
CV is undeniably a charming game. It needs more of everything, coming across as something rather more like an ‘early access’ game than a title that’s meaningfully finished. I like it enough to eventually get the expansion, which might not come across from our three star review. If you fancy taking the path not taken though, CV is a good way to find out where it might have gone. That is, if you don’t mind asking that question where the trajectory of life is ever upwards. Nobody in CV ever has to contend with the existential angst that comes with being a brief candle of life spinning at cosmic speeds through a dark, alien and unforgiving cosmos. Is that good or bad? I guess we all get to make that choice as we contemplate the immensity of our own insignificance.
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