Dobble (2009) – 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.

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Version Reviewed

English Edition 2013

Introduction

Dobble is ridiculous amounts of fun, albeit in relatively short bursts.  It’s fast, it’s frantic, and it’s very, very funny.   It’s a game that deserves to be on the shelf of every gamer, regardless of how serious they think the hobby should be.  It packs an awful lot of entertainment into its three and a half stars.   Do you want to play it?  I bet you do.  Can you play it?  Let’s flind out with an allsessable tyredarn!

Colour Blindness

Strictly speaking Dobble is colour blind friendly.  Every single symbol is different, and none use colour to uniquely convey information.

Colour blind cards

This doesn’t seem very fair.

I can’t help but think though that you’d be at a considerable disadvantage if you were playing against people that weren’t colour blind.  Colour isn’t a barrier, but one of the key ways in which you can visually filter symbols is through matching up of colour channels.  Consider the cards above for those with Protanopia versus the ‘proper’ colours.  Almost everything for the player with Protanopia will be that vaguely dull gold, whereas the other player will have greens, reds and yellows that can be clearly identified.  It’s just going to make pattern matching so much easier if you have the full gamut available.  Not easy, mind – we did talk about that in the review.  But easier.

Colour blind card close up

This doesn’t seem much better.

To be fair, I’m not sure how this could be addressed whilst Dobble remained substantively the same game.  It shares some features in that respect with Dixit, which has the same property of being colour blind accessible but not actually very playable.   It’s not quite as pronounced here as it is in Dixit, given how important nuance and inflection can be to that game.  It does mean though that we’d be very wary about giving it a recommendation in this category.

It absolutely can be played by those that are colour blind.  It’s going to be a much more difficult game unless everyone at the table shares the same trait.

Visual Accessibility

The symbols on the cards are all clearly identified, with their own visual profiles, and for the most part are present in a reasonably large size.   Unfortunately, given the key mechanic behind the game we can’t be very positive about a recommendation in this category either.

Card symbols

Large and in charge

The single most significant mechanic in the game is a visual parsing exercise – comparing what you have on your card against what’s on the target card.  Some variants of the game introduce some extra complexities.  As cards are claimed, the context will shift and completely change the symbols you’re attempting to compare.  Importantly, all of this is done against the time limit imposed by other players.  You don’t have time to check any of the cards with an accessibility aid – they’ll be claimed before you can even bring a magnifier to bear.

For those with minor visual impairments, the game is probably playable with care – for anything more, I suspect the amount of visual information that must be ascertained at speed would put it into the realm of extreme inaccessibility.

We strongly advise those with visual impairments to avoid Dobble, even if it looks deceptively accessible.

Cognitive Accessibility

Dobble is just a fancy version of snap.  In terms of weight, it has virtually none.   The complexity rating ascribed to it by over 360 Board Game Geek owners (at the time of writing) gives it an average weight of 1.04.  In other words, it is the lightest of light games in terms of its mechanics.

And I still think it’s almost entirely cognitively inaccessible.

We discussed this a little bit in the Once Upon A Time teardown – while games that are heavy are likely to be cognitively inaccessible, it doesn’t mean that games at the other end of the scale will necessarily conform to the reverse.   Cognitive accessibility is influenced by weight, but it’s not a directly correlated factor.   What we tend to look at here is something more subtle – the cost of cognitive processing.  That in turn is influenced by a number of factors – how many things you need to think about at once, how quickly you need to do it, and the complexity of the things of which you need to think.  When we talk about memory, we also need to take into account the fundamental biological limits of cognition, and the relatively limited working space available in our brains.

Dobble taxes all of these.  It’s an incredibly simple game with an extremely high cognitive cost.

First of all, we need to compare symbols against symbols.  We have eight symbols per card, which means we need to do sixty four comparisons in the worst case.  On average, we’ll do thirty two per card combination.  The thing is, we’re rarely doing this with the linear reliability of a computer algorithm.  We’re not exhaustively checking one symbol against all other symbols and then moving onto the next.  We’re looking from one card to the other hoping something clicks.  That’s not only expensive in terms of processing, but in terms of holding the symbols in memory long enough and clearly enough to do mental comparisons.  This would be difficult enough if we were looking to match exact symbols on one card against another, but it’s more complex than that.  We need to take into account orientation, spatial location, and variable size of shapes.

Once we’ve found a match we need to quickly parse it into something we can articulate verbally, and then express that cleanly enough that people know what we’re talking about.  That’s something that many of us can do on a daily basis without problem.  It’s not always something possible for those with cognitive impairments.  This is especially true for those conditions where making the connection between concept and word is more difficult.

But it’s also been done under stressful conditions.  Have you ever gotten tongue-tied?  Of course you have.  Dobble is an engine for creating the situation in which that happens.   Note here that stress isn’t being used in a pejorative sense.   We’re using it in the sense of ‘emotional or mental pressure’, and that’s what we’re under when we compete at speed with other people.   That is in a real sense of the fun at the heart of the game.  If this were just a pattern recognition task, it would be dreadfully, painfully dull.  You could certainly play Dobble like that, but it wouldn’t be the game I described in the review.

As such, we don’t recommend Dobble in either category of cognitive impairment.

Emotiveness

It’s easy to feel stupid and frustrated when playing Dobble, when you just can’t get a word out and yet your opponents are claiming card after card after card.   The appropriate response is to take a breath, calm yourself, and try to catch the tail end of the action with a cooler frame of mind.  It’s a game designed to create high stress, high tension, and high excitement.  That’s not always going to be a good match when dealing with potential issues of emotional accessibility.

Under the best circumstances, all you can really do is laugh – it’s not that you’re stupid, it’s that the game is designed to trip you up and create situations in which your normal fluency breaks down.   Your mind is supposed to collapse in on itself – that’s what the stress of competition does.  Knowing that’s the case takes away the sting of yelling ‘ladybomb’ when you meant ‘ladybird’.   It’s supposed to happen.  It’s funny!  Everyone will laugh, because the whole thing is just ridiculous.

This kind of willing release of control isn’t always easy though, and the game can come with some staggering score disparities.  Those fifty-five cards will disappear very rapidly, and people will enter a state of flow where they’re claiming them as quickly as they’re revealed.  You can end up holding a handful of cards when an opponent has dozens.   It can create the context for self-recrimination, thinking they accomplished that feat because they were smarter.

Nonetheless, we’re going to offer a tentative recommendation for Dobble in this category.  The whole thing is so ludicrous and rambunctious that it’s difficult to take winning and losing too seriously.  You’ll just as easily be able to blame a crushing loss on laughter as much as on anything else.

Physical Accessibility

Strictly speaking, the only thing you need to do to play Dobble is be able to state a match between your card and the target one.  There are some game modes that are a little more physical, but they all play fundamentally the same way and you can just avoid the one that requires you to hold cards in an outstretched hand.

Hot potato rules

Perhaps best to avoid this one

We tend to play it with players hitting down on the card too, primarily to resolve potential draw situations.  It’s not strictly speaking necessary, although it does help.

Once a card is claimed, it should be collected by the winner and the new card revealed.   This doesn’t actually have to be done by the person claiming it though, provided that the act of distribution won’t interfere with clear play.

As such, we strongly recommend Dobble in this category.  It is playable with even the most severe of physical impairments, provided that these do not interfere with a player’s ability to articulate words at speed.

Communication

There’s no required reading level, and no need for anyone to communicate anything more complex than a few words or phrases.  Dobble does require this though to be done at speed, and in a way that can be clearly picked up by everyone when they’re not looking directly at other players.  Those not making use of verbal communication will likely find that the game is unplayable on those grounds without someone else acting as a kind of arbitrator or referee.

However, even in situations where this is possible it’s likely that in mixed-communication groups the need to sign or communicate electronically will introduce a playing lag.  This will severely disadvantages those players in comparison to those that can simply yell out matches.   An alternative system would be to focus on gesture rather than articulation, requiring everyone to point to matching symbols. This is unfortunately an inelegant variation, since it still requires people to be mindful of the gestures everyone else is making rather than focusing on their own cards.

We can’t recommend Dobble in this category, although it is likely playable with care.   It’s unlikely to be a very enjoyable experience though unless you can precisely engineer group composition to eliminate advantage created by a differentiated ease of communication.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

The game manual does not assume masculinity in the text, and there are no gendered symbols or artwork in the game.  It’s also very cheap, coming in at an RRP of £13.  It supports up to eight players for that money.  It works well at all levels too – it’s fine as a two player game, great as a four player game, but playable with every possible player count.  It scales up to larger family gatherings, and down to couples.   You won’t play it every night, or even for very long at a time, but my bet is that you’ll find yourself playing it a lot, for a few rounds, many times.  I doubt you’d consider it a waste of money.

We strongly recommend Dobble in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

The largest issue that comes along with Dobble is the need to relatively precisely articulate words at speed.   There are numerous physical impairments, and numerous communication impairments, that will interfere with this.  As such, while the game is entirely playable verbally it does require the ability to communicate within tight time constraints.   This creates an intersectional issue that must be considered.

The game is over in a flash – typical play-time is less than about five minutes, in my experience, for any given game.  You can chain game modes together into a longer play session, which gives the game extremely high flexibility in terms of duration.   It’s unlikely to cause problems for those that experience symptoms of modulating severity.  More than that, it’s also something that can be moulded around transient moments where the symptoms of a bad day may be briefly alleviated.

Dropping out of the game is as simple as not participating – even if the numbers diminish down to one, it’s likely that players are so immersed in what they’re doing that they’ll be ranting away to themselves for a while before they notice they’re playing alone.

Conclusion

It’s an interesting feature of accessibility that sometimes the simplest games are the most inaccessible.  We often consider charades, for example, to be one of those games that anyone can play.  We may forget that the act of communicative physical mime is the province of the physically able.   Dobble is in many ways a case study in the inaccessibility of simplicity.

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

Note here that the poor showing of the game is not a flaw in the design – this is just the consequence of the game mechanics.  It’s just not possible to create a game like Dobble in a way that is broadly accessible to all players.  It requires too much mental processing, too much verbal fluency, and too much visual parsing.   Even in situations where the game is broadly playable, the competitive element means that those with impairments will be playing a much more difficult game on an uneven footing.

Radar graph

Radar graph for Dobble

We certainly recommend Dobble as a gameplay experience – one that genuinely creates magical moments of hilarious incoherence.    However, one must be mindful of the fact that what is fun in some transient circumstances can be frustrating when linked to a persistent condition.   Dobble can’t be played effectively by many groups of players, but for those with some categories of cognitive impairment this is what day to day communication is actually like.     If Dobble shows us anything, it’s the fragility of our mental machinery.   We are all only temporarily able – sometimes it just takes a tin of cards to illustrate that fact.

 


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