Lanterns accessibility teardown

Lanterns (2015) – 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 First Edition

Introduction

Lanterns is a fun game – elegantly designed, and evocatively presented.  We gave it 3.5 stars in our review.  The question though is, will it blend?

Wait, no, that’s a question to a different… no, don’t put it in the… don’t you dare flick that sw… OH GOD THERE ARE BITS OF TILE AND COLOURED LANTERN EVERYWHERE!  We’re going to have to sift through this mess before we can do anything.  Get the sellotape, we’ve got a long night ahead of us.

Colour Blindness

There’s an interesting blend of good and slightly less good here.  It’s a game that is explicitly about colours, and that’s always going to be a difficult circle to square.  However, each of the different cards has its own art-work to go with it.  Unfortunately, it’s not all as visually distinct as it could be.  The green and white cards for example share a star motif, and the blue and red cards share a hexagonal shape.  This doesn’t interact poorly with any particular combination of colour-blindness, but the game is otherwise so close to accessible even for monochromacy that it’s a shame it didn’t quite manage to (clearly) uniquely identify each different card.  It’s true the orientation for the shared symbols is different, and the exact profile differs too, but that may not be enough for easy and rapid differentiation.

Colour blind cards

So close to perfect

On the tiles, the motif continues, with each different colour having a different profile of the lanterns:

This is good, and is certainly colour blind friendly.  Unfortunately, it’s still somewhat difficult to make out at a distance:

Colour blind game map

You need to get up close for some of these when it’s spread across a table.

The different colours all have different images, but they need reasonably close investigation to be able to tell them apart in some circumstances.  The yellow and white lanterns in the bottom left tile for example do not play well with Deuteranopia:

Colour blind tiles

Some of these are a little tricky to make out

It’s certainly not bad, although it won’t work well if other categories of visual impairment are to be taken into account.   There are other visual differentiating factors, lending a certain degree of redundancy.  The different colours of lanterns have a different flow to their distribution.  Orange extends outwards in Vs, whereas red clumps together.   It’s a system where familiarity will smooth out initial difficulties.

We recommend it in this category, and even commend it for having (seemingly) explicitly considered colour blindness in the art design.

Visual Accessibility

The primary visual problems are related to colour differentiation , and if you can make out colours even indistinctly you’ll likely be able to play the game reasonably well.   The dominant clumping of colours into quadrants of the tile is all you’d need to be able to perceive to make meaningful choices as to how to play.  Your hand consists of only three tiles, and these too should yield themselves well to scanning.

Some tiles have platforms on them, which will change their visual profile.  However, while the adjacency of platforms has game impact, the exact composition of the platform does not.   There’s nothing to be gained by matching up two pandas, for example.  All you get are favour token regardless.

There are no different denominations of token, so the issues we tend to encounter with in-game currency are side-stepped.  You’ll also not have much cause to work with them beyond the occasional card transfer.

Honour tokens are a little bit more of a problem:

Honour tokens

You do me great honour with this honour, your honour

The number on these is large, clear, and well contrasted. The conditions under which they are awarded are a little more difficult to make out.  There’s also no tactile differentiation between the different categories of award.  It’s not probably not going to be a significant problem, but something worth flagging up.

Tiles

If you can make out the location of colours on sides, that’s 95% of the game

Tiles also have no tactile indicators – if you can’t pick them out by sight, you won’t be able to meaningfully play the game at all.  This is a problem we often encounter – that those with some degree of visual discrimination can make do, but those that are totally blind will find the game entirely inaccessible.  If you can make out the colours on the tiles above though, you should find the game to be playable.

Lanterns then gets a recommendation in this category.

Cognitive Accessibility

To play the game well is going to require an awful lot of thinking through the implications of your actions.  Every tile you play earns you cards, but it also earns cards for everyone else playing.  The coloured cards have limited availability, and building sets requires not only considering the cards you have but the dedications for which everyone else is likely to go.  As dedications are purchased, the value of your cards goes down.   It takes a degree of far thinking to get the most out of your tiles.

But that’s if you want to play it well.  If you’re only interested in having fun, then there is a very low cognitive cost to playing.    There is no required reading level, and the game state is very simple to understand.  Everyone gets a card based on the colour of the side of the tile that’s facing them.  If you join up colours with your tile, you get a bonus card for each of the colours that you matched.   You cash in particular kinds of sets for points.   The rules are so simple you can fit them on two tiny cards:

Tiny rules

So cute, so tiny

Decisions are not especially complex, even if the ramifications may be deep.  There are often optimal places to play, and even if you can’t maximise bonus cards you’ll make progress with every turn.  Game flow is entirely consistent, and while there are actions that are optional they are all taken in the same order every time by every player.   There are no tile synergies, no asymmetrical game systems, and hardly any tokens to consider.

As we recommended with Carcassonne, I think there’s an agreeably co-operative variant in here in which everyone is trying to maximise a shared score.  There is a state of relaxed flow that can come from simply making nice patterns of lanterns.

We strongly recommend Lanterns here, for both categories of cognitive impairment.

Emotiveness

There are very few ways in which players can work to screw each other over:

  • You can take the last card of a colour, temporarily making that card colour impossible for anyone to acquire.
  • You can place a tile in the space that someone else really wanted, although you won’t know that you did so in advance.
  • You can take an especially lucrative dedication reward before someone else has a chance to get to it.

In all these cases, the competition is at least one layer removed from directly affecting another player, and none of them force anyone into lose states.  At best, they shave off a few points of optimisation.   Score disparities, as a result, do not tend to be especially high unless a player has poorly utilised their dedication phase.  Scoring opportunities come along very regularly, and are built into the turn structure.  You don’t have to sacrifice a turn of playing a tile in order to score, you get to do both.

The fact that each time you play a tile you’re giving other players cards also has a powerfully moderating impact on potential emotional upset.  After all, every turn you’re causing something nice to happen to someone else, and they in turn are causing something nice to happen to you.  It’s true you can approach this as a puzzle of passive-aggressive anti-optimisation, but in the end the different dedication options mean that you’re always making progress towards at least one token.

There’s no randomness in the game, other than the shuffled common store of tiles, and no situations where you cannot make any progress on your turn.   There’s no player elimination, no way to explicitly trigger any ‘take that’ mechanics (other than what’s outlined above), and no real opportunity for anyone to gang up on anyone else.

The only slight issue that needs to be taken into account is that the game is one of building patterns, and inevitably breaking some of those patterns or leaving them incomplete.  This may not be compatible with certain kinds of compulsive disorder or numerous categories of intrusive thought.

We strongly recommend Lanterns in this category.

Physical Accessibility

There is a hand limit of twelve to which each player must adhere, but your cards are not secret – anyone can see the cards you have available.   As such, you can play them in front of you with no fear of leaking unintended game information.  There’s a hidden hand of tiles, which is slightly more problematic, but a standard card holder can serve here.  It’s not ideal though, certainly with regards to the card holder I have:

Card holder

Your mileage may vary here

You’re likely to either be balancing cards on a rack that doesn’t quite fit them, or perhaps struggling to easily slot them in or out of the gap.  Give the small size of the tiles, it’s also going to be awkward for another player to slip them out and play them on your behalf should that be necessary.

The cards themselves are very small, which can create shuffling issues for anyone with physical impairments, or even large hands.  Standard poker deck sized cards would have been good here.

The bulk of Lanterns is to be found in its tile-laying, which is the core game element.  As with most tile-laying games of this nature, physical impairments can seriously impact on the ability to keep the game state neat and lined up.  Usually you’re placing a tile next to, at most, three other tiles.  More typically it will be two or one.  As such, the extremely fine positioned manipulation associated with games like Survive: Escape from Atlantis is not a serious problem

Like Carcassonne, the game state has a tendency to spread and expand – it is non-contiguous, and it will grow where the optimal colour patterns are to be found.  Unlike Carcassonne, you’re playing with a pretty restricted set of tiles.  In a four player game, you’re playing with thirty-two tiles as opposed to seventy two.   The game map spreads, but it typically does not spread very far.  The nature of the game too tends to encourage grouping tiles together rather than striking out into bold new directions.

The largest issue for physical accessibility comes in with verbalising of instructions.  It’s possible, but not necessarily easy.  It will involve not only identifying the adjacent tile, but also the orientation – that in itself may require some careful thought in order to properly articulate.  Many tiles have the same colour on multiple sides, or possess only two colours in a 3/1 split.   It’s not impossible, but in some circumstances it may require a certain degree of ongoing communication to indicate the correct location.

We’re prepared to offer a recommendation in this category – if you have no physical mobility at all, someone will need to make moves on your behalf, but otherwise you can likely play without too many difficulties.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

The artwork is not gendered, and is reasonably abstract.  The manual defaults to the assumption of masculinity, which is always irritating, but otherwise the game does not have a gender problem.  The theme is non-threatening and inclusive, and the game is likely playable with even relatively young children due to its simplicity and vibrancy.

The game permits between 2-4 players, and plays reasonably well at all counts.  A ceiling of four players though is quite low for a game that would otherwise be an ideal family title.   I’m not sure of the RRP, but you can regularly see it for under £25, giving it an approximate cost per player of £6.25.  That is on the high side, especially given how in the review we suggested it may not have the kind of longevity you would get from other titles.  It’s certainly a fun diversion though, and so instantly tractable that you can play it with even non-gamers.   You might find your regulars tiring of it, but it’s easy to bring it out for groups that may be resistant to other, more complex titles.

We’ll offer it a recommendation here.

Communication

The game has no required reading level, and no need for communication in play.   You can play in excruciatingly awkward silence of you like.

It’s strongly recommended.

Intersectional Accessibility

Those who have visual impairments coupled to colour blindness are going to have a rough time.   The contrast on the card artwork is not good.  The iconographic representation on the tiles requires either the ability to see with a reasonable degree of acuity, or to be able to discriminate colour.  If both of those are a problem, the game is likely to be completely inaccessible.

Hidden hands are often a problem when considering the intersection of visual and cognitive impairment, but in this case the game rules are so simple and straightforward that it’s unlikely to be a serious issue.  If you can match colours, you can play and there’s no complex consideration that has to be spent on any particular tile.   Tiles with platforms work exactly the same way as tiles without, except that you get a favour token as a bonus.  Otherwise, it’s completely down to colour compatibility.

The emotional and cognitive intersectional issues associated with down-time are alleviated here by the fact you’re always getting cards even when it’s not your turn.   Every tile will advance your cause a little, so there’s no need to be anxious waiting for your turn to come around once more before things happen.  The valid options you have for play will change as everyone else takes their turn, and you can spend your time thinking about what your new card acquisitions mean for your own strategy.   You’re interested, in other words, in every turn everyone takes.

The game has a very brisk pace, and the games we’ve played put the play-time at approximately 20-30 minutes.   It’s very nippy, in other words, and as such unlikely to exacerbate physical, cognitive or emotional distress as a result of play-time.   That’s good, because there is limited ability to drop in and out of the game.  You’re going to be holding cards, tiles and favour tokens in your hand and the game has no rules for redistributing pieces.  A minimum player count of two is required, but you can probably house-rule reasonably fair systems for accommodating a drop from four to three, or three to two.

If a physical impairment is paired with a communication impairment, verbalisation of instructions may be difficult, if not impossible.  A certain degree of communicative fluency will be needed to issue instructions.  These can be as complex as ‘Rotate my third tile so it is oriented lengthwise orange and breadthwise blue, and then place it next to the panda platform with the two black and two blue sides so that is adjacent to the blue side on the left’.  Or, it could involve a long-winded brute-forcing of every possible combination of every possible tile.

Conclusion

Let’s have a look at the grades, to see if Lanterns is a pinprick of light in an accessibility landscape that is occasionally dark and bleak:

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

With this profile, it handily pips Splendor to the title of ‘Most Accessible Tabletop Game’, although that award comes with a pile of caveats and qualifiers large enough to choke an average sized horse.  It’s certainly the most accessible game we’ve encountered thus far on Meeple Like Us.

Radar

Lanterns radar chart

It gets a recommendation in every single category, and there’s even room to grow for future editions.  It may be a game that got only 3.5 stars in our review, but it’s a five star treat as far as accessibility goes.   Fantastic work from everyone involved in its production!


If you like what we're doing with Meeple Like Us, please consider liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, and sharing our content on Reddit and your own social networks. We appreciate every thing you do to help us get the word out!

  • Christopher Chung

    Awesome teardown of Lanterns. Simply, wow. Even I didn’t think of half this stuff when I designed the game so I’m glad my publishers did! And thank you for the recommendations!

    • I don’t get a chance often in this blog to be (almost) uncritically positive about games, so I was very pleased to see Lanterns do such a good job of making itself accessible. The whole team then did a great job with this, and I’ll be referencing it as an example of good practice in the future. I’ve long said that accessible games are good for everyone, so if there wasn’t an intentional push for accessibility it maybe just proves how effective good design can be in making things inclusive.

      Many thanks for stopping by!

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