Lords of Vegas (2010) – 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.

Version Reviewed

English Second Edition.

Introduction

If nothing else, Lords of Vegas deserves tons of praise for being the game that forever obsoletes Monopoly.   There are plenty of games out there that are better than Lord of Vegas, but few of them so tightly adhere to the ecological niche within which Monopoly is buried like a little tick.  Lords of Vegas has all the property speculation and trading fun of that venerable classic with none of the design blunders or soul sapping monotony.   That’s why we gave it a hearty endorsement of four stars in our review.  Let’s say though you’re ready to banish Monopoly from your collection.  Could Lords of Vegas step up?  Let’s find out.

Colour Blindness

Colour palettes are a nightmare in Lords of Vegas.   There is no part of play that isn’t problematic.  The best you can say is that for low player counts you can probably find a combination of dice that works…

Colour blind dice

I think… I think I just won eight five million?

Even so you’ll still find the game virtually unplayable because of the colour coded casinos.  Every single category of colour blindness exhibits some degree of colour clash that will hugely undermine play.   You can’t just ask for clarification either because the colour of casinos can change and revealing your interest can tip your hand.

Colour blind tiles

At the Copa… Copa cabana…

For larger player counts, with dice situated in the context of their casinos, there is no category of colour blindness that isn’t going to result in the loss of key strategic information.

The problem even extends to the money, although it’s not as significant because the bills are also prominently marked with the denomination.  The colour clashes too aren’t quite so severe.

Game currency

It’s a rich man’s world

Lot ownership is indicated by coloured transparent tokens, and as you can imagine these also have considerable palette problems.

Colour blind lots

Lots of lots

You can probably guess the conclusion then.  We don’t recommend Lords of Vegas if colour blindness is likely to be a gameplay issue.  It probably can be played with support or with modifications, but the colours here aren’t just aesthetic choices.  They convey important gameplay meaning.

Visual Accessibility

Visual accessibility is not strong.   The board itself is reasonably clear, well contrasted, and with large fonts that are easy to read.  The problem is in the game state that gets layered on top of it.  Let’s take those in order of play.

Transparent lot tokens

I haven’t claimed these lots. There are just no public toilets nearby.

The first thing that happens is that lots are claimed.  To do this, transparent colour tokens are placed onto the indicated board section.   For some lots, the contrast between these and the board underneath can render them nearly invisible even for those with only minor visual impairments.

Low contrast counters

They’re all but invisible in low light situations

Then, when the lots pay out, you get your money.  It’s paper money, and aside from the colour and the text on the front it is identical.   There are no differing form factors that would allow for denominations to be differentiated by touch.  We rail against paper money a lot on this blog, but let me remind you of the key issue with it – there is so much money being circulated so rapidly that the usual compensations for those that are blind don’t work.  You can’t fold it up very easily, or make use of assistive aids, or locate it in particular compartments of your clothing.   There’s too much of it going too rapidly around play for that to be remotely feasible.  Paper money is dreadful for everyone, but it’s a particular problem when considering accessibility.  Using something more tactile like poker chips leads to a far more enjoyable experience for everyone.  That’s how we play it.  We wouldn’t dream of using the paper currency.

When you have enough money to build a casino, you take a tile of the appropriate colour and place it on the lot.  Then you take one of your dice, and place it inside the tile with the correct number of pips showing.

Casino tiles with dice

Come at me bro

The problem here is that you have so many dice that you need to keep track of so often that it introduces a considerable difficulty with no clear solution other than asking people constantly what is showing on each tile.   Most of the time we encounter dice, it’s as a tool for randomisation.  Rarely do we find dice that are used to represent game state.  Lords of Vegas isn’t unique in that, but I think it’s the first time we’ve seen it on Meeple Like Us.

Lords of Vegas makes use of standard dice of the kind that you’re likely to have lying around your house.  However, if you are a visually impaired gamer you’ve probably got your own dice you prefer to use.  They’ll either be oversized, permitted easier reading, or marked with braille or other tactile indicators.  Regardless of the style of accessible dice preferred, you’re probably not going to have twelve of them – that’s how many you get to place in Lords of Vegas.   Even if you did, it’s not just your dice that matter – you need to know how they’re distributed across the entire game for everyone.   And even if you had, say, forty eight accessible dice in four sets of twelve, you wouldn’t be able to use them easily with the tiles into which they’re supposed to slot.

Oversized die on tile

I think there’s a silver casino under there.

Even if you could, look at what you have to keep track of as the game proceeds.  Even if you can interrogate the game state with your fingertips, or with close examination, you’re going to have a massive task ahead of you:

Vegas strip

I have lost money, or trousers, or dignity, in every single one of these.

There’s so much you need to be able to tell from visual information – the size and ownership of casinos, the ownership status of lots, the profitability of each, and the number of cards that have been played out for each theme.  It’s just too much, with no obvious compensatory regime that would make the problem go away.

As a result, we don’t at all recommend Lords of Vegas for those with any category of visual impairment unless it is very minor.

Cognitive Accessibility

Wow, Lords of Vegas is taking a pounding here, huh?

Cognitively, the game suffers from being built entirely on a fluid and flexible understanding of ever-changing numbers.   As you could imagine from a game based around casinos, an intuitive awareness of probability is a major pre-requisite to effective play.    In most cases, you need an explicit understanding of the mathematics behind chance.  You need to understand the likelihood that themes will pay out, and that reorganisation actions will have the result you want.   You need to know how to squeeze profit out of each casino, and the balance of rewards that go along with developing expensive properties.

And then you need to have the ability to see not just your own path to success, but the path everyone else can take to undermine you.   A player remodelling a casino tile may hugely change the balance of power, usurping rightful ownership and changing the whole landscape of play.   You need to be aware of vulnerabilities, and be constantly working to shore up your weak points.   In doing so, you need to also be aware of the benefits of sprawling.  It might be costly and risky, but still the best way to ensure that should the bullets start flying you’re more likely to come out on top.   All of that is deep, complex and interesting – but it comes at a price in terms of cognitive accessibility.

Game state is complex not because of the difficulty to understand but because of just how much of it there is.  Every single die matters, and the combinations they form are hugely important.   They not only determine current ownership but profitability and the chance of success in a reorganisation.   Contiguity of tile colours too is vital information, and it’s more than just ‘how many points will this score’.  It represents shifting territory, and Lords of Vegas is as much about area control as it is about the inherent randomness of gambling.

Then there’s the scoring, which is extremely clever as a way to force extravagant expansion but creates a scenario of multiple separate numerate calculations rather than simply adding up and moving on.  Each casino gets scored separately, in increasing order, and then the points they individually award are used to progress up a scoring chart.  Each square on the chart, once you get past a certain number of points, comes with a minimum value for entry.

None of this is to say the game requires any of the ruthless competition that ramps up the cognitive costs – if you wanted you could treat it as little more than a fancy fruit machine.   Remove the remodel and reorganisation actions, and it becomes a game of simply buying lots and cashing in.  That’s a game that anyone could play.  It’s not Lords of Vegas though.

We can’t recommend the game in this category either.

Emotiveness

God, I’m sorry Lords of Vegas.   I really do like you.   Business is business though.

So, the obvious thing about chance is that it can seem awfully unfair.  Perversely so sometimes, because as humans we’re not especially good at understanding the inevitable indifference the universe places in our hopes and dreams.   The world isn’t out to get us.  The dice aren’t trying to kill us.  Probably.  But still, it’s hard not to feel resentful when the chips don’t fall your way.

When you’re on a hot streak, Lords of Vegas is a joyful experience.  Every turn (cha-ching) it’s another jackpot (cha-ching) and look nobody else (cha-ching) is cashing in!  Why so glum, chum?

When you’re not though, it can create a powerful sense of frustration to see your friends revelling in Lady Luck’s embrace.   It’s not rational, but that’s how we’re wired.  It’s especially not rational in Lords of Vegas because the paying out of casinos comes from an evenly balanced deck.  True, it won’t be balanced the same in every game, but over the long term each theme will pay out just as often.  We’re not biologically programmed in a way that lets us take much comfort in that.

Really, the only place you need to worry about the malevolence of the dice is in reorganisation and in gambling.   Both of these processes can be initiated by you, but just as often you’ll be the non-consensual target of the action.   Players can choose to gamble in your casino, and while there are some options for mitigating risk they’re not going to insulate you from random tragedy.  The house gets an advantage, but it’s one you only see on a long term chart of play.  The fact too that the house pays double on twos and twelves can be extraordinarily painful because the money you pay out is going to fund your own destruction.  It’s a beautiful element of competitive game design, but my word it’s got the potential to spark off anger and upset.

Reorganisation too can be frustrating because of how little control you have over proceedings.  When someone decides to reorganise, you can’t say ‘No, I like my dice the way they are’.  Everyone rerolls all their dice, and while there are some limited re-rolls in the scenario of a disputed ownership, you’re stuck with what you get.  There’s nothing to stop someone taking your 6-5-5 distribution and turning it into 1-1-1.  Your prize casino can become a hopeless duffer.  You can lose a huge amount of profit as well as ownership in one single set of dice rolls.   If that happens at the right, or wrong, time it can easily lose you the game.   It doesn’t seem fair, and that’s because it’s not.  The best you can say is that if your casino ends up worth almost nothing, it’ll be cheap to do your own reorganisation in the future.

Remodelling comes with the hilariously passive-aggressive opportunity to take ownership of a casino right out from under someone’s nose.  Reorganisation costs the pip total of the whole casino, but if you have an independent casino it’s much cheaper to do i there than it is a large casino with big face values.   Remodelling though lets you change an independent casino into one of an adjacent colour, and you bypass all the risk of a more expensive reorganisation.  Nobody can do anything to stop this.   You can easily steal someone’s painstaking hard work away from them, leaving them no recourse other than a punitively expensive and risky reorganisation of the new super-casino.

The randomness of the dice too sometimes work against you even if you initiate an action.  You may find yourself constantly reorganising a casino to a less profitable version of itself.   You may find that you roll the same numbers again and again with nothing to show for your investment except a growing sense of resentment and a vague feeling that everyone at the table is laughing at how terrible you are with dice.  Call yourself a gamer?  You’re an embarrassment, that’s what you are.

Since trading is an important part of play, it puts everyone at the mercy of the table’s perceived economy.  If you need a lot that someone won’t give up, and you can’t convince them to part with it for any combination of your resources, that’s as much a personal rejection as it is an economic one.

With all of this, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that the game permits a vicious amount of ganging up.  While it’s harder and harder to score the more points you get, the nature of the luck based economy means that it’s very common to see a runaway leader, or even a runaway loser.  In either case you’ll be a target.  A runaway leader needs to be taken down.  A runaway loser is a weak gazelle for the flamboyant white tigers to feast on.  Point disparities can be huge, especially if a player has been unlucky with reorganisations or the victim of concentrated efforts to take control of their richest casinos.

So no.  We don’t recommend Lords of Vegas here.

Physical Accessibility

Some good news finally!  While the game requires a lot of placing tiles and rolling dice, it doesn’t particularly require much else in terms of physical interaction.   Or at least, in terms of ongoing interaction that is player dependent.

It’s important when play begins to shuffle thoroughly, which may seem like an asinine comment but there are two factors that define how play in Lords of Vegas is going to proceed.  The first is that it’s entirely possible for a poorly shuffled deck to hugely influence how the game plays.  The second is that the way the game works pretty much guarantees poorly shuffled decks unless you are very diligent.

When cards are drawn from the deck, they get discarded into a theme specific pile – this lets everyone know which casinos are paying out and which aren’t.   This is fine, but it does mean that when the cards are gathered together at the end they are going to clump together in matching sets.  If the shuffling at the start of a game is not done very carefully, you will create a very clustered distribution of cards that will exacerbate the problems we’ve already noted with regards to runaway leaders.

The discard piles

‘Oh man, next time is going to be *my* time’

There’s no reason why any particular player has to do this (although you know – there’s some etiquette with regards to card shuffling that wouldn’t be out of theme for the game).  However, it has to be done and this puts an unusual degree of physical emphasis onto the early setup of the game.

The larger, ongoing problem is once again the paper money.  It clumps together, it’s difficult to separate, and requires a fair degree of ongoing management.  You need to gather it in, make change, and pass it back to the banker.   It’s difficult enough when there are no particular physical impairments to take into account.   We recommend you make use of poker chips, or some other equally tactile tokens.   Use real money if you must, anything but the paper currency in the box.

If the physical interaction associated with ongoing play is going to be a problem, the game lends itself extremely well to verbalisation.  Every lot has its own grid-reference that permits unambiguous referencing.  The rules regarding casino ownership and casino territory mean that it’s entirely transparent as to what impact an action will have.  It would be necessary to trust your other players to roll the dice fairly on your behalf, but it takes a fair degree of sleight of hand to do a fake roll of a die anyway.   If you trust everyone to play fairly, there’s no reason you couldn’t play it perfectly well with only oral instructions.

As such, we’ll tentatively recommend Lords of Vegas in this category.  With a minus, because you will have to do something about the paper money and I’d like to see it disappear from game boxes around the world.

Communication

The game has no required reading level, and no formal need to communicate with any other player.  However, trading is a part of the game flow and as a consequence of that you may occasionally have to broker deals to get what you want.  A certain degree of ability to persuade the people around the table to give in to your desires will smooth the wheels of play.   It’s by no means an overwhelming part of the game experience, but depending on how well everyone around the table can communicate these kind of deals it may have an impact.

We recommend Lords of Vegas in this category.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

The game doesn’t include a lot of character art – the box has a tough looking guy and an important looking woman.  They seem to be putting the squeeze on an ambiguously foreign gentleman.  Or maybe not – he might just be an American that likes to wear a Fez.  Fezzes are cool.    So, what art exists is largely unproblematic.

Box art

Someone is going to lose an eye in this encounter

The only other place where there is character art in the game is on the currency, and there we have a number of Vegas entertainment legends.   They’re all men, which is a shame.  There’s Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and…

Twenty million dollars

You look like a million bucks, Sammy.

Sammy Davis Jr is the face of the highest denomination of currency – a black Jewish man that wasn’t allowed to stay in many of the hotels in which he performed.  That’s a pretty classy choice.   However, there were great female entertainers that were famous on the Vegas strip in the same time period.  Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne and more may not be so intimately connected with the city, but that’s why representation matters.   If we skew recognition we get a Matthew Effect where the most famous names become more famous, and the rest are simply erased from history.

At an RRP of £40 Lords of Vegas is a pricey game, and it’s one that plays a maximum of four players.    While it’s a satisfying experience at two players, it’s clear the game shines at higher counts   As such, it can be a slightly awkward fit in game nights.   There’s enough fun in the box to justify the price though, just.

We recommend Lords of Vegas in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

The use of dice as state representation creates a large number of intersectional issues.  The fact that the dice can then be used as randomisers before becoming state again too creates a fluidity to the map that exacerbates a number of the problems we’ve already discussed.    Interrogating the game map might be possible for a blind player if they can get close enough to examine each part of the board.  That’s going to be difficult if visual impairment coexists with physical difficulties.      The game state does have a tendency to sprawl, and areas of interest may not be uniformly distributed around the environment.

When visual impairments intersect with cognitive impairments, an already complex game state becomes exponentially more difficult to manage.  There are so many dice in the game, and while it’s possible to hold a rough view of hotspots of especial profit on the board it puts a considerable additional burden on memory.   Similarly with the casino tile colours – casinos will eventually converge into super-casinos for the most part, and the implications for the overall game of area control requires a good understanding of where the points of maximum pressure are to be found.   If the board can’t be taken in at a glance, it will place additional burdens on fluid intelligence and working memory.

The nature of competition in Lords of Vegas is cut-throat, and much of it is based on hoping an opponent overlooks a point of weakness long enough for you to build up the capital needed to exploit it.  As such, the game doesn’t just disincentivise players from pointing out overlooked opportunities on the board, it practically mandates it.    Accessibility support in games is easier if everyone around the table is collaborating to create a fair environment, but the fun in Lords of Vegas is in part through screwing your friends with an especially brutal deal.

The good news here though is that while there is downtime between turns, the downtime is anything but boring.  You are desperately invested in what everyone else does because it will impact massively on your own prospects.  When they draw cards, you can win and lose.  When they reorganise or remodel, it’s important to you.    As such, you don’t have to worry about keeping attentions focused when dealing with the intersections of cognitive and emotional accessibility.   We still don’t recommend the game in either category though.  The bad news of this is that when it’s not your turn sometimes all you can do is watch someone take a sledgehammer to your hopes and dreams.  You don’t get to do anything except hope that you can coerce them into a trade that will provide a stay of execution.   The rejection of that kind of offer adds a sting to the downtime.  You are hugely invested in what everyone else is doing because the chances are it’s going to end up hurting you.

Lords of Vegas has a fixed turn count, and comes in at around ninety minutes of play.  That’s just on the cusp of what you can realistically drop into an evening without worrying about its impact.  As such, it’s not particularly likely to create situations of distress in and of itself, but it’s also not short enough that you can discount them.    It doesn’t elegantly support a player dropping out either – you’ll need to come up with some agreement as to the redistribution of their abandoned gambling empire.    Ideally you want more than two players, although that would be enough to see it through to its conclusion.    If it drops down to one player, you’ll have to simply end the game and score it.  The effect of that is almost certainly going to result in one or more players reaping the result of lucky draws without having to deal with the penalties of early success.  The counterpoint there is that some players will never have the opportunity to earn from the plans they may have painstakingly put in place.

Conclusion

Lords of Vegas basically obsoletes Monopoly, but it doesn’t do so in a way that makes it particularly feasible for those with impairments.  Since it’s possible to buy accessible version of Monopoly we can’t quite throw it out of the window of the world’s game rooms just yet.

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

Lords of Vegas has numerous elements that make it thoroughly inaccessible.  It’s not the least accessible game we’ve looked at on Meeple Like Us, but only by the skin of its proverbial teeth.

Radar chart

Lords of Vegas radar chart

We gave Lords of Vegas four stars in our review, because it manages to combine cut-throat competition with ruthless area control in a way that permits deep, satisfying strategy.    It combines gambling, auctioning, and passive-aggressive bullying into a thoroughly engaging package.   It’s unfortunate a game with this kind of high energy and fist-pumping excitement can’t be enjoyed by large sections of the population.  Sometimes that’s just the way it goes.   It looks like you’ve got a stay of execution one more time, Uncle Pennybags.

 

 


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