The Resistance accessibility teardown


The Resistance (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.

Version Reviewed

English fourth edition

Introduction

The Resistance might be over eight years old at this point but it’s lost none of its electric charge in the intervening period.   Man, that’s a dumb thing to say – why does a mere eight years in tabletop gaming make the Resistance seem like a game that belongs to the prehistoric era of mammoths, dragons and the welfare state?    I don’t know.  Maybe we’ll never know.   What I do know is that we gave the Resistance four stars as testament to its enduring loyalty to the cause of freedom.   It is unquestionably trustworthy.  But you know… that’s exactly what a spy would want me to think, isn’t it? Maybe when we thought we were playing the Resistance, the Resistance had been playing us all along!   Right, get your guns.  We’re going to tear this game down to see whose side it’s really on.

Colour Blindness

There aren’t many components in the box, and the components that are present are fine.  The cards that indicate loyalty are relatively easy to differentiate for (almost all) classes of colour blindness.  My favourite thing about them is that not only do they use an icon to indicate allegiance, they put it on different sides of the cards so you can use not only its style, but also its position, to determine allegiance.   Nice.

Colour blind cards

Noice. Smort.

The approve and reject markers are indicated by large crosses and ticks, and the mission outcome markers are completely different in their visual design.   Colour is a channel of information, but it is neither the sole nor primary one.

Colour blind tokens

Power to the meeple

Top notch performance – we strongly recommend The Resistance in this category.

Visual Accessibility

Well, there are problems here.  The first is that you’re dealt a secret card to indicate your role, and if visual acuity is low it might be difficult to investigate it in such a way as to keep it hidden.   Those with total blindness will be entirely unable to determine their loyalty, and absent a player that is not part of the game they will have no way of determining their allegiance.    If discrimination with assistive aids is possible, the act of investigating the card might reveal either the colour or the icon to other people at the table.  This would unintentional reveal more information than the game can absorb.

Vote tokens

Date or deny

Similarly for the mission outcome and mission vote tokens – there are no indicators other than the visual that can be used to tell them apart, and close investigation of any of these will leak game information, and likely directly indicate allegiance, to the table.   Even knowing how many missions have been won or lost is visually inaccessible, although that at least is shared knowledge that can be freely requested without game impact.

Mission tracking

Democracy just doesn’t work

These are problems, but they are not necessarily insurmountable.   The majority of the Resistance is conversational, and the components are only there to indicate state.   It’s not these that you need manipulate to play, it’s the people around the table.    For situations short of total blindness, you can engineer the circumstances for playability:

  • Give visually impaired players a player screen that will obscure their investigation of cards.
  • Everyone closes their eyes while visually impaired players investigate their tokens.
    • Of course, this requires a lot of trust since there is an information asymmetry here. A loyalist or spy might open their eyes and watch a visually impaired player, and the visually impaired player might not be able to tell that’s happening.
  • Everyone leaves the room while visually impaired players inspect their tokens.
  • A player can ‘sit out’ each round of the Resistance and offer accessibility support for visually impaired players.
  • Adopt a more obvious indicator of spy status during the setup phase, such as raised hands or physical touch.  Bear in mind though that depending on the alternative chosen there may be other implications such as sound and movement that could reveal loyalty to players with eyes closed.

For the approve and reject tokens, other systems can be put in place.  You could substitute a thumbs up or thumbs down gesture or simply adopt the dubiously reliable convention of ‘approve by acclaim’ so beloved of the more telegenic of political conventions.

Normally the problems that are exhibited here would completely invalidate the game from recommendation, but again I stress that the physical components are a minor part of the experience.   Most of what you do in the Resistance is talk, and visual impairment won’t impact on this significantly.  That said, body language is a source of information about the allegiance of other players, but whether its absence is critical is going to be situational.  Many people would like to think they can read body language, but there’s limited evidence to suggest anyone can do it reliably.

We’ll tentatively recommend the Resistance here but bear in mind some accessibility house-rules will absolutely be required.

Cognitive Accessibility

The rules of the Resistance are simple, but the task of rooting out spies and passing as agents is cognitively fraught and needs players to have a reasonably complex understanding of multiple sets of information.  For example:

  • What they actually know.
  • What people think they know.
  • What they should know if they’re honest.
  • What they shouldn’t know if they’re honest

For example, spies know who each other are.  Agents don’t know who anyone else is.   If you indicate through any action that you are 100% sure of another player’s loyalty, you’re revealing that you are a spy.   You can do this carelessly and unintentionally.   Of course, it’s not necessarily the case anyone will believe you, or even believe that you expect them to believe.   Nonetheless, it’s necessary to firewall various chunks of information to ensure you don’t implicate yourself.

The base set of the Resistance at least doesn’t offer any special roles that add additional complexity– instead, everyone is either an agent or a spy.   As such, the mechanics of play remain reliable and consistent.   However, the task undertaken in the game is intensely asymmetrical depending on your role, and requires different skills.   Agents require a degree of rational analysis and logical deduction – you need to ferret out spy behaviour based on mission success and voting behaviour.   Spies require the ability to obfuscate and blend into the group, and be able to deflect suspicion that comes their way.  Both of these require cognitive flexibility and relatively quick response.   You need to think fast on your feet at times when someone throws an unexpected bombshell your way.   Good players of the Resistance can swat verbal explosions at someone else before they detonate but any hesitation or confusion will incriminate a player.   There’s no strict time limit that goes into rounds, but there is a window within which credibility is lost.  Honesty in the real world tends to be cognitively inexpensive.  Deceit is the more costly route.

Deciding the composition of a mission too is difficult.  If you’re the leader, you need to exclude spies.  If you’re a traitor, you need to include one spy whilst still looking like you’re only taking loyalists.  If you’re the leader for the fourth mission, you need to engineer a circumstance and a compelling argument for the inclusion of two spies.   The ease with which that will be done will depend on how well hidden the spies have been up to this point.  True, if you can’t do that the worst that happens in the game is that the vote track moves on one.  The problem is that if you aren’t subtle and careful about slipping the right number of spies on to the mission you’ll end up tainting everyone for the next.   The consequences in the Resistance will carry on from mission to mission.

Games like One Night Ultimate Werewolf offer some room for a player to hide in the confusion of allegiance.  You might be a Werewolf at the start and a Villager by the end, and as such unintentionally outing your allegiance might very well end up helping rather than harming.   In the Resistance, your allegiance is fixed and is sustained over the course of the five missions.  The cost of revelation is paid persistently through the lifetime of the game.

For those for whom memory considerations are key, our concerns intensify because everything regarding what you know of allegiance (if you’re an agent) shifts on a minute by minute basis.  One minute, everyone thinks Bill is a spy.   The minute after that, Bill has managed to cement a reputation as an unswerving loyalist.   You need to keep up with this, form your own conclusions as to what allegiance everyone holds, and ensure that the decisions you take will pass the group vote and not end with an unwelcome conclusion.   And for this you need to maintain a mental matrix of how reliable the source of information is likely to be.  You can take notes if you like, but those notes may end up being out of date by the time you finish writing.

With all of this to consider, we don’t recommend the Resistance in the category of fluid intelligence, and especially don’t recommend it for those with memory impairments.

Emotional Accessibility

The Resistance is a game that is in large part about lying, and lying well.   Regardless of what loyalty you are dealt, you will be intimately involved in either the production or deconstruction of deceit around the table.   Not only that, if you are a loyal agent you will almost certainly find unwarranted suspicion directed your way, and the more that happens the less credible your counter-arguments will appear.  The spies will converge on a weak member of the loyalist team like sharks around a bucket of chum.  They’ll weave lies and misinformation so thickly that regardless of your unswerving devotion to the cause you’ll have others around the table swearing blind you can’t be trusted.   That can be intense, because your only way to prevent that is to make sure your counter-arguments are delivered stridently and articulately.    Logic helps, but it’s not the thing that will convince people.  You might have a complex chain of reason that implicates another player, but it’ll almost certainly be ignored in favour of the spy telling the simpler lie.    In some circumstances, this can be frustrating for anyone.  It’s certainly something to bear in mind when players may have conditions that impact on emotional control.

If you’re a spy, then you will be expected to lie well.   There’s no way really to rely on gruff honesty.  Games like Sheriff of Nottingham make compulsive truth-telling a viable strategy.   That’s not at all going to work in the Resistance, and there will be at least one other person around the table that is completely dependent on your ability to keep up your collective charade.   If you are compromised, not only does that make their job harder it also potentially means you have lost the game – that fourth mission often requires two spies to make their way on to it, and that’s a tough challenge by itself.   Your lies will be directly challenged, your position will be misrepresented, and even if you don’t sabotage missions you’ll find that your credibility remains questionable.   If you’re proving to be ineffective at espionage, you may even find your fellow infiltrators joining in your verbal lynching.   When the people that were supposed to be backing you up essentially give up on your ability to contribute it can be hard not to take that personally.

In the Resistance, the only power anyone has is in terms of what they can convince the table to do.   That in turn is a product of eloquence and clarity under pressure, and when your arguments are dismissed it can sting even while you are aware there are spies at the table that will do that regardless of their quality.   It can be intensely aggravating to see the table come around to a conclusion in clear contradiction to the evidence, and know there’s nothing you can do to prevent it.  Worse, there are certain scenarios that emerge where arguing for the sensible path ends up making you look guilty, and when the folly of the table is eventually revealed somehow you still end up looking like a villain.   Negotiation and conviction are key player skills in the Resistance, and they are not necessarily a reliable requirement when we consider issues in this category.

As a direct consequence of this, games of the Resistance can end up with the table as a whole banding against an individual player for the entirety of the duration of play.  If you get branded a spy during the first mission, you probably won’t get a chance to do anything meaningful in the game until it’s over and a new set of allegiances unveiled for the next session.   This might occur as a result of rotten luck, or simply because you weren’t strident enough in your own defence.  Not everyone is going to have the same amount of fun during play, and your mistakes are very difficult to undo.  Even the attempt to engage in some historical revisionism of outcome and motivation can end up making matters worse.

That said, there are good elements here too – the Resistance doesn’t incorporate player elimination (although it does permit and incentivise players becoming irrelevant), and teams win or lose together.  It’s usually not possible to pinpoint a proximal cost for a win or a loss, and so blame is reasonably equitably shared.   At the end of the game, mistakes made are usually a source of comedy rather than recrimination although this is obviously highly group dependant.

With all of this in mind though, we don’t recommend The Resistance in this category.

Physical Accessibility

You’re required to do five physical things in play:

  • Identify your factional allegiance at the start of the game through checking the card you’re dealt.
  • Open your eyes and make eye contact with other spies, if you’re a baddy
  • Flip over an approve/reject token for each mission
  • Distribute weapons to agents if you’re the group leader
  • Play a succeed/fail card to the shared pile if you’re on a mission, and discard the other one.

As discussed in the section on visual accessibility, there are alternatives to several of these requirements.   For distribution of weapons, there’s no special reason that can’t be indicated by verbal instruction.   The largest issue is really the succeed and fail cards, the playing of which must be kept intensely secret.     This isn’t necessarily a large problem – it’s neither a repeated requirement nor one that mandates fine or even gross motor control.  It is though one that is difficult to verbalise because you need to be sure you play the card you want whilst also making sure nobody else knows what card that is.  You can’t just keep the succeed on the left and the fail on the right, and say ‘The left one’.   Instead you need to be able to keep the exact card a secret, and that will require some in-hand management, or at least the ability to shuffle together two cards that don’t shuffle especially well.    Similarly if you’re the leader you need to be able to shuffle the outcome cards in a way that keeps their source entirely secret.  It’s not a huge problem and in any case it’s only going to manifest in situations of almost complete paralysis of the hands.  It’s certainly something for which a solution can be found even in that case, but it is going to have an impact and you’ll need to have a system in place for it.

Other than that the game is entirely verbal and so offers no further problems that need solved.

We recommend The Resistance in this category.

Communication

This is a major problem category for the teardown – the focus on negotiation and consensus building really creates an intense pressure on communicative faculties, and the speed and fluency of communication are going to have a major impact on how convincing someone is.   You can be as consciously aware of those kind of biases as you like, but it’s all but impossible to discount their effect.  If you accuse someone of lying and they need six or so seconds before they deny it then you’ll still be instantly thinking ‘I’m not convinced’ even if you know that communication is being relayed through physical gesture or a translation between internal and external language.   Even trying to control for it has an impact on the way in which you’ll play the game and how people will respond to argument.

Coupled to this, the discussion at the heart of the Resistance is intense, and is usually being driven in different directions by lots of people at the same time.  The hidden agendas of the spies will all but guarantee that obfuscation and confusion are the primary traits of the conversation.   Tiny little clues are important, as are unexpected or forced revelations.   The information you need to precisely identify an allegiance may be very small, and only a minor footnote in a much louder, less helpful hubbub of background noise.     The sophistication and speed of conversation too is likely to be a problem for anyone making use of a hearing aid or cochlear implant.  If communication impairments are not universally persistent it’s possible that the agitation of the game will cause people to simply forget to include other people in the discussions.  You might be suddenly arguing for your loyalty and become so consumed by it that you forget to sign, or fully articulate your speech.   There are periods of intensity in a game of Resistance that mean these lapses are all but guaranteed and will likely happen at the most intense points of disagreement.  Players dependent on alternate forms of communication will have an imperfect understanding of what’s going on.

The nature of the game too incentivises people to take advantage of confusion, delays, or lapses in fluency.   In any other setting, you might expect others at the table to make allowances for accessibility here.  In this particular case, the need for those compensations are just another tool they have available to advance their own agenda.   As with the ONUW teardown, this might seem like a thing that could be advantageous as it could get the table on your side.  It’s also the case that obviously making the effort to help someone with these kind of issues might be little more than a ploy to build sympathy.  ‘Shut up, let her speak’, might be someone genuinely attempting to hear your side of the argument.  It might also be someone hoping to shine the spotlight on you so that you incriminate yourself, or make themselves look like a ‘good guy’ to deflect suspicion.  After all, why would the spy want to give you a chance to make your case?  None of it is mean spirited or nasty, but communication impairments of any kind here are going to have a powerfully negative impact on your experience of play.

We don’t recommend the Resistance in this category.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

Gender diversity in the agent cards is top notch – four women and five men are present in the base box, and if you have the version that comes with the inquisitor token you’ll find that she is the woman than ensures a 50/50 balance.

Cards and agents

Trust No One

Ethnic diversity too is reasonably good, although it’s hard to be too sure about which agents may reflect which geographic locations without reading more into facial structure and skin tone than I would be remotely comfortable with.   I think there is a reasonable amount of diversity there if you want to see it, although I would have liked to have seen more.

The inquisitor

Bene-Gesserit witch

The manual doesn’t default to masculinity, and the box art is distinctive in giving key prominence to one of the women spies on the front.  The world of the Resistance might be a dystopian nightmare of kleptocrats and systemised disenfranchisement but it’s doing quite well for equality.

Cost wise, you get a lot of value for your money.   The game has an RRP of £17, and supports as many as ten players.   You do need a minimum of five, which means that for certain groups it might not get as much play-time as it warrants.  If you’re lucky enough to have a sufficiently large group of friends at your beck and call you’ll find yourself amply remunerated in fun for the time and money you invested.  There aren’t many games that we’ve seen where the value proposition is so reliably high.

We strongly recommend the Resistance in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

There are alternate systems of indicating game state or intention that we discussed above, but the degree to which they are appropriate is going to vary with specific intersectional concerns.  Raising a hand for example won’t be effective if visual impairment is coupled to physical impairment.  It’s likely that whatever alternate method is required for this will need to be uniquely tailored to the individual experience and to the base-level of interaction of the table.  In a game that supports as many as ten players, you might well be in a situation where there is no possible alternative that works for everyone.   Even the minimum of five players increases the odds of that scenario over most of the games we discuss – many of the previous titles we’ve analysed here have five as their maximum number.

A game of the Resistance is reasonably brisk (around 30 minutes, barring accessibility considerations) but also very intense.  There’s not a lot of room for people to drop out of play since both the context of the missions and the relative proportion of loyalists to spies is player-count dependent.  It’s not even easy for someone to simply sub in for another player because the mental model of loyalty versus treachery is going to be highly dependent on asymmetrical information and attention.   If a spy must drop out, another player can’t simply sit in and find out who the other spies are without bringing the whole game to a sudden halt.   That’s possible, of course, but a fresh spy injected into an existing game throws off the balance of play.  For one thing, they enter an existing setup with no emotional baggage of implied treachery behind them.  Really, the only solution that doesn’t hugely distort the experience is to simply call the game off if someone has to drop out.

While players are technically engaged in a collaborative exercise, it’s only the spies that can offer collegiate support to each other.  For everyone else they’re on the same team but they don’t know what team anyone else is on.    Part of play is going to be people actively making life difficult for you, and this disincentivises anyone to offer accessibility support beyond what is requested.   Even for the spies, they can’t make it too easy for each other or they’ll cast a pall of suspicion over themselves and the recipient of support.   As usual, this is group dependent and I’d certainly hope that the group anyone plays with will make extra effort to ensure their playing experience is suitably competitive without being actively exclusionary of people with disabilities.  Your mileage will vary, but bear it in mind – the game doesn’t give anyone any reason to make allowances for mistakes.  If you mess up, someone at the table will want to take advantage of it – either a loyalist to reveal your treachery, or a spy to obfuscate their own.

Conclusion

The Resistance is a great game, but it asks a lot of its players in many of its gameplay mechanics.  Conversational skills are paramount, and the ability to effectively lie and uncover lies is vital.   Holding an ever shifting model of factional allegiance in mind is absolutely fundamental, and on top of that you’re doing all of this while everyone else is trying to mess you up.  It’s an intense experience.

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

It’s probably unsurprising then to see this social complexity reflected in the accessibility grade.  While there are some improvements that could be made to the components to better support players with disability, by far the most significant factor is the design of the game itself.    Social deductive games, by their very nature, are almost always going to be unsuitable for a large numbers of players.

The Resistance got four stars in our review, but it’s one that we have a hard job recommending to many of those with accessibility concerns.    While it is cheap and diverse in its art, it’s also very demanding of the skills it expects players to have.  If you can play it, we expect you’ll like it.  However if you like it, we don’t necessary expect you can play it.

 

 

 


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