Roll Through The Ages (2008) – 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

Gryphon Games bookshelf edition first printing

Introduction

Roll Through The Ages is an interesting game, at least at first.  Unfortunately it doesn’t have any of the elements associated with civilization building that can keep me playing for the long term – that’s why it got two and a half stars in our review.   Opinions though – feh, you didn’t come here to listen to me complain about why a Yahtzee-esque dice game isn’t a full-fat replacement for meatier fare.  You want to know if you can play it.  So let’s find out – we’ve just researched teardowns and we’re eager to try them out for the first time.  Let’s put this technology to work and build a wonder.

Colour Blindness

Roll Through the Ages is fully playable for people with colour blindness.  Large portions of the game are identical regardless of colour blindness issues – these include the score sheets:

Colour blind score sheets

It’s like – how much more colour blind sensitive can a component be? And the answer is ‘none’. None more colour blind sensitive.

And the dice.

Colour blind dice

Wood you? Cood you?

However, when we look at the pegboards there is a palette issue when it comes to identifying resources:

Colour blind pegboard

I prefer green cloth anyway

This has no serious game impact because the colour isn’t the sole channel of information.   Each resource has its own icon, and the specific position a peg occupies on the board is identifying information in and of itself.

Colour blind pegs

This is the board. With additional pegging.

As such, the game offers two redundant channels of information to make up for the loss of colour discrimination.

We strongly recommend Roll Through The Ages in this category.  We’re going to be mean-spirited and tack a ‘minus’ on to the grade because the colour data is impacted by colour blindness and there’s no reason they couldn’t have adopted a more inclusive palette.   Feel free to consider that unfairly punitive and write angry letters to your MP in protest.

Visual Accessibility

The pegboards are a new element here for us.  We haven’t seen them in any previous game, and they create an intensely tactile interface to the game elements they represent.  You can tell by touch alone what pegs are occupied and which are free although you will need to memorise the order of the resource types.  That’s great.

Pegboard values

Capitalism at work

What’s less great is that the values associated with each peg are indicated only on the board, and don’t follow an easily memorised pattern because of the way value accumulates exponentially.  Wood goes from one, to three, to six, to ten, to fifteen.  Stone goes from two to six to twelve to twenty.     Good values are well contrasted on the board, but they’re not particularly large in terms of the font.  What accessibility the pegboard gives in terms of goods ownership is lost by hiding the value information.  In a game with a sighted player this won’t be a problem since no game intention is leaked by inquiring as to the value of goods you own.  However, Roll Through the Ages also permits solo play and this variant won’t be possible for many visually impaired players until they have internalised the value progression or converted it into some other representation.  All in all, it probably would have been more accessible to make use of tokens in the normal manner.

The game dice introduce the usual problem we see in these teardowns – making use of custom faces means that it’s not straightforward to make use of accessible variants.   Players may roll as many as seven dice in the course of play, and few visually impaired players will have seven accessible dice lying around.   The nature of dice-rolling in Yahtzee style games also means it’s not possible to reuse one die several times without some book-keeping.  Some dice will be re-rolled, some will be kept, and if cycling a smaller number of dice into multiple positions in the roll it’s going to be confusing.  Especially confusing since they’ll need to be cross-referenced against a lookup table.

Assuming it’s possible to deal with this problem we move on to the score sheets which are the only other way in which game state is represented.

The font used on these is very small, and each of the boxes that need to be marked off present a small target for a visually impaired player.   The score sheet will be directly in front of you during the course of play so it’s not going to be difficult for a player with some sight to closely inspect the document in front of them.  However, assessing where other players may be in their development is going to be much trickier.

Scored out monuments

Big crosses in tiny boxes

When it comes time to tally up the score this is an arithmetic exercise that draws from information across the entirety of the sheet.  When someone completes a monument the first person is awarded the largest number of points, and the next person is given the smaller number.   When developments are ticked off the points are tallied based on what’s been circled.  Ticked disaster boxes are then deducted from the total.   There isn’t so much information here that it would be impossible, but enough that it would be cumbersome unless a sighted player is responsible for doing all the arithmetic. 

With all of this in mind, we don’t recommend Roll Through The Ages in this category although if you really want to make the effort it’s probably adaptable for meaningful play.

Cognitive Accessibility

The basic game rule is ‘roll some dice and keep the ones you like’.  That at least is easy enough for almost anyone regardless of cognitive impairments to do.   The problem comes when working out what dice you like and handling the associated elements of implicit, and explicit, numeracy.  There’s also a degree of reading required to understand what the developments are and how they apply.

What you end up spending dice on in Roll Through The Ages is somewhat more meaningful than it’s been in some other Yahtzee style games we’ve discussed (such as CV and Elder Sign).   There’s a greater plurality of options and paths of development.  The value of dice too is also somewhat complex due to the strange way the accumulation of goods work and how skulls impact on risk and reward.   Some developments too will change the value certain dice possess and some faces have contextual benefit.  As an example of this, the quarrying development increases the amount of stone gathered if collecting stone – but you never roll stone.  You roll goods and goods might translate into stone depending on how many of them you have.  Likewise with agriculture – this adds one food per food die but one die in the game offers you food or workers.   The impact of the development isn’t especially complicated but it needs a lot of consideration both in terms of when it applies and when it’s worth buying.

In terms of numeracy let’s first consider what is needed in terms of implicit understanding.  The first requirement is that Yahtzee style games involve a degree of push your luck within a random probability space.  That probability space depends on the number of dice being rolled.   Seven dice means a lot of good things might happen but it also increases the risk that bad things happen.   Knowing when it’s time to ramp up your city capabilities is dependent on your ability to absorb or counteract risk, and that in turn depends on food buffers and purchased developments.   Those developments too must be considered carefully because as soon as someone has bought five the game is over – you can’t buy everything you might like and so mitigation is in itself a risk management exercise.

Coupled to that is an explicit numeracy that comes in with the archaic pen and paper calculations involved throughout.  Obviously end of game scoring is one example of this but the peculiar mechanics of goods adds explicit arithmetic when you are selling as well.  This is not just in terms of ‘X + Y = Z’ but in terms of assessing which goods will be sold so as to minimise overspend.   Goods are spent all at once and you can’t make change.    Similarly, the upwards curve of value frustrates any easy compensation – you can’t just move pegs left and count because they have a different value depending on which slot they occupy.

Coupled to this the coin dice add an additional numerate complication because their inherent value needs to be added to any goods that are being sold, and their value may change depending on what developments have been purchased.

When it comes to spending workers there is at least a visual aid, but this is also a numerate activity because it involves arithmetic on the dice and modifiers apply as a result of the developments purchased.

The game expects a lot of numeracy in other words.  It’s certainly possible for someone else to sum up the score at the end, but everything else is a core part of the game decision making and can’t be outsourced without game impact.

However, it’s not all bad – the game is reasonably simple and while there is an expectation of a certain degree of tactical awareness it’s not a game where you can realistically do badly in most cases.   You can certainly play sub-optimally, but playing poorly is more difficult.  Luck is a great equaliser, and like all Yahtzee based games there’s a lot of luck here.

As far as memory goes the game does an excellent job of representing all elements of game state in an easily understood way.  The checking off of development boxes provides a visual reminder of what someone was working towards and how far they’ve gotten.  The score sheet comes with a reminder of all the pertinent rules, and the convention of ticking and circling elements on the sheet gives an at-a-glance view of how the player has been developing their empire during the game.  The pegboards show clearly what goods have been accumulated and how much food is in the store, and by looking around the table a player can get an equally detailed reminder of what stage of advancement everyone else has reached.   There is nothing in the game that doesn’t have a reminder for people and that is great.

For players with memory impairments we offer a strong recommendation.  For those with fluid intelligence impairments we’re prepared to offer a tentative recommendation but bear in mind the caveats above.  The primary sticking point is the degree to which you feel the affected players can deal with the expectation of numeracy throughout.

Emotional Accessibility

There’s not much players can do to interfere with the plans another has constructed.  Really, it comes down to two things:

  1. Being the first to complete a monument and thus gaining the larger point bonus
  2. Rolling sufficient skulls to impact on an opponent

Even when bad things happen the impact is minor (a few lost points or goods) and each can be mitigated with technological advancement.    The only pointed form of aggression would be for a player to intentionally attempt to roll three skulls to trigger the ‘pestilence’ disaster – that, for some reason, impacts on every opponent rather than the player themselves.   Players that have purchased the religion upgrade may attempt to do the same thing with the Revolt disaster (five or more skulls).  Both of these strategies can be nullified with developments.

As such even when you roll poorly in Roll Through The Ages at best you lose efficiency rather than progress.   However, the nature of point penalties and the way game mechanics permit for players to beat each other to the punch means score disparities can be quite large.   This can be especially true if a player gets a few lucky rolls and ends up with a large, prosperous empire early in play.  Seven dice permits a lot of progress very quickly and if another player has been less fortunate they’ll find it difficult enough to keep up, much less overtake.

What upsetting themes may be present in the game (drought, pestilence and so on) are viewed through several layers of abstraction.  I would think they would be extremely unlikely to trouble anyone in the regular course of play.

We’ll strongly recommend Roll Through The Ages in this category.  What emotional impact is present is more than offset by compensatory regimes, and the luck element is just as likely to break your way as it is your opponent’s.

Physical Accessibility

The key element of the game is decision making – deciding what dice to roll, which ones to keep, and how to spend them.   As such, the game permits itself well to play with verbalisation.

That’s useful, because if there is a physical impairment that would restrict movement of the hands the game is otherwise a problem.   There’s a lot of dice-rolling, and the dice are of an unusually large and chunky form.   If you’re rolling seven of them you’ll have to do it in several shifts or shake them in two hands.  Even a dice cup will likely find itself straining under the effort.

Assuming the dice are not a problem the score sheets once again raise their head since they require relatively fine-grained motor control if they are to be marked up legibly.  The boxes that must be filled in are small, the numbers that must be circled are smaller still, and it would be easy to interfere with game state with even minor hand-tremors.  A player attempting to mark off three boxes for example might mark off four and then it’s necessary to either erase the mark or remember it doesn’t count from round to round.

Manipulating the pegboard too is going to be a problem for those with a lack of fine-grained motor control.  The pegs nestle, rather than slot, into the holes and they’re being manipulated regularly to represent declining or growing food stores and mercantile transactions.   The nature of accumulation of goods too means that increasing stores by four means moving four pegs, not one peg four places.

However, again we come back to the ease of verbalisation.  It would be necessary for someone else to mark off an impacted player’s sheet for them, but this is easy enough to do since the sheets themselves have spaces left aside for player names.  If this is considered to be an appropriate compensatory regime the game is fully playable.

Despite this we’ll offer only a tentative recommendation fir Roll Through The Ages in this category – there is quite a lot that a player won’t be able to do for themselves, and while this may not impact on their enjoyment it will make the job more complicated for whoever is handling the physical interactions on their behalf.   They’ll need to keep multiple sheets separate, multiple peg-boards and keep track of how many dice are being rolled for them and the player they are supporting.   It’s not so much extra bookkeeping as to make the game unplayable, but enough to have game impact.

Communication

The game has an expectation that players will be able to read – primarily to understand the range of developments on offer.   There are enough of these interacting in varied enough ways that it will take some time before these systems are internalised to the point the text isn’t needed.  This is made more difficult too by the linguistic overlap in some words – ‘architecture’ versus ‘quarrying’ versus ‘masonry’ versus ‘engineering’.  While these all have distinct meaning if you’re trying to commit the impact of these to memory you’ll probably mix up which does what.   Masonry gives an extra worker per rolled die, architecture gives a point per monument.   It’s easy enough to think it works the other way though – similarly when dealing with irrigation versus agriculture.   This will become easier over time but it could potentially be a short-term issue in mixed-language groups or for group where some players are not as confident with the language as others.

Otherwise the game has no formal need for communication – the rolling of dice and marking off of choices conveys all the information needed to keep everyone right.

We’ll recommend Roll Through The Ages in this category.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

The box shows what is presumably a bronze-age man on the cover.  There are no other people represented.  The game is remarkably light on art in general.   As usual it would have been a trivial job to have a woman and a man on the cover.

Cover of the box

Man boobs ahoy

Thematically, Roll Through The Ages doesn’t adhere strongly enough to the core concept to offer much of a lens on the issues I’d like to talk about here.  I’ll save that for another game.   Suffice to say that insofar as it does implement the mechanics of a civilization game it reinforces western conceptions of ‘victory’ as opposed to more expansive definitions.   This certainly isn’t bad, but it’s interesting and I’m looking forward to the point where I discuss something like Through The Ages (a much larger, more complicated board game in the civilization builder mould) so as to give the topic a proper airing.   I’ve always thought civilization games are a tremendous tool for illustrating why the common refrain ‘I like my games to be apolitical’ sings from a flawed hymnal.

Roll Through the Ages has an RRP of £36 which is a shocking amount for such a simple and limited game.  True, you’re getting a box full of wood and a massive pad of score sheets but for the same price you could buy Imperial Settlers and have a civilization building game that’s also good.   Or you could buy Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert and have a Matt Leacock party.   It is very hard to justify a price-tag like this even if the game does have a solid and playable solo mode.  I just don’t think you’ll get enough value out of it to warrant the expenditure.   However, if you keep an eye open you’ll often find it for a more reasonable £20 or so and that is a less financially reckless prospect.

We’ll only tentatively recommend Roll Through The Ages in this category primarily because of that eye-watering price-tag and how little sustainable gameplay it buys you.

Intersectional Accessibility

The cognitive cost will ramp up somewhat for those where there is an intersection of visual impairment and cognitive impairment due to the need to construct and consult a lookup table for adopting accessible dice.   We don’t recommend the game in the category of visual impairment, but this would be sufficient for us to rescind our tentative recommendation for those with fluid intelligence impairments.

For those with physical impairments and visual impairments, all of our comments regarding the physical accessibility of the game get intensified.  Verbalisation would almost certainly be the only effective strategy, and even then only with considerable additional support due to the way information is represented in tiny, inaccessible fonts.  Again, the visual impairment category already somewhat covers this but our view there is that if you want to make the effort the game is probably playable.  In this intersectional category we’d suggest the game is no longer playable except with great effort.

The game plays reasonably briskly and because it has a solo mode it even gracefully supports dropping out of play.  True, the solo mode doesn’t cleanly segue from a two player game but it’s easy enough to ad-hoc a variant on the fly.    In any case, at a playtime of between thirty and forty minutes it’s unlikely to be a game long enough or intense enough to exacerbate issues of discomfort.

Conclusion

So, those with visual impairments probably want to keep away but everyone else can almost certainly get some value out of play if they’re willing to make some accommodations.  The somewhat strange interaction conventions create and solve some accessibility problems, often in parallel and at cross purposes.  Pegboards, eh?  What will they think of next?

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

The scoring sheets too introduce a whole range of problems while simultaneously making other things easier.  Having a more formal ‘player board’ for example would have made it difficult for one player to act on behalf of others.  The compactness of the sheet with the pegboard means that one player can realistically be doing the score-keeping for everyone without finding it spatially difficult.

Radar chart

Roll Through The Ages Radar Chart

Roll Through The Ages is an interesting one.  It doesn’t have enough lasting value, in my view, to warrant the price-tag but it’s so quirky in terms of how it presents its game systems that I’m glad I have it on my shelves.   At two and a half stars though that’s probably where it’s going to end up staying.  That doesn’t mean you won’t find fun in it though – if you do, hopefully you’ll find this teardown useful in assessing whether it’s going to be playable for you.

 

 


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. Drop us a comment too in the discussion section below! We appreciate every thing you do to help us get the word out!