Seasons accessibility teardown

Seasons (2012) – 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 edition 2013-1

Introduction

Seasons is a rich and intense game of resource acquisition and time management.  It’s basically a gamified version of the ‘habits of highly successful people’.  We gave it four stars in our review, noting that while it asks a lot of its players it gives a lot in return.  Let’s say you want to make that effort – you’re willing to commit to a game like this.  Will it let you in, or push you away?   Is this a welcoming summer breeze, of a frigid blast of winter?  Let’s take our time, and find out.

Colour Blindness

A game like Seasons, where the vibrancy of the colour palette is one of its most instantly noticeable features, is always going to run a risk in this category.  As you might expect, the game falls foul of this in numerous ways.

First of all, the season tracker has problems for all categories of colour-blindness – adjacent seasons can be difficult to differentiate because of this.

Colour blind season tracker

‘Tis the Season, something something.

The good news is this doesn’t have to be a problem – the length and position of seasons do not change, and the orientation of the board guarantees a reliable read of what season the game currently inhabits.   The only impact season has that is colour dependent is on the dice you roll – the rest of it is a temporal signifier.  However…

Colour blind dice

Stay dicey

The dice also suffer from this problem although not quite to the same degree of significance.   Again though, the layout of the game is intelligently designed enough that spatiality offers the necessary gameplay clues that the colours alone would not – you use the dice that belong to the season segment of their colour.

Colour blind dice in context

Roll the green dice. No, the other green dice.

Really, the only place that this causes an actual problem is in setup, and even then primarily for those with the much rarer Tritanopia.   Examination of the dice will reveal to which season they belong, but only in reference to the transmutation chart on the season wheel.  It’s a little awkward, but not enough to render the game unplayable.

The colour blind box insert

Someone else may need to help with setup

A more significant issue is in the score tracker, where the player cubes exhibit colour overlaps that may obscure the actual state of play for some players.   You can substitute other tokens for this in the normal way, but the tracker has tiny proportions that mean you can’t just grab any old thing and make use of it.   Most categories of colour-blindness can be catered for with careful colour distribution, certainly in games with fewer than four players.  Seasons really is a game that works best with two anyway.

Colour blind score tracker

‘I’ll assume the best score is mine’

Otherwise, colour is not a serious problem.  The energy tokens are colour coded, but also marked with the icon of their element.   Cards lose much of their vibrancy and artistic merit, but do not use colour as the sole channel of information except to differentiate items and familiars.  This in itself is usually obvious in context.

So, problems exist but none of them greatly interfere with gameplay if you are careful to observe the relationship between dice and seasons.  We’ll mark this one up as ‘recommended’, just.

Visual Accessibility

This is more of a problem wall to wall in Seasons.   First of all, the text on the power cards is uniformly tiny, and the three key icons used to determine game impact are very small and difficult to tell apart if visual acuity is low.     To be fair, each card comes with a lookup entry in the manual that explains in detail how they work but this information is not necessarily the same as what the card provides.  The information is complementary, but not exhaustive.  Even information as simple as the cost to cast might be omitted from the manual, meaning that you spend that extra time cross-referencing to end up equally unsure as to the specifics of play.   Your hand is *semi* secret – people will know from the draft what’s likely out there, but not necessarily who has what.  You can’t easily ask anyone else what a card costs or how its powers manifest without leaking game information.

Small text on card

That’s a lot of teeny tiny text

The dice too are not necessarily simple to make out – they can be quite information dense and the location of individual symbols is not consistent.   While the symbols are distinctive, and the dice are generously proportioned, they pack a lot of information into each custom face.

Dice in Seasons

‘I know it looks eldritch, but it’s really a recipe for some lentil soup’

The largest problem with this is that it’s not easy to substitute accessible dice.  In fact, I’d go as far to say it is feasibly impossible.   Depending on the player count, you might need six dice per season – twenty four dice, in other words, or at the very least six that you reuse in an awkward way.   Each season has a different distribution of resources, summoning, and cards.  And each dice inside each season has its own distribution of icons.  Essentially you’d need twenty four lookup tables, each associated with a particular die.   It’s not really workable, which is a shame.

You could certainly work with an assistive aide though to identify which dice are present, and there’s no reason that other people at the table couldn’t verbally explain the choices – they’re relatively easy to articulate, and once they’re chosen their impact is simple to action.   Since they’re selected as part of a draft, you can focus your turn on what you can do from the dice you have available – while it’s useful to know what other people are up to, it’s not so useful that you need to precisely observe the way they weigh up their options.   Just knowing ‘they got two earth symbols and a summon star’ is enough.

The seasons disc is another area of potential inaccessibility – it makes use of black cubes to show seasonal advances, but it’s very easily jostled and getting in close to take a look can mean accidentally changing the game state.  Similarly, the transmutation exchange rate is spatially linked to the position of the season tracker although the ratio can be outlined by a sighted player if one is available.  ‘In this season you get three crystals for earth, two for fire, and one for water or air’.

Season tracker

It’s the time of the season, when love runs high

None of the tokens have tactile markers to go with them, but they are brightly coloured and assuming there is no intersection of visual impairment and colour blindness this would hopefully be enough to tell them apart.  You’ll only have seven of these at any time under most circumstances, and there’s no reason you couldn’t substitute something more accessible like coins if it was otherwise difficult to differentiate.

We’ll offer a very tentative recommendation here – it’s playable, with care, if you can make out key card information with the use of an assistive aid.   If not, there are other games that don’t require so much battling against tiny fonts and obscure symbols.

Cognitive Accessibility

The game rules, once you have picked them up, are straightforward and shouldn’t cause a challenge in and of themselves.   You roll the dice of the right colour, you get what your die says.  You spend your tokens, within your summoning limit, to put cards in play.  That by itself is probably going to be fine for minor to moderate cognitive impairments.

Seasons though is a game of intense synergy.   You don’t just want to play a card which gives you a thing.   You want to play a card, which lets you play another card, which lets you use certain tokens that trigger other effects in the game, which result in you using up all your tokens to trigger the bonus token effects.    Your first few turns of play will be sedate and quiet, before erupting into displays of magic that explode like fireworks.   Seasons is a game of efficiency and of immaculate timing.   That asks a lot of everyone playing.

To give an example of what gets involved with this – the beggar’s horn gives you a token of your choice if you end your round with one or fewer energy tokens in your reserve.   Lewis Greyface allows you to copy the reserve of another wizard in the game.   The beggar’s horn requires earth and air.  Lewis Greyface requires fire and air.  Let’s say you’ve got those cards available, two water tokens, and an amulet of water.

A synergistic play would be to summon the amulet of water (costs two water, and gives you four tokens of your choice), then summon the beggar’s horn (from two tokens you just claimed), and then Lewis Greyface (using the other two tokens from the amulet) to copy an opponent’s reserve.  Then transmute all of those into crystals so that at the end of the round the beggar’s horn gives you a free energy token.  That’s efficient, using every bit of the animal.  It also requires you to play every card in the right order, at the right time.  If you mess up, you might end up missing out on your maximum payout.    That might cost you a few energy.  It might cost you the game.   Timing is everything.

It’s a cognitively expensive game – you need to understand how the cards interact to get the most out of both the draft, and the cards you have in your grimoires.  You also need to have a fair idea of what other players have.  There are two copies of each card in the main deck, and if you saw both Lewis Greyface cards disappear before you could claim them there’s no point building a strategy around drawing another one from the common deck as play continues.   Not only that, you need to be constantly aware of the risk of stockpiling, and that’s dependent on the way other players can synergise their cards.

Some card effects are quite complex, although the game helpfully numbers the cards so that you can play with the easier decks if you like.  The effects associated with the simpler cards are reasonably straightforward but come with their own subtleties.   The more advanced cards introduce things like floating curses that get transferred between players, direct PvP attacks, and deferred resource acquisitions.  If cognitive complexity is an issue, playing with the first 30 cards is an obvious choice.   This is a great design feature for accessible play, however it has to be balanced against the fact that as the game goes on the number of things of which a player needs to be aware continues to increase.   The cognitive cost of play at two summoned cards is much lower than at ten.

The cards themselves are likely to be cognitively expensive to process – there’s an iconography that goes into parsing their cost and effect.  Some of these are conditional on other elements of game state.    Some card effects are immediate, some are activated with a follow-up cost, and others are permanent buffs.  All of this is indicated in the game symbology, but this may not be instantly understandable for those with cognitive impairments.

Game flow is a malleable part of the game.  Seasons don’t necessarily progress forward in regular increments, and you need to be able to synchronise your play with the tempo of the year.  Some magic items give wizards the ability to turn back the clock, or move it on even quicker.  The dice you roll from turn to turn may not be predictable – you can roll summer dice one turn, autumn dice the next, and then summer dice again.    The dice draft is such a great element of the game because it has this dual element to it – pick a dice, with the other effecting the progression of the seasons.  In the process though it basically doubles the cognitive cost of selection.

Finally, the game requires considerable literacy (to understand and interpret game effects on the cards) and numeracy (to do the arithmetic that goes into calculating the impact of things).  There’s a lot of addition, subtraction, multiplication and occasionally more complex numerate activities such as understanding probability and risk.

Don’t think memory gets off the hook either – as intimated above, careful play requires awareness, although not necessarily memorisation, of the likely composition of your opponent’s deck.  During the draft, it helps if you can mentally construct a model of their likely hand based on what you know is out there.  ‘Okay, if I was in their position I’d take X, because I know that I would have taken Y the previous round’.    Then you need to mentally ascertain how they have likely distributed their cards between grimoires.  It’s not that you can’t play without doing this, it’s that you’ll find yourself at a real disadvantage.   You may find yourself frozen out of necessary resources just because they are in special demand.  If you can anticipate how that demand will manifest, it will allow you to pick maximally effective strategies of your own.

All of this though means that even with the simpler set of cards we can’t offer a recommendation for Seasons in the fluid intelligence category.  We can though offer a tentative one in the memory category.

Emotional Accessibility

I wouldn’t go so far as to describe Seasons as a solitary experience because the drafting and resource denial means other players matter.  However, it’s a game that has only limited opportunities to directly interfere with an opponent.   The PvP elements that are present are quite mild (change an opponent’s tokens, copy their tokens, force them to discard a card, force them to reduce their summoning level) and offer the eventual resolution in ambiguous cases up to the target.  It’s quite collegiate, really.   It’s all very civilized.

The largest area of emotional concern is in the game system itself which can be viciously cruel to novice players.   Card play is intricate, and requires careful planning if you’re to to avoid leaving yourself with nothing to do.   You want to be in command of timing, playing cards out at a sustainable rate to maximise your eventual opportunities.   Your engine has to be put together with all the precision of a fine German car.  If you mess up with that, it’ll clunk and judder for turns until you can get control of the situation again.   It’s very Catan like in certain respects, in that all you can do on some turns is say ‘Well, that’s me’ after having accomplished nothing at all.  One turn of that is comical.  Two is annoying.  More can be frustrating, especially if you see other people going out of their way to slow the passage of time.  We discussed one such example of that in the review – moving in to the second year will result in more cards coming into a player’s hand, but otherwise you’re at the mercy of the dice.   The fact it’s your own fault doesn’t help much – it’s an explanation, but not really an excuse for not having a lot of fun.

When players of differing skill levels play too, it can be a problem – a skilled player takes a handful of cards and turns them into a seemingly endless cornucopia.  They rub the cards in a special way and suddenly they’re bursting over with energy tokens and items and familiars in play.    It reminds me a bit of the emotional differential in a game of Scrabble – when some smart arse plays ‘Effervescent’ for a million points and you follow it up with ‘dog’ and feel like an idiot.   It’s not so much a score differential issue (although that can be significant) as a skill differential.  It feels bad to be humbled, especially when the key differentiating factor is your own unfamiliarity with the game.   You’ll get better, sure – but if you found the first game unpleasantly unforgiving why would you make the effort?

Mistakes too haunt you in Seasons.  They linger around, sometimes preventing progress and other times actually hindering you.  The damned soul of Onys is an example of a card that does that – it gives you a temporary boost, and then sucks crystals from whatever poor sap that’s left with it in their possession at the end of a round.  You can spend a water token to move it on to the next player, if you have a token to spare.   You can quite easily, if you haven’t carefully considered the ramifications, summon this thing into your hand only to find yourself unable to get rid of it, or to have it instantly returned every time you manage to send it on.

We’re going to tentatively recommend Seasons here – if you can get someone past the first game, you should find it an easier sell for the third.   It doesn’t go out of its way to make itself emotionally inaccessible, it’s just a consequence of the steep learning curve that goes with developing enough mastery of the systems to have fun.  However, that doesn’t change the fact this is a game where differently skilled players will exhibit profoundly asymmetrical accomplishments.  The frustration and angst that comes from this can have a profoundly depressive effect on willingness to play and can equally profoundly exacerbate issues of emotional distress.

Physical Accessibility

Here, the largest problem is in the tiny proportions given to elements of the board, and how easy they are to dislodge.  The slightest disturbance in a playing surface can result in players shifting their score tracks and their summon gauges, making it difficult to know what the actual genuine state of play is.    It happens pretty constantly when I play.

The cards are smaller than poker sized, and have a matte finish that makes them difficult to shuffle and manipulate.   They stick together and don’t deal out cleanly, exacerbating issues of dexterity of the hands.   Luckily you don’t need to do this often – just at the start of the game really but it can make the draft more cumbersome than it really should be.

The dice are large and hefty, and pleasingly tactile.   However, to go along with this we strongly recommend the use of a dice-tray to avoid situations where mis-thrown dice end up radically changing the state of play as discussed above.

There’s a lot of collection and spending of tokens in Seasons – the dice determines some of this, but so too do the cards in effect and the order in which they are played.  The player board contains sockets for the seven energy tokens you’re permitted, but they don’t actually have to be placed there if you prefer to keep them lined up in a more accessible manner.

The game makes use of semi-secret hands, but you rarely have many cards hidden away at a time.  Your starting deck is made up of nine cards, but six of those are locked away in grimoires.  You begin playing with three cards, and while you’ll often have a dozen or more arrayed in front of you there will only be a few that form your current spell-book.  A standard card holder will be a perfectly appropriate solution here for most players.

The game offers full verbalisation of play for those where physical interaction of any kind would be difficult.  The cards have unambiguous names.  Where there are duplications they are functionally identical – there is no difference between using one and using the other.   The tokens all have elemental descriptors and the season tracker is discreetly sectioned off in a way that allows someone to precisely articulate motion of the season, such as ‘move three spaces clockwise’, or ‘Move two spaces backwards towards winter’.   Scoring too is done in plain sight on the tracker, and as such the calculations that go into the end of game summation of prestige have no secret elements.

Overall, despite the small criticisms we have outlined here, we recommend Seasons in this category.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

There’s not a lot to complain about here – the cards primarily show magical artefacts and mystical familiars.  There are not a lot of human faces in the game at all.   The cover shows a figure of indeterminable gender on the front, overlooking a lovely scene of crashing waterfalls and verdant greenery.  It’s all very nice.

Seasons box

Spirits, come forth!

The manual does not explicitly gender, adopting a neutral tone throughout except when referring to example players – these are both men and women.

At an RRP of £40  it’s a relatively pricey proposition although I often see it discounted down to £30 on Amazon.   At the time of writing I believe the game is between printings – don’t believe the price-gouging three-figure sums you might see.  Upon opening the box though you don’t feel cheated – the production values are first rate, from the evocative artwork to the hefty, totemic dice.   However, it does have a ceiling of four players which does rather limit its effectiveness as a family game.   This is compounded by the fact that it’s one of those games that work better with lower player counts than larger ones – two players is the ‘best’ number according to Boardgame Geek and I’d agree with that.   At its four player count, more than half of the people that have rated it don’t recommend it.  Really then it’s best to think of it as a two or three player game.   That greatly alters the value proposition if you’re looking for something for larger game nights.

Overall though we recommend Seasons in this category – its finicky player counts are its only real issue here but it’s an expensive game for what is at best a two or three player experience.

Communication

There is a required reading level, and it’s not well supported by crib-sheets – there’s a lot of text that needs to be understood, often of quite precise effect.  Otherwise, it doesn’t require any explicit communication from its players

We recommend Seasons in this category provided language dependence is not a critical issue.  Otherwise, we advise you to stay well away.

Intersectional Accessibility

Placement of score markers requires a fair degree of precision although it doesn’t specifically require the active player to take responsibility for this.  However, if dealing with the intersection of visual and physical impairment this may be an additional compounding difficulty that occasionally causes game-state to waver from true.

The game makes use of hidden hands, and this is an issue for both physical and visual impairment.  However, it also causes a problem when cognitive issues are brought into the mix.  We don’t recommend the game in the category of fluid intelligence anyway, but this would be sufficiently burdensome to change our tentative recommendation for those with memory impairments to the opposite.

The dice involved in Seasons are all unique, and if a player has an intersection of visual and cognitive impairment parsing the meaning might be difficult.   This can be verbalised by another player, assuming one is available and capable of doing so.  However, it does add an additional burden here that must be considered.

For two players, Seasons is a reasonably brisk thirty minutes of playtime.  For more, you should add roughly half an hour per player, leaving aside accessibility compensations.   For two players, the play-time is short enough that it’s unlikely to exacerbate issues of discomfort, but the more players involved the more likely that is.  Similarly, the downtime between turns is likely to be okay in a two player game.   Attention issues associated with the intersection of cognitive and emotional accessibility likely won’t manifest here.  This becomes an increasingly large problem as extra players are incorporated.   There are reasons why players should be interested in what’s happening on their opponent’s turns, but there is nothing they can actually do to alter the flow of play.

Seasons doesn’t permit for easy dropping in and out, but it does support degrading player numbers.  There are few direct player versus player elements, and if a player drops out it’s possible to continue to the end with fewer numbers, or even in solo play attempting to maximise score.   The only thing that needs change there is the number of dice rolled in the draft.

Cognitive cost is already increased by the symbols present on the cards, but it would be doubly so in the event visual impairments must be considered.   Again, this would be enough to invalidate our tentative recommendation for memory.  Fluid intelligence and memory are tightly coupled, and while this may not seem like a memory issue we believe the additional burden the parsing would place on players would render the game inaccessible.

Conclusion

Leaving aside the fluid intelligence cost, which is in itself a function of game mechanics rather than inaccessible design, we’ve given Seasons recommendations across the board.  True, a number of these are tentative and conditional, but that’s to be expected when dealing with the complex interplay of accessibility elements we cover.

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

Its visual accessibility is, as usual, predicated on players having the ability to visually interrogate the game with the use of an assistive aid – games in general remain obstinately inaccessible to those with total blindness.    Even so, we have to consider the difficulty placed on visual processing by the tiny font, complex text, and iconography used.   The extent to which visual identification is possible will have a profound impact on how that grade should be interpreted – as always, go with the full discussion above rather than the grade itself when making a decision as to suitability.

Radar chart

Seasons radar chart

With its four star review, Seasons is a game about which we had a lot of good things to say.   As is often the case, it is sometimes the things we like the most that make a game most inaccessible in certain categories.   We reaffirm our usual stance here – inaccessibility is not necessarily correlated to game quality.   Our job here is to let you know what games can be feasibly played if you like the sound of them.   And now we’ve done that for Seasons, I hope.  At least we’ve tried.  With pleasured hands.


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