7 wonders Accessibility Teardown

7 Wonders (2010) – Accessibility Teardown

Game Details
Name7 Wonders (2010)
ReviewMeeple Like Us
ComplexityMedium Light [2.34]
BGG Rank45 [7.79]
Player Count (recommended)2-7 (3-7)
Designer(s)Antoine Bauza
Artist(s)Antoine Bauza and Miguel Coimbra
Buy it!Amazon Link

Version Reviewed

Repos English edition 2017

Introduction

We put together a fairly downbeat review of 7 Wonders for you – a good game but if you’re considering buying it in this day and age you’ve got better options that will mould themselves more effectively to your needs. We gave it three and a half stars because it’s still a good, enjoyable game – just one that’s difficult to recommend too effusively.

You’re not here for that though. You’re here to find out if you can play it if you decide that my opinions are nothing more than the weird-smelling chutney that you assume to be the case by default. So, let’s discuss that. You could be a bit nicer about it though, because that stung.

Colour Blindness

There are a few problem areas with regards to colour blindness, but none of them pose insurmountable obstacles. The first is that the scoring pad is going to be a small issue because several of the rows use colour as the way to tell them apart. Only one person need actually fill this out, and in any case provided it’s used consistently there won’t be an actual impact on scoring. Nonetheless, there are circumstances where a colour-blind player may have to take it on trust their scores are being recorded properly.

Colour blind scoring pads

As you might imagine since the scoring pad matches the colour of cards in the game there’s an issue here too. It’s a small one though because iconography is used throughout and each card is accompanied by descriptive text.

Colour blind cards

This might make it a little more difficult for a colour blind player to make out some information at a glance, but you don’t need to worry about anyone except your immediate neighbours and that takes a fair bit of the sting out of it

More colour blind cards

Other than these two areas, there are no problems with colours. Those problems that exist are not necessarily major – they have a small impact on game flow but nothing that would seriously impinge on enjoyment. We’ll recommend 7 Wonders in this category.

Visual Accessibility

Within 7 wonders the model of interaction is actually a significant boon for those with sight difficulties. You might have as many as seven players in the game but you only ever have to really concern yourself about three – yourself, the one to your left, and the one to your right. Assuming that you have a table that can accommodate a visually impaired player side by side with their opponents you can arrange the game in a way that permits for maximum accessibility. It won’t make any difference if total blindness must be taken into account, but for those where some degree of visual discrimination is permitted seating can be a big help.

In terms of game information, it’s a card game and as such much of your information is visual. It’s a drafting game too though and so there’s an extent to which a player can ask for support from the player that just handed them the cards – they already know what’s there after all. A whispered conversation can sum it up – ‘There’s a two military card, two compass symbols and a forest producing two wood’. That’s still going to need cross-referencing and likely close inspection of a player’s tableau and the one of the next player but it’s certainly doable. Your tableau too can be represented in a reasonably concise form by focusing on what’s there as a numerical system. Someone can summarise, saying ‘You’ve got ten military, three stone, two wood’.

7 Wonders Tableau

Since you don’t have the issue of Sushi Go where you’re looking to block key cards getting to a far-off opponent this tightly constrains the amount of information that needs to be dealt with at any time. It’s not that you can completely discount other players but your radius of impact is relatively small and all decisions have to be considered where they have the biggest effect. You have no idea what will happen to an offering of cards when it leaves your hand after all.

The cards themselves are reasonably well structured, but there are a few problems. The first is that there are chains of buildings that can be created for free but the text on these is not particularly readable. Examining cards for relationships between them will need someone to explore their entire tableau. It’s a ‘feed forward’ system – ‘the apothecary permits you to build a stables for free’, but the stables card doesn’t link back to that. To know if you get a building for nothing you need to know what cards you have in front of you and you’ll often have them covered up by other cards.

Symbols on the cards are reasonable large and well defined, and the layout of cards is consistent. Colour is used as a way to differentiate cards, and if players are disciplined about how they construct their tableaus this would have a big positive impact on how tractable game state will be. The text used in the game is not excessively ornamented, and the different physical tokens you use differ in size and form factor to the point you can usually tell them apart by touch.

For those for whom total blindness must be considered there will be a considerable additional cognitive cost that comes along with play as they hold the game state in mind. It is though probably playable with support from the table given the tableaus are open information and one of their neighbours will know the cards available for drafting. That’s not going to be true of the first draft in the round, but it’s possible to work around that easily enough.

We’ll recommend 7 Wonders in this category.

Cognitive Accessibility

There is a small reading level associated with play but it doesn’t require any actual understanding of the text. At most it’s used to match chains together and in that circumstance it doesn’t matter if the word makes sense. You just need to assess for similarity, comprehension is optional.

In terms of its basic game loop, 7 Wonders is relatively straightforward. Draft a card, pass the rest on. This though is intensely deceptive because picking the right card is incredibly important in at least two axes of play:

  1. You need the card that maximises your score
  2. You need the card that will minimise the score the next player will have

It’s the second of these that’s perhaps more important because it’s entirely possible to do very well in 7 Wonders and still lose badly because all accomplishment is relative. The player that is weakest in 7 Wonders will be greatly empowering the player that is upstream of them. Often these two goals will align, but not always and in those circumstances a considerable degree of nuance creeps into the decision-making. You need to be considering the risk and reward of accumulating science, the relatively simple returns of civic buildings, the danger and benefits of military build-up and more. In the third age, guild cards add in more complex scoring contexts. For example, the Spies guild gives you a victory point for each military card your opponents have. The Shipowner’s guild gives you points for your brown, grey and purple cards. The Strategist’s guild gives you extra points for each defeat you (and other players) have inflicted on your opponents. In selecting any of these you might influence the course of action your neighbours take and that has to be considered when making a decision.

The numeracy that goes into competent play is high, and it gets higher as time goes on. The scoring for science is relatively complex, and the symbology that is used throughout the game increases the cognitive cost of play considerably. Much as with Race for the Galaxy I have played this game dozens of times and I still occasionally have to pause and ask myself what an icon means, especially if I haven’t played for a bit.

Critically relevant for learning the game is the fact that scoring happens at the end and there’s no clear link between your activities and the scoring. This means it’s very difficult to unravel why you got the score you did except with the most surface level analysis. ‘I should have gotten more military’ is an easy conclusion but it needs to be followed by an understanding of how that would have changed the rest of the game. After all, if you got more military so too would the other players, which would have restricted the supply of military and perhaps resulted in a completely different outcome from what you might expect. You never really know how you’ve done in 7 Wonders until the end, whereas many of the more cognitively accessible games we look at here on the site have some kind of regular ‘check in’ that happens during play. It always helps in this category if people can easily understand the impact their actions have.

Game flow is consistent, mostly, although flow of play will alternate between ages and some wonders will occasionally subvert expectations . The cards don’t have any complex synergies but they do have cost or scoring synergies. Examples of that include the chaining mechanic that permits you to build for free, or the cards that impact on the economy of those resources that must be purchased from your neighbours. You don’t really build interlocking systems in 7 Wonders but playing cards in the right order at the right time is important. Knowing when to sacrifice a card for a wonder as opposed to drafting it can be the difference between winning and losing.

The end result of this is that 7 Wonders is not a game that is difficult to play but it is a very difficult game to grok and there’s no obviously cognitive accessible variant that would maintain a meaningful amount of the experience.

For those with memory impairments there are several additional factors. The first of these is that the chaining relationship is only displayed on the cards that serve as pre-requisites and these are likely to end up being covered up during play. That means players need to remember they have a chain available and recognise the qualifying card if and when it comes into their hand.

The second issue is that knowing how to draft well depends on remembering what’s going around the table and what’s not been seen so far. Knowing the deck and remembering deck composition is a key element in knowing what might be available for you later. You can never be sure, but you can at least rule things out if you have positive evidence that cards are unlikely to make their way to you. Assessing intention too is sometimes tightly coupled to what is left over once a hand has made its way around the table. If there’s a seeming arms race occurring but someone didn’t pick up a military card they could it suggests they’re more interested in defence than conquest. That is something a canny player can use to intuit what player actions mean. As mentioned in the review there’s a point where the game becomes more about playing the players than it is the cards. A solid mental representation of the flow of drafting can help significantly there.

We don’t recommend 7 Wonders in either of our categories of cognitive accessibility.

Emotional Accessibility

The biggest issue here is that 7 Wonders is heavily invested in the idea of hate drafting – that you pick cards to disadvantage a neighbour as opposed to ones that benefit you the most. It’s often your role as a player to be the gatekeeper of cards: making sure the best ones don’t fall into the hands of an opponent. Someone else is doing that to you as well, and the result is that only occasionally will you get the opportunities you most want. Going for a science tableau for example is an exercise in extreme hubris because someone will almost certainly pre-emptively draft the cards you need to really capitalize on it.

Similarly if you’re engaged in an arms race with a neighbour it’s in that neighbour’s best interests to make sure you never get any military cards if they can help it. It’s not always possible but the cards you get handed will always, if someone knows what they’re doing, be the ones that maximise their benefit at the minimisation of yours. That also leads to situations where a player may be actively prevented from completing a pattern that they are working towards. That can cause issues with people that feel a compulsive need for completion or symmetry of placement. You don’t just miss out on a card you want – someone actively choses to deny it to you. Even if a player is not driven by compulsion, it can still be intensely aggravating to see the card you need drafted by a player that has no use for it.

Score disparities, largely because of this hate drafting, can be extremely high – it’s possible to play optimally in 7 Wonders and still come last. That can even be something completely outside your control because you only have direct influence on your two neighbours and you rely on other players to keep each other in check. Sometimes you’ll see an inexperienced player pass obviously good cards to the next player just because they haven’t fully bought into the passive aggression that takes the place of player interaction. Your score is relative to everyone at the table and if you’re being denied choices and someone else is being handed them it can be infuriating.

There are though no take that mechanisms, no ways for players to gang up on each other, and everyone gets exactly the same opportunities to play even if they don’t get the same opportunities to succeed. When you place a card in your tableau you’re stuck with it but it’s never the case that this is to your detriment – it’s only ever an opportunity cost.

We’ll tentatively recommend 7 Wonders in this category.

Physical Accessibility

There are only a few things you need to be handling during the course of the game, but players will be passing cards constantly around the table . That’s going to make a card holder inefficient and inelegant unless everyone is using them and the holders themselves are passed. A possible workaround is to have a player hold the cards up for another, but that might be physically tiring, While the game plays quickly that’s only because everyone is usually acting simultaneously. There’s still a lot of thought that needs to go into your choices. Holding up a hand of cards for someone while assessing your own will put a considerable amount of physical strain on someone’s arms and concentration.

The alternative though is swapping cards in and out of a card holder and while that will become easier as the age goes on it’s still a lot of careful manipulation and making sure that nothing is accidentally revealed to the table. Players need to see the whole card too because both edges are made up of actionable game information including resource costs and chaining opportunities.

Verbalisation is straightforward since all a player need do is indicate which card should be selected and the rest get passed on to the next player. Everything else progresses with the inevitability defined by the rule-set.

It’s not that the game is unplayable, but rather the flow of cards is going to be considerable. If a player has physical impairments that impact on the hands the usual compensatory strategies are going to be less effective than they are for most games. If nothing else it will slow down the pace of the game for everyone because card selection occurs simultaneously and a delay in one player is a delay for the entire table.

It’s certainly not an impossible prospect to play while physically impaired. It’s just likely to place an considerable amount of extra work on the table. We will very tentatively recommend 7 Wonders in this category.

Communication

There’s no need for discussion during play and while there is a reading level assumed it’s not actually necessary for players to understand the words if they know how the cards are supposed to work.

We strongly recommend 7 Wonders in this category.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

As might be expected, the cultural palette is broad – wonders are drawn from a range of historical traditions and regions of the world. However, where the game art shows human characters it tends heavily towards men. Where women are represented, and it is infrequently, it is occasionally in unnecessarily eroticised poses. The altar for example shows a woman supplicant in distinctively revealing garb. The baths card shows women in the traditional ‘hand bra’ pose associated with artists trying to be suggestive without just going whole-hog and drawing the women with their breasts out. To be fair, a lot of the men are topless too but they’re never in obviously titillating poses.

Baths card in 7 Wonders

7 Wonders is reasonably inexpensive given its scaling player counts, and it’s also something I see on sale often as part of board game deals – even at supermarkets. The RRP of £35 puts it into the ‘reasonable’ end of the price spectrum and if you can nab it as part of a ‘3 for 2’ deal or such it’s obviously an even better choice. That said, it’s considerably more expensive than Sushi Go Party. I think you’d get a lot more out of that title given the design of 7 Wonders is heavily slanted towards people willing to build literacy in its game systems and scoring contexts.

We’ll tentatively recommend 7 Wonders in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

We have an unusual intersection here – for those where a visual impairment intersects with a communication impairment there’s a problem. Much of our guidance in the visual accessibility section relies on the player downstream whispering the contents of a hand as they pass it on. There are two scenarios where that’s not going to work – the first is if the visually impaired player is hard of hearing and the second is if the downstream player has an impairment that impacts on verbalisation. Similarly, if the downstream player is physically impaired this might impact on whether or not whispering is at all possible. If one person in the pair can position themselves to make that work then that intersection at least shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

If visual impairment intersects with colour blindness we’d be inclined to be considerably more tentative in both recommendations.

The biggest features that 7 Wonders has going for it in this category though are its scalability and speed. While it’s not designed for players dropping out, it’s sufficiently lacking in tight player interactions that you can swap in an automata rule for a departing player and continue on pretty much as before. Because the game is played simultaneously, it doesn’t really matter how many players there are – it’s going to take as long as the slowest player for every draft and that’s it. That gives a great deal of predictability to play time that isn’t always present in games of this nature. Or indeed, games of any other nature.

Conclusion

Barring the obvious problems in terms of the deep thinking required for literate play, 7 Wonders is actually a semi-reasonable performer here. It only gets tentative recommendations for most things, but they’re still recommendations whichever way you choose to slice it.

7 Wonders, Meeple Like Us, [CC-BY 4.0]
Colour BlindnessB
Visual AccessibilityB
Fluid IntelligenceD
MemoryD
Physical AccessibilityC-
Emotional AccessibilityC
Socioeconomic AccessibilityC
CommunicationA

However, again here we must face the same issue as we did in the review – I’d recommend people play Sushi Go over 7 Wonders, and Sushi Go is also a better performing game in the accessibility profile. It’s also something I’d be inclined to recommend over 7 Wonders as a game for those that aren’t already very familiar with the latter’s conventions. We’re back to the same conclusion – if you like the sound of 7 Wonders you’re probably going to have more luck with Sushi Go even if 7 Wonders is technically a better game.

Don’t get me wrong – I do like 7 Wonders. It just feels like it’s a bit like an aging rock band from the 60s. It’s still around and it’s still popular amongst those that were there to see it at its height. If you try to introduce it to a new player though they’re likely to say ‘Daaaaaaaaaad, stop embarrassing me in front of my friends with your lame old-person drafting! You’re ruining this, you always ruin everything!’

Still, it was great once and it would be churlish to resent it for not surviving into its old age with all the youthful verve and vigour of its hey-day.

 


A word about teardowns

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 this will not be the blog for you. We will not debate 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.