Assembly - Accessibility Teardown

Assembly (2018) – Accessibility Teardown

Game Details
NameAssembly (2016)
ReviewMeeple Like Us
ComplexityLight [1.33]
BGG Rank4884 [7.41]
Player Count1-2
Designer(s)Janice Turner and Stu Turner
Artist(s)Mike Jessup
Buy it!Amazon Link

A review copy of Assembly was provided by Wren Games in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Version Reviewed

First Edition

Introduction

I liked Assembly – our three-and-a-half star review shows that I think it’s a good game. That wasn’t really why I was excited to get a review copy though. I was excited because Wren Games have taken accessibility very seriously. There’s an excellent post available on their own website for example that talks through all the decisions they made to ensure inclusive design was considered from the start. That’s awesome, and the post is well worth reading.

To an extent then, an accessibility teardown is at least somewhat unnecessary. Part of the role of documents like this is to map out promising areas of the accessibility landscape for those readers with complex interaction needs. The other part is to act as encouragement and recognition for designers, and as a prod (hopefully) for them to consider accessibility more deeply in their future designs. That second part is clearly not necessary here and I think Wren Games should get a boatload of appreciation for that fact.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Assembly will escape a teardown unscathed, but it does mean there’s a good reason for us to be hopeful that it might. Let’s see how it does.

Colour Blindness

Some of the provided tokens exhibit colour clash which has an impact when viewing them from a distance, but each is also accompanied by a large icon in the centre that unambiguously identifies them. The icons occasionally have a similar design silhouette, but that’s not likely to be an issue for those with colour blindness alone. We’ll talk about that a little more in the intersectional accessibility section.

Colour blindness and bays

The command cards of which players take possession likewise have clear icons that differentiate them, although that’s not going to be as clear as you might like with regards to the the rotate cards. The difference between clockwise and anti-clockwise there is a matter of convention and the colour information is a useful reminder of that. For the standard categories of colour blindness we assess on the blog the backgrounds of these are clearly differentiated. For more complex manifestations of colour blindness small icons are presented in the corners but these might be difficult to situate in their correct orientation without a bit of thought. ‘Direction of travel is on the bottom’. It’s not that information is lost but rather there’s a slight cognitive cost that goes with remembering which symbol is supposed to be which rotation. That cost is alleviated somewhat if colour can be used to identify rotations because that then maps on to the icons on the bottom of each bay card. That’s a great feature.

Colour blindness command cards

Other than this, there aren’t any problems with colour blindness that we can see and we strongly recommend Assembly in this category.

Visual Accessibility

Every card is Assembly is clearly laid out, with plenty of redundant information. For command cards the corners each show the appropriate icon. The bay cards show which colour corresponds to which direction. Those also have an icon and written text along the top. This text is well contrasted, as are the icons. I was especially pleased to see that the colour scheme for the icons varies with the background colour ensuring that contrast can be maintained even as the palette shifts. Nice.

Cards in Assembly

The tokens that are used to indicate deployed ship modules are large, chunky and with well contrasted icons in the centre. However, they all share a form factor – they attain their icons through the application of stickers. This means that while the presence of a module on a card can be deduced by touch, it’s not possible to determine what module it is. Similarly for the bay and command cards – there are no tactile indicators on these that would assist a player with total blindness.

When modules are deployed, this is done by rolling a d12 and placing the module in the appropriate bay, skipping clockwise if necessary. While the die itself is not accessible this isn’t secret information and so any die roller would be appropriate including voiced rollers on websites. If an accessible d12 is available, that too can be easily used.

In its two-player form, Assembly is a co-operative game and while there are restrictions on communication it would be reasonable to interpret these as generously as possible in the event sighted assistance is needed with regards to the layout of the bays. The manual is very permissive in this respect. However, being able to mentally manipulate a verbal representation of the game state involves holding an image of twelve cards in a circle along with which are locked and the modules that are on them. Every rotate action you take impacts on every deployed module and so it’s important to be able to tell where modules will go when such an act is taken. Other actions have a less global impact on game state. A large part of the game is trying to arrange the circumstances so that rotations will have maximum effect. That might include making preparatory swaps so that a rotate’s impact is more significant. A fair amount of visual examination of the game state is required to make that happen. Sighted assistance for those with total blindness will permit play, but the extent to which it permits competence will depend very much on a player’s memory.

Circle of bays

In its solo form, Assembly is likely to be completely visually inaccessible to someone with total blindness but also likely broadly playable for anyone who can examine the game state with the help of an assistive aid. There’s a very interesting part of the Wren Games accessibility article where they talk about the choice between mini cards and standard cards and I think it’s fair to say they made the right choice here. This section would likely have been a good deal more critical without the extra space provided by full-sized cards.

We’ll recommend Assembly here, with the following two major caveats:

  • Players for whom total blindness must be taken into account will likely have to play the two-player mode. The solo mode is going to have too much visual information that cannot be ascertained in any other way.
  • Totally blind players in two player mode are likely going to need a good memory to be able to make optimal strategic decisions given the heavy emphasis on switching and rotating modules for maximum impact.

For those players with less severe visual impairments, play with an assistive aid is almost certainly possible with minimal difficulty even in solo mode.

Cognitive Accessibility

I probably wouldn’t be inclined to recommend Assembly as a hugely cognitively accessible game in the solo mode. Despite being relatively straightforward once you get the hang of it there are a reasonable number of relatively complex and specific rules. Those need to be properly handled and if support isn’t available I think it probably leans a little bit too far into ‘complicated’ to be a safe recommendation.

It always sounds like I’m making a joke whenever I make this point in a teardown – but those with difficulties telling left from right may have some problems in approaching Assembly. That’s actually around twenty percent of the population. Knowing the direction associated with a rotate is hugely important and it’s going to be necessary for people to mentally track what a full rotation means, especially since it can be over one or two cards and will skip locked bays. Those rotations need to be done in your head before you do them in the game because it’s difficult to correctly undo them unless you’ve paid close attention. Once every module is deployed there is no obvious start or end place to begin a rotation. You’ll need an in-game notation method for tracking that yourself if you wish to permit undoing.

Rotating modules

One feature I especially like about Assembly is that the role cards come in two forms – written text and symbolic icon. That means that literacy is not actually required to play Assembly since all the key gameplay payload is iconographic or optionally textual. Numeracy comes into play with regards to scoring but it’s only summative arithmetic and in any case can be done by anyone involved rather than any specific pl0ayer.

Players with memory impairments may find the need to verify commands to be a problem. Part of doing this successfully is remembering what your supporting player has been able to verify in the past and what they’ve played that might impact on that. You get only one question per turn and the answer can only be ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Obviously it’s up to both players to decide how strict to be with this communication regime but a lot would be lost from the game were it to be omitted. Capability here correlates with a lot of the game’s more satisfying moments, such as performing a rotate knowing that your supporting player will be able to lock before the bays are reshuffled. The manual does permit for varying levels of communication during the game, but the memory aspect is likely to be stressed regardless. That said, I don’t see there being any issue in someone making notes as to what the answers to each question were – a running log of questions, answers and plays would add a rediscoverability to the information that would otherwise be lacking.

On a far more positive note, Assembly also comes with a wide range of options for configuring difficulty – not just in terms of communication but in terms of direct game modifications. You can play with malfunctions, or not, or choose the difficulty level of the malfunctions. You can play with role cards, or not, that give special one-use abilities. There are rules for reducing the difficulty by adding cards at setup. There are rules for increasing the difficulty by removing specific cards or adjusting rules (for example, losing a random card instead of a card of your choice). Specific adjustments are presented for both game modes, and I like seeing that. Even when it comes to the game end – winning is a goal in and of itself but there are scales of winning and you can either focus on those or not depending on the preferences of those around the table. There are achievements at the back you can optionally aim towards. There is a huge amount of flexibility in how cognitively complex the game is and as I’ve said before in other teardowns that this is literally my favourite cognitive accessibility feature that I ever see in games.

We’ll recommend Assembly in both our categories of cognitive accessibility, although with the expectation that notes are taken with regards to verification in a two-player game.

Emotional Accessibility

It can be a touch frustrating to be almost there with a configuration and then for the bays to shuffle because you reached the end of a draw pile. It can also be a little frustrating for someone to force a manual override on a command card, because that forces you to give up one of your cards and maybe you were counting on it. Non-consensual penalties are something of a general issue in this section, although the fact that within Assembly you choose which card to lose mitigates it somewhat. At least if you’re not playing on the difficulty level where you discard one at random.

Otherwise, I don’t see any problems here and I will strongly recommend it in this category.

Physical Accessibility

There’s quite a lot of rotation of modules in the game, and it’s necessary to play bay cards out in a circle several times during play, sometimes with other fixed cards in the way. In a solo game this is likely to be an issue but if playing with support this can be done by a physically able player if one is available. Similarly rolling the d12 may be a problem but there are any number of die roller apps, including built into standard applications, that could be used instead.

The cards are full-sized and have icons in each corner which means they compress conveniently in any direction in a card-holder or hand. Verbalisation is easily handled because every bay has a unique name and there are only a handful of cards that need to be actioned. At most a player will have three cards in hand at any one time.

The game requires a draw deck to be shuffled three times during play, and the unlocked bays likewise will need to be shuffled at these intervals. There aren’t enough cards for this to be a comfortable process but they are of sufficient size and quality stock that it’s not unnecessarily difficult.

We’ll recommend Assembly in this category, but whether the solo mode is likely to be appropriate depends on the nature of physical accessibility issues. As a two-player game with support though it’s unlikely to be a problem to play.

Communication

There is no required reading level for play and I am delighted to see that it included some British Sign Language gestures for those that wish to play without any voiced instructions at all. Formal communication is required during play for verification and strategizing but there are rules variants that essentially normalise play without discussion. It’s even handled thematically – the computer is jamming your audio systems so you basically have to make use of Belter hand gestures, sasa ke.

We’ll strongly recommend Assembly in this category. Im gut, keya?

Socioeconomic Accessibility

The manual makes use of second-person perspective throughout and while there is little human art in the game there are role cards with names that encompass a range of identities. Again, this is something specifically identified in the Wren Games post that I’ve linked already in this teardown. It’s just lovely to see.

Roles

Assembly is available for £22, and this is on the high side for a game of this size and form factor. It’s sitting in the same approximate area as games like Innovation, Oh My Goods, Jaipur and Hanamikoji. There’s tough competition in the small-box arena especially for a game which supports a maximum of two players. However, it also has a very robust solo mode and that’s something that none of the others can offer.

We’ll recommend Assembly in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

The similar silhouettes and colour palettes of some tokens / rooms might be a problem if one is dealing with an intersection of colour blindness and visual impairment, but nothing that close inspection or querying of another player wouldn’t solve. Some of those icons (for example, engineering and navigation, AI core and the shuttle bay) have similar profiles at a distance. Engineering and navigation also share a similar colour for those with protanopia or deuteranopia. If a physical impairment is also necessary to take into account, close inspection may not be a suitable approach. That would likely invalidate Assembly as a solo game that would receive our recommendation.

I love the inclusion of a signed language version of the game, but making use of that mode may be a problem if communication impairments intersect with physical impairments – or indeed, with physical impairments alone. Similarly, when using this mode with a player with visual impairments there’s a risk of important information being mistaken. That mode is entirely optional though and as such it doesn’t have an impact on Assembly’s suitability except to say ‘some variations of this game might not work for you’.

Assembly, despite being a small box game, takes up quite a lot of table space. It’s not a game that will travel especially well, or be suitable if playing in cramped conditions. It does though play quickly – around ten or twenty minutes depending on mode and variations. As such it is not likely to exacerbate discomfort or distress.

Conclusion

I was hoping to be able to say good things about Assembly given the care and attention given to the topic of accessibility in its design – and lo and behold, yes I can. You’ll notice a lot of these grades come with minuses, and that’s entirely a consequence of the fact that assistance may not be available when playing the solo mode. Since that’s fully half of the supported player counts, it has to have an impact.

Assembly, Meeple Like Us, [CC-BY 4.0]
CategoryGrade
Colour BlindnessA-
Visual AccessibilityB-
Fluid IntelligenceB
MemoryB-
Physical AccessibilityB-
Emotional AccessibilityA-
Socioeconomic AccessibilityB
CommunicationA+

But my word, what a strong performance and it results in Assembly leaping instantly into exalted company – the tiny handful of games that we can recommend across the board (with caveats, as usual). There aren’t all that many games on Meeple Like Us that have achieved As and Bs for every category. Well done to Wren Games.

We liked Assembly enough to give it three and a half stars in our review. It performed beautifully well here, even if our usual advice to ‘read the appropriate teardown sections’ remains pertinent. There are important qualifications to each of our recommendations. Even so I feel confident that, should someone wish to play this with a friend, they’ll almost certainly be able to find some suitable variation that they can meaningfully enjoy.

A review copy of Assembly was provided by Wren Games in exchange for a fair and honest review.


A Disclaimer 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.

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