Biblios accessibility teardown

Biblios (2007) – Accessibility Teardown

Game Details
NameBiblios (2007)
ReviewMeeple Like Us
ComplexityMedium Light [1.68]
BGG Rank323 [7.21]
Player Count2-4
Designer(s)Steve Finn
Artist(s)Steve Finn and David Palumbo
Buy it!Amazon Link

Version Reviewed

English edition 2015

Introduction

Biblios is a lovely little game that packs an astonishing amount of depth into a handful of rules. It’s a wonderful game despite the drab clerical trappings that haunt the front of the box as if it were a priest’s graveyard. That’s why it got a resounding four stars in our review. I’m sure you’re excited about it – after all, if ecclesiastically themed set-collection doesn’t wet your whistle I literally have no idea what would. How is it from the perspective of accessibility though? A good result here is the thing for which we say our prayers. Are they going to be answered, or is our request going to cause too many GDPR issues to be taken seriously?

Let’s open this book and pore over it until we find out.

Colour Blindness

Colour blindness is likely to be an issue, but less likely to be a problem. While it’s far from ideal, as we’ll see, there are no show-stopping problems that would prevent someone making the effort to play. The category colours exhibit a palette clash for many categories of colour blindness, as can be seen when we look at the dice used for the scriptorium:

Colour blind dice

It’s so hard not to just roll these whenever someone adjusts the value.

Similarly if we look at a spread of the cards across each of the different categories:

Colour blind card values

Which of these is the new Alistair Reynolds book?

Bad, but each card (except for the gold cards) comes with iconography that indicates to which category the card belongs:

Iconography

That last one doesn’t look safe to read.

While this is small, it unambigiously identifies category for those that cannot perceive the utilised colour palette. Similarly, while the dice are difficult to differentiate for many categories of colour blindness, while they are in the scriptorium they will be associated with the appropriate icon:

Colour blind scriptorium

Which one of these is the fine you get when you forget to return the book you borrowed?

When they are removed, as when scoring is conducted, they count simply as points and the colour ceases to be relevant.

As such, we offer a strong recommendation for Biblios in this category, although it would have been nice if the colour palette hadn’t clashed. However, making use of multiple channels of the same information shows strong adherence to best practice for visual design so we can’t be overly critical.

Visual Accessibility

The most significant information that goes with play is the category and value of the cards that you consider for acquisition. Generally speaking, the values are large enough to be credibly accessible, and come with their own distinctive graphical design that is reflective of the kind of thing it is. Pigments for example have themes of colour and the production process that turns material into paint. Monks show… well, monks. Where the iconography is not sufficient in and of itself, the large imagery on each card can help disambiguate. The alphabetic characters on cards at the bottom are in a somewhat ornamented font, but they only ever become relevant for tie-breaking purposes so it’s relatively rare that it’ll be a problem. You’re almost never going to be seriously valuing a card for its tie-breaking properties as opposed to its category and value.

Cards

The art is lovely, even if a little bland

However, it is still a card game and the usual issues we encounter are attached here – no tactile differentiation between categories, and no way other than visual identification to catch the value of the cards. For those for whom text can be comfortably read with an assistive aid it is broadly accessible. For everyone else, it’s likely to be completely inaccessible without heavy support.

However, there are other problems when it comes to visual accessibility – primarily, the number of cards you have in hand. At the end of the gift phase, in a two player game you’ll be holding almost twenty cards.

A hand of 19 cards in Biblios

Four point eight standard poker hands. That’s metric poker hands, of course.

And in the auction, you’ll be bidding over the distribution of a third of the eight-seven card deck. A healthy portion of those, one must assume, are also going to end up in your hand.

The auction pile

And now we distribute these!

That’s a problem, but it’s an especially large problem with Biblios because of how intimately familiar you need to be with your cards on an ongoing basis. Biblios is at heart a set collection game, so you are expected to do a certain degree of in-hand shuffling as you accumulate cards – otherwise it is difficult to easily tell in which categories you have the greatest, or least, strength. Similarly with the gold that will become important in the auction phase, it’s important to know how much you have and also how much in what denominations. You can’t make change during an auction.

This isn’t just something you need to work out at the end of a phase, you need to know this constantly so you can make informed decisions about the cards you want, the cards you can safely gift, and how to use the church cards that come into your possession. The relative value of your hand can shift constantly as the church cards are played. It’s important you know the number of cards you have, the sum value of what you have, and how many cards of individual categories are being claimed by other players during the public drafting phase. You can certainly solve many of these problems by adopting mandatory narration of activities, but someone that can glance at their hand and get a rough estimate of the state of play will be in a position of considerable advantage.

The dice in play in the scriptorium too are somewhat of a problem since there are five of these. They’re standard d6s, so they can be easily replaced, and really all you need is a number. You could safely replace them with a notepad or laptop display without game impact, but you will almost certainly need to adopt some compensation. The additional problem here though is that close investigation of a die is potentially going to leak gameplay intention.

We’re prepared to offer a (very) tentative recommendation for Biblios in this category, but bear in mind – it will place considerable additional burdens on memory to hold all the key elements of game state. We’ll discuss this further in the intersectional accessibility section.

Cognitive Accessibility

The constantly shifting context of value puts a huge pressure on both fluid intelligence and memory. As the values in the scriptorium are adjusted, it becomes necessary to build a new model of value from the cards you have, and change the value you ascribe to particular categories. That in turn changes how competitive the auction phase becomes for the best cards in those categories. Knowing how best to marshal your limited resources during the auction is hugely important.

Being able to do this properly is tightly coupled to memory. It’s not going to be possible to memorise the deck because some cards are always removed at the beginning of play. Knowing the approximate composition will give tremendous game advantage. If you know that all the cards of a particular type have come out, it’ll change the way you weight the cards that follow.

More than this, if you can remember what it was you seeded into the auction deck you’ll be more able to make effective decisions of worth when it comes to that phase. If you know there are church cards to appear, you can plan ahead with reference to the likely cash reserves of your opponents. You can make very clever plays if you know what’s likely in the deck and if you can remember what your opponents have been taking from the public supply.

The required numeracy then is more than the simple arithmetic of adding points and spending gold – it’s the deeper, intuitive arithmetic of probability and risk contextualised by the information you can glean from what other players have been doing. It’s subtle, and sophisticated, and extremely cognitively expensive.

The base game then is something we wouldn’t recommend, given these concerns.

However!

The game flow itself is very straightforward, to the point it’ll become little more than a pleasant rhythm. You draw a card, you place it one of three places. You draw a second, you place it in one of the remaining locations. You keep doing this until you’ve drawn enough cards to satisfy the number of players. There’s no sudden reversal of the game flow, and nothing in the game rules that has asymmetrical or asynchronous effect.

Scoring too is straightforward – add up the values in a category, and take the corresponding die if yours is the biggest. Add up the pips, and that’s your score. It’s not the scoring that is cognitively expensive, it’s the shifting context of value.

So, we think there’s an accessible variant in here that retains much of the satisfaction of set-collection play while eliminating much (but not all) of the cognitive burden. That would be to play without the church cards. Either have everything with an equal value throughout (kinda boring) or some pre-game system whereby everyone agrees on the scoring. Maybe one die each of one, two, three, four, and five and then distribute them around the scriptorium. Perhaps roll them in order and then assign them on that basis. You would lose a lot of meaningful gameplay, but you would retain enough for it to be considered a fun game in and of itself. The issue of deck memorisation remains, as does the game advantage that comes from recalling what other players have taken from the public space. However, those in themselves are easy problems to solve – play with open hands, and make sure everyone can see the deck distribution. Perhaps even ignore the requirement to remove cards from the deck. The standard deck makeup is no secret – it’s made available on the box itself.

Distribution of the deck

A useful guide for card counters

Again, with this variant you lose some gameplay nuance but you don’t lose so much that the game becomes completely unworthy of play. There are many games we’d recommend ahead of this, but it’s for others to decide whether that’s the route they want to pursue.

We’ll offer a tentative recommendation for Biblios in this category with the proviso that you’ll be attempting it with one, or more, of the variations we’ve outlined above. Otherwise, we’d advise you consider other games over this one.

Emotional Accessibility

It should be difficult to get upset at Biblios. In almost everything you do, you are the architect of your own fortune. You pick the cards you distribute. The hand you end up with is substantively of your own choosing. Sure, there’s randomness there but less than in most games that involve divvying up a deck of cards.

I wasn’t kidding though when I discussed in the review about it being a game about self-recrimination because it’s also a seductive game of push your luck. It tickles the cognitive biases of the brain that say ‘The next thing is going to be better than this thing’. As such, you often end up missing out on opportunities that in retrospect you know were optimal. You’ll give cards to an opponent you never would have if you’d just drawn three cards at once and then distributed them. These little mistakes compound and compound until sometimes you have a hand full of trash and no meaningful path to victory. That can be galling, especially because you can’t blame it on anyone else.

Then coupled to this is the way the church cards will constantly undermine the value of what you have previously accomplished. Every card shifts in value depending on what you have; what you suspect other people have; what you suspect is still left in the deck; and the scriptorium. You might find that several players in a row gang up on a category, which is in turn a way of ganging up on you. You might go from six pips on your category down to two in a single round, and with that lose any real chance of winning the game. To be fair, such focused attacks are in themselves a risky business, and a clever player will ‘feint’ at the scriptorium to keep people from developing confidence in where others see their scoring opportunities.

Auctions too impose their own emotional accessibility issues, because a fundamental part of the auction phase is attempting to bleed fiscal power from your opponent. If you’re sure someone is collecting in a category, then you owe it to yourself to drive the price up to the point the cost is just enough to bear, but more than anyone wanted to pay. If you’re on the receiving end of that, it can be just as infuriating as having your bid pushed up in an eBay auction.

On the other hand, if you’re the one driving up the price and someone says ‘Nah, take it’ it can be just as infuriating. You lose your own future viability in exchange for something you didn’t want, or at least didn’t want at the price you paid. That’s all part and parcel of the fun of an auction, and Biblios has a very good auction system. The pleasure that comes from getting something at a good price, and the buyer’s remorse of buying something at a price you later regret – that’s all just in the DNA of how an auction works. It’s something to bear in mind.

Points disparities, because of the shifting context of value, can be significant but it’s somewhat mitigated by the fact that it’s unlikely anyone will gain all of the dice. Really, everyone probably won roughly as many categories (except in very tight games), it was just the way the value changed that influenced the score. That’s a useful ‘get out’ of recrimination, because otherwise score disparities of four, five, or even six to one are not impossible. This is especially true when it comes to settling ties, because they occur reasonably often. The alphabetic letter on your card is used in such circumstances, and it can be a useful sop to be able to say ‘Ah, well – I was never collecting for that’.

Probably the largest issue here though is how fundamentally solid your mistakes are, and how you simply have to live with them. When you see that perfect card soaring off into the public area while looking at the piece of gold you took you know that you can’t undo that. There are no take backs, and in the process of handing such an advantage to an opponent you’ve seriously damaged your own position. The only way you can offset this is through the auction, and usually your mistakes have cascaded to the point it can’t really be fixed there. If you hand someone a very high value card, the chances are they start to pick those when they get a chance. As such, you can’t repair your mistake with money, because the means of doing so aren’t there. It’s not as bad as a single mistake ruining your game (as can happen in Twilight Struggle) because as perceived value of one category increases for a player, it tends to decrease value in others. The whole system though hinges on you being put into this exact scenario over and over again. As mentioned above, you only have yourself to blame, but that can be exactly the trigger for an emotional outburst.

We still recommend Biblios in this category, but be advised – there are issues to be considered before adopting it in your group.

Physical Accessibility

The largest problem here is the sheer number of cards you’ll accumulate in your hand, and the in-hand management that will be expected to make sense of the information. It’s not an impossible task when all the cards are arrayed in front of you, but if you’re trying to do this in a standard poker-hand fan, you’ll find it difficult. Often you’re working with twenty or so cards at a time, and while I tried to show that size of hand fanned out for the teardown I gave up because it was just too difficult.

Every turn of the gift phase you’ll be acquiring a card, and that’s true whether it’s your turn or not – you either get one you choose, or one an opponent chooses. As such, you need to be constantly curating your cards for clarity if you are to know the value propositions being put in front of you.

Usually a standard card holder here would work, but the number of cards and the extent to which they need to be manipulated means it won’t be particularly effective. You’d probably need four or so, and even that may not be enough in some circumstances. You will, during the auction phase, be discarding cards as often as you pick them up, and you might even end up with a smaller hand as a result of large bids. However, that’s not guaranteed. Even the design of the cards is a problem for this because key game information is located in three corners of the card – you can’t simply collapse them so their top left icons are showing because in the process you will lose the alphabetic value that is used for breaking ties.

As long as you can hold (with support) a large hand of cards without difficulty, there are few other physical accessibility issues that need impact on play. Mostly it’s a game of mental assessment, with correspondingly little physical activity. If it comes to drawing cards, that’s even something easy for someone to do on your behalf – someone can draw, show you the card secretly, and then you say where it’s to go. Otherwise, there’s nothing physical in the game.

The number of cards to be played are a problem, much like they were in Ticket to Ride, but it is the only serious problem that can’t be easily worked around. There are ways to do it though for a determined player. As such, we’ll recommend, just, Biblios in this category.

Communication

For a game about book collection, it’s a little counter-intuitive that it has no required literacy level. It also doesn’t require you to do much communication, although players will need some way to indicate bidding during the appropriate phase. That can be as simple as indicating their bid in front of them, or holding up fingers, or really anything.

As such, we strongly recommend Biblios in this category.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

You can probably guess the problem here. Get the jug ma, it’s a good ol’ fashioned bro’ down.

Box art

Censure for the tonsure

Now the theme is ecclesiastic book collection so the fact it’s all men all the time is fair enough in that context. However, the theme is basically a half-hearted veneer – there are limitless themes that could have been applied in its place without making a single meaningful difference to play. As with games such as Splendor, pasted on theme doesn’t excuse this kind of skewed representation. This carries through into the manual – the main text doesn’t have any explicit gendering, but there are three example players and all of them are men – Steve, Bob and James are the characters used to illustrate game concepts. Books are a boy’s club, it seems.

To be fair, there is a woman on one of the cards – it’s the Virgin Mary, on one of the panels of a pulpit. I guess that’s something, but whatever that something is it’s not a lot.

Church cards

Fire, brimstone, and testosterone

Biblios supports two to four players, and plays reasonably well at each player count (although better at higher counts than lower). With this restrictive limit, the RRP of £22 may seem a little on the steep side. You’ll regularly see it marked down, and there is a five player official variant that you can use if you need to scale up a little more.

We’ll recommend Biblios in this category, but it would have been nice to have seen the pasted on theme replaced with something more inclusive, or for women to have featured somewhere prominently within the context of the ecclesiastic setting. Sure, even nuns at the time were often lacking the literacy to be engaged in scholarly endeavour such as this, but there are other alternatives for representation that could have easily been applied.

Intersectional Accessibility

Biblios is generally accessible, to an extent, across the board. There are some specific interactions of impairment we need to consider though.

First of all, the tentative recommendation we give for visual accessibility is contingent on colour information being processed – it’s one of the ways in which large swatches of visual information can be roughly parsed. If visual impairment is combined with colour blindness, we would recommend players avoid Biblios.

Similarly, our visual impairment recommendation is contingent on the ability of a player to hold game state substantively in memory when visual information is not easily available. This is possible, at least to the level of detail needed for effective play, by most players. ‘He’s collecting pigment’ or ‘she’s collecting tomes’ is enough for that. However, it will shift over time and it needs a degree of mental adaptation as the scoring context changes. As such, if visual impairments are combined with cognitive impairments, our recommendation in both categories would become a non-recommendation.

Once again with visual impairment, fluid play is going to be dependent on narration to a degree. ‘I’m taking this card. I’m auctioning this card. I’m playing a +1 church card in the public space’, and so on. That will ensure that players are able to keep up with the activity in a way that doesn’t disadvantage them. This is going to be impacted if the visually impaired player, or others at the table, have intersecting communication impairments. Narration requires players to be able to communicate verbally, and for the visually impaired player to be able to hear the auditory information. Again, this would turn our tentative recommendation into a non-recommendation.

In our section on communication, we note that there are physical compensations when it comes to bidding. These may not be appropriate if physical impairments are also to be considered. Indicating a bid by playing cards, tapping cards, holding up fingers, or any of equivalent technique may be too burdensome. There needs to be some way for a player to communicate the value they place on a lot, otherwise an entire phase of the game becomes substantively inaccessible or subject to ambiguity.

Biblios has a brisk play-time of approximately thirty minutes and this is short enough that it’s unlikely to exacerbate issues of discomfort or distress. It supports reasonably clean dropping out of play – cards that enter a player’s hand always stay there unless they are discarded as part of an auction, and in that case they vanish from play anyway. There’s no need to consider the need to recycle components from an abandoned hand. It’s possible for someone to simply stop participating and for the distribution of cards to revert back to the rules for the next lower player count. It’s not possible to then deal a player back in, but at thirty minutes the game is over quick enough that this shouldn’t be an issue.

Conclusion

Biblios gets recommendations, albeit often very tentative, across the board. That’s good, because it’s the quintessential filler game – simple enough to be easily learnable, deep enough to offer opportunities for mastery, and quick enough to fit in to small gaps in the day.

Biblios, Meeple Like Us, [CC-BY 4.0]
CategoryGrade
Colour BlindnessA-
Visual AccessibilityC-
Fluid IntelligenceC-
MemoryC-
Physical AccessibilityB-
Emotional AccessibilityB-
Socioeconomic AccessibilityB-
CommunicationA

Some of our recommendations are heavily laden with caveats, but that is often the case. We would have been much harder on Biblios in the cognitive category were it not for the fact we believe there is an accessible variant that retains a substantive amount of its fun. The sheer number of cards in play make it somewhat troublesome from a physical and visual perspective, but barring complicating factors a motivated player will certainly be able to participate.

We gave Biblios a hefty four stars in our review – it’s a fun and surprisingly deep game of card collection and looming sadness. It’s not quite a religious experience, but it’s certainly more fun than a day at church. If you like the sound of it, and if you think you can play it comfortably, you won’t resent the time or money you spend on it.


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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