Exodus: Proxima Centauri accessibility

Exodus – Proxima Centauri (2013) – Accessibility Teardown

Game Details
NameExodus: Proxima Centauri (2012)
ReviewMeeple Like Us
ComplexityMedium Heavy [3.60]
BGG Rank1151 [7.19]
Player Count2-6
Designer(s)Agnieszka Kopera and Andrei Novac
Artist(s)David J. Coffey, Maria Marin and George Necula
Buy it!Amazon Link (Commisions earned)

Version Reviewed

English first edition

Introduction

It’s been a while since we’ve covered a really excellent game on the blog. Exodus: Proxima Centauri has broken a stream of subdued praise by virtue of being a genuinely superb game of space exploration and conquest. It’s a beefy game, with complicated rules and a lengthy playtime – but in comparison to other games of a similar kidney (Twilight Imperium in particular) it is a much more realistic prospect for a game day. We gave it four and a half stars in our review.

A game like this though is larger than life, and the sheer number of moving parts make it unlikely to get good grades in its accessibility teardown. Even now though, with almost 200 games in the bank, I’m still as surprised as anyone by what a teardown shows. Let’s not pre-judge the results – let’s delve into the darker corners of the Exodus universe and see what the research shows.

Colour Blindness

Predictably, colour blindness is a problem. Exodus supports up to six players and makes use of a palette of white, red, green, purple, yellow and blue. Deuteranopes will have a reasonably okay time with this, but both Protanopes and Tritanopes will experience colour clashes. Protanopes will find the blue and purple difficult to tell apart. Tritanopes likewise for green and blue.

Colour blindness exodus ships

The problem here is that knowing who owns which ships is absolutely critical – this isn’t just an inconvenience, it’s something that will completely undermine a player’s ability to make meaningful decisions. The danger or otherwise posed by ships in nearby hexes is something that is specific to individual players. A pair of fighters has a level of menace that is modulated by the owner’s aggression and the technology they have allocated to ships of that type. The best that can be said is that if there is only one kind of colour blindness around the table, and there is a lower player count than six, it’ll likely be possible to pick a combination of colours that minimises problems.

Colour blindness on hexes

There aren’t many compensatory strategies in the event either of those things aren’t true. Replacement pieces are not feasible given the relationship of piece to player board and technology profiles. Inquiring of ownership of pieces is not only likely to leak gameplay intention, it will likely change the overall level of tension around the table. ‘Say, who owns that unaccompanied carrier next to my armada’ is a question that is unlikely to calm anyone’s paranoia.

This though is the only place in the game where colour is likely to be a deal-breaking issue since all other game components have art, iconography, descriptions or combinations thereof that permit them to be identified.

We’ll very tentatively recommend Exodus in this category provided only one type of colour blindness must be supported and at a lower player count than the full six. Otherwise, the requirement of perceiving ownership of ships is going to be massively problematic.

Visual Accessibility

This is a hugely difficult category for Exodus: Proxima Centauri. It’s a significant issue in two player games and makes the game, in my estimation, all but completely unplayable at the full player count or close to it. Consider the image below, which shows a small subset of a full hex map of the game.

Pieces on a hex in Exodus Proxima Centauri

Look at the amount of information contained on a hex:

  • Victory point value
  • Type of resource
  • Numerical direction indicators
  • Initial number of resources
  • Current number of resources (the dice)
  • Ships in the area

There is more too – population cubes will gradually make their way onto these worlds to show ownership and control. Hexes will sometimes include centurion markers of varying strength. Ships will carry with them damage markers. That’s one single hex, and a game may involve dozens of them depending on player count. Some of this information is available through touch, but at best only presence – you’d know what ships were there but not their owners. You’d know how much population but not their allegiance.

All of this information too changes regularly. As planets have their resources extracted, the dice will be rotated to show how much is left. Ships will gain or shed damage tokens, or move around the board at varying speeds and in different directions. Population will be moved around with suitable ships, or sometimes just directly if the right upgrades are available. Importantly too the information contained in a hex is crucial, but not as crucial as what it implies. That’s something that’s only really perceivable in clusters of hexes and in relation to the technology upgrades available to players.

For example, you can check by touch or close inspection about the makeup of a particular hex. Then you need to know about all the adjacent hexes – who is there, what danger do they pose. If someone has upgraded engines you’d want to check two hexes distant. Or perhaps three. Likewise you’d want to check that with regards to your own worlds to see which are in danger and of what kind. Ascertaining opponent intention also requires you to assess all the hexes in range of their warships to see what might be more attractive prizes than what you present. Essentially, you cannot discount any part of the board when working out what’s best to do on your turn – and that’s not just in terms of conquest. Knowing that a pair of warships can strike your homeworld in the conquest phase means you might want to build ships, but likewise knowing what resource counts are available will influence the likelihood of attack. Here, the interconnectedness of systems that we lauded in the review becomes a massive visual accessibility problem.

Exodus research track

Combined with this, cards are often information dense, with important orientation implications (actions in particular) and occasionally poor contrast. Icons are often interleaved with text, but almost always in conjunction with the text itself (the phasium icon will almost always be accompanied by the word ‘phasium’ as an example). There are no hidden hands, and the technology console of each player is always public information. Sometimes though having everything open is as bad as having everything secret when it comes to visual accessibility and I think that’s the case here.

We don’t at all recommend Exodus in this category, but as is usually the case if the will is sufficiently there a visually impaired player will almost certainly find a way.

Cognitive Accessibility

Yikes. It just gets worse. Exodus is a game of sufficient complexity and complication that I’m inclined to say that it is completely inaccessible to anyone with a fluid intelligence impairment. It requires an understanding of some deeply interconnected systems. It also stresses formal and informal numeracy and literacy. You need to know addition, subtraction, seriation, multiplication, probability and more. Even if that wasn’t true, the need to pick sensible actions, reactions and conquest orders is sufficiently involving that even if everything else in the game was 100% accessible I’d still suggest it’s basically unplayable. The level of tactical and strategic understanding required to get the systemic synergy to work properly is difficult enough absent a cognitive impairment. I can’t imagine how it could be playable in any other circumstance. Consider even something as simple as bidding on a galactic policy. Knowing how much to bid, assessing who is going to bid for alternative options, and calculating what spending money would imply for your actions… that one single decision has implications that will spread out for at least two turns of play.

For those with memory impairments alone, the largest impact is going to be in the galactic policy deck – knowing the composition there is useful in terms of guessing the chance of specific policies coming out, but that’s information that’s difficult to really leverage. However, the number and sophistication of the rules in the game are a memory accessibility issue all of their own. There are so many rules and queries about those rules that the hefty manual comes with a pretty substantive FAQ section. Just imagine what that implies for the less frequently asked questions.

Exodus FAQ

So much is going on in every turn. While almost all of the information is public the sheer mass of it, and the complexity associated with acting upon it, puts a huge burden on memory.

We suspect Exodus is all but completely unplayable for those with fluid intelligence impairments and we don’t recommend it for those with memory impairments alone.

Emotional Accessibility

The PvP elements of Exodus are brutal. Losses can come out of nowhere and they can be devastating – as in, lose your entire fleet of ships levels of devastating. It’s possible too for combat to come about unexpectedly – if you move a fleet to an unclaimed system that someone else wants to claim, that battle is going to happen whether you want it or not. If you lose your ships carrying population, you lose that population too. Otherwise, all combat is intentional and targeted and players are often incentivised to go after the weakest empire around the table – winning combats awards points, and claiming planets owned by other players is safest when retaliation is likely to be ineffective.

The dice mean that battles are never predictable. You might send a fleet of massive power to take on a minor threat and find you lose ships that mathematically should have been safe. Since players allocate the damage they inflict to ships of their choice, this can turn the course of a war unexpectedly and not necessarily in your favour.

Nothing except for your research achievements are permanent in Exodus. Planets can be claimed away from you. You can be forced through galactic politics to discard accumulated resources. Your entire fleet can be battered away into nothing and other galactic policies can make it difficult to rebuild. Frustratingly, even if you do rebuild and want to take some revenge there’s no guarantee you’ll ever manage to get your fleet to the point you get a straight up fight. Everyone moves simultaneously so players can dodge out of the way of your vengeance unless you’re good at predicting their actions. Cloaking technologies too can be employed so that you can’t retaliate except with your opponent’s consent, unless you go deep and invest in radars. That research path though is costly and all it does is reinstate parity.

Weapons of mass destruction too are pointedly targeted and can serve to destroy a resource base of a player. If someone constantly stops you getting axium you can’t build ships. If they stop you getting phasium, you can’t give your ships any good upgrades. This can be done at a distance if someone invested in rocket technologies.

So… not a great game for someone that has difficulty controlling temper or is easily discouraged by events occasionally outwith their control. We don’t at all recommend it – you need to find joy in conflict and fun in catastrophe.

Physical Accessibility

There are a lot of components on the board at any one time and the hexes only nestle together. Nothing holds them in place. Similarly for ship upgrades – these get placed on the board but not solidly affixed. This is unlikely to be a major issue but it does show the precarity of your individual game state.

Ship upgrades

Hexes are dense with tokens, models and more. Fine motor control is likely to be an issue, as is gross motor control at the higher player counts. The number of hexes used increases in line with player count and at six players one edge of the board will be six hexes away from the other. Reaching over to move ships around will be a problem if you’re deep in enemy territory.

That said, mostly players tend to be confined in their own small quadrant, barring excursions to the centre. There are usually rich enough rewards locally, but the erratic distribution of the board won’t guarantee that. It’s possible all the phasium will be located around a distant player, for example. It’s not likely, but it’s possible.

When resources are gathered at the start of a turn, every exploited planet’s dice should be rotated to show how much is left before mining is required. There’s a lot of dice and cube manipulation in Exodus, along with the moving of ship models and damage tokens as one unified fleet. Card play is at least relatively light, and the tracking of research upgrades is done with the placing of cubes in empty slots in the board. I am a big fan of that.

Hex arrangements

If all of this seems like too much, verbalisation is possible and in some cases reasonably optimal. Each planet has its own name (although it might be obscured) and each type of ship has a unique descriptor (raider, fighter, etc). Ships of a particular class are identical except when they are carrying damage, and each hex also comes with numbers that can be used to indicate direction. So commands such as ‘Move my undamaged fighter from Lyra to Kana’ti via exit 3’ would serve to unambigiously permit for ship movement. However, this is usually done via a shared reveal of movement tokens. As such some method of permitting a physically impaired player to program movement without anyone being able to take advantage of secret information would be necessary. There are all kinds of ways to do this, but the easiest in circumstances with one affected player would be for everyone else to allocate their movement secretly and then the physically impaired player verbally issuing instructions that are then actioned before the other tokens are revealed. That way the same effect is had but the issue of secret tokens is resolved.

Action cards likewise should be chosen independently and then secretly revealed, but this strategy would work for that too. It does break down though if multiple players require this kind of intervention – other, more complex workarounds, would need to be workshopped.

Exodus is likely to be playable then with verbalisation, but it’s not going to be hugely convenient. We’ll tentatively recommend it. Just.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

There’s no art in the game that shows humanoid figures – it’s all handled via spaceships and symbology. The manual does default to masculinity though, both in the text and in the assumptions in the FAQ. ‘I am the guy on the left’, begins one example question.

Exodus box

In terms of price, I believe this specific version of the game is currently out of print but a new printing is expected (or may already have been released). It’s not particularly difficult to get on the secondary market though – I sold my own copy (because the digital version is just so much more convenient) for £24. I would though wait until the new printing is released before picking it up.

Currently, due to its lack of easily availability, we can’t recommend Exodus in this category. We will revisit this grade when the situation changes.

Communication

There’s some literacy required for play, and if players are taking the diplomacy part of the game seriously there’s also likely to be some negotiation around the galactic policies. Otherwise there is no formal need for communication during the game, but it’s expected given the complexity of interstellar conquest and warfare that players may wish to discuss and co-ordinate their actions on occasion.

We’ll tentatively recommend Exodus in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

Well, this is easy! Every tentative recommendation would move into a non-recommendation in the event of an intersection given the additional complexities each would introduce. We recommend the game in so few categories that basically any combinatorial scenario would invalidate our individual guidance.

Exodus is a game that has so many parts, of such complexity, played with for such a long time, that it’s easily going to be the kind of thing that exacerbates issues of discomfort or distress. It doesn’t permit dropping out, since the design of the universe depends on player count, and doesn’t permit easy saving of state either.

Not a great positive story, really.

Conclusion

Chinatown is still the least accessible game we’ve covered on Meeple Like Us but Exodus gave it a damn close run for its money. It’s a single grade change away from matching Chinatown’s execrable performance. However, when the game becomes more easily available with a new printing we’ll be able to revisit that section at least and maybe increase the gap a bit more.

Exodus: Proxima Centauri, Meeple Like Us, [CC-BY 4.0]
CategoryGrade
Colour BlindnessC-
Visual AccessibilityE
Fluid IntelligenceF
MemoryD
Physical AccessibilityC-
Emotional AccessibilityE
Socioeconomic AccessibilityD
CommunicationC

Truthfully, a game of this nature was almost certainly never going to do well in a teardown. As usual though there are numerous own goals and things that could have been done better. A game that relies so much on colour to identify player ships could have aimed for different moulds, or at least a different colour scheme. The slots provided for the research topics could have been equally effective in letting people slot in ship upgrades. It could include a more inclusive manual. It could have something (an optional ‘don’t wmd me, bro’ token as an example) that dialed down on some of the PvP aggression. There are things that could be done in many of these categories.

It’s a sad trend on Meeple Like Us that the games we tend to rate the highest often end up with the most punishing teardowns. Some of that is undeniably down to the kind of games we like – ones that have a lot going on with plenty to think and scheme about. However, all these games could be doing meaningfully better than they are. They’d never be high scorers, but every single grade improvement is enough to open up a game to hundreds, maybe thousands, of people that wouldn’t otherwise be able to play. We gave Exodus: Proxima Centauri four and a half stars in our review. It’s such a shame that so many people won’t be able to play this excellent game.


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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