Junk Art (2016) – Accessibility Teardown

Game Details
NameJunk Art (2016)
ReviewMeeple Like Us
ComplexityLight [1.26]
BGG Rank395 [7.48]
Player Count2-6
Designer(s)Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim
Artist(s)Philippe Guérin and Chris Quilliams
Buy it!Amazon Link

Version Reviewed

English-Only plastic edition

Introduction

We made the argument in the review that all stacking games are basically the same game, and that fundamentally they were more about the collapse than they were about the building up. Junk Art is a great game and I’d recommend it to your attention, but I’d be hard pressed to recommend it over any number of other equivalent games. In the end, they’re all about the sane call to oblivion.

Yeah, we took a pretty dark angle on stacking games in our review. Still, we gave Junk Art four stars so you know – reasons to be cheerful and all that.

Ah, but the review is only part of our coverage here and dexterity games tend to have hard time excelling in our teardowns. We’ve addressed a few by this point – Rhino Hero and Rhino Hero Super Battle; Ice Cool; Meeple Circus; and more. We’re still on the lookout for the perfectly accessible game in this broad family. Let’s check to see if Junk Art is what we’ve been waiting for.

Colour Blindness

There’s an interesting feature of Junk Art here in that that colour is an important part of the game (each of your junk cards is colour coded) and the palette chosen is problematic. However, that doesn’t actually have to be a big deal when you’re playing.

Colour blindness and Junk Art cards

Each of the different colours has the same set of shapes – indeed, one of the game modes depends on an equivalence of the pieces available. As such, if a card indicates a particular colour of shape then it’s okay from the perspective of stacking to grab any matching shape. That makes the game a bit easier in some areas (you have multiple valid pieces) and harder in others (the brief stuttering of activity when the specific piece you were cognitively primed to grab isn’t there because someone else took it). It would dampen down some of the challenge, but as I outlined in the review I don’t really believe these games really find their emotional payload in the construction.

Junk Art pieces

As such, a game that is broadly inaccessible to those with colour blindness can be fully playable provided everyone is willing to just ignore colours. There is no game mode where it’s necessary to identify colours other than as a consequence of junk cards, although there is one that requires people to gather up their own set of coloured pieces. That’s unlikely to be a problematic mini-game since everyone will handle a lot of the partitioning of colours themselves.

Colour blindness and individual pieces

We recommend Junk Art in this category, with the proviso that people don’t overly mind matching on shape alone rather than colour and shape.

Visual Accessibility

Whether turn based or real time, Junk Art is going to be problematic in this category. It’s possible to aim for a more accessible world tour by removing the real-time mini-games from the deck, and it’s possible in the turn-based mode for someone to provide the pieces to be placed to a visually impaired player. However, this is unlikely to be a fully effective solution for several reasons.

The first is that physical position around a table has an impact on gathering up pieces, and many of the game modes penalise pieces being knocked out of position. To reach over to grab a piece for another player and pass it to them is an additional vector of risk with regards to upsetting what people have built. That risk gets greater the larger and less secure a table is. Structures can be fragile enough that simply disturbing the air around them is a danger.

The second reason is that having the piece in hand is the easy part of the procedure. It then has to be placed on a structure that is likely very precarious and with imbalances and biases in its design that players will want to stress or avoid as it gets built.

Balanced tower in Junk Art

Consider the structure above. It’s about as stable as it can be because it’s balanced on each side with a twin. However, the difference between placing a piece on one side of that and placing one to bridge between its two towers is considerable. When considering where to place a piece, a visual inspection of what’s already there is helpful and a physical inspection is only going to carry with it the risk of the entire thing collapsing.

We don’t recommend Junk Art in this category.

Cognitive Accessibility

There’s a more positive story here because the rules of Junk Art are, in all circumstances, very straightforward. Hand to eye co-ordination is important, and so is the ability to do spatial processing, sometimes within time constraints. Beyond that though every game (save for the one that pairs up to Flick ‘em Up for a kind of mega-game mode) has a simple setup, a simple goal, and a simple win condition. There’s no explicit need for numeracy (tokens are provided for all score) and no need for literacy either. One or two game modes are a little more complex than the baseline but they can be omitted from a world tour if they’re likely to be problematic.

Some of the game modes are real-time in that they are based on the fastest player. As with the complex game modes these can be removed from the world tour if that’s considered an issue. Stripping out the numerically complex and real-time games still leaves a healthy number of possibilities to retain replayability.

Other than this, there are few worries in this category – the rules put its complexity a shade above games like Rhino Hero and Rhino Hero Super Battle but considerably lower than something like Meeple Circus. And given the world tour structure, it’s very cognitively adaptable. You can, for example, pick the three easiest game modes and simply play with those. Play with them again and again and familiarity will smooth over any rough edges that the rule-set may have.

We’ll recommend Junk Art in both of our categories of cognitive accessibility.

Emotional Accessibility

We have a friend who has a four year old kid. We were setting up for game night, and since he was too young to join in with anything we were planning to do (Chinatown was the main game planned for the evening and I suspected it might be a touch beyond him) we had to wait until he went to bed before really getting down to play. Until that happened, he and I were busy building up random structures with the junk art pieces. At one point his fell down, and mine was still standing. In a huff, he threw one of his pieces at my structure and brought it crashing down. It was pretty funny and I empathized but it does capture an important element of Junk Art – it’s only fun if you can contextualise the value of the collapse. I talked in the review about the Call of the Void and it’s good a four year old isn’t troubled by such things. If you can’t take joy in the inevitability of failure though, Junk Art is going to be a problematic game because it’s all about setting yourself up for that.

The good news is that most people can enjoy the collapse of something they have built, and that’s a cathartic experience. Junk Art provides a variety of collaborative and individual exercises for this, but some of the city tour elements are better than others in this regard. For example, in Paris and in Pisa the first player to be eliminated is the one that ends the round and everyone else get points. This isn’t just ‘coming in last’. This is ‘Everyone wins except you’ and too many of those in a row can really take the shine off the experience.

Some game modes have a draft or the passing of cards on to other players and as such you might end up taking possession of an impossible task through someone’s explicit targeting. It’s not ‘take that’ so much as ‘have this’ when the ‘this’ is something you absolutely don’t want to have. In this case it’s only targeted by table order though so it’s not necessarily a personal thing.

There’s precious little balancing in the scoring too. A player in Monaco can end up with six points if they build the tallest structure the fastest, whereas the winner in Amsterdam only gets three. In Paris and Pisa, as outlines above, you can get three points for simply not having a piece fall. It’s possible for someone to win (or not lose) a majority of rounds but still have fewer points than someone that happened to win a lucrative round. Points diferentials can be pretty large too, especially since the loser in any game will get no points at all. That said, margins of winning tend to be quite small unless someone has a run of especially bad luck.

We’ll recommend Junk Art in this category, with the above caveats.

Physical Accessibility

Unsurprisingly we don’t have anything positive to say here. Even if the game is stripped down to its simplest modes, with all the real-time elements removed, fundamentally it’s a game of fine-grained motor control with occasional moments where gross-motor control is going to be important. At least in the latter case the structures rarely get large enough to require orbiting the table looking for a good angle of attack, but the fine-grained issues are significant. Balancing always has to be done on the fixed base provided for each player (or for the entire table in the collaborative cities). The random ordering of pieces means that you’re often in the position of having to do some extremely careful balancing and placement. The pieces are erratic in size, shape and weighting. Your ability to play well (such as not making mistakes or building tall structures) has a direct impact in winning. Verbalisation is an effective strategy for communicating what you want to do but not one that brings with it any of the fun of actually playing. Here, the tactile thrill of placement cannot be separated from the wider context of enjoyability.

We don’t at all recommend Junk Art in this category for those with fine-grained motor control issues. Those with other physical accessibility considerations will likely be able to play in a lot of circumstances provided the game is configured to remove real-time and collaborative elements.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

There’s no much gendered art in the game – mainly just on the cover where men and women are prominently shown. As are people (presumably the eponymous junk artists) of a range of ethnicities. The manual does not default to masculinity, adopting the second person perspective throughout. Good job there.

Junk art box

And this is also one of a number of games that come in two different versions – an expensive, prestige version made of wood and an affordable version made of plastic. Now, it’s not as straightforward to say ‘Thus good’ because there are tradeoffs here. The wooden version is a bit more environmentally sustainable but that comes at the cost of affordability, and the plastic version is vice versa. The wooden version, which comes in a nice and attractive box, has an RRP of around £60. The plastic version is often available for under £20 if you catch it on a deal

This is a great idea in that it lets people scale their investment to what’s feasible. It’s just a shame there’s no easy way to reconcile value for money and environmentalism in your choices. Let’s assume you’re looking at the plastic version (which is what we reviewed here) – £20 is good value for money for a game that supports anything from two to six players gracefully. The value proposition slants more negatively with the wooden version but that’s entirely within the control of the buyer.

We strongly recommend Junk Art in this category.

Communication

There’s no formal need for literacy and no need for communication during the game except for a way to indicate that something is to start and something is to end. That can be offloaded onto an external tool if necessary, although for both of these speed of reactions will be important which will likely be a factor. These city cards don’t need to be included in the draw though if they will be an issue.

We strongly recommend Junk Art in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

The two most problematic categories here are visual accessibility and physical accessibility, and since those are also the two key intersectional categories (as in, most problematic intersections will involve them) this limits the number of combinations we need to consider. My own real concern would be that in cases where a cognitive impairment intersects with an emotional condition there may be reinforcing effects that make both issues more of a problem. I’d be wary in that circumstance but not necessarily to the point that I’d advise people definitely avoid playing Junk Art. Just that they would want to consider the implications.

Junk Art plays very quickly, and it can be scaled up and down based on the length of a world tour, or by having repeated stages. It does take up a lot of space though, and that’s an issue if a long world tour dovetails with a discomforting flare-up. The game does reasonably elegantly support players dropping in and out though because the majority of game modes contain some method by which players are eliminated. The game state resets between each leg of the journey. The accumulation of points over the world tour is the only persistent state that lasts longer than the few minutes of an individual city stage.

Conclusion

Well, Junk Art does quite well in a lot of these categories but it falls down, as expected, in the same areas as almost every dexterity game we’ve examined. It requires hand-eye co-ordination, fine-grained motor control, and is resistant to physical inspection. As such, it does poorly for those with visual and physical accessibility concerns. It does rather well in every other category though.

Junk Art, Meeple Like Us, [CC-BY 4.0]
CategoryGrade
Colour BlindnessB-
Visual AccessibilityD
Fluid IntelligenceB
MemoryB
Physical AccessibilityE
Emotional AccessibilityB
Socioeconomic AccessibilityA
CommunicationA

Is there such a thing as a dexterity game that will ever manage to get a recommendation in these trouble categories? I hope we do see one – my goal on Meeple Like Us isn’t to emand every game is accessible to everyone. It’s to do what I can to ensure everyone has an accessible game of every kind that they’d like to play. And also, of course, that they can find those accessible games easily. Currently dexterity games for those with visual and physical impairments is one of the hardest asks on the site. I hold out hope that some genius designer is going to surprise me with something elegant here at some point but I confess that hope is dwindling.

We liked Junk Art a lot – we gave it four stars in our review. All stacking games though are basically the same and if you just want a fun game there are plenty out there in this category. Presumably though you’re reading this because you want a fun, accessible, game. Junk Art doesn’t satisfy every desire in that category, but its design is sufficiently flexible that it works well for a lot of people and that’s worth celebrating.

 


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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