News @ 11 - Accessibility Teardown

News @ 11 (2015) – Accessibility Teardown

Game Details
NameNews@11 (2015)
ReviewMeeple Like Us
ComplexityLight [1.00]
BGG Rank8873 [6.91]
Player Count (recommended)3-6 (3-4)
Designer(s)John R. Burns, Jonathan Gilmour, Travis Magrum, Ian Moss and James Schoch
Artist(s)Uncredited
Buy it!Amazon Link

Version Reviewed

English edition 2018

Introduction

News @ 11 is great when it’s played by a compatible group but it’s the kind of thing I imagine would get a much better reception in a drama club than it would a gaming meetup. It puts a lot of pressure on people to be creative and funny and it doesn’t give a lot of tools to help make that happen. It’s good, don’t get me wrong – the fun is easily worth three stars, and perhaps more if everyone is really feeling it. In terms of fragility though, those stars aren’t so much gold as they are gold foil.

If you cared about that stuff though you’d be reading our review. You’re looking for a different kind of story here. With no further ado, let me throw you over to our accessibility correspondent for our in-depth coverage of the News @ 11 Teardown. Over to you Michael!

Thanks, Michael!

Colour Blindness

Colour blindness isn’t a problem at all. Each card is well structured and shows the category to which it belongs without using colour as a primary channel of information.

Colour Blindness in News @ 11

We strongly recommend News @ 11 in this category.

Visual Accessibility

All the information presented in the game is visual, but the good news is that it’s pretty easy to work around this. When writing new keywords for the cue cards it’s typically done as a call and response exercise. ‘I need a soft object’, and then when someone suggests one that the appropriate anchor likes it’s written down in permanent marker. The person writing it doesn’t need to be the person choosing it… that’s useful if you have bad hand-writing like I do, or simply can’t spell like some of the people I have played with.

TARRANSULA

During play, you’ll have at most six words you need to work into a segment. Technically speaking your cue cards should be face-down but in my experience there’s nothing lost by playing them open except that it gives people a chance to consider how they might cross-reference their story with yours. That actually has a powerful normalising effect on the game. Essentially every round a player needs to work two, four or six words into a segment that is assigned to them by the lead anchor. Provided there is sighted support at the table this is something that even a player with total blindness can feasibly do.

To inform of segments, the lead anchor will generally verbally announce this with suitable context, so all a player need do is be ready when they are called upon to contextualise the words they are given in the segment to which they have been assigned.

We’ll strongly recommend News @ 11 in this category.

Cognitive Accessibility

News @ 11 stresses a lot of cognitive faculties, including reading, the ability to be creative under constraints, and clever or at least correct with vocabulary . It benefits strongly from cross, self and historical referencing. It needs the ability to contextualise words with concepts that may not have any obvious relationship – for example, it might be necessary to reference the words ‘Tortoise’ and ‘Uprising’ to a sports segment. ‘Arrogant’ and ‘Sign’ to a food and culture segment. To be fair there’s no such thing as a ‘win’ here – you do this for the fun of the thing or not at all. The implicit goal though is ‘make people laugh’ and it doesn’t offer a lot of help in that department.

Game state isn’t complex, but the ‘news context’ can become so as the jokes and references start to add up. There’s no way to track this during play, and indeed short of recording and playing back sessions I’m not sure how one could. To make jokes in this kind of scenario you need to be able to remember not only what other people say but work out when it creates a comedy juxtaposition in what you’re about to say yourself.

Game flow is erratic, with the lead anchor choosing who is to deliver a segment on a whim, and the producer introducing additional complexities when it seems appropriate to do so.

The game need not be played with the producer cards, and it’s certainly possible to make the job of storytelling easier by giving people their segments in advance and giving them a chance to think over what they want to say. However, the humour of News @ 11 thrives in seeing what people do with scant preparation and should you decide to give people preparation time it becomes a very different game. I can imagine certain teaching scenarios within which this would be very helpful, but it’s not the game as described in the review in any meaningful sense.

If you’re not playing it in that way though, the need to construct a coherent narrative from elements likely written for their comedy value. That seems like an unreasonably high amount of sophisticated literacy even at its most perfunctory expression. To really accelerate towards the fun that News @ 11 can enable, everyone is required to be fluently improvisational.

There is at least no need for numeracy, no scoring or synergies (except for story beats), and no tokens that need to be tracked.

We don’t recommend News @ 11 in either of our categories of cognitive accessibility.

Emotional Accessibility

This is a hard category here because the whole model of News @ 11 is that of barely contained disaster improvisation. You’re thrown a segment, usually without much in the way of warning, and then everyone watches you intently to see what you do with the keywords you have. You have limited time to prepare, and the end goal is inherently social – to craft something enjoyable (ideally funny) from inelegant materials. Players are absolutely the centre of attention while they’re giving their segments. That, as you might imagine, is a massive problem when people are shy. The spotlight gets targeted on them, someone says ‘TIME TO SHINE!’ and it’s now their job make everyone laugh.

Shyness isn’t something that’s often an accessibility factor in games, but it absolutely is here. It’s interesting, to me at least, how rarely we need to consider that in board games considering that it is an essentially socially activity.

If the producer cards are being employed then there’s every chance that whatever they manage to do will be undermined by someone throwing a hand-grenade into the proceedings. It can be stressful to pull off anything. It can also be profoundly disheartening to find that you don’t even raise a polite chuckle from what you said. The producer role exists to mitigate this, but there isn’t enough room in the game for two producers. As it currently exists in the box the producer role is a nice idea but doesn’t have enough meat to really solve the participation problem.

This is a major issue, but aside from this there aren’t a lot of trouble areas to consider. It’s a non-scoring game of improvisational comedy and so few of our usual considerations pertain. There’s no real way for players to gang up on each other. It’s certainly possible though for the recurring story-words to ‘victimise’ another player by playing on any of their embarrassments. You can make them part of the meta-jokes by writing them into the cards. It’s also possible for a lead anchor to attempt to pick the hardest possible segment for a player, and this in turn can lead to cycles of low-grade bullying.

Upsetting themes are certainly possible in the game, but this depends on the stories people tell and the cue-cards used. We’ve discussed this before when talking about Cards Against Humanity and Funemployed. Even a game which has completely neutral cards can still lead to horrifying content if someone playing wants it to be so. The decks in News @ 11 will eventually become an expression of its most regular participants and there’s a chance that it can lead to tensions if the legacy of one group becomes a problem for a new group. There’s nothing to stop players incorporating erotic content, for example, which will then become something that is just randomly dealt into the hands of other players later on.

An erotic attraction to Mary Poppins card

Everyone in the game gets a roughly equal chance to play, although a producer can modify this to some extent by forcing another player to cut over another or require them to quickly wrap up whatever they were saying. If that’s the kind of thing that’s likely to happen in a group though it’s a feature of the people not the game.

We’ll very tentatively recommend News @ 11 in this category.

Physical Accessibility

There are no real problems here – this is a game that is all about talking. The sole issue would be that a player with physical impairments might not be able to easily deal out segment cards but there is no reason they can’t be announced verbally instead. Similarly with producer cards – their effects can be easily verbalised, and this can even be done thematically with a conversational fill.

‘I’m sorry we’re having technical difficulties so we will need to pass you back to our lead anchor for a short period of time while we resolve the issue’

Otherwise, at most a player will have three cards in front of them and all these do is indicate their keywords for their segment. A card-holder can be employed to keep these secret but there’s little negative impact to be had in playing with open cues.

We strongly recommend News @ 11 in this category.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

There’s no art in News @ 11, not really. Some abstract representations for the producer cards but nothing else. The manual makes use of the second person perspective,and the example names used are even somewhat inclusive – a Graceia and an Abel are the names used to illustrate how the game works.

As best I know, the game is only reliably available from the publisher’s website. I have seen copies floating around Amazon (indeed, there’s a link to one in this post) but stock and pricing isn’t necessarily reliable. I got mine as a Kickstarter, but at $19.99 it’s a reasonable price for something that supports so many players. However, it also has to be said that you’re paying for a lot of dead air in the box and I haven’t seen many indications there are expansions coming to justify that. That dead air becomes especially galling when you consider postage costs – I almost didn’t back the Kickstarter because of the P&P but I certainly wouldn’t buy the game considering that to ship it to me from the site is $25.33 – a total price of $45.28 for a game that is made up of fewer than 200 cards.

News @ 11 box

The cost of getting hold of it outside of the US means that we can only just recommend News @ 11 in this category. Moderate that guidance in a more generous direction if you see a physical copy for sale in your immediate vicinity.

Communication

Communication is heavily stressed during play, as is literacy in its more sophisticated and emergent forms. A good round of News @ 11 will make use of homonyms, antonyms, callbacks and more. It’ll find the humour in misdirection and intentional misinterpretation of cue cards. And all of that it’ll package up into ideally a few tight sentences of appropriate news coverage that references the news coverage that has already happened elsewhere in the game. It asks a lot of players both in terms of dealing with their own segment and listening to others.

However, it does have one mitigating factor in that it doesn’t require any of this to be done simultaneously. Each player gets their own uninterrupted segment in which they can deliver their keywords and while interruptions are possible from the producer they’re not at all mandatory. Laughter (in the ideal game) may make it difficult for some players to fully hear all the nuance of another player’s segment but a convention of pausing until it passes can be adopted to help limit distracting noises. You can treat every utterance like you’re waiting for the laugh track to die down, although that’s not necessarily going to lead to the most enjoyable outcome.

We don’t recommend News @ 11 in this category, but I certainly believe that under ideal circumstances it’s likely to be broadly playable.

Intersectional Accessiibility

There are no obvious intersectional issues that aren’t already covered by an individual category – it’s a very simple game really with very few components. The stresses it puts on players are focused around issues of literacy and shyness more than interacting with the game itself.

News @ 11 plays reasonably quickly, but it has to be considered in terms of the numbers of players. Every new player means three news segments and that can cause things to grind on. A more nuanced issue is that as the player count increases so too does the cognitive cost just because the number of possible jokes and references and intersections of references increase exponentially.

News @ 11 does support dropping out, provided there are enough players to finish off the game, because the area of game impact of a player is contained within their segment and the possibilities it opens up. It’s easy to simply leave out a player for a future round or have someone else tag in.

Conclusion

It’s a story of ups and downs here – communication skills get stressed excessively and it can be upsetting for people to be the centre of attention trying to make other people laugh. Plus, News @ 11 is kind of like a game about meme generation – you want your stories to become ‘memetic’ so they make everyone else’s more interesting. It’s a blend of skills that not everyone will feel able to offer.

News @ 11, Meeple Like Us, [CC-BY 4.0]
Colour BlindnessA
Visual AccessibilityA-
Fluid IntelligenceD
MemoryD
Physical AccessibilityA-
Emotional AccessibilityC-
Socioeconomic AccessibilityB-
CommunicationD

Aside from that though there’s so little in the box that it’s hard to find reasons to object. Games like this tend to do reasonably well in a number of these categories because social support becomes increasingly powerful when a game is largely just about being clever with conversation. No need for hidden hands, secret rules, or cunning counterplays. Your job is to talk to your friends, but under different constraints than usual.

We liked News @ 11 enough to give it three stars in our review, but the reasons we couldn’t give it more are basically the same reasons why it didn’t thrive in certain segments of this teardown. Play, for a given generosity of the word, is certainly possible for more people than this teardown might imply. Playing and it still being fun is a dramatically different prospect.


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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