Pit (1903) – Accessibility Teardown

Game Details
NamePit (1903)
Accessibility ReportMeeple Like Us
ComplexityLight [1.16]
BGG Rank1498 [6.39]
Player Count (recommended)3-8 (4-8+)
Designer(s)Edgar Cayce, Harry Gavitt and George S. Parker
Artist(s)Randy Asher, Paul Couture, Olivier Fagnère, Nick the Rat, Peekasso, Paul T. and Thoren
Buy it!Amazon Link

Changelog

6/2/2019 – Added in a great point from Darryl Shpak in the intersectional accessibility section.

Version Reviewed

Hasbro English edition 2018

A review copy of Pit was provided by Amazon Vine in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Introduction

Pit isn’t so much a game as it is an excuse for people to get together and have a good ol’ shout. Sometimes that’s all that’s need to have fun – to provide people a reason to do something they can’t normally do in real life and just pretend there’s a reason to keep score. We gave Pit three and a half stars in our review – not a great game but it does permit you to have great experiences and that can be enough.

Plus it’s a game with a frickin’ bell you get to hit when you win. Why don’t more games come with bells? Imagine a tense, taut game of Tigris and Euphrates where someone just unexpectedly slams their palm down on a bell after laying down a tile and yells ‘Ding ding ding, I’m the king!’ Or queen. Or anything really. I just think there needs to be more bell ringing in board gaming.

That’s Meeple Like Us – come for the accessibility, stay for the controversial hot takes.

Anyway, enough padding out this intro so it doesn’t clash with the info box to the side. Let’s get cracking with our accessibility teardown.

Seriously though. Ding ding.

Colour Blindness

The only component you’re dealing with where colour is an indicator are the cards themselves. These are adorned with very distinctive art, descriptors and numbers that provide all the information needed for play. In very stressful circumstances it’s possible that some of those colours might give a moment or two of hesitation as a player parses sugar versus coffee (For Tritanopes) or gold versus corn (Pronatopes) but this doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a major issue.

Cards in Pit

As such we’ll strongly recommend Pit in this category.

Visual Accessibility

Given that this is a real time game of matching cards in hand and offering sets for trade at speed and under uncertain circumstances I suspect there aren’t a lot of reasons why a visually impaired player would expect much fun to be had within. To their credit the cards are clearly laid out, well contrasted, and make effective use of art and colour to differentiate them. However, the need to do very rapid hand management and then ensure the right sets are traded away is an enormous burden in a game where speed is the key element.

Cards again

Technically the game could easily be slowed down and made turn based, but the problem here is that Pit actually isn’t a very good game. It’s just one that appears so because the frantic pace of play ensures people don’t have time to calculate or assess things. Much as how XCOM would not succeed at all as a game if the app wasn’t adding in artificial tension, Pit would collapse as an experience if its frantic pace was constrained.

Real time games, across the board, tend to be an accessibility nightmare and Pit is no exception in that respect. We strongly advise visually impaired players look elsewhere for fun. That said, if those visual impairments were minor enough that in-hand management and partition at speed was possible we’d be inclined to relax that grade somewhat.

Cognitive Accessibility

Real time games also put considerable stresses on cognitive faculties. Pit doesn’t actually need a lot of skill to play – hold on to a set you want to keep and randomly trade and the chances are you’ll do well enough to feel like you were in with a shot. There’s definitely skill and mastery that can be built here, but the level to have meaningful fun is quite low. In that respect, all Pit asks is that players can handle seriation and partition of sets in to subsets for trade. The bull and bear cards we discussed in the review are optional, as are the more complex scoring conditions associated with commodity values. That’s always one of my favourite accessibility features – where the more complex aspects are made optional (and ‘advanced’) inclusions.

The problem here though is that this has to be done at a speed set by the competence of the table as a whole, and the game absolutely requires that everyone involved is doing everything as quickly as they can or the illusion of fun will rapidly disappear. The task itself isn’t hugely challenging, but the speed at which it needs to be performed is a multiplier on cognitive complexity.

On top of this, there’s an important memory aspect that comes into play – you need to remember to who you traded things and what they traded back because that’s pretty much the only way you’ll ever be able to crack actionable information out of the game state. As I mentioned above you can certainly have fun without doing this but actually winning is a different thing. A not inconsiderable amount of the fun to be had in a game like Pit is in participation itself, and getting to ring the bell to announce you’re a winner is absolutely a part of that.

There is no such thing really as game flow in Pit – everyone does everything in real time and as such there’s no reliable structure to the play experience. There’s no rule synergy or even complicated game state – just a simple set of cards that acquire a considerable cognitive burden by virtue of how quickly everything needs to be done.

There’s no need for literacy in Pit – while cards have written text they can be matched on the basis of their face illustrations.

We tentatively recommend Pit in both of our categories of cognitive accessibility. While the real time aspect is a major issue, the task required in the most straightforward version of the game can be inherently enjoyable even if higher level tactical play is likely impossible. If someone can swap cards at speed, they should be able to get a reasonable amount of enjoyment out of Pit.

Emotional Accessibility

There can be some light frustration when you have a set you want to trade and nobody will – fundamentally all progress in the game depends on the indulgences of other players. That said, Pit is so light hearted and anarchic that it’s difficult to read too much into anything anyone does. There’s likely less conscious thought going into anything that happens than our often over-sensitive imaginations would believe.

However, Pit is also a game where I think you need to occasionally get to ring that bell. It’s such a powerful physical prop that winning is actually important. It’s a way of discharging built-up emotional energy. If you haven’t won in a while and other players keep denying you trades I can imagine that building up into something more problematic. It sounds reductive, but for certain emotional control disorders I suspect that not ringing that bell can result in emotional flashpoints.

Pit bell

Still, absent a group intention to work against a particular player the sheer random eddies of play are likely to mitigate this. Overall we’ll recommend Pit in this category.

Physical Accessibility

Unfortunately this is a massively problematic category. Absent an uninvolved supporter, verbalisation is not going to be possible and even with a supporter the lag between describing an action and carrying it out is likely to obsolete its effect. If you want to trade two cards, you need to get that trade set up before someone else leaps on the only other offer of two cards. You can’t slow the game down for reasons we’ve already talked about. It’s just not feasible to play with verbalisation.

And unfortunately this is quite a physically intensive game involving rapid arrangement of hands, passing cards between players, quickly indicating trade is possible and then racing to hit the bell when a set is made. Bear in mind that this is a game where it’s likely that at least two players will be racing for the bell at the same time since a trade can trigger the win condition for both participants. Any game where speed of reaction is a key component of victory is going to suffer massively in an accessibility teardown.

We strongly recommend players with physical accessibility considerations avoid Pit.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

The art is heavily cartoonish rather than representational of humans. I think you could read gender coding into this if you wanted but honestly if you’re worrying about the perceived gender of an oil barrel I’m not sure this section is ever going to be sufficiently critical to be advisory.

One thing I will point out though is that the Bull card shows that he is absolutely fabulous and I’m not sure if that’s making a statement or not. There are a lot of Pridey colours there but not all of them so maybe it’s just me reading too much into it. Anyway, that bull has got it going on.

Bear and bull cards

Cost wise, Pit is an absolute steal. £10 for a game that gives you an almost frictionless acceleration from ‘everyone is bored’ to ‘everyone is shouting and laughing at each other’. It plays up to eight players and requires almost nothing in terms of a learning curve before people are ready to start. It’s unlikely to be a staple of game nights but it’s a pretty amazing thing to have on a shelf for when you want to inject a little energy into proceedings.

We strongly recommend Pit in this category.

Communication

Everything in Pit will be happening at the same time, with people shouting over each other to get their trades through. Communication is only ever as complicated as articulating a number, but it has to be done at speed and at cross purposes with other players. A deal you make is a deal they don’t so they are absolutely incentivised to make sure they’re heard and you aren’t. There’s no time for any deeper or more rigorous communication regimes, because the winner is the player that makes the set the fastest.

We don’t recommend Pit in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

The issues of real time mechanisms in games continue to be a massive problem and Pit hasn’t done anything to change that state of affairs. However, pretty much all of the intersecting complications we would normally consider here are addressed by the individual categories. The only categories in which we do recommend Pit are socioeconomic, colour blindness and emotional. Our recommendations for cognitive accessibility are tentative. For those, if they intersected with an emotional impairment we’d certainly be inclined to be more guarded in those recommendations. Winning will be more difficult with even minor cognitive impairments in either of our categories, and as we discussed in the emotional accessibility section… winning is a way to safely discharge some of the nervous energy upon which Pit is built.

Darryl Shpak over on Twitter also had an excellent point that is true of real-time games in general:

That’s a genuinely insightful consideration – accessibility issues will often create situations of inconsistency with a game state and very few of these games, if any, are much good at routing around this problem. It’s like grit in a petrol tank.

Aside from this, Pit plays very quickly – very quickly. Rounds can be over in a matter of minutes and an entire game of Pit is a series of rounds with accumulating score. It takes up very little space – really, the physical space that people take up is more significant than what Pit requires. Provided everyone can reach the bell with roughly equal opportunity this can be played in as cramped quarters as the player count will permit.

Conclusion

Well, there aren’t a lot of surprises here. Pit needs you to work very fast to accomplish goals in frantic situations and as you might imagine that has accessibility considerations across all of our categories. The resulting table may make grim reading but it’s not exactly unexpected reading.

Pit, Meeple Like Us, [CC-BY 4.0]
CategoryGrade
Colour BlindnessA
Visual AccessibilityD
Fluid IntelligenceC
MemoryC
Physical AccessibilityE
Emotional AccessibilityB
Socioeconomic AccessibilityA
CommunicationD

I still hold out hope that there will some day be a real time game I can recommend widely to disabled or impaired gamers, but realistically that seems like a pipe dream. I’m not at all convinced that the need to do something challenging at speed is at all compatible with the criteria we use in these teardowns. All I can say is – if any designer comes up with what they believe to be a fun and accessible real time game I will be very interested in taking a look at it for the blog. It’ll be like getting to pet a unicorn.

A lot of Pit’s fun is bound up in the fact it doesn’t give you time to really think about what you’re doing. Instead it presents you with a good-natured illusion and relies on the inherent anarchy to make it fun. And it works, too – we gave Pit three and a half stars in our review. Unfortunately though ‘nonsense trading at speed’ is a genre we can’t recommend in this particular article, and possibly never will.

Ding. Ding.

Ding.

Loser loser, chicken… bruiser?

A review copy of Pit was provided by Amazon Vine 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.