July 17, 2023

Making Accessible Board Games

- Erika Teal

Staff members playing an accessible board game

Summer is here, which for me, means it’s time for my friends and I to plan our annual camping trip. This includes conversations like what we will cook, who will bring what equipment, and of course, which board games we will bring. This is the same conversation we have for New Years Day, Fourth of July, and Halloween. My friends and I are board game people.

So, naturally, when I began teaching students with visual impairments, I wanted to figure out how to play games with them, too. This turned into a hobby of researching and creating tactile games. I’ve been developing a collection using my crafting skills and products from 64 Oz Games, who make accessibility kits for many popular games.

How to make an accessible board game

When making an accessible game, the first step is to narrow the game down to the most important elements. What is the purpose of the game? What are the players trying to achieve? What does winning look like? After that, the different elements of the game need to be considered. When I’m working on the games, I consider these elements to be the most important: instructions, pieces, boards, cards, dice, and scorekeeping.

The Instructions

First there are instructions. 64 Oz Games uses a unique approach where each kit comes with a QR code to digitally access the instructions. Some games can include brailled instructions, such as the Uno set produced by the National Federation of the Blind. Some board games even include video tutorials on how to play them, which can also be a good resource.

The Pieces

Next is the pieces. There are several questions to be considered. If you touch the pieces, are they unique and identifiable? Some options for that are to add markers like bump dots and beads or 3D print new pieces. The American Printing House for the Blind has a game kit featuring pieces with pegs in different shapes. Another question is, how do the pieces move along the board? Consider strategies like Velcro dots or poster tack to keep pieces from getting shifted unintentionally. Finally, how will the pieces be organized? Make sure the game has an organized system when it is packed away so pieces can be found and identified. Some options include labeled bags and small trays.

The Board

Then there is the board itself. Keep in mind the most important elements of the board; some boards have a lot of decorative elements or illustrations that aren’t essential for game play. Use Wikki Stix, clay, or hot glue to mark key areas of the board. Some of the 64 Oz Game kits include plastic board overlays with raised elements. Use trays for the cards instead of leaving them in a stack that could be knocked over. Make sure the board is equipped to keep the player pieces organized. Create braille labels or a tactile key if they will help players.

Cards can be brailled on directly or can include braille labels to give information about what the card achieves. Scrapbooking scissors can give them different shaped scalloped edges if there are different types of cards in play. Several sites with tools for accessibility, including the American Printing House for the Blind, have holders for cards which will help keep them organized for the player. Wherever possible, make sure there is a way to contain the cards such as a tray, to prevent the stack from falling over.

Dice are one of my favorite things to modify. On Thingiverse, there are several free files for 3D printed tactile dice, both with raised dots and with braille. The DOTS RPG Project is a dedicated team for the purpose of creating tactile dice and other gaming elements specifically for tabletop gaming like Dungeons and Dragons, where dice with more than six sides are frequently needed. There are also solutions such as digital dice rollers, many of which can be accessed on a phone with the results read aloud to you. Even Alexa can roll dice when prompted. When rolling dice, make sure they are rolled into a tray or box to make sure the dice can be found again.

The Scorekeeping

Lastly, there is scorekeeping. If a game has a unique scoring system, such as Farkle or Yahtzee, make sure the card has the information the players will need. Braille can be used, but if braille will crowd the scorecard, consider a tactile key as well, where bump dots or a raised shape can represent something that can be explained further on a nearby braille sheet or card. If the score is totaled as you play, tools like an abacus, a string of beads, or a Pop It can be used. An accessible calculator can be used as well.

Testing the Game

An essential part of making an accessible game is, of course, to playtest it! Future In Sight hosted a Blindfold Board Game Day for the staff so people with different levels of vision could provide their input into some of my designs. Sighted players wore blindfolds and players with low and no vision were able to play alongside them. It was a great experience for me as the game creator. I got some great feedback on different ways to modify my pieces and which tactile markers were and weren’t working the way I wanted them to. These extra opinions are absolutely critical and will lead me to making some adjustments for a few of my games.

It’s been a great experience finding ways to merge one of my favorite hobbies with the work that I do. My friends and I consider board games to be an essential part of our social gatherings, and I believe that anyone and everyone should be able to join in the fun. I’m happy that I can connect to my students and to Future In Sight clients over this great pastime, and I hope to keep finding new, inventive ways to make my favorite games playable regardless of the player’s level of vision.

For a list of group meetings and activities we offer to those of all ages who are blind and visually impaired, such as accessible gaming, visit our calendar. If you or someone you love is experiencing vision loss and could benefit from our services, please contact Future In Sight at [email protected] or 603-224-4039 today!

About the Author: Erika Teal is a Teacher for the Visually Impaired at Future In Sight.