I’m special. I’m in 10% of the population who are colour blind. Within that elite group I’m in the largest sub-group, commonly known as red/green colour blind and scientifically known as deuteranopia. There are a range of other types of steadily increasing rarity, ending with those who suffer from achromatopsia (ie, see no colour at all – about 1 in 30,000 or about 2000 people in the UK). Ultimately, this means you will find at least one or two of us in any average gaming group. In 2016’s UK Games Expo there would have been over 1,000 colour blind attendees.

In normal life this has little impact. Some people misunderstand what being colour blind means. I don’t struggle at traffic lights, I can see grass and the leaves on trees. I just don’t necessarily know what colour everything is (tree trunks, wooden flooring and tables look green to me rather than brown) though I cannot tell when my rechargeable batteries are fully charged. The biggest impact it has arguably had on my life is the fact I am blocked from certain professions – my dreams of being a Royal Navy helicopter pilot never got off the ground!

For me, I struggle with reds, greens and browns. For other colour blind gamers, like tritanopes, there will be problems with blues, yellows and purples as well. These are all common colours and shades in board gaming, which can be a genuine problem. From simple issues like not knowing which colour each player is to more problematic ones where strategic decisions are made incorrectly due to confusing colours on the board, cards or other components. As a colour blind gamer I frequently have to get other players around the table to confirm the colour of something before I commit to a course of action and in some cases this can also give away my strategy to the other players too. Being honest, I can also use this to my advantage in some instances, by steering them away from my possible strategy in a double bluff kind of way, but that’s just between you and me!

Top left: normal. Top right: Protanopia. Bottom left: Deuteranopia. Bottom right: Tritanopia

In the modern age of hobby gaming it is heartening to see that many designers and publishers take into account colour blindness when creating their games. This can be in the form of carefully considered colour palettes, use of iconography alongside colour and simple fixes like adding names to cards or components. However, it’s all too often not considered in modern game designs.

In the first edition of Ticket To Ride, the venerable favourite of many a gamer, there was a big problem. The chosen palette of colours was terrible for colour blind play. The red, orange and green tracks in particular were very difficult for colour blind gamers. Days of Wonder were thankfully quick to realise this and in subsequent editions they added unique icons to each of the colour tracks on the board to match the cards to ensure disadvantaged players were able to spot the difference and know which cards applied to which track on the map.

Other games haven’t felt the need to make iconographic choices in their games’ presentation, but have ensured the palette choice was carefully made. Days Of Wonder selected primary shades of colours used for the meeples in Five Tribes, so while there are green and red pieces, the differences are clear enough to our faulty eyes. Similarly, but with a slightly different colour strategy, Stonemaier Games made a conscious effort to ensure the player colours for Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia were clear and different for the exact purpose of making the game colour blind friendly.

On the other hand, one of my favourite designers is Antoine Bauza, who creates wonderful family weight games with gorgeous art and components. Takenoko was one of the first hobby games in my collection and to this day is one of the worst offenders for colour blindness. The use of pastel shades of yellow, green and red for the cards and tiles makes it almost impossible for colour blind players to differentiate from one another. I’m frequently finding myself attempting to score a green gardener card when it is actually a yellow one all along. While I can appreciate the design style of minimalism, a simple fix would have been some kind of iconography on the bamboo, an initial on the card (Y, G, R) or some other method to make it clear to players which colour they are aiming for.

The pastel palette for Takenoko is a real problem for one in ten gamers

Another of Antoine’s games does consider the colour blind gamer very well though. In Hanabi, a very colour orientated game with players attempting to play the correct coloured and numbered fireworks collaboratively, the different coloured suits also have unique firework patterns and employ good iconography.

Another recent bad example is Roll For The Galaxy. This game uses a palette of green, red, brown, purple and cyan for dice and tiles. I get that they’ve done this to tie it more closely with Race For The Galaxy, its card based older brother, but that combination of colours is about as awful as you could imagine for a colour blind gamer. It is impossible for me to tell the difference between the different dice and different tiles.

Another of Antoine’s games does consider the colour blind gamer very well though. In Hanabi, a very colour orientated game with players attempting to play the correct coloured and numbered fireworks collaboratively, the different coloured suits also have unique firework patterns and employ good iconography.

Another recent bad example is Roll For The Galaxy. This game uses a palette of green, red, brown, purple and cyan for dice and tiles. I get that they’ve done this to tie it more closely with Race For The Galaxy, its card based older brother, but that combination of colours is about as awful as you could imagine for a colour blind gamer. It is impossible for me to tell the difference between the different dice and different tiles.

Hues, tone? We have a problem!
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