Gaming While Learning Disabled: 3 Tabletop Games that Just Don’t Work

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Guest blogger: James Cole is a freelance writer living in Barrie, Ontario, Canada. He was diagnosed with a Learning Disability in Grade 4, in the wild and lawless 1980’s. James belongs to two board gaming groups, just started running a D&D campaign, and is wildly uncomfortable writing about himself in the third person. Yelling at James can be accomplished on Twitter, and you can judge his board game collection on Board Game Geek under the handle talentdepot.

I’ve made mistakes.

I try to be strategic in my board game purchases, but it’s complicated to navigate because of my Learning Disability.

I was diagnosed with a visual processing LD in grade school. Broadly translated, I have difficulty learning things I’ve seen. That includes basic things like math, spelling, and attaching people’s names and faces.

These three games are good, maybe even great games. Their reputation and reviews got me to purchase them. But they were unsuitable for me because of my LD. As a result, they’ve left my collection.

The Resistance

A classic of social deduction, The Resistance is a party game of secret roles. Players are randomly on the side of the heroic resistance trying to overthrow a corrupt government, or on the side of government spies trying to sabotage the resistance. Resistance players are trying to get only Resistance members on three out of five missions. If they succeed, they win. But if a single spy gets on a mission, the spy could secretly vote for that mission to fail. If three missions fail, the Spies win.

Close up of The Resistance board, where there are two blue fist resistance tokens and two red circular tokens.
(insert contemporary political joke here) (Image Credit: BGG user Kaldan (Artem Safarov))

One subtle challenge my LD has thrown at me is that body language is lost on me. The Resistance, one of the purist social deduction games, takes advantage of that. Flushing out a liar based on nothing but a players behavior makes me a participant in this game, rather then a player.

Even if I added a pen and paper and tried to track player behavior, Clue-style, it’s still not accessible. Spies have the ability to vote to succeed on a mission, making the ability to spot a lie more important then tracking player actions.

Qwirkle

Qwirkle is a tile-laying game with tiles in combinations of shapes and colors.  Players take turns laying sets of tiles that either match in color or shape, without repeating individual tiles with each placement. Points are scored for the number of tiles in each new set created, allowing players to play strategically by capitalizing on previously played tiles.

Multicolored square tiles with different colored shapes on them, set up like a Scrabble board
I swear, if you nudge this table, I will scream. (Image Credit: BGG user edroz (Ed Rozmiarek))

It is a kids game, but it can be played competitively with adults.

One part of my LD is pattern recognition. In Qwirkle, that’s identifying scoring opportunities.

I can play it at a basic level to get the most points. But if I try playing it with adults at an advanced level, difficulties begin. When trying to both maximize my own points and deny opponents opportunities, I lock up and grind the game to a halt.

I have to choose if I’m going to play this as a child’s game, or fail to play it as an adult.

This is not a conversation I want to have with myself.

Paperback

Cards with letters on them in decks, sprawling across the table.
Fine, how do *you* spell “intigrate”?! (Image Credit: BGG user Fubeca (Tim Fowlers))

Paperback is a deck building word game. Players start with a small deck of common consonants and wild cards, and a single vowel shared by all players. Drawing cards from their deck, players spell words to score currency to buy new cards for their deck, including uncommon letters to spell more complicated words, scoring more points.

Victory points cards can also be purchased. After enough victory point cards are bought, the end game is triggered, and the player with the most victory points wins.

Spelling is a huge issue for me. If it weren’t for Spell Check, I’d be dead in a ditch somewhere.

It should have been obvious that a spelling game would be a bad choice. I did think that the wild cards would make it easier for me.

Wrong.

Wild cards don’t help if you can’t spell in the first place.

The game tries to address this by adding a “bounty”. If a player is stuck to find a word, they can ask the others for help. Whoever gives the best help building the best scoring word for the player needing help will get a token, giving the helping player a bonus on their next turn.

The problem with the bounty is that *I* wouldn’t be the one playing the game.

Moving Forward

The fact that these three games were not accessible to me is mildly disappointing. I’ve already found replacements that address my issues.

Social deduction with more hard evidence to go on? Deception: Murder in Hong Kong fits the bill.

Tile laying without coloured shapes or letters? The award winning Carcassonne is sublime.

A word game without spelling? Try Codenames Duet for a cooperative twist.

Because I’ve made these mistakes, I have a better understanding of my LD, and have avoided games that don’t account for my accessibility issues.

I’d rather make my mistakes while playing games, rather then purchasing one unsuited for me.


Read more like this: Six Board Game Accessibility Fails, and How to Hack Them: Part One

1 thought on “Gaming While Learning Disabled: 3 Tabletop Games that Just Don’t Work

  1. Hello, I am a public librarian that frequently does gaming (board, RPGs, and video games) . I try to make my programs as accessible as possible. Do you have any suggestions for ways to find alternative more accessible games if something falls flat?

    Thank you!
    Jake

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