Board games & Accessibility: 

I’m am Mexican-American, which you wouldn’t really know unless you saw me standing next to my mother and grandmother. Inclusion and accessibility have always been two topics I’ve been incredibly passionate about. You can imagine that these passions would bleed into all other areas of my life. Board Games, Collectable Card Games, and Tabletop Role Playing have played major roles in my life the last 20 years.

Grandma Maria, my mom, Bebo and Hailey

That said, demographics like mine are incredibly underrepresented in tabletop gaming. While there’s nothing wrong with similar people loving something together, it does indicate that there may be an accessibility problem when it comes to certain hobbies and it’s our job as hobbyists to help bridge that gap. Why? Well, there are several reasons:

1. Diversity is good for your bottom line

2. Diversity and inclusion fosters a more creative environment which benefits everyone

3. Global connections help expand our communities’ reach and diversity increases that expansion exponentially

4. It helps adults, and children, develop a positive understanding of themselves and others

So how do we increase the diversity of our community and help inspire the next generation of tabletop gamers in an effort to keep our hobby alive and well? Well, we need to solve the 3 things that make games accessible; having the time, money and space to play.

Ways to solve for time:

Time is the most challenging of the three problems to solve. The official poverty rate is 12.7 percent, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 estimates. That year, an estimated 43.1 million Americans lived in poverty in 2016. When you have to work all the time just to make ends meet its next to impossible to make time for leisure activities.

During my pregnancy with Hailey, I worked two jobs. I went to work, came home, watched Grey’s Anatomy and cried myself to sleep each night. I was 19, pregnant, and in and out of an abusive relationship. None of those experiences had been factored into my 5-year plan after high school. During this time of my life, I didn’t even have time to play the Pokemon TCG, but not long after Hailey was born, I jumped back in feet first and started playing the World of Warcraft Trading card game. I also played more casual party games in between matches, many of which I was ridiculed for playing. It’s important to remember that we all had to start somewhere. We didn’t jump in with Caverna. Most of us started with Munchkin or Monopoly and that’s not a bad thing.

Bebo and two gamers sitting at a Cryptozoic Entertainment Booth at Pax 2013If tabletop gaming wants to grow, we need to collectively work toward making entry-level gamers feel more welcome in the community. Don’t talk down to them about only playing games like Munchkin. They might not be your favorite games, but those people might be limited on time and only have time for casual games. The best thing you can do is encourage them to keep exploring gaming, regardless of what kind of games they’re interested in. Even if they are not your favorite and if you have the extra money, buy them a cheap game or two and if you want to take it a step further, take the time out of your day to teach them the games you have purchased for them. The labor that goes into learning a game can often-times put someone off of tabletop gaming in general and you can be part of the solution.

How some companies are already helping:

In addition to taking the time to teach people face to face how to play games, we can cut back on the amount of time it takes to learn a game by creating video content. Channels like Watch It Played and Gaming Rules create content to help bridge the education gap in tabletop gaming. You can also take this concept a step further by using interactive apps that players can access on their phones or mobile device.

Dized, the app designed to make board games more accessible

There is an app currently in development called Dized that aims to do just that: help make games more accessible. Their dream is to help everyone enjoy board games without the friction of having to ever pick up a rulebook. Think about it! Wouldn’t it be great if your one friend who knows all the rules were simply sitting in your pocket all the time? Dized will teach the games with interactive tutorials and answer all rules related questions so you can focus on what really matters: having fun!

Ways to solve for money & cost:

Too many board games on a shelfHow do we make games more accessible from a financial standpoint? The cult of the new really leaves me with stacks and stacks of board games. I may qualify as a board game hoarder. I wish I could keep them all, however, my attic only has so much space. Once games reach the 3-year unplayed mark, I donate them. 

Bebo, Kat, Jamison and Nate at Videot, the Barcade
Bebo, Kat, Jamison and Nate @ Vidiot

To start, I give games to anyone locally who is in college, are single parents, or in between jobs. One person’s shelf of shame is another person’s Friday Night Game! I’ve also donated a whole stack of games to a local arcade in West Seattle called Vidiot. Many of them were small box games designed to be played in louder environments. I did hand pick them based on their bar playability.

If you simply can’t bear to get rid of any of the games you currently own and love, you might consider checking out some of the games on clearance on various board game websites. The next time you go to place an order and need to hit the free shipping number just add some clearance games to your cart. Take them to the local arcade, library, or school. You might even consider starting an after school board game club at a local venue or school.  A great website for this is www.meetup.com.

An option for publishers is creating a cheaper version of their popular games without miniatures. Not everyone can afford a $200 game with miniatures. They may purchase a $50 version with cardboard standees more similar to a game like Dead of Winter. You can even make a character standee out of playing cards to reduce the cost of printing additional components.

How to help:

Gamers may look up any board game ever made on the website, www.boardgamegeek.com. Here you’ll find difficulty ratings, gameplay ratings, forums talking about the board games, descriptions, information about the game designers and artists.  I recommend identifying popular board games that you already like and finding board games that are similar. But, if doing some research seems like a daunting task, I have a simple list of gateway games to recommend here.

The best thing you can do to help make board games more accessible is to share them. The second best is offering to lend them out to people you know. We all have magical memories playing board games, that’s why we’re here and it’s important to remember to share that magic. Content creators might consider asking publishers to donate an extra copy of their game to their local charity, school or library when they review the game. It might be small but in the long term, board games can make a huge difference in your local community.

Ways to solve for space:

This is the easiest problem to solve. Open up your doors and invite new players in. Heavy euro board games are my life but if you can afford euro board games, you can afford a night of casual gaming. If this doesn’t suit you, talk to your friendly local game store about hosting an event there once a month. You bring the friends and traffic, they make some money and everyone has a great time.

Another option is to talk to your local library. Remember, the biggest barrier to entry is learning the board games themselves. Offer to teach the board games if you’re comfortable doing so. Knowledge is the best thing anyone can share with another person, maybe it’s time to share some of yours. Talk to you local librarian about joining a distributor program like the one Peach Hobby Distribution offers, where they can get discounted board games from publishers. You might also suggest to the library adopting a dry erase component checklist taped to the side of the box because then people can ensure the game components are back in the box before returning the game. This can be done easily with a printer and laminator.

Mona, adorable little girl, playing the Munchkin Collectible Card Game from Steve Jackson Games!

Working with a local business to host events, like bars, pubs, cafes and other various venues is another option! These businesses have off days and if you have the free time, you might consider bringing your personal game collection to a public space. Ask a few other board game savvy friends to join you in helping teach and host game nights for people.

Why representation matters in board games:

Dead of Winter: Racial Diversity In Board Games
Dead of Winter: A Great Example of Racial Diversity In Board Games

The last thing you need to remember in addition to all of this is to make your space accessible. This means pick somewhere with a wheelchair ramp. Welcome people with disabilities. Have a wide variety of board games available! This way anyone with a physical disability can find something that works for them.

A meeple in a Wheelchair in the board game, Topiary!
A meeple in a Wheelchair in the board game, Topiary!

Think about the kind of board games being represented. Try to pick Board Games that have minority groups of people positively represented. If you can find a game with trans representation, make it available. This might mean doing some research and asking your friends if they feel positive about the representation in board games. Publishers should feel obligated to consider this when adding minority groups to their board games. Gamers should be having regular discussions about this if we’re hoping to make a difference in the long term. It’s important to get more than one opinion from a person from the culture you’re representing. It’s more important to offer them compensation for their time and expertise if you’re the publisher making the game.

Becoming the solution as a community:

Friends sitting around a table playing Codenames from Czech Games Edition

The solutions aren’t simple, they aren’t easy and for some of us, they might even be impossible. It’s important that as a community, we become the solution. To make board games more accessible, we need to remember how playing games for the first time made us feel. It’s the child-like wonder that stirs in your soul when a game clicks in your head for the first time. It’s the smiles on the faces of the people you love sitting around the table. Gaming transcends barriers and backgrounds to bring people around a table where they can share laughter, conversation, and magic. The best thing we can do is make board gaming more accessible. It’s our obligation to share the hobby that brings us such joy!

Bebo

Bebo is a single mother working in Seattle, WA to create an inclusive, positive space for all types of people.

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2 thoughts on “Make board games more accessible

  1. First, having raised three children with my wife, a big tip of the hat for being a single mom. Now a few ideas

    1. Form gaming groups, share the games you have
    2. organize game play nights at local shop or library- keep in mind folks working schedules
    3. keep an eye out for those eyeing the game you’re playing- be ready to invite someone in
    4. Play a game you usually wouldn’t – Don’t Bubble Yourself!
    5. Push PNP Games, many great games, hey even print up extra and hand out.

    As for Hailey, it’s an old saying,they grow up so fast, but so true.

  2. Thank you for bringing up gaming nights! They are a way to keep old friends and bring new friends into your circle. I have many friends that are part of weekly/monthly game nights. I plan on joining them more often! Oh yeah, the best way to learn how to play a game is to teach others!

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