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From Wingspan to Wyrmspan: An Accessibility Journey

by Brian Chandler

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on author Brian Chandler’s Colorblind Games website. —WEM

Creating accessible games requires designers, developers, and publishers to identify the presence of unintentional barriers and seek innovative solutions. In this article I share Stonemaier Games‘ efforts to reduce challenges for colorblind and low-vision players, including my role as a freelance proofreader and accessibility reviewer. (Disclaimer: I have worked as a paid freelance proofreader on Wingspan Asia, Wingspan vision-friendly cards, and Wyrmspan, among other Stonemaier Games titles. My complete credit list is here.)

Wingspan

Wingspan was one of my first written reviews, and it stemmed from designer Elizabeth Hargrave answering my question about color vision accessibility considerations during the game’s design and development.

I have been able to play Wingspan with minimal color vision barriers, but I did experience one issue from time to time. As shown below with the Northern Mockingbird, some cards refer to powers only by their color, e.g., brown, teal, and pink. That same section of the card uses a relatively small, thin typeface and less-than-ideal contrast between the black text and colored backgrounds.

Wingspan Asia

Wingspan Asia, the third Wingspan expansion following Europe and Oceania, includes continent-specific cards like the others, serves as a two-player standalone game, and provides additional rules for up to seven players. I was hired as a freelance proofreader for all components in the game; Jamey Stegmaier also asked me to identify accessibility needs and recommend solutions to support colorblind and low-vision players.

Wingspan Asia’s draft rules and cards included the same issue I mentioned above: powers identified only by their color, like this tip from page 5 of the draft rulebook.

The final version of the rulebook double-codes that tip, providing both the name of the power (When Activated) and that power’s color (brown).

Draft rulebook (left) vs. final rulebook

Another example is the Common Myna card. The draft layout includes a reference to the brown power, so I recommended a change. As shown below, the final published version includes the name of the power (When Activated) and its color (brown).

Wingspan Vision-Friendly Cards

In 2022, Jamey and the team looked to address visual accessibility issues, and he asked me which changes might be most appropriate to make the cards easier to read:

I wanted to let you know that we’re planning to create and release a set of Wingspan bird cards designed for vision impairment and low lighting. The solution I’m aiming for is to change all of the icons on the left from brown to black, to remove the flavor text, and to expand the mechanical text box so we can increase the text size from 10pt to 12pt if possible.

Does that cover everything we need to do? People often mention the “small font and contrast”, but they’re not specific about it, so I can never really tell if they’re talking about the flavor text, text on a certain power type (different background colors), etc. I’d appreciate your feedback.

Jamey Stegmaier, April 2022

A prototype version of the vision-friendly cards looked like this:

I recommended a few items for the team to consider:

• Improve Contrast: For the black-on-brown WHEN ACTIVATED text and the black-on-teal ROUND END text, make the text more readable by further changing the background.

• Clarify Wingspan Measurement: Increase the font size of the number, make it black, and either separate the “CM” from the number or reduce its font size for clarity.

• Find More Space: Consider reducing the bird art size to make room for larger text.

After some additional tweaks, Stonemaier’s graphic designers removed the remaining non-gameplay elements (i.e., the world map and Latin bird name) and increased contrast even more for the Power text. The final changes are significant, and these alternate versions are now my standard cards for Wingspan gameplay. See the two versions of Oriental Magpie-Robin as an example of these changes:

Selling Accessibility

Stonemaier Games experienced disappointing sales of this add-on during its first month of availability, which led to this June 2023 blog post on their website: “If You Want It, We’ll Make It…but Will You Buy It?“. In it, Jamey shared that there seemed to be a vocal demand for vision-friendly cards, but when the product was made available, no one purchased it:

We produced a small print run of the cards (2500 units per set) and announced them in our newsletter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and on this blog. They’ve been on our webstore for the last month.

But no one bought them.

Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. 175 people bought them. I very much appreciate those customers, but this is easily our worst-ever product launch.

Jamey’s blog post included some ideas about why the product didn’t sell, including price point, consumer interest, or whether people knew it existed.

My own guess is that this is an example of the “accessibility tax” that requires gamers with accessibility needs to pay extra to overcome our barriers. For example, the vision-friendly cards are not the new Wingspan standard; they will not be used in future printings, and they cannot be selected as an option when purchasing the game. Instead, these are separate products that consumers must purchase in addition to the standard game.

So while the vision-friendly cards are a step in the right direction, an add-on is not a complete solution for accessibility.

Wyrmspan

When I was asked to serve as a proofreader for Wyrmspan (designed by Connie Volgemann), I was delighted to see how much of the accessibility improvements from Wingspan’s expansions and vision-friendly cards were included in the new game!

• Font Size: Fonts are large; both the dragon name and the mechanism text at the bottom of the card are similar to the vision-friendly cards.

• No Flavor Text on Cards: Flavor text is no longer on the cards, but instead is provided in a 32-page dragon fact book. Aside from the illustration, all other graphic elements are required for gameplay.

• Dragon Sizes: Wingspan measurements were replaced by a simpler relative size value in a large font.

• Double-Coded Attributes: The dragon’s attribute — “shy” in the example below — is provided in both text and color.

• Positional Double-coding: The three cave indicators on the left side are double-coded by position: top, middle, and bottom.

The Journey Continues

Since the 2019 release of Wingspan, Stonemaier Games has made continuous improvements toward visual accessibility. The publisher is not perfect with regard to accessible gaming, and I play a part of that ongoing imperfection. But these changes – made in only five years with just one publisher – make me optimistic about a future that includes more people playing more games!

Brian Chandler

Card designs (from left): Wingspan Asia prototype, published version, vision-friendly version, Wyrmspan

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