More than once in recent years I have heard claims that board games are making a comeback. This statement implies that shops had previously stopped stocking them or that manufacturers had stopped producing them. Perhaps it seems as though they went into decline to some people because their lifestyles evolved in such a way that the playing of board games ceased to be a priority. However, now is a great time to rediscover them while we’re tackling half term during lockdown. For my part, board games certainly featured in childhood before the chaotic tide of visually impaired life swept me away from them. My recent return to them has only come about due to parenthood.

Games from childhood

Visiting high street shops one can see that there is no shortage of mainstream games available, in fact, perhaps just as many as were present in the nineteen-seventies when I can remember a multiplicity of TV ads for Connect 4, Operation, Mousetrap and numerous exciting games based on the principles of Ludo. Is anyone old enough to remember Tank Battle, Up Periscope or War of the Daleks? Today the range is different, but many of the old ones survive. The impulse to stock up with these however is forestalled by the fear of inaccessibility.

Accessible games

Time to approach the sight loss sector to see what blind people friendly examples exist – and that is where it does look as though a decline has taken place. RNIB, by their own admission have reduced the range they stock, but there are still one or two available such as dominoes, chess and Connect 4. It used to be possible to get Chinese Chequers, Nine Men Morris, Lexis and Noughts and Crosses, but these seem no longer to be available in the UK. Of course, there are other organisations who supply tactile games such as Cobolt Systems from whom I bought Snakes and Ladders and Ludo. They also sell accessible Monopoly, 4 In A Row and playing cards.

Games for learning and family life

These games have contributed enormously to our family life and I would not only recommend them to families with young children although the educational benefits are unquestionable: Snakes and Ladders undoubtedly helps my little boy with his numeracy. Even as I write this, I can hear him pestering his mother for a game. True, they are more costly than the mainstream counterparts and no effort is made to package them in an aesthetic or even practical way whatsoever: the chess set didn’t even come in a box, just a wrap of cellophane. Even so, for the quality time we enjoy thanks to them, I feel the extra cost of the games is worth it. Now, with the advent of the lockdown, I am even more glad of them.

Mainstream accessible games

So much for games designed for blind and partially sighted people. What might there be in the mainstream which just happens serendipitously to be accessible? One such example is called Bananagrams. Similar to Scrabble, the object is to make up as many words as possible from a random selection of letters. The game is useful for helping young children with their spelling and vocabulary. Each tile bears a different letter which is raised well enough to be deciphered by touch.

Another survivor from the seventies is Frustration. Very similar to Ludo, its USP is the central transparent dome which you press down to bounce the dice. This game I would call partially accessible: each position on the board consists of a circular space into which the player’s pieces are inserted. This distinguishes it from most games in which the squares or circles are completely flat. The problem is the dice are held within the dome so only function visually: this requires the players to make use of a pair of tactile dice borrowed from elsewhere. No doubt that with the right gadgets and a bit of sighted help, many other mainstream games could be made accessible by the purchaser. We used the Penfriend to label the cards in the shopping game: when it is our turn to turn over a card, we touch the label with the Penfriend so it announces what the grocery item is. The jury is still out on whether this makes it accessible enough, but it was worth a try.

Liam O'Carroll, Project Coordinator

6 April 2020