Medium (2019) – Accessibility Teardown

Game Details
NameMedium (2019)
ReviewMeeple Like Us
ComplexityLight [1.06]
BGG Rank2179 [7.08]
Player Count (recommended)2-8 (3-6)
Designer(s)Danielle Deley, Lindsey Sherwood and Nathan Thornton
Buy it!Amazon Link

Version Reviewed

English edition

Introduction

Medium is a fine game – at least, in its wild form as the energetic folk-game that has been a staple of improv groups and school camps since the early 90s. This actual boxed product though feels exploitative in a way that makes me unwilling to recommend it your way. Mind Meld, the folk game? Yeah, give it a go. Medium, the board game? That’s something I can’t endorse.

As I often say though, nobody should pay attention to the reviews if they genuinely fancy trying out what we’ve been talking about. Reviews are just one long-winded opinion, and there’s no necessary link between how good a game is and how accessible it ends up being. So, let’s take our second swing at Medium for the blog. Let’s talk about its accessibility.

Colour Blindness

Yep, no problems here. Well, almost no problems here. The cards are monochromatic which makes them pretty much ideal from the perspective of colour blindness as you can see in the image below.

Medium colour blindness and cards

And the points tokens are marked with the number of the attempt to which they belong, so there’s a double coding of information.

medium colour blindness and tokens

The sole issue is that the markings on the tokens are a lot less clear than the colour of the token so picking one up might involve a bit more close inspection as a result of the problematic colour palette. That’s going to be an irritant of vanishingly small impact though.

We’ll strongly recommend Medium in this category.

Visual Accessibility

Most of the play in Medium is based on placing cards down and then flipping them over for a simultaneous reveal. There’s no reason that latter part can’t come with verbal announcement if a sighted player is available. The layout of the cards is nice in that they can be read in three orientations, but the graphic design is less so because each orientation is in a different size and location. For those with some degree of ability to close inspect cards in their hand it’s likely that the game is reasonably playable. For others, it’s fully playable by adopting the original Mind Meld rules in which you just think of a word and say it. What you lose in that scenario is the ‘synergising’ of the decks in the box, which are claimed to be designed with words that work well together. What you’d gain though would be a fully playable game that doesn’t require the components at all.

Cards in Medium

An issue with the points gathered is that they each share a form factor, which means you can’t tell denomination by touch. That’s easily resolved by keeping a running tally or using some other kind of token (coins for example) to track score.

We can only tentatively recommend Medium in this category, but we can strongly recommend Mind Meld. We’ll average that out to a recommendation with a little plus on it.

Cognitive Accessibility

Medium presents accessibility challenges in both of our main categories of cognitive accessibility. First of all, the need for literacy is massive and it requires a strong, functional grounding in a lot of general knowledge. Players need to be able to juxtapose, which is an exceptionally demanding analytical task. If presented with the cards ‘supermarket’ and ‘criminal’, it’s necessary to first assess each possible meaning of those words and where they have natural synergies. And when they don’t present themselves, how they could be interpreted so that they do. ‘Shoplifter’ is a natural synergy, but it does require players have considerable control over vocabularly and implication of vocabulary. ‘Robber’ would work too, but it has less direct relationship and each player needs to try to aim for a consistency with the other. Lingustically speaking, I think Medium is about as difficult as it can be from a cognitive perspective and that’s before you add in players wielding irony, sarcasm, homonyms, antonyms and general wordplay.

If I said ‘Tesco Finest range’ as my response to ‘Criminal’ and ‘Supermarket’ it’s both apt if hyperbolic, and an attempt at a joke. Players need to be able to tell what other players are likely to say as much as they are required to make a logical connection of their own.

In the memory category we have other issues – most of the first order game information is available for reference in the form of the cards played down, but for second and third attempts at a meld the only reference people have is memory. If you say ‘Shoplifter’ and I say ‘Tesco Finest Range’ we both need to now make a connection between those two answers without them being written down. The churn of words is considerable in any game of Medium because there are a lot of rounds and pairings of people and it’s easy to get lost with what you’re supposed to be connecting. The obvious solution here is to write down the answers, of course, so it’s not a deal breaker. But it is impactful on flow and an intersectional accessibility issue we’ll discuss a bit later.

The game isn’t complex by any stretch of the imagination, but it reminds me of games like Dobble and Once Upon a Time where the lightness of the rules hides a brutal cognitive cost that takes it out of serious contention for a recommendation.

We can recommend Medium for those with memory impairments, provided writing things down isn’t going to be an issue. We can’t at all recommend it for people with fluid intelligence impairments.

Emotional Accessibility

A common issue in games of this nature is the stress that comes from being put on the spot by being made the centre of attention. It’s really easy for your mind to go blank in a game of Medium as it refuses to sync up with what’s in front of you. The game doesn’t go forward until players are ready to both say a word but it can take quite a long time before someone is prepared. The whole time they’re aware that they’re holding everyone else up. And then if you can’t come up with anything effective or funny, it’s obvious where the failure point in the experience is to be found.

Games like this too require players to have a good read on the mindsets of other players because convergence requires not aiming for a connecting word or phrase but rather the word and phrase that you think the other person might use. It requires a blend of emotional literacy and contextual vocabularly that may be difficult to achieve for those with conditions impacting on empathy. Combining this with the focus of attention being on the dyad of players attempting to converge, those can intensify each other in a way that wouldn’t be observable in isolation.

Scoring is something of an issue too – when you collect n token for making a match it will contain a random number of points based on how quickly you converged. What that means though is that you might have the same number and composition of tokens as someone else only to find you lose because you simply weren’t lucky enough. It’s basically the same thing as awarding points by dice roll and it can feel intensely unfair.

We don’t recommend Medium in this category.

Physical Accessibility

The simultaneous revelation of cards isn’t nearly as significant as the revealing of the melded word at the same time. If a physical accessibility issue impacts on articulation, or speed of articulation, that could be a problem.

Card play is relatively low impact and can easily be handled through a card holder and verbal instruction to the table. But also the improv game Mind Meld simply requires someone to say a word that’s on their mind and that’s as accessible a game as we can hope for in this category.

We’ll recommend Medium in this category, and since Mind Meld would get a strong recommendation we’ll give it a lttle plus in the results.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

The box prominently shows a woman bathed in blue shadow, and the manual makes use of the second person perspective throughout. Medium isn’t a gendered term either, so no marks against it here.

Medium box

Where we do have marks against it though is the fact that you’re paying an RRP of around 20 pounds for what is an inferior boxed version of a public domain folk game. In my view nothing that is added to Medium makes it any better – the decks are constrictive, the scoring is unnecessary, and the special power cards add complexity without introducing more fun. This isn’t a case of us talking about a game like Perudo or Skull where you buy a boxed version of a game you can play from what’s lying around your house. In the cases of improvision you get an inferior version of a game because of component compromises. With Medium you get a better version of the game by circumventing the components entirely and that makes it a straight up F from an economic perspective.

Averaging everything out, we don’t recommend Medium in this category.

Communication

Literacy, and an extensive and subtle vocabulary in a shared language, is absolutey core to Medium. It’s based on a fluency that is about elegance of expression as much as it is about functional understanding. Antonyms, homonyms, puns, plays on words – all are important tools in your toolkit. While the words on the cards are not especially complex, each must be assessed in a pair. ‘lamp ring’, ‘cough ribbon’, ‘tropical horse’, ‘soldier brush’, etc, etc, etc. Making sense of these conjunctions is going to ask a lot of anyone in this category.

The need to simultaneously reveal your melded word too is likely to be an issue here if someone has any kind of hearing or articulation problem. The reveal has to happen at the same time otherwise there’s too much opportunity for someone to change or alter their word after the fact.

We don’t recommend Medium in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

We don’t recommend Medium in a lot of these individual categories so it makes this section a lot easier to write.

One of the compensations for a memory impairment will be to write guesses down as they are expressed. However, that only works in circumstances where a written version of the word, perhaps in less than ideal handwriting, is a memory aide. In circumstances where someone is visually impaired, or simply unable to easily read handwriting, it can be a solution that makes the situation worse.

Games of Medium are pretty pacey if everyone is confident in producing their words at a reasonable clip. It’s also a game that’s easy to drop out of provided a minimum player count is attained since players take two turns back to back – with the player before them and with the player after them. If someone drops out it changes who is involved in those exchanges but it doesn’t introduce any extra chances or unnecessary penalties on anyone that remains. The game supports up to eight players officially, but the cost of that is some excessive downtime that may be an issue for those with attention deficit disorders.

Conclusion

Medium is not only a poorer game because of its unnecessary modifications to Mind Meld, it’s also a meaningfully less accessible game. Mind Meld is better in a number of these categories, including visual accessibility, socioeconomic factors and physical accessibility.

Medium, Meeple Like Us, [CC-BY 4.0]
CategoryGrade
Colour BlindnessA
Visual AccessibilityC
Fluid IntelligenceD
MemoryB
Physical AccessibilityB+
Emotional AccessibilityD
Socioeconomic AccessibilityD
CommunicationD

It’s not even as if we can say here that ‘Yeah, Mind Meld is free but Medium is more accessible’. Mind Meld is free and more accessible which makes Medium a game we cannot recommend in either of our main capacities. Even if Medium did acknowledge its considerable intellectual debt in the box, it’s still not a game we could point your way over any of the folk versions that are out there.

We like the game Mind Meld. It’s a great way to spend some otherwise unfulfilling downtime with friends. We don’t like Medium which is the board game equivalent of putting the rules of Noughts and Crosses in a box, adding in some setup cards, and charging twenty quid for the privilege of playing it. Don’t buy Medium, but if you think from this teardown that you might get some fun out of Mind Meld I’d certainly recommend it your way.

 

 


A Disclaimer About Teardowns

Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.

Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then this will not be the blog for you. We will not debate with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.

Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.