Table of Contents
|Name||Prisma Arena (2020)|
|Review||Meeple Like Us|
|Complexity||Medium Light [2.00]|
|Player Count (recommended)||2-4 (Unset)|
|Designer(s)||John Fiore and Rory O'Connor|
|Buy it!||Amazon Link|
A review copy of Prisma Arena was provided by Hub Games in exchange for a fair and honest review.
We liked Prisma Arena, but move set considerations and an overly smooth team topography mean that we don’t love it. Oodles of potential though – we gave it three and a half stars in our review. But I have saved some of my most positive comments for this teardown, because the game does something I think is genuinely revelatory in its components. I don’t know if it’s the first to do this, but it’s certainly the first I’ve seen do it in quite this way.
As usual though, few games make it through a teardown unscarred. Let’s move within range and strike at Prisma Arena with our accessibility-related fists. En garde buddy!
Prisma Arena doesn’t have accessibility problems here, but rather accessibility irritations. The colours are always paired with icons (albeit occasionally poorly contrasted) but the palette means that certain categories of colour blindness are going to struggle occasionally with spot judgements.
Look at these cards and you’ll see Tritanopes will have something of an issue determining at a distance which cards are which. Nothing that will be an actual problem though. Except in circumstances where the iconic information is covered up as in a messy discard pile.
Differentiating prisma powers too will be slightly more awkward than necessary when checking at a distance:
Mostly though you’ll only be doing distance evaluation of these cards to weigh up what an opponent is doing, and what cards they have sent their way. It’s all perceivable with a little extra effort. No information is lost, some of it is merely directed the wrong way by GPS.
This doesn’t extend to anything that matters in the game, because all the character cards are clearly defined as such, and the standees you use for playing all have different form factors… and outfits! You attach clothes, hair colours, and all kinds of other things via stickers.
Now, this isn’t quite the slam dunk I was hoping for here because outfits, strictly speaking, are tied to level. But there’s no reason you couldn’t ignore that and put the colour that works best on your hero to aid in identification. Nonetheless, hair styles and accessories are all available to uniquely identify a hero by means other than colour.
We’ll strongly recommend, just, Prisma Arena in this category.
Contrast is occasionally poor (particularly the white icons on a yellow background), but usually the colour choice is striking enough that it needn’t be an issue. The largest problem will often be in identifying whether a particular ability can combo. Really though the question is ‘can it combo’ because I didn’t see any situation where a combo didn’t alternate between icons – circle goes to cross goes to circle. You don’t see cross to cross or circle to circle and this means identifying presence of a combo opportunity is enough.
Text on combo cards is written in an unornamented form and is always located in the same place. The cards are well structured in general, with information being reliably locatable. Cards can be quite information dense though, with interleaving icons and text that can be difficult to parse given how small the icons are.
Obstacles on the board are represented with tactile tokens, and there are a range of standees each with a different tactile profile. Not only can you tell where each character is, you can (provided your memory is good) tell who owns each. Also, given the sticker system, players with some sight can pick the arrangement of outfits and accessories that maximises their ability to differentiate things. The stickers really are a great feature.
However, the board dimensions are very small and it will be hard to be precise about placement without some sighted assistance. The centre square of the board slots into the main grid though and so you can determine the presence of that section by touch.
All of the information on combo cards and prisma powers is textual, and combo cards are held hidden until used. They could be played open, with a corresponding impact on tactical gameplay. However, once the round has progressed a bit your cards will be in your opponent’s hand and vice versa so it’s not that big a deal.
Damage is indicated with the placement of tokens on a card, and the consistency of the stats here makes it easy for players to see how damaged their team-mates are.
The largest issue here is going to be in the nature of the game mechanisms and how they relate to the board. Knowing where you can move, how that impacts on grappling, and where it situates you in regards to striking and blasting… all of that is where the game is to be found. Knowing precisely what spaces you need to go through to get where you need to be, and relating that to cards in hand, is all based on visual processing of the game state and doesn’t lend itself well to play with support. It’s not even a case of ‘How can I get to X and blast them’, but rather ‘What is the order and combination of characters, skills and prisma powers that put me in the optimal position for scoring’. The looseness of the battle, where you’re often balancing points scored versus risk of taking damage, means that players must adopt a flexible ‘battle doctrine’. Assessing options, weighing up risk, and guessing what an opponent may do in response… that’s all very difficult to do if a player doesn’t have visual access to the board.
We don’t recommend Prisma Arena in this category.
Prisma Arena is probably as cognitive accessible as a game of this nature can be. It doesn’t have the deep synergies that tend to characterise games with complex move-sets or team rosters. Powers are notable for their straightforward effects. That’s not to say that they are simple, because there is a tactical complexity that overlays each. It’s just that once you understand the mechanisms of striking, blasting, moving and grappling you are in a position to evaluate the cards without worrying about complex interactions.
Even the combo system is as accessible as it can be from a cogntive perspective – if you move, you can maybe do damage. If you do damage, you can maybe move. It depends on cards. Since combos are character specific, you don’t even need to worry about anything as complex as ‘If I move character X, then I can combo to blast with character Y, which means character Z can combo to move’. Combos act like multiple moves for a single character. I especially like, in this respect, the activation dial that is used to keep track of game state.
If a character has moved, it is ‘bounced’ to its dial. If it hasn’t, it’s bounced to the start area. The dial thus tells you what should happen as well as serve as a record of who activated and what they did. It’s a really nice component that massively alleviates the memory burden on players. It’d be a dream addition for something like Blood Bowl.
Playing with open cards would eliminate the rest of the memory burden in the game, otherwise players can benefit (a bit) from remembering what cards they passed to an opponent. I don’t want to overstate that though – the board state is flexible enough that it’s hard to draw too many conclusions about the options you may have given a player.
Some simple numerarcy is required for scoring, but given that you assign damage tokens to slots on the card it can be translated into physical manipulation. You get a point for each damage token on a bounced opponent, so those can be used to eliminate the need for addition on the score track.
As with the section on visual accessibility, the real cognitive cost here comes from creating a mental model of your options, evaluating each position, and relating them to what your opponent can do. However, you can have a fun enough punch-up if you go with a simple heuristic – move within range and hit. Prisma powers and Mo’kon abilities though can add considerably to the complexity of this evaluation, particularly when they have battleground implications. For example, when Farg is bounced out of the arena then their attached hero must immediately do a blast or a strike if it’s possible. That means that you might want to be the one to bounce him if it’s the only way to inflict damage on a foe. Some prisma powers shift the cognitive complexity of strategy considerably.
The good news here is that the game is designed in such a way that you get to choose the level of complexity. It has a scaffolded tutorial and you can simply stop at the point everyone is happy with how the game plays. You might want to ignore Mo’kon powers, or avoid adding prisma powers, or avoid combos. Really here the game has a good, solid core that becomes more interesting as you bolt-in new systems. I’ve said before that this is my favourite cognitive accessibility feature and I wish more games did it.
We still can’t offer more than a tentative recommendation for those with fluid intelligence impairments – even in the simplest game there’s a lot of thinking about who to activate, in what order, and what to do with them. But in that form it’s about as accessible as I think these kind of games can be. We can offer a straight up recommendation for those with memory impairments if everyone is happy playing with open cards.
It’s a shame a game like this didn’t come with grid references around the sides, because their absence limits how effective verbalisation can be. It doesn’t prevent it entirely, it just means that instead of saving ‘Move my hero to B7 then blast the hero at B5’ you have to say ‘Move my hero west, west, northwest, north and blast the hero two west of her’. It doesn’t break the game, it just makes it more cumbersome especially when considering the impact of some of the Mo’kon and prisma powers. Unambigious grid referencing would have completely eliminated that and it’s the kind of game that could do it with absolutely no extra design cost.
Other than that, there are two features of Prisma Arena that trouble me a little in this category. The first is that while the centre square snaps into place, it doesn’t snap into place cleanly and I have had to struggle with it every time I’ve set up the game. It never sits quite flush with the table and even that requires a level of force I consider ‘excessive’. Maybe there’s a trick to it I didn’t quite get, but ‘fix piece into the centre like the world’s simplest jigsaw puzzle’ seems like it probably should do it.
That would just be annoying if it weren’t for the fact the spaces on the board are very small and the nature of the game means that you will very often be toe to toe with multiple standees. Some of those standees are massive, relatively speaking, and there’s some angling required to make them all stand where they should without knocking over others. To be fair, most of the standees are much smaller than the heroes, but it is an occasional issue.
The prisma power cards are unfortunately very small, which makes them difficult to shuffle and deal out. The combo cards are printed on a nice, thick card-stock which is great but one that’s stiff enough that certain kinds of shuffling strategies won’t work well. I bring that up for completeness rather than seriously suggesting it’s an issue. I just found it impossible to do a bridge shuffle with the cards because they were such good quality and wanted to note that.
The combo cards can’t overlap in a card holder if you want to see all the key data, but you’ll only have a maximum of four in hand at any one time so two card holders will be fine. Prisma cards mostly act as passive buffs so they can be played open.
We’ll recommend, just, Prisma Arena in this category.
Point differentials can be quite large in Prisma Arena, and leveling is linked to your ability to reach a certain score threshold. There are rules in the manual for playing mismatched character levels but they don’t seem to be much of a compensation given the difference that prisma powers make to the experience. In other words, once a player draws ahead in levels I think they’re likely to keep pulling away from the pack.
One gameplay feature I love here though is the way the bouncing system works. In a game like this it’s a common strategy to eliminate an opponent’s character so as to limit the damage output they can inflict. Here, if you have activated you go to your dial for being returned to the game in the next round. If you haven’t been activated you go instantly back to the start zone. It’s still a penalty because you need to get back into the fight but you never lose a round of a character. This could so easily have been a deal-breaker in this section, but that bullet is well and truly dodged here.
In games with more than two players, there’s an incentive for everyone to gang up on a single person. Points are only gained when a character is bounced, and they are gained in proportion to the amount of damage inflicted. By focusing fire on a single player, the other team(s) can bounce quicker without cost to themselves. If you think of ‘a point of damage as a point of score’ then it doesn’t matter if you spread that around except in circumstances where you overkill an opponent. This is going to depend heavily on group composition of course, but there’s a risk here that someone can be bullied out of having any fun at all.
And that in turn shows the darker side of the bouncing mechanic. In a game where people are bullying another player, their victim will lack any real ability to enjoy the game at all. The move action is easily the least interesting one available to a player and if they’re constantly running characters from the start zone that’s all they’ll get to do.
In two player games that’s not an issue except in circumstances where one player massively outlevels another.
We’ll still recommend Prisma Arena in this category. Just don’t play with dicks.
It’s rare that I can honestly say ‘I was looking forward to writing this section’ but ever since I opened Prisma Arena I wanted to enthuse about those stickers. Every game should do this!
I’ll get some minor complaints out of the way first. The first one is that the locker idea, while great, doesn’t quite work. You’re supposed to be able to pick and choose from your earned outfitts by removing them from the character and putting them in your locker. Stickers lose stickiness though and they can be difficult to remove from the standee depending on how they were applied. In all honesty though I don’t know how often you’d choose to do that so it’s not that big a deal.
More significantly is that there aren’t a lot of options for each player. The team at Hub Games should absolutely consider doing sticker-related expansion packs. Do them like Panini sticker albums – let us buy packs that might contain cool foil components. Go full EA – do them as lootboxes.
(Please don’t do them as lootboxes)
But here’s why I love the stickers… they completely solve the issue of representation in games. Don’t force characters and identities onto players – let them design their own. It is so viscerally satisfying on a simple ‘child like joy’ sense to be able to construct my hero. But it also gives me the player the opportunity to be as diverse as I want to be. If I want a black pansexual robot, let me have it. If I want a straight white guy with a fat gut, a beard and glasses, let me create myself. In some respects it’s passing the buck, but in such a great way. Groups that care about diversity can really let loose. Those that don’t can ignore it. Sure, it won’t stop people complaining because we live in an outrage economy. It will stop any of us having to pretend we care about those complaints.
It permits complexity of representation in a way that would otherwise be impossible. It permits expandability because all you need to do is make a sheet of stickers available for purchase. And it’s just fun to attach stickers to your character. If you’ve ever spent hours in a character customisation menu you’ll understand the visceral appeal.
Honestly it’s just so great. As I said in the review, this isn’t good practice or even merely best practice. It’s outstanding practice.
Prisma Arena has an RRP of £35 which is very reasonable given the current climate of board game prices. It supports two to four players, and has a low skill floor which means that you don’t need to find people willing to invest their life into mastering a fiddly board game. You can have fun and execute upon reasonable strategy very quickly after understanding the rules.
A full throated strong recommendation here, with one of our vanishingly rare pluses. A+ effort!
There is a lot of written text in the game. It does come with some symbols that helps make it language indepenent to a degree, but there are a lot of nuances and special effects that will need an element of linguistic fluency. There will be sufficiently few of them in effect at any time that it will eventually be possible to focus on the game instead of the phrasing. There is otherwise no formal need for discussion during the game.
We’ll recommend Prisma Arena in this category.
Those with colour blindness compounding with a visual accessibility issue may find the cards especially difficult to work with given the occasionally poor contrast and colour schemes. Other than that I think we’re in an interesting situation here where the performance across the board, other than those categories that we have already identified, is strong enough that no obvious intersectional issues arise.
The game plays very quickly, with a configurable score limit. While it’s not straightforward to save a game in the middle of a match, you do ‘save’ your characters regularly and the game gives you formal components to handle that. A player can easily enough drop out of play provided the minimum player count is maintained.
I’m not sure a skirmish game is a strong basis from which to expect visual accessibility or a low fluid intelligence ceiling. I think though, insofar it’s possible at all, Prisma Arena does relatively well at least in the cognitive stakes. Unsighted play will always be a problem in games of this nature simply as a consequence of how information processing has to be tied to being able to visually examine game state.
There are some issues with colour blindness, visual design and board referencing I would love to see addressed but overall I think Prisma Arena does very well here. To be honest though, I expect that of Hub Games. They’re one of a handful of companies I know that take accessibility seriously.
We gave Prisma Arena three and a half stars in our review, but I saved my most enthusiastic praise for the teardown because dem stickers. In Village I opened the box to a sense of horror when I saw the sticker sheet. Terror in Meeple City offered them as a simple ornamentation, but in such numbers that I’d rather play with plain meeples. Prisma Arena isn’t the first game we’ve looked at to use stickers, but it’s the first to use them in a way that makes them feel like a joy rather than a chore.
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.