Trial by Trolley Accessibility Teardown

Trial by Trolley (2020) – Accessibility Teardown

Game Details
NameTrial by Trolley (2020)
ReviewMeeple Like Us
ComplexityLight [1.06]
BGG Rank4156 [6.45]
Player Count (recommended)3-13 (3-5, 5-11)
Designer(s)Scott Houser
Buy it!Amazon Link

Version Reviewed

English edition

Introduction

Trial by Trolley is pretty much as good as any other party game, but it has an odd premise that makes it an uncomfortable fit for a lot of scenarios. It offers a more literate take on social gaming, but those that would appreciate it most are also the ones least likely to truly enjoy the way it is constructed. Still, few other games let you seamlessly make an argument for cosmic absurdity while simultaneously reminding everyone at the table that ‘trains probably can’t kill a ghost’. We gave it three stars in our review.

Ah, but you know the mantra by now. It doesn’t really matter what we think about a game, what matters is whether a game can be played. Wow, what do you know – it turns out I’m a consequentialist after all.

I may need to sit down and ponder that for a bit. In the meantime, let’s get cracking.

Colour Blindness

Colour blindness is not a problem in the slightest. Cards that might be identified by colour (on the back) are also coded with an icon. Their front face contains not only art but also a full description of what that art is supposed to depict.

Colour blindness trial by trolley cards

Only two tokens are used during play, and they are for scoring. They are double sided, with the three denomination having a prominent numeral to accompany its change in colour.

Trial by Trolley colour blindness tokens

We strongly recommend Trial by Trolley in this category.

Visual Accessibility

Ideally Trial by Trolley is a team game, but at its lowest player counts it may be made up of ‘teams of one’. In a team with a sighted player there’s no problem at all – the sighted player can indicate options in the team’s hidden hand of cards. Everything else can be played with narration. ‘I have added ‘a boy and his dog’ to my track’. ‘I have added the modifier that God, on your track, is constantly trying to talk to you while you’re wearing headphones’. The cards on the track serve as the basis for argument, so mostly this is a discussion-based game with some visual information. In most circumstances it should work seamlessly.

For lower player counts, it’s possible to workshop compensatory strategies. For example, the conducter (an impartial judge) might help a visually impaired player by whispering what cards they have. As long as they don’t influence the decision-making process, that would work well enough.

As with a lot of games of this type, the rules don’t actually matter all that much and you could probably have just as good a time by dealing out random cards to the tracks and then being forced to defend, or not, what you’re stuck with.

It’s not a perfect game for people with visual accessibility needs, at least at the lower player counts, but you can definitely play a game of Trial by Trolley, in one of its forms, no matter the level of blindness. We’ll strongly recommend it in this category.

Cognitive Accessibility

Trial by Trolley, by virtue of its framing, is essentially a game about articulating value judgements. Your job is to make the perceived cost of choosing your track higher than the perceived value.  That’s goal one for making a cogent argument. The second goal is to make the difference between cost and value greater for your track than it is for your opponent’s. By itself that’s actually a cognitively demanding task that draws on understanding of consequence and of context. Given the nature of the cards it also asks a massive degree of fluency in general knowledge. One of the cards for example is ‘Malala’. It provides no other information. You might know who that is, but also you might not and a quick summary doesn’t actually take in the greatest sweep of her accomplishments. ‘She’s an advocate for female education, inspired to be so because she was shot in the face after taking an exam when she was fifteen’. That’s a good capsule overview but where do you start and stop concisely annotating someone else’s life?

It’s not just her though, there’s a lot of that kind of thing in here. Some more examples:

  • Mr Rogers
  • An external hard drive with 3 billion bitcoin on it that can all be yours if it isn’t hit by a trolley
  • Tom Hanks
  • The next Picasso
  • Robin Hood
  • The Supreme Court Justices You Agree With
  • Keanu Reeves

Etc, etc, etc.

They are not obscure references but situating them in context – which is often very US centric – can be challenging. Why, realistically, should anyone care that Tom Hanks gets hit by a train? He seems like a nice guy but honestly there are enough Tom Hanks movies in the world. What do you know about Tom Hanks that would serve as the basis of a stay of execution? What even is a bitcoin, and what would be the implications of getting access to three billion of them? You’d need to make a number of associations there, including how much they’d be worth (£26,308,888,881,000 at the time of writing), what that would do to the world economy (probably nothing since it’s hard to imagine one person having a monopoly on bitcoin would result in it keeping its value), and what the technical implications would be (can you even access them? Are they password protected?).

The thing is, you’re not looking to convince yourself – you’re looking to convince the conductor while someone else tries to undermine every argument you make.  How do you relate the Supreme Court Justices for example to someone that is living in, say, Sweden and originally from the UK? I literally don’t care. Your country is screwed anyway, saving any Justices would be like pissing in the wind at this point. If they’re not killed instantly by the train they’ll just be torn apart in the Purge style civil war that is hurtling towards the US. I get why some people might care. How do you make me care?

That’s your task in every round in which you are defending your track and it is cognitively demanding to do it skilfully and pretty boring if people aren’t trying to make the most credible case.

For those with memory considerations only, all the information in the game is easily visible and there is no consequence on the current round that comes from previous rounds. You deal with the scenario in front of you. Knowledge of the decks doesn’t really make a difference because you only have a small set of cards you can choose from and the rest is random. Even if you knew which cards were coming out of the hopper next, they only matter in conjunction with cards you have available.

You still need to remember the flow of an argument, although realistically so much of it will be bizarre, logically tenuous and functionally irrelevant that I don’t think it’s going to make much of a difference.

We can’t recommend Trial by Trolley for those with fluid intelligence impairments, but those with memory impairments alone will have an easier time with it.

Physical Accessibility

In the normal team based scenario, abled players will be able to compensate for players with physical accessibility issues. In the scenario where three players are each part of a team of one player each, it’s still entirely possible to play the game with access to a few card holders. Each team will have three cards of three types – a total of nine that need to be kept visible. They’re each clearly defined and easily verbalised. There is a slight issue in that an opaque holder may obscure the bottom of a card – they’re oriented in landscape and there isn’t a huge amount of space between the bottom of the card and its text content.

A Trial by Trolley card

Other than this, the game is fully playable with verbalisation and since most of it is discussion based the physical interaction with the game state becomes largely irrelevant.

We’ll recommend Trial by Trolley in this category.

Emotional Accessibility

As with all games of this nature, the cards and the conversation have the potential to create difficult scenarios for those with emotional accessibility issues. The cards are notably less transgressive than in Joking Hazard, but a point I keep stressing in these analyses is that the content of the game is only a catalyst. It starts the discussion, but you can’t control where it goes.

The card ‘your mum’ is one of the innocents, as an example. A modifier ‘Is holding your family hostage’. It’s a funny conjunction… unless you do live in a family with a dominant, abusive mother in which case it may hit a little too close to home. ‘Your dog’ is another card, and if your dog was actually killed by a vehicle… well, good luck finding the comedy in that. I’m almost certain you cannot have a game like this without also forcing the table to accept the possibility that feelings may be hurt – intentionally or otherwise. The problem with such things is that you can’t necessarily predict it ahead of time. You can stay away from ‘the big stuff’ easily enough, but the smaller, subtler traumas are difficult to reveal ahead of time, and problematic if you do.

But don’t let me overstate this – Trial by Trolley is notably less problematic in this respect than many of the other games where it’s an issue. There’s no real momentum of ‘shock comedy’. It would be remiss to pretend there’s no potential problem though in a game where you might be arguing that you should kill your mother (who is just an utter bastard, according to the modifier) because she’s acceptable collateral if you can kill an obnoxious teenage billionaire. It’s probably the safest of these games to bring out without warning, but it’s still a roll of the dice.

That’s leaving aside the actual theme of the game where you need to choose who is going to die, but you’ll know just from the premise if it’s likely to be a problem. You know your friends better than I do. Except for Billy. I know Billy really well.

We’ll tentatively recommend Trial by Trolley in this category.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

There are explicitly gendered characters in Trial by Trolley but the box doesn’t overly favour one over the other. The manual, such as it is, isn’t gendered. The cards show a blend of men, women and children. There’s a good blend of ethnicities represented too, and everything is in the curiously non-specific style of the Cyanide and Happiness cartoons so there’s a lot of ambiguity that you can interpret in whatever way you feel best. Doing a full calculation of representation would likely reveal some imbalances, but at that point you’re just looking for reasons to be upset. It passes the eyeball test, in other words.

Trial by Trolley box

It has an RRP of $25 and that’s about par for the course for a game of this nature. As with Joking Hazard, they give you access to a print and play version to check if it’s the sort of thing you might enjoy and that’s pretty great consumer-friendly behaviour. It does require three players at minimum, and it doesn’t thrive at that count because discussion and collaboration in complicity is a big part of the experience. If you can’t regularly get at least five together to play it, it might not be the greatest choice.

We’ll still recommend it in this category.

Communication

Sadly, this is a problem category. So much of the game is based on being able to construct a fluent and convincing argument that it loses out massively if that’s going to be an issue. It’s a problem if you have an articulation condition, a hearing condition, or a language issue. To be fair, you don’t need to have the discussion phase during play – you could just lay down cards and leave them to speak for themselves. That would be a terrible variation of the game though – it thrives in conversation. And, since it’s also competitive and team-based, it requires everyone on one team to argue with compatible goals and at cross-purposes to the other team.

The thing is, Trial by Trolley doesn’t really emphasize this competitive element – you can argue for fun and still get the most out of it. But it does require the inherent absurdity of the premise, and the scenarios, to be well explored and the best way to do that is in adversarial debate. You want to find the funny implications of what’s laid in front of you, and that works best when you’re required to defend ridiculous propositions or advance dubious offensives. ‘Look, we all agree slavery is bad but…’

Technically speaking you can play Trial by Trolley if a communication impairment needs to be taken into account. But you probably shouldn’t. We don’t recommend it in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

So much of the game is discussion based, and we’ve already ruled communication impairments as a problem category. As such, any issue that comes about from any of our obvious intersections can be handled as a result of the team based system. Those that can’t, or in play sessions with fewer players, the conductor can often act as a supporting player. Some alterations to game flow might be required if preserving the integrity of the game experience is important. Player count generally though is an accessibility factor that should probably be taken into account during play.

Trial by Trolley lasts pretty much as long as people want. It does have a formal win condition, but the truth is you play these games until you bore of them and Trial by Trolley is just as effective at permitting that. It even supports dropping in and out provided you have enough players to keep it going and don’t overly care about score consistency.

Conclusion

Trial by Trolley has an interesting premise and pulls it off well enough to warrant its place on a game shelf. Party games by their very nature don’t give us a lot to talk about on the site, but this one at least makes a stab at offering something genuinely new. You’d be reading our review if you cared about that though.

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

Aside from the two categories you probably could have guessed at going in, there’s a strong performance here for Trial by Trolley. Even those that might want to avoid potentially sensitive or difficult topics will find it easier to do here than in many similar games, and that’s saying something given the whole thing is about smashing trains into innocent people. Such is the benefit of tone. Maybe don’t play it with anyone that lost their entire family to a freak Crossrail accident though.

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We gave Trial by Trolley three stars in our review. It’s a valiant attempt to do something a bit more innovative with the formula of ‘Friends as Gameplay systems’ but ultimately it suffers from working within a medium that is fundamentally flawed for exploring ethical dilemmas in a meaningful sense. It’s worth checking out though if you get a chance, and there’s reason to believe from this teardown you might even find it playable.


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.