Wavelength Accessibility Teardown

Wavelength (2019) – Accessibility Teardown

Game Details
NameWavelength (2019)
ReviewMeeple Like Us
ComplexityLight [1.10]
BGG Rank612 [7.58]
Player Count (recommended)2-12 (2-4, 4-12)
Designer(s)Alex Hague, Justin Vickers and Wolfgang Warsch
Buy it!Amazon Link

Version Reviewed

English edition

Introduction

Wavelength is a fascinating, interesting game of staring into the bleak abyss that exists in the gulf between inside and outside of our heads. It’s a solipsist horror story of abject isolation. A game of learning what it means to truly be alone in a universe vast beyond all human comprehension. Bring it to a party, it’s a blast!

We gave it four stars in our review, although we noted that it does thrive most in circumstances where everyone is willing to maybe bend the rules of the magic circle. It works best in the space where absurdity is given room to stretch its legs and that sometimes requires a little bit of complicity in incompetence. Not often, but enough that it took the brightest shine off the game for me. Nonetheless, it’s something that I will happily play at any party to which I am invited.

Assuming, that is, I ever get invited to a party.

In any case, that’s not why you’re here. What lies approximately half-way between accessibility insight and unbearable pomposity? That’s right, it’s a Meeple Like Us accessibility teardown and you just got four points for getting your guess exactly right.

Colour Blindness

It’s not a problem. The wheel you rotate to give answer ranges is marked with colours but also with numbers, and I’m not sure the colour coding on the cards corresponds to anything in particular.

Colour blindness and answer wheel

The only small issue is that the markers used to indicate score have a poorly differentiated palette, but you’ll use them slotted into the left or right of the box in any case. As long as you remember which side is your team, it’ll be fine.

Score tracker

The cards are occasionally a little unclear in terms of where one side becomes the other, at least in poor lighting and in severe cases of colour blindness. Since the spectrum of concepts is clearly printed on the front and it’s never impossible to tell the difference it’s not at all an actual issue.

Cards and colour blindness in wavelength

We strongly recommend Wavelength in this category.

Visual Accessibility

Let’s talk about this in terms of the two roles that you have when playing Wavelength.

The first is as a team player, when you try to guess where the psychic has placed their answer on the wheel. That’s absolutely fine because it’s actually fully tactile. You can touch the dial, which has a rod sticking out of it, and feel for where the current guessed range is. It’s not quite as good as having access to the visual information, but it’s certainly good enough to participate fully in the guessing. Most of Wavelength is a game of discussion, so it’s actually fine.

Wavelength dial

Playing the psychic though is more of an issue, but there are some workarounds.

The cards that the psychic gets are only textual, showing the spectrum that they need to give a clue for. The workaround is that the card can be revealed to the table and verbalised without someone having to read it. That would have a small impact on the game because intonation may perhaps be used as a way to arrive at an early consensus on meaning. I suspect that’s difficult to properly weaponise and in any case you can work around this in competitive scenarios by by having the other team read it out.

The second issue is more substantial and requires something correspondingly more robust. The psychic rotates the wheel of answer ranges and then picks a clue that lies roughly where the dial is supposed to go. That wheel has no tactile indicator, and indeed it can’t because the other players aren’t allowed to know where the range is before they answer.

Wavelength actually comes in two versions – the cooperative version where everyone is on the same team trying to maximise a score, and the competitive version where there’s another team that gets to try and refine the guess of their opponents. The workaround here is that a player from the opposite team can sit out that part (which isn’t a very exciting part of the game in any case) in order to give a a visually impaired psychic a physical clue about where the answer range is. Guide their fingers to the appropriate area, hidden from everyone else, and then they know everything they need to know to give a meaningful clue. The dial can be used for this as well, which is an interesting accidental accessibility feature. The support player can simply rotate the dial, hidden from everyone else, to the centre of where the range is. The visually impaired player, much like when asking as a guesser, can then physically investigate its location. The danger there is that if someone forgets to reset it before revealing the hidden wheel to the table then they’ve also just given away the answer.

That won’t work in the cooperative game, but if there are enough players there’s nothing to say people couldn’t take turns acting as a psychic assistant when necessary.

The other alternative is that a visually impaired player simply doesn’t take on the role of a psychic, but that’s not something I’d really endorse.

Nonetheless, we recommend Wavelength in this category. It just can’t be played in all circumstances, and all modes, by all player counts.

Cognitive Accessibility

This is a massive problem category for those with fluid intelligence impairments because it hits a number of our concern points. First of all, a literacy level is required and while it’s not like anyone will be reading lots of text they’ll be dealing with a lot of relatively complex oppositions. Even that’s not the real issue. The issue is that these represent a spectrum along which lies ‘All things, represented in degrees of difference of scale’. And the players either have to guess the position someone else thinks is occupied by something, or actually suggest something that occupies a specific portion of that spectrum. And that is challenging. Consider the example below.

A wavelength wheel showing replaceable versus irreplaceable, with the answer region very heavily towards irrecplacible.

I mean, the idea of ‘irreplacability’ is a relatively challenging one anyway. What truly is irreplaceable? Time? Integrity? Virginity? What does this scale even look like? And what’s the most replaceable thing in the set of all possible things? Drawing pins? Try replacing them in the Sahara. Sand? Try getting a replacement for that in WH Smiths. What actually lies at the end of these axes? Youtube celebrities? Social media friends? And then… what lies close enough to the far-right axis that it’ll get someone that juicy four points?

It’s actually a lot more difficult than the simplicity of the task implies and it requires players plumb their reserves of situational knowledge, general knowledge, and social history.

And also, occasionally… it’s easy to get these axes mixed up. That’s my excuse for why, in one game, I came out as a massive fan of Hitler. I’d just misremembered where ‘good’ and ‘evil’ lay on the card.

Don’t believe me that this can be difficult? Well, here’s your clue… ‘Nicholas Cage’.

Closed Wavelength wheel. The spectrum is 'Good Actor' versus 'Bad Actor'

Good luck!

Wavelength presents then an incredibly challenging task, and while it’s one that’s only entertaining if people get it wrong… it requires people to feel like they could have gotten it right. Complicity with the fiction of the game is necessary, but that complicity must come with plausibility.

I think the level of knowledge required to play Wavelength convincingly is very high – high enough that I can’t at all recommend it in our fluid intelligence category.

For memory impairments, there’s less of an issue. All the information you need is in front of you, and while the psychic covers up the region of the wheel that corresponds to their clue they’re not allowed to give any followup information anyway. The only issue might come with the post-guess discussion where someone is potentially going to be quizzed on why their clue was, obviously, so ridiculous.

Fittingly, these observations put Wavelength on something of a spectrum of its own. It’s an E for fluid intelligence, and a B for memory.

Physical Accessibility

There are a couple of minor physical accessibility issues that might be impactful. The first is that the lever used to open the shield is not particularly easy to use. It can’t conveniently be lifted from its cradle when it’s been fully seated, and thus it needs two hands to do if you’re not simply going to flip the main device. However, holding it is also an issue because it’s relatively easy to dislodge the wheel against which you have calibrated your answer. It’s not a show-stopping issue or anything, it mostly just means that revelation becomes something of a multi-person job in cases of physical impairment. One to hold the wheel steady, the other to unseat or seat the lever arm.

The larger issue is that it can be difficult for everyone to see the dial depending on how the seating works and how many people are involved. It’s awkward to get an arrangement that means team members can work easily together and everyone can see the device when they need to. There’s a fair bit of rotating it required in anything other than the smaller player counts. Again, not a show-stopping problem but one that is noticeable.

Provided there’s someone to assist with opening and closing the shield (and this can be done without looking at the answer), the game is fully verbalizable. Indeed, you might even say that it’s entirely a verbal game. Even the dial is easily adjusted with instructions such as ‘A hair to the left’. It has preconfigured ‘notches’ to which you can set it, so this even deals with what might be disagreements over hairline differences. ‘One notch to the left’ is unambiguous. Lovely.

We’ll recommend Wavelength in this category, but bear these observations in mind.

Emotional Accessibility

Wavelength is a team based game that, much like Telestrations, is funniest when it’s going wrong. That tends to be a very agreeable design when it comes to this category. However, unlike Telestrations it’s explicitly cast as a game of gaining points and that sort of undercuts the benefits. There are winners and losers here, so for someone that is ultra-competitive that’s going to perhaps lead to some Pictionary style disagreements.

The good news is, you opt-in to that. There’s a perfectly enjoyable cooperative mode where everyone works on maximising points, and the great thing about a game like that is that everyone wins or nobody wins. Otherwise, score disparities can be high and it depends on how in-sync a group is A group that has a lot of common ground will score quickly and easily. Other groups, where the chemistry may already be a little iffy, will not do quite so well. In the end it’s a race to ten points, and some teams just won’t gel well enough to get out of the starting gate.

But if you can all ignore the points, that’s where the comedy lives.

Otherwise, it’s also a game where not everyone is going to have the same amount of fun. In the last game we played we had maybe ten players. Everyone got a shot at being the psychic except for the last person because one team (not mine, of course) hit the win threshold. At that point you either let someone have a sympathy turn or just accept that some people aren’t going to get to play both roles in the same session.

We’ll recommend Wavelength in this category regardless. The competitive mode takes away a lot of the potential sting, and if everyone is prepped to begin with that this is a game of comedy error they’ll not worry about the points in any case.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

The manual makes use of a gender neutral tone throughout, and the art in the game doesn’t include any human figures. The score markers are explicitly referenced as ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’ so there’s no cause for worry there. The box art is surprisingly lovely too for something so abstract.

Wavelength box

It’s a somewhat meaty price for a party game – £35 RRP in a market where £15 or £20 is more common. I will say though that I think it’s a dramatically better game than something like Codenames (£15) or The Mind (£10), both of which share a considerable amount of DNA with Wavelength. The problem is – you could buy Telestrations and either of those for the same price and I think that’s the option I’d plump for. It’s a shame that it’s a victim of its own component excesses, but I don’t think a cardboard contraption would have been meaningfully worse. We’ll still recommend Wavelength here, but your mileage will vary on the value.

Communication

This is another problem category. There’s a relatively high need for literacy, as well as the ability to articulate a clue and/or discuss it with team-mates. Conversations will tend to become quite abstract, as will clues, and occasionally there’s a very nuanced sophistication about word choice. Is ‘mediocre cup of tea’ the same thing as an ‘average cup of tea’? I’d say not. Is ‘quite’ more of an intensifier than ‘very’? It depends on where you come from. If I say something is ‘not bad’, where does that land it? Probably not where you expect, because ‘not bad’ in Scotland is actually a high mark of distinction. What would you say though, and to what extent do I believe that you’ll say the same thing as I would? That’s the level of precision you might be working with, and trying to convince people about that one arbitrary word choice is critical. The ability to articulate, sometimes in confrontation, is important.

We don’t recommend Wavelength in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

A memory impairment linked to a visual impairment will mean a lot of the reminders of game state will go missing, and it could become easy for a player to become decoupled from the conversation. Likewise a physical impairment combined with a memory impairment means that the issue with rotating the box around might become more pointed if it’s hard to recall what was there the last time that someone looked.

Wavelength plays pretty much as quickly as you like – you can play to the set ten points or you can play to a number of points defined by how many cards you want to play. It’s also a game that’s really easy to suspend and come back to – the box is the board and there’s not much you need to do to hold game state between sessions. Its relative compactness makes it ideal in circumstances of limited space and its flexibility of playtime time means it’s unlikely to exacerbate issues of discomfort or distress.

Conclusion

Aside from its two problem categories, Wavelength does really well here. And even in those categories I’m not sure I could suggest much to improve things. The game wouldn’t work without the focus it has on the minutiae of language and conceptualisation. It need the ambiguity of nuance in which to function. Both of those things stress fluid intelligence and communication.

Wavelength, Meeple Like Us, [CC-BY 4.0]
CategoryGrade
Colour BlindnessA-
Visual AccessibilityB-
Fluid IntelligenceE
MemoryB
Physical AccessibilityB
Emotional AccessibilityB
Socioeconomic AccessibilityB
CommunicationD

That’s not to say there’s no room for improvement, but it’s all relatively minor. Nothing that would shift a recommendation grade or flip a negative into a plus. It’s a notably well designed product.

And that’s good to know, because it’s also a great game that I enjoyed a lot every time I played. A quick, effortless game that provides the opportunities for endless amounts of variety in the experience. Every notch of the answer wheel is an interesting puzzle. Every new card a riddle. We gave it four stars in our review. It’s a clever design, and I’m delighted to say a lot of people are going to be able to enjoy what it has to offer.

 


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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.