When I Dream accessibility teardown

When I Dream (2016) – Accessibility Teardown

Game Details
NameWhen I Dream (2016)
ReviewMeeple Like Us
ComplexityLight [1.19]
BGG Rank1165 [6.95]
Player Count4-10
Designer(s)Chris Darsaklis
Buy it!Amazon Link

Version Reviewed

English second edition


When I Dream has a great elevator pitch and a weirdly compelling and transgressive hook. Slipping on that eye-mask is an adoption of vulnerability you rarely see in board games. It’s a shame really the game itself fails to be particularly satisfying – the ‘hidden traitor’ mechanisms just don’t work, in our view, in the time-frame of a typical dream. The nature of the guessing at fantastic elements suffers greatly as a result. We gave it two stars in our review.

As usual though if you cared about what we thought about the game you’d be checking out our comments in the other part of the site. You’re not here to have your eyes covered, but rather to have them opened. Is this going to be an accessible game? Let’s see what we can read in our dream journals.

Oh, it says here that I met Superman and Mickey Mouse and we all went to our nearest Dominos pizza place to teach them a lesson for their horrendous food. We cornered the manager, and then we… oh my. Oh my. Oh my god.


Put that to one side. Nobody cares about your dreams anyway.

Colour Blindness

Colour will occasionally be a problem as is always the case when people are dancing around the semantic relationship between words, imagery and concept. The word ‘red’ may come to mind for one player but be interpreted differently by another. That’s not going to be a critical problem, but it may occasionally raise its head.

Colour blindness and cards

The most significant issue for a colour blind player is that the art in the game loses a lot of its aesthetic appeal because of the vibrant palettes. In games like Dixit or Mysterium this sometimes a significant downside but When I Dream is odd in that its art is absolutely meaningless as a gameplay system. It’s the image equivalent of the empty largely irrelevant flavour text you get on games that want you to engage somewhat with their lore. The only thing that really matters in a round of dreaming is the word you need to get the dreamer to guess – they don’t even get to see the cards. As such, the only impact is on the attractiveness of the game. That’s not nothing, but it isn’t a major impediment to enjoying the game itself.

We’ll recommend When I Dream in this category.

Visual Accessibility

The main issue here is going to be in tracking the word that needs to be communicated to the dreamer, and checking the role assigned to non-dreamers in the course of play. These are both significant issues but not necessarily critical ones. Let’s begin with the easiest of these.

Players get dealt out one of three secret roles as part of the setup of a round of dreaming, but this isn’t like most ‘hidden traitor’ games where players need to tease out who is who over the course of the game session. The dreamer needs to work this out but they get very little information other than the clues given and no way to relate their guesses to success until the dream is over. As such, there’s very little need to hide the roles non-dreamers have. It will almost certainly become obvious after a single circuit of the table with regards to fairies and bogeymen, and after a couple for sandmen. Players only retain those roles for the duration of a single dream, which is about two minutes. As such, it seems like there would be little to lose from playing with those roles open. In that circumstance, a player adjacent to a visually impaired or totally blind player could indicate their role either with a whisper or some other covert indication.

Role cards

More problematic are the words that must be communicated to the dreamer. They are well contrasted on the cards and in a consistent position. The pace of the game in normal circumstances though would be sufficiently inaccessible that even those with relatively minor visual impairments would be negatively impacted. Simply sitting opposite the orientation of the word is enough of an issue to slow down the game and it’s not easy to see how this would work in terms of the fundamental inaccessibility of the design as expressed in the rules.

So… the trick is to not go with the set design.

Cards in When I Dream

The time limit in When I Dream just puts an upper bound on the length of time one person is guessing and there are other ways to do this. You could have a set pool of clues you could spend in the group, or play to a certain number of cards. That would remove the need for urgency and permit a visually impaired player access to the necessary information either through close inspection or by having another player quietly clue them in.

For the dreamer, the circumstance is even simpler. The dreamer is supposed to see nothing and as such no visual information need to be obtained or assessed in this role.

If playing with open role information and a card rather than a time limit, When I Dream should prove itself to be a completely accessible game for those with visual impairments. Even the point tokens all have a unique form factor for each denomination.

Point tokens in When I Dream

The only thing that would be lost is the ability to appreciate the often lovely artwork, but that’s entirely irrelevant to the game. You could play a perfectly functional game of When I Dream by tearing random words out of a dictionary. While all this means a visually impaired player will miss out on a lot of the aesthetics they won’t miss out on any of the game.

We’ll recommend When I Dream in this category.

Cognitive Accessibility

A large vocabulary is needed to play When I Dream, and the ability to access it quickly is important. There are a lot of words on the cards, and there is a considerable expectation of general knowledge that goes along with clues .

Spy card

For example, say the word is ‘spy’. Players need to give word clues that are related to spy, and that requires a degree of knowledge in the conventions of spycraft… and, awkwardly, an understanding of what the dreamer understands of the conventions of spycraft. If you say ‘bug’ or ‘assassination’ or ‘secrets’ it reflects a certain set of assumptions about what is involved in being a spy. You want to make sure your assumption match those of the dreamer…

… if you’re a fairy. If you’re a bogeyman it’s a little bit more awkward because you will either be working with force of numbers for your clues (two bogeymen and two fairies basically mean two factions that can reinforce each other with words) or subtle misdirection. If someone says ‘secrets’, you might want to say something like… ‘infidelity’ to move the dreamer from thinking about espionage and more into the terrain of adultery. You want to make sure every clue you give is semantically similar to others but misleading. You have, under the standard rules, five seconds to accomplish that goal. You can though use one of the house-rules indicated in the visual accessibility section to alleviate some of the issues caused by real-time play

But that clue-giving requires a good understanding of things like synoymns, antonyms and homonyms. For the latter (words that sound the same with different meaning) you mostly want to avoid clues that would bring someone around to that direction since it doesn’t matter if someone got the right answer for the wrong reason. That said, homonyms often have radically different semantic signatures so sometimes that will the right thing to say.

Sandmen have a slightly more complicated role than the other non-dreamers since they need to aim to balance the correct and incorrect guesses. That involves a degree of improvisation and working to adjust the balance of power between fairies and bogeymen as best as possible.

The dreamer’s job is harder than anyone else’s because on top of interpreting clues (and their meaning) there’s also an element of deduction when it comes to working out which players can be trusted to give real clues – and the presence of the sandmen mean that you can’t necessarily rely on any conclusions you’ve drawn. Essentially the dreamer is working with a massive amount of uncertain information with no way to collapse that uncertainty until the dream is over. They then need to remember what they said and recount a dream involving those elements.

We don’t recommend When I Dream in either of our categories of cognitive accessibility. Too much literacy is required, too much general knowledge, and too much uncertainty when it comes to interpretation.

Physical Accessibility

Mostly good news here – the only really taxing physical interaction is removing cards from the bed when they have been guessed and that can be handled by any physically able player at the table. The game is real-time, but variants that stress dream length by card or clue can be just as effective. The only difficulty is likely to be seeing a card that is at the opposite side of the table because it’s often the case players need to get up and read (upside down) the contents. That can be addressed, in most circumstances, by orienting the bed of the game in the most convenient way for the table.

When I Dream bed

Other than this, the only physical act required during play is the donning of an eye-mask. If that is not appropriate, a compensation is for a player to keep their eyes closed. That requires a bit more effort than the mask, but other alternatives are possible. All that’s required is for the dreamer to be unable to see words and you can do that as easily by someone turning away (or being turned away) from the table.

We’ll recommend When I Dream in this category.

Emotional Accessibility

Given the utter lack of a knowable link between clues, cards and success it’s difficult for players to take performance too seriously in When I Dream. Or at least, it should be. Every time I’ve played it (and I’ve done so with a large number of different people) they’ve all remarked upon how impossible it felt to actually be the dreamer. There are so many axes of unreliability:

  • You don’t know what roles players have
  • The clues given by players may not be a good match for your shared semantic context
  • Some players will be intentionally trying to mislead
  • The clues given by a player that seems reliable may not be reliable all the time
  • You don’t know when making a guess if you were correct

And you have two minutes to unpack all of this into some kind of meaningful strategy. It would be perhaps more tractable if you were told ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ after a guess but that doesn’t happen. All you can hope is that a pattern of clue-giving emerges over the course of the dream but even that can’t be trusted upon given the role of the sandmen.

So… I don’t believe it’s possible for people to get good at When I Dream. I do believe though it might be possible for a group to get good at it given enough plays. The link between individual performance and scoring is not linear though and as such players shouldn’t take bad performance as an indicator of poor skills. That doesn’t mean they won’t, but rather the facts don’t support that conclusion.

I will say too that the eye-mask can be something of an off-putting issue. For one thing, it’s fabric that’s passed around a group and it’s going to accumulate a certain amount of eye-sweat. Blurgh. Players understandably may not want to squish it into their eyes if it feels disquietingly damp. The other thing is that donning an eye-mask is something of an act of trust and that may not be easy for some people. I’ve known some people that instantly ‘noped’ out of playing When I Dream when they realised it involved wearing an eye-mask in a group of people they didn’t know well. Something to bear in mind.

Also, the eye-mask is of pretty poor quality and it’s inevitable the band will snap at some point and you’re likely going to have to be ready to console someone that feels terrible that they broke your game. I bought a secondary eye-mask that I stuffed into the box just so when it happened I could show someone that I had completely anticipated that outcome. I brought it to a few games nights and didn’t want to ruin the night by someone stressing over the fact they were the unlucky one that happened to be wearing the mask when it broke.

One final thing to note is that a few of the words and supporting imagery might be a problem for some groups. For example, the word ‘panties’ is in there and when that appeared in my last playthrough someone at the table remarked ‘Oh my goodness’. Suddenly a game of word association because associated in a direction didn’t feel entirely comfortable. Similarly, when you get a card like this, people might feel a little hoodwinked given the otherwise cutesy aesthetic of the rest of the game.

Mummy playing a flute

We’ll still recommend When I Dream in this category – just be warned that it does occasionally throw some curve-balls your way.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

The manual makes use of the first or second perspective throughout and the cover of the box shows a mix of men and women in the dream elements shown. But unfortunately the balance of men versus women in the cards is way off – where there is a non-gendered role (baker, farmer, actor, scientist, etc, etc) it is almost always a man represented.

These men are dreamy

There are a few gendered roles (fireman, princess, waiter) that could have been non-gendered, but regardless the number of women shown on the cards is much, much smaller than then number of men. Like… orders of magnitude more.

Gendered cards

The ethnicity of characters too skews very white. It’s a shame – it would have been great to see something as freeing as ‘elements in a dream’ take the opportunity to shake up some default associations.

When I Dream has an RRP of around £27 and I can’t fault it at that price. You get a phenomenal amount of absolutely lovely art and it supports a wide range of player-counts. Components are reasonably high quality, although you will probably need to buy a backup sleep mask just to be on the safe side. It’s worth factoring that in to the price.

We’ll tentatively recommend When I Dream in this category.


The literacy required to play stresses vocabulary more than the specific words on cards might imply because players need to know those words and the words those words imply. It’s much like in the concept of lexical priming where saying one word warms up other, related parts of the brain so that the words encoded in those synapses are more readily available. Here you need a kind of vocabularly priming and the speed of the game, in its default mode, doesn’t give a lot of room for dealing with articulation or translation. To be fair you can play to a card limit rather than a time limit but that only changes the urgency of required vocabularly rather than the sophistication.

Nobody will be talking over other players in the process of play, but while that makes it easier to deal with when there are articulation or hearing impairments in a group again it doesn’t impact on the necessary literacy for players.

Play as a dreamer is fully based on aural information, and that’s going to make the game almost completely unplayable in circumstances where precision of perception of words is going to be an issue.

We don’t recommend When I Dream in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

Visual inaccessibility intersecting with a physical impairment that prohibits close inspection of cards can potentially be an issue, but if playing without a time limit this can be alleviated by a more conveniently situated player communicating a word to another – either through whispers or through conversion into a bigger print version. If someone has a tablet or phone available for example the words are small enough to be translated into large text for the visually impaired. If whispering the word, the only thing that needs ensured is that the dreamer doesn’t hear the word – it’s otherwise public knowledge.

There are otherwise no obvious intersections that come to mind.

When I Dream plays reasonably briskly, although accessibility compensations will have an unusually pointed impact on that. It’s also a game that permits playing to a number of dreams, or until everyone has had a go at being the dreamer, or in whatever kind of round system preferred. It’s also easily deferred because of the way the game permits state to be saved with regards to the deck (the bed acts as a convenient save capsule for these). Points are easily written down and replicated later. The game doesn’t overly sprawl either, making it suitable for playing in reasonably close quarters.


Unsurprisingly a game where a player spends a good deal of time with their eyes covered has a lot to recommend it in our visual accessibility section, and the fact it’s often about listening has an equally obvious impact when discussing how it fares for those with communication impairments.

When I Dream, Meeple Like Us, [CC-BY 4.0]
Colour BlindnessB
Visual AccessibilityB
Fluid IntelligenceD
Physical AccessibilityB
Emotional AccessibilityB
Socioeconomic AccessibilityC

But there are some less obvious accessibility considerations too. The eye-mask which gets a little bit damp as it makes its way around the table is a less repulsive version of the Speak Out issue of pressing your bodily fluids onto other people. The act of donning an eye-mask itself is also somewhat transgressive and off-putting for some players. The representation issues are more of a missed opportunity than anything unexpected though. They’re dreams – when is there a more appropriate time to be aspirational with regards to inclusion?

We didn’t really like When I Dream all that much. We gave it two stars in our review. We’ll stick with Dixit and Mysterium. Really, the similarities to those two are skin-deep – based on the largely irrelevant imagery rather than anything else. I can see why When I Dream might seduce you to join it in its comfortable bed, but all it really offers is a little bit of limited fumbling around words rather than something genuinely satisfying.

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.