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Merkator Review: Will It Pass the Colorblind Test?

Updated on March 20, 2017
Merkator from Lookout Games
Merkator from Lookout Games

My husband and I are board game enthusiasts. Our collection totals more than 120 games. When considering a new game, we prefer that it plays well with two people. It must have a theme and a mechanic that we both enjoy. Because my husband is colorblind, our board game purchases are also guided by how well a game plays for people who are colorblind. The rest of this article will focus on that.

Understanding Colorblindness

For the unfamiliar, colorblindness is more like blurry vision than the ability to not see any color at all (except for a small percentage - monochromacy/achromatopsia). Generally, for those who are nearsighted, a small letter “E” far away is hard to discern, and a giant letter “E” up close is easy to discern. Similarly, someone with red/green deficiency (deuteranopes) may have a hard time discerning a small red swatch far away, but close up it can be clearer. There is a wide spectrum of blurry vision problems, as there is also with color blindness. This review will discuss how colors are used in the game Merkator, and how much colorblindness (deuteranomalous) affects game play.

Merkator - A Strategy Board Game

Merkator is about the rise of Hamburg after the Thirty Years' War. Players act as merchants, collecting goods/cubes for fulfilling contracts. Merchants travel from one location to the next to collect goods of different types, while spending time (small tokens with an hour glass icon) to do so. Goods are represented by colored wooden cubes. The bright colors make this game visually appealing to me, but I'm not colorblind. My husband is, however, so he may feel differently. Let's take a look to see if all of those pretty colors cause trouble for someone who is colorblind. The last player to eat a Hamburger goes first!

Goods Cubes on the Main board

Every goods cube in Merkator can symbolize two different types of goods. Once a goods cube is designated as one type, it cannot be changed to another. Eight of the locations on the board produce cubes during the game and each one only produces one color. When you move to a location you pick up the pile of cubes and then you decide which of the two types of resources each one is.

  • Grey - Fabric, Coal
  • Red - Citrus Fruit, Spice
  • Blue - Plums, Wine
  • Orange - Vegetables, Calfskin
  • Green - Livestock, Muskets
  • Yellow - Grain, Saltpeter
  • Purple - Ham, Fish Oil
  • Black - Copper, Iron

Everywhere the cubes are referenced in the game, the name of the good is also listed. When you pick up a pile of 7 green cubes from Hamburg, the board says they can be Livestock or Muskets.

Goods Cubes on the Main Board in Merkator
Goods Cubes on the Main Board in Merkator

Goods Cubes on the Player board

After picking up goods cubes from the main board, players place them in corresponding slots on the player board. The slots show the color of the cube and the good type for each slot. It’s not too difficult to take those 7 green cubes from Hamburg and find the slots for Livestock and Muskets. Since you cannot change the type of a good cube once it is placed, they stay in the slot until you use them to fulfill a contract. Each of the slots for the same color cubes are separated by at least one slot of a different color cube (two of the same color are never adjacent to one another.) It is unlikely for the cubes to slide around on the board and cause a player to lose track of what type they are. Although, if an angry player flips the table, you’re out of luck.

Goods Cubes on the Player Board-Merkator
Goods Cubes on the Player Board-Merkator

Supply Tile

Each player starts the game with a small supply tile with one cube of each color. The player is allowed to use these cubes at any time. They do not have a goods type when on the supply tile. They move them from their supply tile to their player board, deciding on what type it is, and placing it in the corresponding slot. The player only gets one cube of each color for the entire game on the supply tile. The only color blind issue would be if the small tile got bumped and they couldn’t tell/remember what they used. Another player could help them reset the tile if they needed assistance without affecting the game.

Merkator Supply Tile
Merkator Supply Tile

Contract Cards

Players start with four contract cards. They are placed along the bottom of the player board. Each contract lists a type of good and how many of each good is required to fulfill that contract. Contracts cannot be partially completed. The contracts show the cube color, number of cubes, and type of the good. Fortunately for colorblind players, the words on the cards are enough to tell you what you need. You could potentially ignore the colors all together.

Merkator Contract Cards
Merkator Contract Cards

A few of the cube icon colors don't seem to exactly match the color of the physical cube. It seems like color seeing players often have more issues with this. The purple color cube on the card is a different shade than the the wooden purple cube. A few players have said the blue cube on the card looks more like the purple wooden cube. It really doesn't cause problems, though. It's more of just a topic of discussion during the game.

Bonus cards and Building cards

Bonus cards give you extra bonus cubes when you travel to specific locations on the main board. The cards specify which type of good cube you get, not only the color. If a card says you get two plums, you can’t decide to make them two wine.

Building cards don’t make reference to specific cube colors. They tend to request categories of goods (clothes, food, weapons). These have specific, easy to distinguish icons. The odd part about building cards is that they have a picture of a man instead of a building. Colorblindness does not affect building cards.

Merkator Bonus Cards
Merkator Bonus Cards

Summary

Merkator is a fun game that at first glance looks like it would be a nightmare for a colorblind player. Upon inspection, the designers of Merkator have nailed all the spots that could be a major issue. The only task a coloblind player might need help with is initially sorting the bag of mixed cubes before playing for the first time. The small crates of cubes on the main board fit in the game box assembled after game play, so all of the cubes stay separated in storage. As a bonus for my husband and myself, this game plays very well with only two players.

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