After a long day of studying, students might want to unwind and simply have a little fun at their computers. Playing a game is one way to accomplish this, and free games can be the best option of all. Sometimes, it can be hard to find a variety of different game options to choose from. If you aren't into shooting aliens out of the sky, or playing text adventure titles, what other options are available? Some people play word games, while others enjoy a variety of card games. Many games are available for mobile devices, but what about desktops and laptops? This month, we will take a look at a website that contains several free games that are accessible to players with visual impairments who run the Windows operating system on their computers.
Spoonbill Software is a gaming site designed by Ian Humphreys, a retired computer programmer from Australia. Rather than deal with the hassles of maintaining a site that charged a fee for each game, Humphreys decided to simply make the website a labor of love, and make all games available for free. While many of the games from Spoonbill Software are intended for sighted players, the author has dedicated a portion of the site to blind gamers.
As of this writing, the site contains the following games accessible to the blind:
Blind Gamers (BG) Cribbage
BG Free Cell Solitaire
BG Klondike Solitaire
BG Scorpion Solitaire
BG Penguin Solitaire
BG 15 Puzzle
BG Word Target
BG Chess Challenge
BG Crossword Puzzle
BG Code Breaker
BG Master Mind
BG Poker Solitaire
BG Cribbage Solitaire
BG Spider Solitaire
BG Pyramid Solitaire
BG Nomination Whist
BG Mine Sweeper
BG Word Jumble
BG Word Solitaire
BG Word Builder
BG Aces Up Solitaire
BG Tri-Peaks Solitaire
BG Elevens Solitaire
BG Word Yahtzee
BG Draw Dominoes
BG Fives Dominoes
BG Golf Solitaire
BG Word Maze
BG Twenty 20 Cricket
BG Word Candy
Each game has a simple install routine, and is self-voicing which means that it is not necessary to have a screen reader loaded when playing the game. That said, I have successfully played these games with NVDA, Windows Narrator, and JAWS for Windows running. This means that occasionally I will receive speech prompts from both the game and my currently running screen reader.
We will take a look at three of the titles from Spoonbill Software, taking a look at things that are common across many if not all of the games offered.
BG Word Candy from Spoonbill Software
BG Word Candy is a simple game that presents you with six letters. From these letters, you must make words by using the Right and Left Arrow keys to move to the desired letter, and pressing either the Spacebar or Up Arrow key to insert the letter. It is also possible to type words into the game from the keyboard. If you choose to play against the clock, you have 5 minutes to complete 10 words on the first round, and 15 seconds less with each subsequent round. Not all levels have 10 words. Some have seven or eight. You can opt to not have a time limit, if you prefer. You get bonus points for completing a game level before your time is up, and for creating a six-letter word.
The first time I played this game, I occasionally found myself in what I will call key-describer mode, where I was told what each key press would do, but actions were not carried out. Restarting the game seemed to take care of this problem. I learned later, from reading the help file, that this key describer mode can be invoked by holding down the CTRL key while pressing a letter. I originally did not find a Help file associated with this game, but instructions are spoken during game play. Desktop shortcuts were supposed to be installed with the game, but this did not happen after two installs. A desktop icon for the Help file should also have been added, but this was not present either. I later discovered the Help file, which gives shortcut keys that make game play much more pleasant. It is possible to change the speed of the game's voice, and I found that increasing the speed helped me complete game levels much more quickly. With JAWS running, I constantly heard the game's timer count down—something I was not able to silence without muting JAWS speech or unloading it completely. Shortcut commands make it easy to hear a partial word you have entered, learn what six-letter words are available in a round, and edit an already-submitted word in order to add variants of that word to your list of answers. An example of this would be the words "tape" and "tapes." As someone who enjoys word games, I expect that I will play this game quite a lot over the coming weeks.
BG Yahtzee from Spoonbill Software
I have always enjoyed a good game of Yahtzee, so BG Yahtzee seemed like a good choice when reviewing Spoonbill Software's collection of games. As with Word Candy, the game's install routine was simple, but this time two shortcuts—one to open the Help file and one to launch the game—were added to my desktop. Along with the extensive Help file, there were a number of shortcut keys available from within the game to make the playing experience more enjoyable. One particular feature of this game is the ability to speed up the voice used by the game, which speeds up the time needed to, for example, find out what numbers have come up when the dice have been rolled. The Help file also does a great job of explaining the rules of the game, as well as the history of Yahtzee. Although I have a favorite Yahtzee game that I play on my iPhone, I can see myself occasionally playing this game on my PC as well.
BG Simon from Spoonbill Software
Most older readers are probably familiar with the old Simon game available in stores. I'm not sure if it's still around, but a version exists on the Spoonbill Software site. A series of tones are played, and the player must match them using the four arrow keys on the keyboard. The game will, by default, speak the words "right," "left," "up," or "down" while playing the various musical tones. Each time a sequence of tones is played by the gamer, a new tone is added. It can become quite a challenge to remember all of the tones in a sequence.
As with all the other games reviewed, it is possible to increase the speed of the game's voice. I did not bother to consult the help file for this game. Although this game is fun, I probably will not play it often, if at all. Perhaps this is because I am a musician, and prefer a real music keyboard under my hands.
The Bottom Line
When the work is done, and it's time to unwind, consider visiting the Spoonbill Software site and downloading some games to play. If you are wondering where the site got its name, there is an explanation on the Frequently Asked Questions page. It's a sweet story, but I will let you read it for yourself.
It is one thing for a retired computer programmer to write free games for the sighted community, but it is quite another for that developer to take the time to make many of his games available to the blind community as well. It is possible to sign up for email alerts so that you can learn when new games are available. Perhaps it might be a good idea to drop the developer a note simply to say thanks for his hard work.
Spoonbill Software provides a Blind Gamers area of its site that is dedicated to visually impaired gamers. All titles are free, and can be easily downloaded. These games are all playable on the Windows platform, and should work on any version of the Windows operating system.