Music plays a very strong role in my life. From filling a room to mood-boosting to parties, I have a playlist for everything. Except, game night. As game night is a purely virtual event at the moment, it stands to reason that a complimentary playlist would clash with gameplay more than enhance the experience. But what about pre-COVID game nights? Once again, no designated playlist other than the natural backdrop of pub noises.
Naturally, when playing solo I have the music on and am singing along – often loudly and not quite in key. Currently, I am blasting The Newton Brothers having just binged both the Haunting of Hill House and Bly Manor. It certainly makes playing Bandido all the more epic!
As someone who always has music on, I do not find it distracting when teaching myself new games on online platforms. I am that person who can read while listening to pop music. Quite often I will have an instrumental playlist on, they are great for relaxing in the evening and don’t interrupt my partner’s gaming either. I find instrumental music blends rather nicely in with thinking time while others make their moves.
When playing online against other people, you have to deal with dodgy internet connections and slow thinking time. Having music on really helps to fill the time and keep your attention on the game, rather than wandering to your phone or another internet tab. A new favourite of mine is Alhambra. It ticks all my boxes: simple mechanic, beautiful artwork, easy to pick up. But it is slow. I have always been a quick thinker. I may not think the greatest tactics but one pops into my head and I usually stick with it. Now, sometimes, waiting for other players means you can plan ahead but I often find they pinch the integral part of my plan!
The biggest hurt when playing Potion Explosion, am I right?
So having music on while I play either solo or versus real-time players online does wonderfully enhance my playing experience. I get to play board games and rock out to my favourite tunes. I still find a way to sing along to instrumental music! The Final Fantasy soundtracks are some of my most listened to music. Which remind me, must bump the Final Fantasy Trading Card Game up my To Be Learned list!
Every now and then, the stars align and my partner gives in to my incessant asking of, “Do you fancy a game night?” We crack out Star Realms and Planet Defenders, set the coffee tables between the sofas, and get comfy. Part of this ritual is finding a lo-fi music playlist and turning it way down. I cannot recall when it started, but that is just how we play. It is something I very grateful for, as my partner thinks so slowly.
When playing Star Realms, he agonises over making sure he has gotten the most out of his cards in comparison to my I-have-three-coins-going-to-buy-that-blob-and-pew-pew-for-two. There is a similar approach taken to Planet Defenders, too. My turn is always over much faster than his. I should probably take a leaf from his book, as he always wins but my brain is not wired that way. If you can’t tell, I was an impatient child! And this is probably why I never could get a handle on chess.
Therefore, having something nice and chill on in the background helps to drown out the cogs turning in my partner’s head while keeping the whole evening calm. I’m not saying his slow thinking can be infuriating, I’m saying his constant winning is!
Pre-lockdown, I would often visit my friend who loves board gaming as much as I do. In fact, she was the one who introduced me to our local group. We call them Girly Game Days, often scheduled when one or both of us were feeling a little blue. Nothing cures the blues like an afternoon playing and eating junk food. As there are only two of us, we tend to keep the games simple. We’ll start with Fluxx, move onto competitive quilting with Patchwork, maybe crack out one of the entirely random games in her collection, before bringing Scrabble to the table in the vain hope of deterring the kids from joining in after school. No, it does not work.
For this sort of game session, the Girly Game Day, a bit of music on in the background is welcome but not intrinsic. Carrie Underwood could be singing away in the corner but we are honestly gossiping and giggling over how badly we are playing or whatever ridiculous thing the kids have gotten up to! The music becomes part of the ambience and is very much not actively listened to. It’s feel-good music to compliment the aim of the day: to come away from the table feeling less blue. Of course, it isn’t intrinsic to the session and oftentimes we don’t have music on. It’s just there. Sometimes.
Ah, group game nights. How I miss thee. It’s crazy to think that it has been nearly nine months since my game group last gathered around my kitchen table, for our last session of 2020. Who would have guessed it, right? At least there was cake. Ordinarily, we would have met at the pub but with corona anxiety just starting to set in and it being my birthday, I decided to host.
So our regular Tuesday Game Night was usually at the pub. Our local has two rooms, the lounge where we would play and the bigger room where the regular drinkers would stay. It was noisy in there, conversation, TV, the jukebox all mingled to make that hubbub of noise you get in pubs. But in the lounge, the wall of noise was filtered through the bar and it was relatively calm in there. Sure, we could hear the pub noise but it wasn’t intrusive. It was just a reassuring part of the background.
The Final Movement
However, occasionally, one of the group would host a game night. Be it for a special occasion, like Christmas or birthdays, or just a case of the sun is shining and I fancy a BBQ Game Day. These don’t come with a soundtrack. Whether we are playing the complicated Betrayal at House on the Hill or the frenzied Jungle Speed, music does not add to the experience.
Having just those few extra bodies in the room takes up space which music would normally occupy. Instead of enhancing the atmosphere, it becomes a detractor. Certainly for me, anyway. I struggle to concentrate when there are lots of overlapping voices; I can only focus on the conversation next to me. Add music into the mix and I may as well just sit there completely zoned out. So I am ok without the soundtrack to group game nights. I would rather listen to my friends and be involved in the game than be overwhelmed and resigned to listening to music.
I love music. I love games. Sometimes I love music with games, but there is a direct correlation between my enjoyment of both and how many people are in the room. Now, maybe it is just me. Does anyone actually put this much thought into how much space music takes up? And what an odd notion, it is a collection of sound waves which have no mass whatsoever! Nevertheless, it is something I always take into consideration.
I guess my next move is to find the perfect playlist for every game. Project for lockdown 3.0?