Music and Games

I was playing The Lord of the Rings: The Living Card Game this weekend and I thought to myself, “This would be even better if I was listening to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack.” The idea of games having a soundtrack isn’t new, but usually when people think of a game soundtrack, they think of a video game. Are they still called video games? Anyway, the idea of soundtracks for board games has been on my mind for the last month or so, and I wondered if it’s a common practice with gamers to listen to music while gaming. Specifically, I wanted to explore the concept of having a specific playlist for a particular game or games with a similar theme.

Some games have an included audio track, like Space Alert, but that’s not what I mean by a game soundtrack. I’m talking about choosing background music with the intention for enhancing game play. Here are some examples that have come to my mind recently:

  • Traumfabrik (aka Hollywood Blockbuster or Dream Factory) – A friend of mine created a soundtrack for this game of movie making that features music from Hollywood’s golden age, primarily from the 1930’s and 40’s. It really added a lot to the game, in my opinion.
  • Showmanager – We played this Dirk Henn classic this weekend and thought it would have been even better with a soundtrack of show tunes. I even started singing “Everything’s Coming up Roses” from Gypsy in my best Ethel Merman. I could tell by the awkward silence moments later that everyone was really impressed.
  • Ticket to Ride – My wife and I were playing this on the iPad and the application has a soundtrack that made us think of being on the Disneyland railroad. I thought it was fun, even if it got a little old from repetition of the same tune.

We occasionally have parties where we play a games with a particular theme, in fact, we will host our fifth annual Pirate Party later this month in celebration of Talk Like a Pirate Day. During the party, we have pirate music playing in the background, and it helps set the mood for the evening. It’s important to remember to keep the volume loud enough so that everyone can hear the music, but quiet enough that it doesn’t interfere with normal communication between players.

I remember running a game of Dungeon and Dragons a few years ago, where during on the the big fight scenes, I played some action music to set the tone, but it was so loud we couldn’t hear each other and then just ended up being distracting. I think that’s an important factor to consider when creating a soundtrack. Does the music distract from gameplay, or does it enhance it?

I know that people can create playlists on iTunes. Maybe it would be worthwhile to create a few of those for some board games. There are a few geeklists on boardgamegeek that appear to have attempted this, but I haven’t really found anything that comes close to what I want.

What do you think? Would that be something that interests anyone other than me? I could create a game soundtrack page as a resource if people were really interested, or maybe it would be best just as a playlist resource on iTunes. I have to think about it.

6 Comments

  1. Greg

    My copy of Traumfabrik came with a CD of movie music, which is a lot of fun.

    I tried to do a game soundtrack once a long time ago, but it fell pretty flat. I can’t remember what all I put on it, but they were songs or artists that shared a title with a board game. Some worked better than others.

    Usually we just have a random mix of tunes on in the background, but occasionally we’ll use movie soundtracks for particular atmospheres: Pirates of the Caribbean for pirate games, Alien for horror or space games, Conan the Barbarian for adventure.

    • I just downloaded some tracks for Lord of the Rings for the next time I play the LCG. I’m going to try and put together a playlist for at least one game and put it up on iTunes. I guess that’s the best way to do that. I don’t remember what the music was like in Alien. Now I want to go back and watch that movie. I haven’t seen that in years.

  2. John S

    I loved the music during the D&D session, that remains one of my most memorable moments of all the time we spent playing! I gave a rousing “you wanna live forever?!” speech to an army of Goblins trying to defend their village, then we butchered frogmen to the strains of Audioslave’s “Cochise”.

    Come on, that’s just radical.

    • I had totally forgotten about all of that! You are right that was awesome. I just remember the part when we got down to the nuts and bolts of those complex D&D 4th edition combat rounds and the music just became distracting. It really was perfect for the role-playing parts. That was a great evening!

  3. Count me among those who love the idea of soundtracks…but who will probably not manage to plan ahead or do the prep work necessary to pull it off. Instead, I do the “poor man’s” version of that, by firing up Pandora on the computer or iPhone, and trying to create a genre station on the fly that has something to do with the game. We’ve had some Boxcar Willie playing during Ticket to Ride, or Spanish classical guitar during…actually I forget the game! It wasn’t El Grande, but something else with a Spanish connection. It works ok.

    • We did the same this weekend when we were playing Settlers of Catan. Pandora is actually pretty good for things like this. I still think it would be neat to publish board game playlists on iTunes. I am just too lazy right now to try it.

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