The added elements took a game that had previously failed to lift off, up to some dizzying heights of greatness, whilst also allowing the players a whole new level of that sweet, sweet, immersion.
If there is one thing I always seek when it comes to gaming around the table, it is ever deeper involvement with the game in question. This can come in varying shape and form, but always has at its core a collection of players absolutely lost in the action.
It sounds like I’m some sort of gaming purist there, where if a player isn’t fully engrossed in play I’m likely to flip my lid, and the table. However, the reality is, in my experience, that deeper immersion can come from many unexpected, and often spur of the moment acts, and often works best when it’s unplanned.
Elevating the Action
For example, Exploding Kittens is a game I find okay, but nothing more. It doesn’t reach any points of emotion for myself, instead playing out as a fairly run of the mill card game with the odd smile here and there. That is, until the moment jellybeans are brought into proceedings. Now, I don’t just mean your standard delicious tasting little beans of goodness, I mean the ones that challenge you to a game of Russian roulette every time you reach for a sweet. The ones that offer a chance to either bite into fruity sweetness, or foul tasting, gag reflex inducing nastiness. These are the beans for the job at hand. And with Exploding Kittens that job was simply to play as a forfeit for any player eliminated from the game. Suddenly, everyone is focused, there is a tangible tension hanging in the air above the falling cards, and utter horror as one by one players fall, and then rise to the jellybean challenge. It was simple, stupid, spontaneous, and resulted in a game that was elevated beyond any of our previous plays by the sounds of raucous laughter…and dry retching.
It was simple, it was daft, but it worked in making an average game something slightly more than the sum of its fairly mediocre parts. In another note, I can still taste the smelly socks bean to this day.
Then, we go off down an entirely different path. The one fuelled by music and sound. I adore using both as a backdrop to many games, but, the first as I recall was Mysterium.
A simple soundtrack, or a few well-placed effects are magnificent tools of immersion for our board games. I’m sure many of you already evoke the spirits of the game by filling the corners of the room with the odd rumble of thunder, the fall of rain, or the sounds of distant wildlife. With Mysterium I felt it was crucial. Here we had a game that delivered a truly wonderful theme in my eyes.
One player is the ghost of a murder victim, the others are psychic mediums in the midst of a séance attempting to uncover the truth via visions placed in their mind by the ghost. As a theme goes, this was a real box ticker for me. However, when playing, it sort of lacked something, the air of mystery and dread I had expected, was absent, and instead it felt more like a flabby version of Dixit. Enter the soundtrack. I grabbed a few scratchy old parlour songs from the early 1900’s via YouTube, the sort where a singer warbles over the sounds of a church organ that do wonderful work in creeping everyone out, threw in some stormy weather, dimmed the lights, and let the magic happen. The ghost character could only communicate via knocks on the table, one for no, two for yes, and, it worked an absolute charm! The added elements took a game that had previously failed to lift off, up to some dizzying heights of greatness, whilst also allowing the players a whole new level of that sweet, sweet, immersion.
Horror and fantasy games are pretty simple to elevate, not that many need it to be honest, but it’s still nice to add a few layers of mood to proceedings, however, how the hell did Qwirkle become one of the funniest gaming nights we’d ever had…without alcohol? Well, this one is a little weird.
Bring on the Lunacy
Qwirkle hit the table a few evenings ago after my wife had decided she wanted us to add a few abstract games to the collection. To be honest, looking at the shelves weighed heavy with theme, a few abstract games were long overdue. We sat down to play Qwirkle expecting a light, fun, quick paced tile laying game. We got that, but we also got one of the best, and random, evening’s gaming in recent memory. And it came out of the blue, and possibly a few slightly unhinged minds.
Qwirkle got off to a strong start, beautiful wooden tiles were placed, points scored, and from time to time we would hear, “I think that’s a Qwirkle, twelve points please.” And then things got beautifully weird. It started with all players loudly cheering, “Qwirkle!” every time someone laid the sixth tile for the big score. Then came the dancing. The loud cheering was joined by some spontaneous dancing, and laughter, at every Qwirkle score. Then came the music. By the end of the game every Qwirkle laid was greeted by cheers, dancing and circus music blaring from the Bluetooth speaker as for a few moments all players lost their minds and let loose. This magic little tile laying strategy game had blossomed, sort of, into pure chaos at every big score. It was manic, hilarious, and made the time this game first landed on our table, an instantly unforgettable one!
I’m sure we all do it…well, maybe not that last one…but setting the ambience for a game, or throwing in some odd little slice of madness to throw the players off kilter is always great for changing the feel of a game. Generally at our table we play things straight, however, once in a while, when the moon is likely hanging full in the night sky, things get a little weird. And I love it!
From the Forums of the World
I dipped a toe into the forum waters in search of some thoughts on the subject of board game ambience and such. Here’s a few words from the wise:
Board Game Geek
Bart Quicho, said, “I’m a firm believer that good music can enhance the gaming experience; it helps engage and immerse players into the themes of games whether they’re “dripping” with it or merely “pasted on.”
Toby Gee, added, “As a big fan of music, I create playlists for a lot of the games we play regularly, especially if the game is big on theme.”
Allen Michaels is a big fan of ambience in games, stating, “We like to get in the zone when we play board games, so if it’s BSG…the soundtrack is playing. For Game of Thrones, again…soundtrack. D&D, we play a mix of Fallout, Assassin’s Creed, Skyrim and Final Fantasy soundtracks, all of which work great”
N107, said, “I play thematically appropriate music for each game we’re playing. I want the music to enhance the atmosphere of the session and not subject the other players to my individual taste in music.”
Pseudokojo, added, “I would do almost every activity in my life with music but unfortunately my friends do not like music while they are trying to concentrate.”
Ultimatelee, agreed, saying, “Sadly I’m the same, I lose focus, and friends get easily distracted or start singing along Once the focus is lost, I find it hard to get it back on the game.”
Is there room for ambience?
How about yourself? Do you regularly embrace background ambience in your games, or perhaps even go a little mad? Let us know in the comments below.