You know what’s nerdier than playing board games for hours on end, with no sunlight and only pizza and pretentious craft beer for sustenance? Doing that exact thing, but with thematic soundtracks in the background for each board game you play.
I dunno about you, but when I play board games, I like, nay, require, a soundtrack in the background. This soundtrack can’t be any old soundtrack, no. I’m not talking about playing Bruce Springsteen while I bust out a game of Sheriff of Nottingham. Both because that makes no thematic sense and also because I would never subject anyone’s ear drums to Bruce Springsteen unless they were like a war criminal or something (and even then, I’m pretty sure it’s against the Geneva Convention). When I choose a soundtrack, it’s lovingly chosen and well thought out, perfectly matching the theme and feel of whatever game we’re playing. In a previous review of Biblios (on this very site, check it out!), I briefly mentioned that I play Gregorian chant in the background. This is a perfect example of the type of soundtracks I choose. As I play Biblios, the soft hum of monks singing in the background transports me to the Middle Ages, where I can practically hear the sound of footsteps echoing down the monastery’s stone hallway. Suddenly, this game about collecting sets of cards becomes more than that. It becomes a trip to another era and an extremely atmospheric experience that I remember fondly time and time again.
If it sounds like I’m way too passionate about this, it’s because I am. I have gotten so bad with soundtracks and games that my enjoyment is somewhat hindered if I’m unable to play one in the background. One time I went out of town to a friend’s place, and he sheepishly told me upon my arrival that his wi fi was going to be out until the next day. This is bad because YouTube is my main source of soundtracks. Fast forward a couple hours later where we are about to play a game set in Ancient Egypt, and we’re furiously searching throughout his roommate’s extensive movie collection, yelling, “THERE HAS TO BE SOMETHING EGYPTIAN THEMED TO PLAY IN THE BACKGROUND, DOESN’T HE OWN THE MUMMY??”
Soundtracks are serious business, people.
To show why, I’ve compiled a top ten list of my favorite soundtrack and board game combinations. As you’re about to see, these soundtracks range from movie and video game soundtracks, to a couple of random playlists on YouTube that just happen to have generic instrumental music that happens to work well with that board game. Picking only ten was agonizing, and I am absolutely sure I missed or even forgot of a couple combos that I really love, so this list is by no means 100% definitive. But what it does do is give you a good peek into my brain and thought process when picking soundtracks. I’m not sure anyone should get a peek into my brain and thought process at any point, but this should be safe and should definitely not reveal any of the deep seeded psychoses that plague me every day and every hour and the crushing anxiety and the oh dear I’m starting to ramble, onto the list!
10. Board Game: Fuse
Soundtrack: The Metal Gear Solid alert music
Fuse is a cooperative dice drafting game where you and your teammates try to defuse a certain amount of bombs in real time. This makes it seem a lot calmer than it actually is, as Fuse is actually ten minutes of you and your teammates yelling, “AHHHHHH, I WANTED THE BLUE DIE, AHHHHHH”. It’s exhausting and intense, and as such needed a soundtrack that was equally as relentless and heart pumping. My choice for this one is the Metal Gear Solid alert music, which is the music that plays in the video game when Solid Snake gets caught by guards in between its forty minute long cutscenes.
It’s perfect because the pace of the music never slows down, much like the game, and also because it is super iconic. While I’m sure a lot of people won’t recognize this music, enough people should so that their pulses will instantly start pumping and they’ll be looking for the nearest cardboard box.
9. Board game: Literally anything Western themed
Soundtrack: Red Dead Redemption OST
Okay, this is a bit of a cop out. I’m not going to choose a specific board game for this one and am instead going to open an umbrella and just say that anything with a cowboy/western theme deserves the incredible Red Dead Redemption soundtrack as its background music. The ominous violin that starts the OST off, accompanied with the mournful whistling that’s eventually broken by a sharp, craggly guitar riff gives me gooesbumps every time I fire this one up. Whether I’m playing Dice Town, Bang! The Dice Game or Colt Express, this masterpiece of a soundtrack fits it like whiskey in a shot glass, pardner.
Since this entry was kinda cheap, I promise I won’t just pick a general theme and will only focus on specific games from here on out.
8. Board game: Literally anything archaeological themed
Soundtrack: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune OST
Right, so, uh, I lied. Just one more time, I’m gonna go for a general theme rather than a specific game. Hey, don’t blame me, blame the fact that archaeology and treasure hunting is represented by more games than numbers that exist. For every one of those games, whether it’s the amazing two player card game Lost Cities or the wonderful deckbuilder The Quest for El Dorado or the imaginatively named Archaeology: The New Expedition, my go to soundtrack is that of the classic PlayStation series, Uncharted. In this example, I use Drake’s Fortune, but Uncharted 2 and 3 work just as well, so dealer’s choice.
7. Board Game: The Grimm Forest
Soundtrack: Trine 2 OST
The Grimm Forest whisks you away to a land of fairy tales living together, where magic and wonder hides around every corner. So what are you doing in this game? Building houses, of course!
Despite the fact that the game has you doing housework like you’re some sort of fairy tale contractor, the art and characters in this game really do help engross you in a world where fairy tales are real, and I needed to find a soundtrack that also captures that magical feeling. Turns out, it wasn’t me who would find that soundtrack. This soundtrack was actually at the suggestion of a friend I was playing The Grimm Forest with, so credit is due to him. That soundtrack is the OST for Trine 2.
What the hell is Trine 2 you ask? Trine 2 is a somewhat obscure video game where you and up to two other players cooperatively navigate a fantasy world, solving puzzles and exploring mystical locales. It isn’t fairy tale themed, but the music the game provides has a whimsy and charm that pairs extremely well with the fairy tale world of The Grimm Forest.
I know some of you are probably asking, “Kyle, why not the Shrek soundtrack?” Well, I can’t find the actual score to Shrek on YouTube and instead it has the official film soundtrack which means you’ll be listening to “All Star” by Smashmouth as you play this game so unless you want that…actually that sounds awesome, feel free to replace any soundtrack on this list with “All Star”.
6. Board Game: Decrypto
Soundtrack: The Imitation Game OST
Decrypto is a cool spin on the word association party game craze that was started by Codenames. Codenames is one of my favorite games of all time and while Decrypto doesn’t quite live up to its lofty standards, it is still a fantastic game that deserves an equally excellent soundtrack. Enter The Imitation Game, the movie where Benedict Cumberbatch beats Hitler up in a fight using the Time Stone and his supernatural powers of deduction.
Wait a sec, please. (checks Wikipedia)
Okay, yeah, I mixed up a couple of Cumberbatches in my head, this is the one where he leads a bunch of codebreakers in World War II to try and crack the Nazi enigma machine. In all seriousness, this is one of my favorite movies and surprisingly fits this word association party game very well. As you and your teammates huddle around a notepad, stressing out over what your opponent’s code is, you’ll hear the haunting strings and tinkling keyboards of this fantastic score.
Fun fact time! I read a designer diary for this game, an apparently the box’s cover art was heavily inspired by The Imitation Game, as it looks quite a bit like the switchboard heavy machine Cumberbatch’s Alan Turing builds in the movie. Just wanted to add that here for a little vindication.
5. Board Game: Bohnanza
Soundtrack: Stardew Valley OST
Before he was making two hour long worker placement games about EVERY type of farming, Uwe Rosenberg made a little card game that was about farming oh my god, is this guy serious?
Sigh. Okay, farming aside, Bohnanza is a masterpiece of game design. It’s a card game where you and your opponents are rival bean farmers and the only way to victory is to wheel and deal your way to the most efficient payouts possible, trading cards from your hand to manipulate the fact that you can’t change the order of your cards. I could go on and on about this game, so I’ll stop it there and just saw that the Stardew Valley soundtrack and this game are *chef’s kiss gesture*
The banjo that pops in and out of the music helps add to the farming theme, while the general mellow and optimistic tone of the whole package really jives with the lighthearted and cartoony art of Bohnanza‘s cards. Sure, a lot of this game is ruthlessly ripping off poor Grandma of her stink beans so that you can get rid of the one pesky card that is clogging your hand, but it’s still a pretty chill game otherwise, also fitting for Stardew Valley‘s soundtrack. Sorry, Grandma, but you kinda had it coming when you made those vaguely racist comments over dinner.
4. Board Game: Port Royal
Soundtrack: Sea Shanties
This is my first soundtrack selection that isn’t selected from a video game or movie, and is in fact just a YouTube playlist made by some good Samaritan. Port Royal is one of the most underrated games in the hobby, an Alexander Pfister design that mixes push your luck and tableau building in a Klemens Franz illustrated pirate theme. It’s a game I adore and will likely be writing one of my upcoming reviews for it (HOW’S THAT FOR A TEASE, EH?).
For this one, I loooove playing sea shanties in the background, courtesy of the YouTube video I linked. As I said, it’s just a random assortment collected by someone on YouTube, and there’s not much else to say about it. Just some pirates singing while working, and it really gels with the theme.
Now, as much as I love sea shanties, I understand that they’re an, uhh, acquired taste, so if this idea of listening to an off tune band of scallywags singing with no instruments to guide them, I would suggest either the Pirates of the Carribeans OST or the soundtrack for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.
3. Board Game: Viticulture
Soundtrack: Sicilian Mandolin Music
And this is my second selection that is just a generic collection of music rather than an actual soundtrack from something. And oohh, is it a good one. I listened to the first minute or so of this soundtrack after I found it on YouTube for the sake of providing the link in this article and I felt a swell of happiness and nostalgia for games of Viticulture, games that immediately bubbled to the surface of my memory at the first twang of this video’s mandolin.
It helps that Viticulture is one of my top two favorite games of all time and even the game I consider my favorite depending on the day you ask me. What’s the other game? Guess you’ll have to stay tuned to my blog to find out. HOW’S THAT FOR ANOTHER TEASE, EH?
(It’s Scythe, by the way)
Viticulture is a worker placement game set in Italy where you own a vineyard and make wine, trying to be the best at owning a vineyard and making wine. This game is already one of the most immersive board gaming experiences I’ve played. Thanks to the thematic and methodical way in which you make the wine, and the warm, inviting art by the supremely talented Beth Sobel, I actually feel like I’m in the beautiful, sun soaked landscape of Italy. It’s as if I’m there, plucking grapes from vines, crushing them down into juice and preparing them for sale so that your Aunt Sally can get sloshed up at the family Christmas party. When you add to this formula the wonderful Sicilian and Mediterranean music found in the video above (and maybe even a glass of wine yourself), and you will have a gaming experience you will never forget. Well, maybe you will forget it if you have enough of that wine, you naughty lush you!
2. Board Game: Skull
Soundtrack: Guacamelee! OST
Back to official soundtracks, the silver medal goes to the oh so awesome combination of Skull and the soundtrack for Guacamelee!. Skull is a masterpiece, a brilliant bluffing game that will have you and your friends hooting and hollering and cheering and groaning like no other. Guacamelee! is a sidescroller beat ’em up, and is something in the video game world known as a Metroidvania. I won’t go into it here, but suffice to say that Guacamelee! is an incredibly fun game that is set in Mexican mythology and draws off the folklore of that region. The soundtrack takes mariachi and salsa music and combines it with electronica in a way that easily makes it one of my top three video game soundtracks of all time. Tying it back to Skull, Skull‘s heavily draws off of the sugar skull motifs that have come from Mexico, and was one of the reasons why I was drawn to Guacamelee! as its backing music.
From the first bombastic blare of the mariachi horns in this soundtrack, you’ll be tossing aside that wine from Viticulture and replacing it with some tequila as you buckle up for an incredible party game experience. Skull has no theme, so this soundtrack is purely for the aesthetics of the game but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a near perfect match.
1. Board Game: The Grizzled
Soundtrack: Valiant Hearts: The Great War OST
I mentioned earlier that I when I play games without soundtracks or some sort of background music, that it actually can hamper the experience for me. That being said, I will never turn down a game because there is no soundtrack present and I obviously still have lots of fun playing board games, even if there is no ambient music available.
There is juuuust one exception. And that is my number one choice for board game and soundtrack combination: The Grizzled and Valiant Hearts.
The Grizzled is a cooperative game set in World War I and it is my favorite cooperative game that I’ve ever played. One of my favorite things about it is its art. The hand scrawled art style, created by the tragically late Tignous, looks like it was taken straight from a sketchbook, perhaps even one used by someone in the very trenches of the first World War. This art is fairly similar to the hand drawn art of Valiant Hearts, which is an indie video game also set in World War I.
Neither of these games are exactly what you’d call uplifting or lighthearted. After all, The Grizzled is game where you can go home as a selfish, demoralized mute with a life long, crippling fear of whistles and can still technically win. Not exactly a party game. They both deal in very heavy themes of war in one of history’s worst. This strong thematic link already makes the two a perfect pairing and it is even more apparent when you actually listen to the soundtrack as you play.
The somber piano that permeates Valiant Hearts‘ soundtrack tugs at your heartstrings as your play cards in The Grizzled. Melancholy strings buzz in the background as you and your teammates struggle to deal with the obstacles being thrown in your way. The music takes an already amazing cooperative game and helps it transcend the bits of cardboard that make it up. I probably sound like I’m exaggerating, and maybe I’m just weird, but this board game and soundtrack combo is such an important part of my gaming memories. And no, I’m not crying, YOU’RE CRYING. Okay, maybe I’m sobbing a little but it’s just so damn beautiful.
Do yourself a favor and play The Grizzled and then do it with this soundtrack. I hope it’s as moving for you as it is for me.