Board Game Mechanics for Music

Useful pages about game mechanics on Wikipedia and at Board Game Geek show lists of most popular solutions for board games rules design. Here we will see how these mechanics might be useful for development of music games.

Big people

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Most important reason why music games cannot benefit from every theoretical development of board game design is scale. Comparing to board games music games have much different spatial organization and they often have to take into consideration the presence of instruments of different sizes or sound equipment. This will be our main criterion of usefulness in this article.

Of course you can work the size around with establishing "conductors" for your games that play a regular board game, and musicians interpreting board situation from distance. Another way is replicating any board in huge sizes and let participants act as pawns and different components (this way you also don't have a trouble of making musicians manually manipulate small pieces). Both these ways might let you end up with great music games, nevertheless here we will consider possible games that may allow for direct interactions between all participants and aren't too demanding for domestic production (for most people at least).

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Mechanics overview

Notice that mechanics of tile-laying, worker placement and resource management are usually implemented with small components. Sometimes these components are dedicated to specific game title, but nowadays that is much more rare than you might expect and stock game pieces are often used. Not only size but also the preferable amounts of these components bound these mechanics to table top, as they work with small numbers of items only in very specific circumstances.

You might pay more attention to other classics like capturing or action points which most often need less tokens and might sometimes be assumed to be kept in memory. "Spatial" mechanics of capturing and movement might be easily projected to tones or even rhythmic patterns. Mechanics on lists that are based on traditional components include: cards, dice or time-tracking - you can get these in different sizes.

Some standard mechanics on lists are very general, they might give you inspiration in any possible type of game, and you might use them in many different ways. The most popular are: game modes (perfect for adjusting difficulty), rock-paper-scissors (in a general meaning of three-side strength balance), risk-reward (viewed by Jesse Shell in Art of Game Design as a universal all-games mechanic). If you use explicit victory conditions of any kind (to be considered in competitive games) you can always use a catch-up (possible to realize in one of many different ways).

Scale-independent mechanics like voting or bidding are tricky to use because they interact strongly with music being made, and so they usually fall into composition games category rather that improvisation games, although you might make it work in both. Interestingly at BGG there is also singing mechanics, unfortunately right now this doesn't mean creating music in any way. Games with that mechanic reward you for suggestive humming of some hit song, assumed to be well known by all players.

Arguably greatest potential lies in turns mechanic, as it is seemingly already present in so much music (that is not supposed to be inspired by games). Best example here would probably be soloing in regular jazz music.

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