I’m a person who is usually thinking about the aesthetics of things, their beauty, if you will. And this does not change when it comes to board games. There is something beautiful about them, something about the geometric shape of the board and the pieces resting on top, the colors, the feel of the dice or cards in one’s hands–more on that in the future. But I believe there is also something important about the space around the game–the table, the room, etc. When I was a kid, my parents wouldn’t have called me a particularly neat person, but that has changed as I’ve gotten older. And I have become slightly obsessive about what goes on around the game:
The room: This is a key aspect of the game. Where are we playing? I like the room to be clean and relatively free of clutter. If we’re playing at our apartment, this usually means we’re in the kitchen at the table. If we’ve eaten beforehand, I like things set away in cupboards and the dishwasher before we begin. Usually the table has only two things on it: the game itself and a few drinks on coasters (though some people call foul on the drinks). A cluttered game table drives me up a wall, as does a pet running around during a game. Televisions, video game systems, etc., should be turned off. Russ does an excellent job of all this, especially when we’re playing a roleplaying game over at his house. He keeps character sheets in folders, draws out his maps beforehand, and places extra dice and figures off to the side on a desk and covers it with a gamemaster’s screen. This is why I love playing at his house!
The chairs: This is critical, especially in games that go over an hour. Chairs that are too comfortable cause people lose focus; chairs that are too hard make everyone restless. I think the worst thing of all is to have a chair that is not suited for the table. My in-laws used to have dining room chairs that drove me nuts! They had these soft vinyl cushions stitched into them so as the game went on, I would find myself “settling in” and unable to reach parts of the board. A nice, average dining room chair will usually do it. This is important for both me and my dad because we both suffer infrequent but uncomfortable bouts of sciatica. Sitting on the floor is a no-no too. This can also mean we’re playing on a low coffeetable and that’s just wrong on so many levels!
Temperature and Lighting: Like most people, I enjoy playing in cool, dry places. In Minnesota, we usually range between “hot and humid” in the summer to “unbearably cold and dry” in the winter so A/C, a fan, or a humidifier are necessary. My friend Melissa comes prepared for temperature fluctuations, and I’ve learned a lot from her as we’ve attended gaming conventions together. She always brings a light sweatshirt or sweater of some sort, in case it gets too cold. Proper lighting is also needed. If it’s too dim, we can’t see the board, and if it’s too bright, it’s often difficult to examine the board off of the plexiglass we use for war games. Playing in an unfinished basement with poor lighting? Not if I can help it!
Music: This is a difficult one. If it’s low music that is theme-appropriate and not too distracting, great! However, if there’s someone in the group who has trouble with that, it should be turned off. Some of my favorite game experiences have included music. My brother Mike and I once played Wellington while listening to the Gettysburg soundtrack–a perfect selection from his enormous music collection. On another occasion, Sara and I played Settlers of Catan with my mom and dad in a stormy power outage while listening to a playlist of 17-19th century folk music from an mp3 player. That night, with the soft music coming from the battery-powered speakers and the faces of my family lit softly by candles, will probably go down as one of my most vivid memories.
I’ve listed a lot of things to not do or have, but a few general themes should be brought out. The space around the game should emphasize a decent level of comfort, cleanliness, and focus. It’s really about making other people feel at home around the game table. Clutter detracts from the overall experience, whereas a clean table accentuates the artistic design in a game (see this example: nice job, people!)
Do you insist upon similar standards around your game table? Discuss!
Edit: Cross-posted at Board Game Geek