Quick Look: Tabletop Tunes
Founder: Anthony Sabatino
Programmer & Developer: Jacob Johnson & Christie Xu
Year Published: 2021
Tabletop Tunes, the mobile application that is transforming the traditional tabletop gaming experience by providing players with beautifully-composed audio tracks to accompany their gaming experience, today announced its launch. Available for iOS and being developed for Android, the first-of-its kind adaptive music app is designed to enhance the board game renaissance the world has witnessed throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
I have always been a proponent of thematic immersion when it comes to board gaming, and doing whatever it takes to enhance the mood of game nights. So when a product like Tabletop Tunes comes along, I feel like I am having a fateful encounter with destiny in getting the opportunity to make the most of our game sessions.
While I own and enjoy a good number of highly themed games that range from horror to fantasy, role playing and more, I often find that I lack the proper ambience to set the mood. I have often thought of orchestrating my own music to use as background music on occasion , but often lack that critical resource of time to draft my own compositions.
So here is where Tabletop Tunes comes into play.
Tabletop Tunes is an iStore app that gives you a number of music selections to use in your role playing sessions or fantasy themed board games. You have a cute and artsy looking menu screen that lets you choose a location (village, castle, dungeon, wilderness, and a few subcategories such as cavern or tavern to help you narrow your selection) and then hit play. And voila! Instant immersion!
But say you encounter a beastly foe in a cavern that requires an epic battle? Simply navigate the menu and select a number of battle themes that you can use while engaged with this foe! Did you emerge victorious? Select and play the fanfare music. Were you defeated? Play a Defeated theme.
It comes with a small set of music if purchasing a basic pack, limited to a few songs of various types, but can also be expanded to include over 20 songs if you spend around $12.00 USD when it is on sale. So the price to benefit ratio is potentially very good considering a digital download often costs $0.99 per song if you buy the complete pack in one initial purchase.
So what did we think?
Overall, the music is well-crafted. To my ear it uses a good blend of real musicians and sampled arrangements, and as a musician myself, I can always appreciate it when a production employs real people for its features. However, not everyone can afford a real concert hall with full string section either, so I totally understand if there is a need to rely on other modern production tools. But overall the sound of the scores are pleasant.
We tested Tabletop Tunes in a few settings. The first was Catacombs of Karak, and we also tested it out for Tainted Grail. I was hoping to also try it out with A Touch of Evil : 10th Anniversary Edition (which I am currently reviewing , but we were wowed to discover it actually came with its own soundtrack , which is such a rarity these days…) so we didn’t get to try out Tabletop Tunes for that. But I got the sense it could have worked. More on this later.
While I did state that I found the music to be pleasant, I meant it. However, when a different product comes along, such as this one, sometimes it can be hard to classify and quantify some of its strengths and weaknesses given the uniqueness of the product, and I am finding myself in the awkward position of having to evaluate Tabletop Tunes in an almost unfair way given what I know what the developer is likely trying to achieve, but having to reconcile what I feel are shortcomings given my own experiences and subjective observations and expectations.
My first observation is that as grand of an idea as this is, it is not a one-size-fits-all type of application. Not all songs will be well suited for every game. My first recommendation for using Tabletop Tunes would be to familiarize with the songs in advance so you know what sorts of atmosphere the music is able to provide.
Some of this is not the fault of the dev at all. But as an example, for Karak, we were able to use one of the Dungeon songs to lock in the mood…
…But for Tainted Grail we had quite a different and humorous take ; while wandering about the land we decided try one of the town songs , called none other than “Town by the Sea”.
So as we approached the town, Beor and Ailei were greeted by the sound of a lively Celtic tune. We can only imagine the conversation that must have ensued :
“Oi! Ailei! Beor! Grab yourselves a pint and put on your kilts! Get yer selves a partner, it’s time to dance a merry jig! Nevermind that the end of the world and that accursed Wyrdness is a comin’! Laugh! Drink! Be merry!”
Um, yeah, that didn’t work as planned. So while we found that this song was a perfect fit for Tainted Grail on one hand (being that it is also a Celtic themed game), on the other hand this particularly lively score was in reality quite inappropriate given the dark and Doom-and-Gloom nature of the game. So as stated, it will work best if you familiarize yourself with all the songs in the collection first before just assuming that you can depend on a single category to fill all your needs, as much can depend on the context you need, rather than a predefined category.
Another unfortunate experience we encountered is that you may not have enough time to change songs, as it is not always practical. For example , in Karak, battles can be over so swiftly with a single dice roll that it is not worth the time to switch out the music.
In terms of likability, we find that most of the songs aren’t something we will exactly be humming throughout the day, but in reevaluating this statement, we have to ask if being “catchy” is the point of the app—which most likely is not. From a standpoint of immersion, Tabletop Tunes is probably designed to be more “immersive” than anything, so from this standpoint, it certainly draws no ire, as it does blend rather well—perhaps too well in a certain sense…
Because we often did not realize we had left some songs running for 20 minutes or more in our sessions! (They autoloop by design). Which brings us to another point.
We wish you could create and order a playlist so that it would skip to a new songs automatically whenever the current one is done playing.
As for app stability, I did encounter some difficulties downloading the expansions for Tabletop Tunes—in the end, I had no idea what caused it to download and install correctly, because one day it simply started downloading and working for no apparent reason, when I had done nothing differently other than click Download for the 100th time.
It should also be mentioned that Tabletop Tunes is limited to newer iOS versions, so you may need to check how recent yours is, or unfortunately you may not be able to enjoy the experience at all. My friend wanted to buy it, but discovered her iPhone would not support it.
As of now, there is no Android support. The website does show iconography for Apple Music, iTunes, or Spotify, but as of yet, it appears that the Tabletop Tunes songs are not available for those platforms, which is a bit of a disappointment, because I do feel that this would create the opportunity to create the aforementioned playlists to help keep the music going. But I do understand if this is not an option (I know from experience that Spotify pays artists so little it may be an insult to the developer in a certain sense).
All in all, I do feel that Tabletop Tunes comes at a modest price point that is quite accessible and fair. As mentioned, if you buy songs on an individual level, it is often $0.99 per download, so if you get the complete package directly from the App Store, it amounts to around $0.50 per song, which I might again add is quite reasonable, especially given that many of the songs are orchestrated, which I know from experience takes a huge amount of time to create.
If you are looking to add a little something extra to your game night, I say check this out!
Jazz Paladin- Reviewer