Music can help you cheat at board games this Christmas

New research indicates rock bands may be an effective way of putting off your opponents

New research indicates rock music could be an effective way of putting your opponents while playing board games this Christmas. File photograph: Bloomberg

New research indicates rock music could be an effective way of putting your opponents while playing board games this Christmas. File photograph: Bloomberg


The work of rock band AC/DC may not be an obvious festive choice, but for wily board game players it could come to define the sound of every Christmas to come.

Research by Imperial College London and the British Royal College of Music found that rock music can distract men, but not women, “undertaking complex surgical procedures” in the game Operation.

In the experiment, 352 volunteers with no previous surgical training were given either a Mozart piano sonata, Thunderstruck by AC/DC or a recording of operating theatre sounds to listen to while removing the patient’s wishbone, Adam’s apple and that weird plastic horse.

Those listening to AC/DC fared the worst.

But what else could put off your opponents and ensure you are a board game champion this Christmas?

You can see why games such as the life-or-death Operation (or the lower-stakes Buckaroo) require hush - you need concentration and a steady hand.

In those cases, playing loud rock music might deter your opponent, but this wouldn’t work with, say, Hungry Hippos, where a bit of Highway to Hell may aid play.

Choose wisely. Take your time.

If the person you’re playing against is the type who gets irritated at someone driving slowly, draw inspiration from snooker’s Peter Ebdon.

He is notoriously slow and appears fond of lengthy loo breaks.

Although he denies it is deliberate, it can rile his opponents.

During one match, Ronnie O’Sullivan pretended to go to sleep while Ebdon was taking his time (Ebdon won). This approach would work well for Scrabble.

Only play drunk people

Take advantage of the one day when it’s socially acceptable to have booze for breakfast.

Alcohol impairs judgment, co-ordination, speech and other essential gaming skills.

It would be totally wrong to get someone drunk before suggesting a bout of Carcassone, but it’s fair to choose favourable timing.

“When the enemy is relaxed, make them toil,” as military strategist Sun Tzu famously noted about the game Twister in The Art of War.

Go sledging

Cricketers are known for their often deeply personal, and occasionally witty, barbs.

Sledging is the art of chatting to your opponent in an effort to destroy their concentration.

You may choose to deploy taunts about your relatives’ debts or weight gain during a game of Boggle.

“Sledging can work to distract your opponent and get them thinking about something other than the game,” says Paul Davis, associate professor in the department of psychology at Sweden’s Umeå University, who has researched sledging.

“It raises people’s emotions; it might get them angry and out of their ideal performance state, rather than thinking about strategy.

“Emotions also have a physiological impact, in terms of raising heart rate and affecting muscle tension.

“If you are playing a game that requires dexterity or co-ordination, anger, anxiety, frustration and guilt can all have an effect on physiological balance.”

You’d have to be ultra-competitive to use it, however.

“You have to ask yourself: how important is it to win the match, or would you prefer to come through the festive season successfully, without any family blow-ups?”

Guardian service