Relive Your Childhood Parties with the Musical Chairs Board Game | Casual Game Revolution

Relive Your Childhood Parties with the Musical Chairs Board Game

Musical Chairs

When was the last time, if ever, that you actually played Musical Chairs? Though not germane to the writing or publication of my thoughts on this game of the same name, it’s a question I asked myself when I first got the game and couldn’t quite come up with an answer. Too long ago to remember for me. There are some vague impressions that come to mind of being knocked on my butt by larger children scrambling for a chair, but beyond that, not much.

The game, Musical Chairs, published by Rio Grande Games, doesn’t involve either actual music or actual chairs, but does manage to represent both of those things in a way that creates, if not the actual feel of the original game, a fair enough semblance of it to make it an enjoyable board game experience. As I did with a previous review of Rio Grande Games’ The Way of the Bear, I offer full disclosure here that I am employed once a year by Rio Grande Games to teach a number of the new games they publish in a given year at the annual World Boardgaming Championships, which, this year, has been cancelled. This year’s batch of games included a few that fell into the ‘casual game’ category, including Musical Chairs.


Designed by Kelly North Adams, with artwork by Harald Lieske, Musical Chairs is basically a card game that substitutes a placement of cards in a row for the music (on-going, as a round progresses) and player movement of a colored meeple, as the movement around chairs. These chairs (cartoon representations of ‘musical’ chairs, like red ones with a violin back, or the yellow ones that have a kettle drum seat) are pictured on the cards and the rounded board, which is segmented into eight sections, each of which contains one of the eight colored ‘musical’ chairs.

There are 104 cards in the deck; 10 each of eight different suits (specific sets of chairs of varying colors, numbered 1 through 10). There are eight Rest cards, 10 Repeat cards, and 6 Player Reference cards. There are also 16 Chair Cushion Tokens, only eight of which will be used in a given game. Each player will get two colored meeples; one to place randomly on the round central board at the start of the game and the other to place in front of them to remember which color is theirs.

In turn order, initially determined by who, among the players, is the best musician, a player will place one of his/her ‘musical’ chair cards (each player is dealt eight at the start) in the center of the table (the start player is expected to play the lowest numbered chair card in their hand). Each player thereafter then plays the lowest card of any suit (specific chair type) in their hand to the right of the previous card, numbered either the same or higher than the previous card. A player may also play a Rest card (if they have one), which they put in a display of their own, directly in front of them, or a Repeat card (also if they have one), which basically repeats the suit and number of the card played previously. If unable to do either of those things, the player who can’t do either is considered to have stopped the ‘music.’ Placement of a chair card or a Repeat Card allows the player to move their meeple clockwise, one, two or three spaces. Placement of a Rest Card in their own player area (each worth 1 VP at the end of the game) does not allow for meeple movement on a player’s turn.

First (when the ‘music stops’), players look to see the kind of chair (color) that was played last onto the row of cards and removes the Chair Cushion token in front of the same colored chair on the central board. The Chair Cushion is removed from the board, but placed off the board, in front of the chair where it was originally. This symbolizes the ‘removal of the chair’ that’s part of the original game. In a little while, a player who ended the round at the chair that had the Cushion removed will have an opportunity to purchase that Cushion for themselves. The Chair Cushions offer varied types of bonuses, either end-game or in-game, like the ability to move your meeple backwards, or hopping over opponents as you move, or being able to move up to 4 spaces, or (end-game) +1 VP for every different Chair suit you score at the end of the game.

I will grant you that this is already more complicated than “Ok, kids, start walking around the chairs and sit in one when the music stops,” but its transference to cards and pictures of musical chairs forces the need for a bit more rule details. It’s like driving a car, though. At first, you have to figure out a complex array of things you need to know – positions of the gas pedal and brake, where the turn signals are, the gas gauge, how to turn on the radio or windshield wipers – but in no time at all, you’re tooling down the road, knowing all of that stuff and not giving any of it much thought.

Okay, at the end of a round (when one player can’t play a card and figuratively ‘stops the music’), all players’ meeples will end up in one of the eight chair spots on the central board. Players may remove all cards from the display of them that match the color of the chair slot on the board where their meeple has come to rest and puts those cards in their individual play area for scoring at the end of the game. They can also move (to their individual play area) any matching Chair cards (same suit) left in their hand that are lower than the highest card they took from the central display. Each of the collected chair cards will depict a number of treble clefs which will be added up to attain a total number of Victory points at the end. The highest total will win.

If, at the end of a round, there is more than one player at one of the chairs (up to all four), all players present can participate in what the rules call a “Butt Battle” to determine who actually wins those cards from the display of them. Players participating in the Battle (it’s not mandatory) pick a card from their hand secretly and all reveal their cards at the same time. Highest numbered card wins the battle and gets to take the cards they were battling for. Ties force a second Butt Battle round. If it continues to the point where players run out of cards in their hand, it’s considered a draw and no one wins. Players at that point take the cards they’ve collected and put them in a pile in their individual play area. Any cards left (uncollected) in the central play area go to a discard pile and players can either fill their hand up to eight from a draw pile or discard what they have left in their hand and take a whole new eight cards to begin the next round, started by the player who ‘stopped the music.’

There are two ways the game can end. You’ll remember that at the end of an individual round, a Chair Cushion is removed from the site of an individual chair. When the last Cushion is removed from the board, play will continue through the End of Round phase. By the same token, if, at any point, there are not enough cards to replenish players’ hands, the game ends immediately. Cards in individual play areas are assessed for the number of treble clefs on them (each worth 1 VP) and the highest total wins. Ties will result in players rejoicing in their shared victory.

Musical Chairs

Photo provided by Rio Grande Games


The concept and turn play of this distinctly family game is simple, though the precise execution involved with Musical Chairs is just a little less so. As the card display grows in size during a round of play, you’ll find yourself thinking ahead and trying to figure out how to end your meeple on a very specific chair when someone ‘stops the music.’ It can be a tough bit of figuring because potentially, the line of cards possible before someone has to ‘stop the music’ can be really long. Player 1 might play a yellow musical chair with the number 1 on it, Player 2 might play a Repeat card and then, Player 3 might play a brown musical chair card with the number 1 on it and Player 4 might play another Repeat card. This process has the potential of going this way through eight suits, each with 10 numbers and the 10 Repeat cards in the deck. It’s not likely, mind you, but the eight cards drawn by players at the start is random, and random can play out funny sometimes.

But as with the original game, it’s fun guessing more or less when the ‘music is going to stop’ and trying to use your meeple movement per turn (1, 2, or 3 spaces) to position yourself for whichever high point totals look to be coming out of a given round of play. I would venture to say that the 7-year-old who beat me at The Way of the Bear could do it again with this game, although we have not had the opportunity to test this yet.

I’m just happy that when the ‘music stops’ in this game, nobody’s pushing or shoving me out of the way so they can grab a chair. There is much less personal wear and tear in this board game version of a classic game.