Rock or Roll


Rock or Roll is a fast-paced 2-4 player card game where players race to play all of their cards first! Each card is based on a rock style and players have to choose cards that “rock” with the current style to be able it. Players can sabotage each other at every turn and if a player gets hit by a tomato, they’ll have to “roll”, actually just roll the dice, to determine their fate.

For this educational game, I wanted to focus on a fun, fast-paced, and replayable card game. I was inspired by my recent experiences with MOBAs, during which I was fixated on the battle going on in the game but found myself involuntarily learning about each character’s backstory and lore through decisions I made in the game world. Originally, I wanted to make a MOBA as a card game, but quickly drifted from this idea towards a more classic “trick taking” game until finally settling on kind of game where you discard your cards as quickly as possible. In the end, I think the game plays very similarly to UNO (which I drew heavy inspiration from) but with a few small twists that I hope make it feel familiar but fresh.

Education Style
Like my experience with the MOBA games, I wanted the educational feel of the game to be subtle and easy to tune out in favor of playing a fun and relatively simple game. I was hoping that if the game was fun enough to warrant multiple playthroughs, eventually, over time, players would become more and more familiar with the game pieces and through that, pickup tidbits of information about existence of various guitar equipment / techniques and roughly when they’re used in different parts of rock music. My hope is that it would allow people to get to the point where they can easily recognize these topics in conversation and perhaps this level of familiarity is enough to get some people to take further steps down the road of learning about music!


Shuffle the deck and deal 7 cards to every player.
Take the top card off the deck, flip it over, and place it face-up next to the deck, this becomes the discard pile.
Choose a player to go first, from this player, players take turns in a clockwise fashion (or any order you choose really).

On each turn each player plays a card with the following rules.

Orange Heavy Metal Cards can only be played after orange or wild cards

Yellow Guitar Solo Cards can only be played after yellow or wild cards

Blue Clean Guitar Cards can only be player after blue or wild cards

Green Blend In Cards are wild and can be played anytime

Black Sabotage Cards are wild and can be played anytime.
After a sabotage card is played, the next player draws a card and skips their turn.

Red (pink in this) Tomato Cards are wild and can be played anytime.
After a tomato card is played, the next player rolls the dice and draws a number of cards equal to the bigger number minus the smaller number, and skips their turn.

Win Condition
The first player to play all of their cards and have 0 cards remaining wins! After one player has won, the remaining players can continue to play for 2nd place and etc.


A deck of 70 cards:
15 Orange Heavy Metal Cards
15 Yellow Guitar Solo Cards
15 Blue Clean Guitar Cards
8 Green Blend In Cards
8 Black Sabotage Cards
9 Red (pink in this) Tomato Cards

2 dice


Goal Specification 
I had three assessment goals that I believe progress in terms of level of difficulty / engagement with the concepts that could be learned from playing the game.

My primary assessment goal was to see if people were interested enough in the info on the cards to discover the existence of anything in rock guitar that they didn’t already know about. That is, did they look at what was on the cards at all or simply play them?

My secondary assessment goal was to see if the players felt like they learned anything about how these newly discovered concepts were used in guitar playing in rock / heavy metal. Because the info on the cards is very lightweight, I was mostly expecting knowledge on the order of fun facts about what equipment looked like and which equipment / techniques complimented which style of music. In particular, because the cards are color coded by style of play, I was thinking players might take away some high level intuition of what gear could be useful for which moments in a song.

A third, less tangible goal was to see if the cards piqued enough curiosity in the player for them to want to learn more about them or more specifically, what the different equipment sounded like.

To assess how well these goals were met, I made observations during the playtest and conducted very short, informal interviews after gameplay. I didn’t want players to play the game thinking that they had to learn something so I didn’t tell them that I was going to interview them about what they had learned.

My interview questions were:

  1. Did you discover the existence of anything on the cards that you didn’t know about already? If so, was anything particularly memorable?
  2. Do you have a rough idea of how some of the equipment on the cards is used in rock music? Was anything particularly memorable here?
  3. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being not at all, 10 being very much so, how important to you would it be for an official version of this game to have an app / website where you could look / listen to the different equipment and techniques on the cards?

Playtest Assessment Outcomes
Both players in my observations and during the interview seemed to discover new concepts about rock guitar and related gear from the cards. The wah pedal was of particular interest, more on this later. For me, this metric was mostly a binary yes or no, I just wanted to see if the game promoted even looking at the cards to see what was on them.

Both players seemed to pick up a little bit of understanding of how some of the equipment was used at a high level. For example, wah is a pedal that is pressed to make the sound.  However for this, one player expressed to me that the game moved so quickly that they weren’t really taking in much more than the color of the card and maybe the title. They didn’t feel like playing the game was conducive towards thinking about how the equipment should be used. So on this front, I think I could do a better job of characterizing each genre card to help associate colors more strongly with a sound / type of rock. I think the game will always play fast so, to improve here, I think having more detailed and clear pictures might be the way forward.

The playtesters expressed medium interest in the idea of having an app to be able to listen to the sounds made by the objects in the cards. However, during the playtest, I was asked several questions about the objects on the cards and we ended up spending some time listening to music that featured the different effects while I explained. Although I wouldn’t be able to do this if the game was more widely distributed, I think it demonstrates that the game piques at least some interest in the topics. In an ideal version of the game, instead of me explaining, I think a curated app or website could do a lot better than me also.


Version 1: MOBA Card Game
Inspired by how much lore I had involuntarily learned from the ability names and descriptions of characters in a MOBA I’ve been playing lately, I thought I could create a card game that had the same effect. There would be several interesting characters, each that specialized in a certain instrument, genre, and tempo! Each character would have moves / equipment that you could select as the game went on to adapt to or impact the game. The base mechanic would be that each player / character would have to try to fit the “beat” as well as possible in terms of tempo and genre. Points would be awarded based on how well they did this, further players could use abilities, one I really liked was “TEMPO CHANGE” which would effect the beat and reposition some characters into stronger or weaker positions.

I still think this is a fun idea but very vague and given the time constraint, I decided to do something based on a more familiar card game.

Version 2: Trick Taking Version
In this version, I envisioned a game similar to hearts or spades if you’re familiar. Basically, each player gets dealt the same number of cards. Then each player plays one card per round until no cards remain in player hands. In each round, players can either win or lose the round. In my version of this type of game, each card would have a main genre and point values for its main genre and one subgenre. The leading player would get to set the genre and play first and the two players who played the cards with the 1st and 2nd highest point values for that genre would collect that many points. The player with the most points by the end would win. This is also where I first had the idea of a “tomato” card. The idea behind this was that if a tomato card was played, whoever won the round would have to take the tomato card which would have some sort of negative effect, initially I was thinking negative points but I think a lot could happen here.

After trying to come up with a few prototypes I abandoned this idea also. I felt stuck between two undesirable versions, in one, gameplay was too straightforward and felt like point values came down to the cards drawn, ie, there was little risk reward, I felt like optimal play was to always try to win rounds. In other versions, with tomato cards and other variants, trying to win a round felt too risky to the point where maybe it felt random. I personally think classics in this genre like Hearts and Spades have subtle ways of making players balance risk and reward in a way that makes the games feel strategic and fun, unlike my thrown together mess. I think this idea could work well with some dedicated play testing and iterating but I decided to move off in favor of the next idea.

Version 3: First Card Discarding Version
This version is pretty close to the current version described in the rules. Instead of using the genre of my guitar cards as suits in a trick taking game, why not make it one of those card discarding games? I thought a game similar to UNO would be fun where you try to discard everything but there are rules limiting what you can play when.

I still wanted to use the idea that each card would have point values in multiple genres so I thought about letting players play certain cards that didn’t match the card on the top of the stack if they were willing to take a risk: the further away the card was from the card on top of the deck (like in UNO if you played a green 1 on top of a red 9) then the higher the number you would have to roll with the dice (dice introduced here!) to not take a tomato. Except my idea was more complicated (i.e. ok this card is free to play on Orange but if its blue you have to roll at 10 but if its yellow you only have to roll a 5…) I felt like this aspect made the game too complicated and might make gameplay devolve to the 1 dimensional strategy of always forcing the best card for the situation. Also, when did players draw cards? Would players just start with all the cards divided between them?

Sabotage and tomato cards made players skip turns instead of draw cards initially. With the tomato you skipped your turn indefinitely and the only way to get rid of it was to roll a 5 or less. I went away from this after a short playtest as skipping several turns didn’t feel fun compared to drawing some cards and then getting to play.

Version 4: Current Version
This is the version described in the rules, not much to say here.

This is the only version that I actually playtested with other players, the remaining versions I did get some input from friends over the phone but I was describing the game to them as opposed to having them play it. For this, I playtested with two people, one male in his 20s with some familiarity with acoustic guitar and one female in her 20s with little familiarity with guitar and or rock music.

Of note, during this playtest is when a playtester suggested the rule that the number of drawn cards would be the value of the highest dice minus the lower dice. This creates a great distribution of values:
Draw 0 Cards ~ 17% chance
Draw 1 Cards ~ 28% chance
Draw 2 Cards ~ 22% chance
Draw 3 Cards ~ 17% chance
Draw 4 Cards ~ 11% chance
Draw 5 Cards ~ 6% chance
We liked this idea so much we changed to it on the spot, initially you just had to draw cards until you rolled a 5 or lower to “get the tomato off of you”.

Version 5: Future / Idealized Version
After the final playtest I have several changes that I think would be improvements (based on the feedback that I got):

Instead of having tomato and sabotage cards skip the affected player’s turn, they draw one extra card then they do in the current version but get to play. This keeps the expected number of cards for the affected player but gives them a chance for counterplay.

Move color indicators to the corners of the cards so that its easier for a player to know whats in their hand without looking at the faces of their cards. Add a symbol for cards that can be freely played at anytime. Beyond this, of course I would love for the art work to be much better than my hand drawings.

Online Resources:
During the final playtest, at the very beginning, there was a suggestion to make an app / website where players could look up a particular card, maybe with a QR code, and be able to see and listen to the equipment / technique in question. I think this would be essential for an official version. It would also be cool to link to popular songs that make frequent use of the techniques in question!


Final Playtest Video


About the author


  1. Nice work!! I appreciate that you took the time to refine this game through 4 versions!
    I agree with your points for the “future/idealized version”—your suggestions for the gameplay, visuals, and online resources sound like promising next steps if you decide to focus on this for the final project. I especially think that improving your visuals (e.g, digitally creating your cards with print and bold colors instead of handwriting) will not only reduce friction during gameplay, but also help players more easily retain information about different equipment and techniques. I also like the idea of creating an app or website to display graphics or sound effects for a given card!

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