• Elissa May Murphy

MUSIC The Card Game: Soon To Be A Box Office Smash!

Updated: Jul 25, 2019


Love music?

Love card games?

If you answered YES to either of these questions, you're in for a real treat...

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mr. Steve Link to witness something pretty spectacular.

Link - a mathematician, educator, musician, and inventor of MUSIC: The Card Game - met up with me to play some 'variations on a theme' within his new creation: a deck of cards... 'where hands are played and can then be played!'

With its slick contrast like a keyboard and eye-catching colors to help broadcast the two values that are on each card, Link created six games within one deck of cards. However, he encourages you to experiment and discover other possible variations to play! Since both the chords and the pitch-values are distinct from each other on every card, the structure makes everything work with rule variations in multiple games.

Let's explore several possibilities of ways to play that this one-of-a-kind deck has to offer...


Before we jump into each individual game, it's important to know that there are two major headings between games: Ensemble and Diva. Ensemble-style games are could incorporate interaction, teamwork, or bluffing. Diva-style games translate to each player purely focussing on their own playing. Each game has its own suggested “variations on the theme” to tweak the rules, but the goals and the core ideas of the games remain the same.

1. PROGRESSION (ensemble)

Think, "Glorified UNO," or Uno with a deeper level of understanding to make for greater strategy! The purpose is to be the last person to play a card on the longest hands possible, which causes everyone to build longer chord progressions as they play more cards.. This is Link's personal favorite out of all the possibilities, having forced him out of his comfort zone when coming up with chord progressions for his compositions and arrangements:

“This game was developed first, because I wanted something to help me get past writer’s block. I would find myself using the same chords in the same type of ways after a while when I was writing songs. With this (Progression), as you play more cards in each hand, you’re constantly writing longer and more interesting chord progressions.

Once I had gotten into a rhythm (no pun intended), I found this game highly addictive. Never heard of roman numerals applied to music before? Not to worry: the arrows in the center of each card indicate the possible chords (roman numerals) you could play next.

Still think it's too complex? "I've had an eight-year-old beat me at this game without knowing anything about music," Link proclaims.


2. TRIAL BY TRIAD (diva)

Notated (WOW! Look at all these puns) as a "diva" styled game, each player participates independently. We began by setting up our 'board' in a 3x3 formation. Essentially, you spot a chord or 'triad,': you shout out and take the cards you spotted. Whoever calls the latest set has to place three new cards down from the pile. Those players who aren't as familiar with building triads will use the keyboards pictured as references to build their triads and rack up points.

Not being as freshened up on my augmented or diminished chords, I wasn't nearly as quick on my feet as the others, but once you get into a groove, you'll be spotting triads left and right.

3. COLLECTIVE IMPROVISATION (diva)

We begin with three 'piles' in the center. Each player is attempting to get rid of all their cards overtop. Everyone plays their cards at the same time. Musicians will go about by placing major or minor thirds above those planted in the center. Everyone else simply matches up the keyboard diagrams. The first person to run out of cards in their piles WINS.

4. CIRCLE OF FISTS (ensemble)


iii – vi – ii – V – I: For those who are unfamiliar, this chord progression is the most famous one in music, which is called the circle of fifths! This game is unique amongst the others in the sense that you're 'betting,' or 'wagering' and trying to strategize by thinking ahead in order to gain the cards that create the circle of fifths progression (for those that don't know, the circle of fifths is one of the core concepts of music theory). Pounding your fists on the table to wage 'x' amount of cards gives the game a great percussive rhythm and feels reminiscent of everyone playing rock-paper-scissors. Whoever gets the above chord progression first based on the chord combos they create as the game progresses WINS!


5. 4’33” (ensemble)

Inspired by John Cage's silent composition 4'33," the goal for this game - amongst your friends - is to create a giant crossword. Added challenge: no talking during the entire game.

6. 7TH HEAVEN (ensemble)

The goal: build 7th chords between those cards laid out on the table with the cards in your hand. Can't do it? Here's where you ask (just like a classic game of 'Go Fish'). Along with Circle of Fists, this is the second of two recommended card games to play if you are a trained musician.


Tying into Link's daily profession as a math teacher, you want to make sure that there are good probabilities... 60 cards in total, 5 of each musical note. The chord values, on the other hand, are purposely used in different proportions so that the most powerful and most offensive cards are represented less often than the ones that help the players to build new music together.

“I’ve always been fascinated with regular playing cards and I designed games for them. When “Music: The Card Game!” came about, it was only natural to design it to be played in multiple ways.”

- Steve Link

With less than one week remaining in the campaign, Link explains how this idea came about through the game's Kickstarter:

“The idea came about when I was sitting at the piano, searching for a new sound and trying to write songs with nothing to work from. I would always end up writing the same kind of songs with the same kinds of harmonies. Something had to stretch my boundaries. And thus... Music: The Card Game was born. I shared it with some math colleagues, and we play tested for some rewarding outcomes and some good probabilities. Then I shared it with some music colleagues and... by then we were just playing because it was an awesome 'geek niche game.'"

- Steve Link

No matter if you are the ultimate beginner to the realm of music theory or you've had a PhD in the subject for decades, Link has created a mastered layout on the classic deck of cards in order for each and every person to understand, enjoy, and expand upon the introductory steps into the land of music theory.

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