Game Design, Gaming

Confabula Baraja – A Card Game Mash-Up

My previous post was about Emma Larkins’ Confabula Rasa storytelling card game. I went into it as a word generator for poetry, but this time around I got a bit weirder. That tends to happen when you dive into tarot.

Always Playing With Weird Stuff, Aren’t You?

I said that I was going to play around with tarot cards and Confabula Rasa at the end of the previous post, so I’m following through. I already owned a deck of baraja española cards from a few years back. Almost any Latino is well-acquainted with this deck of cards – they have at least one auntie that has one hidden in a drawer somewhere that reads cards to your mom from time. I’ve seen readings with these cards personally growing up, so I’m used to seeing them if not play around with them before getting smacked upside the head by some bruja.

So, What Are Baraja Cards?

Anyway, they are a bit different than the tarot cards that you may see in the stuff you see in popular media. You can actually replicate it with a normal pack of playing cards, but the iconography is so tied to its cultural and spiritual significance it just seems cheap to perform it that way. That’s why I bought a pack, as well as the fact that there’s no way in hell my aunt would let me borrow hers.

The Confabula Baraja Set-Up

The cartomancy of baraja cards works alongside the numbers and suit of the card. I used the baraja deck in a 40-card format taking out a few numbers from their suits. I then chose one of the many spreads available, a planetary spread. Here’s how the spread looks like:


With just some cursory research on the suits/cards and their meaning, I formed a system before I used the Confabula Rasa cards. For example, the top card, the three of clubs, represents magic, packages, religion, etc. So you can imagine how this can serve as a bedrock of sorts for the words you will form from the Confabula Rasa cards.

The Cartomancy And Logomancy Meet At A Crossroads

Here’s where the beginning of my headaches started. I decided that it would be a fun idea to use the very same spread to put down the Confabula Rasa card. needless to say, it took a long time to get the words out. I will give out props to Emma for her Power Cards, but I feel as if the game might need more, or at the very least there is room for more ideas for Power Cards somewhere.

So it was time to put together the mysticism with the game. I came up with eight words, and with the interpretations for each card, I formed this strange mini-fic out of thin air. Is it amazing? Probably not. But I will admit the combo was a stronger engine than what I had done previously.

The Thieves Of the Sea (Or What Came Out Of Confabula Baraja)

Here is what came out:

I packed my bags and headed towards the sea – more like ran away from this podunk town. I was on my way towards the arms of a woman with her wits about her, hiding all kinds of clever tricks and unknown pleasures beneath her rags. Our plan was to steal something of worth from an emir of considerable power. The man curiously left his precious platinum ore in an abandoned clinic. Once we pulled off the job, the deal was made with our connections in the underground before we could even take off our disguises. It was the mob’s problem now, and my lady and I could now enjoy the spoils of our heist for decades to come.

Final Remarks

Seeing the effectiveness I reached, I think I might try this again. I will use this for a longform poem in the near future, and after seeing what the baraja cards can do as the basis of a gaming device (kind of what Weave is doing for roleplaying games) I think I might try to do something in the future as well, perhaps something that really represents Latin culture.

Review, Sci Fi

She Can Do It: Mechalarum’s Feminist Undertones

Mechalarum_CoverA moment of full disclosure – I’m friends with Emma Larkins so my opinions on her debut sci-fi novel Mechalarum are slightly biased. That is why I decided a full review of Mechalarum would not be the best route as far as ruminating on it for my blog. It would be a damn-near Herculean effort in staying objective and telling you whether it’s a good book or greatest book. So, what I decided was doing what I do best and look at in a certain academic tone. There’s two in particular: the feminist undertones inherent in the novel.

What is really interesting in contemporary literature is in how YA books have pushed the female protagonist. YA fiction is female-heavy, which is an interesting turn on fiction in general given their popularity and how that shows the cultural shift in feminism in general. the interesting part of how that plays in Mechalarum is that a significant portion the time Kiellen the protagonist is badgered by others about a supposed romantic link between Gage, her friend and science-mechanic sidekick. The roughnecks of the lands outside the comfortable citadel assume that connection exists, just as many would in many real-life partnerships, but it is denied.


Kiellen tilted her head to glare up at Jey. “I’m not his ‘girlie.’ You keep saying that. I’m no one’s, save my own.”

The way it is written denotes a hangup all too familiar in real-world creative ventures, whether it be technology, music, or other fields. This is reminiscent of the type of rumors that are very common between a female musician and the male producer working on her songs, or how some men put down women in STEM by saying their worth is undervalued because of personal relationships with men. Larkins’ characterization of Gage does not infer that connection immediately but what is important is this question is this: is that truly important in the scope of the book? Sure, he takes many risks for Kiellen’s safety, but it comes from the standpoint of friendship for most of the story. When an intimacy – albeit a small one – forms between the two, it comes from the necessary position of Kiellen taking charge of the moment. That is pretty important for readers looking at a female character, seeing her take the first step instead of waiting for the guy to make the move. Overall it is interesting in seeing Larkins’ change of a male character like Gage to a dutiful, almost subservient role that is so routinely delegated to a female.

In the future I’ll think some more about the actual Mechalarum suit. There are things to it reminiscent of other suits in media, but for that post I think I’ll have to let it marinate in my head a bit more.