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How to play the game of Decadence
A card game of cybernetic culture
The Cybernetic Cultural Research Unit was a blogging collective whose Y2K-era writings were gathered into the book CCRU Writings 1997-2003.
These essays range from literary investigations of William S. Burroughs and H. P. Lovecraft to original short stories in the form of fictional correspondences and purported Indonesian myths. The overall subject matter of this material weaves together threads from lost-continent prehistory to mind-upload technologies, culminating in an elaborate speculation on the nature of time.
A card game described in one of these writings is called by the name Decadence. In the context of the CCRU material, this card game is presented as having origins in the submerged civilization of Atlantis. The game is a recurring motif in these writings. Suggested meanings for this card game are variously implied to be gambling, divination, or even secret-society communiques.
The post explains how one plays this card game.
The card game Decadence can be played alone as a solitaire game or with one or more other participants.
The object of the game is to reach a negative number of points or zero.
Remove all of the jokers, tens, jacks, queens, and kings from the deck. Set these cards aside, as they are not needed for this game and will not be used. You should be left with a 36-playing-card deck.
Deal five cards face-up. Their shape should be that of a cross. Imagine the cardinal points of a compass rose: deal one card into the South position, one in the East position, then one in the West and one in the North. The fifth card should be placed even further to the "South" of the card in the South spot. The shape made by these cards is called the “Atlantean Cross.”
Repeat the process by dealing five more cards off to the right. All of these cards should be face-down. The end result after dealing should be two Atlantean Crosses, side-by-side— one face-up and one face-down.
Flip over each card in the right-hand Atlantean Cross, proceeding in the order they were dealt.
Each flipped-over card from the second (right-hand) Atlantean Cross should try to pair with a card from the left-hand cross, such that the cards in each pair add up to ten.
For example, a one card paired with a nine card is worth
9 - 1 == 8), as is a nine card paired with a one. A two/eight or an eight/two pair is worth
8 - 2 == 6). A three (of any suit) paired with a seven card or a seven paired with a three card is worth
7 - 3 == 4). A four paired with a six, or vice versa, is worth
2points. When a five is paired with another five, it is worth
5 - 5 == 0), but the pairing is still made.
Cards remaining in the left-hand Atlantean Cross that did not find any pair with a card from the right-hand Atlantean Cross have their numeric value subtracted from the point-value sum produced thus far.
If the resulting number is negative or zero, the game is over. If the result is a positive number, repeat the game again, adding the new total (whether negative or positive) to the last total taken from all previous games. Continue the summation until the total numeric result from all games played is a non-positive integer.
The highest reachable total is
0, while the lowest possible total is
If playing Decadence with multiple people, each player takes a turn dealing and counting their own sum-totals. The person with the largest (highest) negative number is the winner. For example a
0 beats a
Other CCRU papers associate each of the
45 possible endings with various descriptions of their meanings. It’s not apparent to me that referring to the CCRU’s Yijing-style imagery table adds that much more fun to this game.
Overall this card game, despite its arcane numero-mythological associations, is a short game, resolving fairly quickly, and it can be played alone or with others.