Card games date back into the 9th century in the Middle East, and Europe. When anything survives millennia, crosses continents, cultures, and socio-economic boundaries while growing and changing to meet the times, it’s bound to pick up a reputation, right? The Tarot is predated by several other decks and styles of cards, including the commonly used suited decks you’ll find literally everywhere. While the name and timelessly mystifying designs of a Tarot deck have a distinctly occult style it is, at its core, just another game. For this installment of Board to Death we’ll be using the Zombie Tarot created by Paul Kepple and Stacey Graham and printed by Quirk Books of Philadelphia. Turn down the lights, lock the doors, and lets see what the cards have in store.
I got bad news for you, kiddies. Like the Ouija Board and other paranormal parlor games, Tarot’s value as a divination tool is all in the user, not the cards. Replacing the more common, standard card deck you're familiar with in the late 1700’s as a means of reading someone’s fortune, Tarot’s origins and mystic value are largely superstitious storytelling. The methods and style of gameplay and divination are similar to another popular European card game of the time called Trappola. While the game has been around since the mid 1400’s, the use of the deck to read fortunes didn’t begin until after the American Revolution and most serious Tarot players abandoned the classic deck in favor of a newer design around 1900.
Tarot decks commonly purchased in the U.S. are for the divinatory purposes of the game but can still be played without the “occult” intentions of knowing the future. Decks come with booklets explaining briefly the history of the Tarot, the use and practice of the deck for cartomancy, how to interpret the cards, and, of course, an explanation of the meanings associated with each card. In the case of the Zombie Tarot, players are treated to the old plastic fantastic, retro charm of the 1950’s. With illustrations, wording, and even some clever “advertisements” that remind us of Cold War Era propaganda, the instruction booklet is worth it alone.
The cards in the Zombie Tarot are like something you’d find in your grandparents’ house in the 50’s in a magazine ad. The deck embraces both the retro charm and the gruesome notion of trying to tell your future in a post zombie apocalypse reality.
As a deck for playing a classic hand of Tarot it’s wonderful. The cards are well made, nicely marked, and amusing as hell with a nostalgic flair and humor that's sure to entertain for hours. As a tool for telling the future? That’s another story all together. Horror themed decks of Tarot cards are immediately off putting and give participants uneasy feelings about their use. Most cartomancers will warn of an “energy” that could lead to much “darker” interpretations. As the divination process is largely the same as “cold reading” be aware that you may not like the way your fortune is told by the Zombie Tarot as opposed to other, more light hearted decks. Still, it might be worth taking a chance. After all, you only live once.
You can find the Zombie Tarot on Amazon and other websites for about $15 (USD) and it’s well worth it for gamers, cartomancers, and horror fans alike.
Dan Lee is a film critic, editorialist, independent author, and horror culture correspondent from Tennessee. You can also follow him on social media @dotdblog