Local Sci-Fi Artist Puts His Spin on the Lotería

John Picacio, two-time winner of the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist, knows lotería. As a child, he played the game with his mother and grandmother. The card images fascinated him as much then as they do now. So much so, he is sharing the game at science fiction conventions around the nation, and designing his own lotería cards with his signature sci-fi/fantasy edge.

Lotería plays a lot like American bingo. In lotería, each player receives a scorecard, called a tabla, with pictures. While callers in bingo announce numbers, singers in lotería rhyme hints about the picture they’ve drawn from a 54-card deck. Between American bingo and lotería, the goal of each game is the same: to create a specific combination of matches.

In San Antonio, lotería is ubiquitous. Families play it together. The iconography serves as decorations in Mexican restaurants.  Taco Cabana even ran a promotion, similar to McDonald’s Monopoly, using the lotería game in 2013.

Yet, many people in the United States have never played.

Picacio recognizes lotería as a game steeped in Latino culture, not unlike science fiction writing and card games remain the property of nerd culture aficionados. In turn, he’s bringing these two cultures together.

“Sci-fi, fantasy is about everything - it’s about inclusion and not exclusion. That’s what art is about, too,” Picacio says.

To that end, Picacio holds lotería games at the science fiction conventions he attends for his artwork. Last month, he played with 60 sci-fi/fantasy fans at Pacific Northwest’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention held in Washington.  Soon, he’ll hold one in Fargo, North Dakota. Then, he will play the game with Detroit, Michigan convention goers at Detcon1. He even has plans for Lotería with attendees at mega-convention San Diego Comic-con this summer.

Each session, Picacio passes out a tabla, a pile of beans to serve as placeholders, and calls for each game.  But, he doesn’t sing during these convention games.

“I’m playing it in the more contemporary way by calling out the card I don’t have the time or the inventiveness to call out the card in rhyme.”

He also avoids the riddles typically associated with lotería as to not confuse newcomers unfamiliar with the game.

Nevertheless, the reception among sci-fi fans has been exciting. Sci-fi fans not only pick up the game quickly, they get competitive, Picacio says.

The next stage in the spread Lotería includes finishing the illustration work for the 54-card deck. Each card will feature his signature art blended with classic lotería imagery. Picacio predicts to complete all the artwork in about a year.

Rather than immediately releasing the deck, however, he plans to release a book. Not only will it serve as an art book, but act as the narrative that connects the drawings together into a cohesive whole, Picacio says.

With a fully functioning mythos, his illustrations will resonate with more contemporary sci-fi and fantasy fans looking for new card games to play. If his plans come to fruition, his version of lotería may bring Latino culture and science fiction pop culture uniquely closer.


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