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How to Play Misery Bubblegum

Misery Bubblegum is an awesome game by Tony Lower-Basch. It’s about high-school relationship drama. Its home page is here: http://www.museoffire.com/Games/MiseryBubblegum/. I believe you will soon be able to buy it at Indie Press Revolution: http://www.indiepressrevolution.com/xcart/home.php

But people find Misery Bubblegum hard to play, and the rules that come with the game aren’t that helpful. I think I know how to play it correctly, so I’ve written this tutorial to help others. I’m assuming you’ve read the rule book and rule cards that came with the game and know something about role-playing games. Don’t ignore Tony’s rule book and cards. This is just a tutorial.

Pick a theme for your game. I suggest you make it “something high school.” “Ninja high school”, “wizard high school”, and “regular high school” are all good choices.

Decide what group within the high school all the characters will belong too, like “the ninja-fu team”, or “the defense against the dark arts class”, or “drama club”.

Game Master, follow the “Setting up the Game” page of the rules.

Read the “Making your Character” page of the rules. Separate out the blue role and personality cards. Personalities have black and white triangles next to the portrait. Roles don’t. Each player chooses one role and one personality. Place the role card sits in front of you facing you (that’s who you are to yourself). Your personality sits upside-down above it facing everyone else. (that’s who you are to the world).

Once everyone’s done this, read the “What’s your Dream” card. Follow the instructions. A good dream includes three elements: (1) A good relationship with another character; (2) A harebrained scheme for changing how they feel about your character; (3) A third character you can blame when things go wrong (and they will).

Game Master, take the “Introductions” phase card and put it on the table in front of you. Frame a scene where we’ll get to see the characters interact in a way that’s typical of their lives. Notice that there are three empty spaces on the phase card that say “Draw a card when…” When any one of these happens, draw a card from the deck and place it face-down over that slot. Once it’s covered, you can’t cover it again.

Players, when you play to your role (facing you) in the course of the scene, draw a card and place it face-down over your role. You can only have one card sitting there at a time. Watch the other people play too. When they play to their personality (facing you), draw a card for them and place it face-down over their personality. They can only have one card sitting there at a time. This is explained on the “Drawing” card.

Game Master, when you think we’ve had enough of introductions, declare a scene change. Everyone picks up their face-down cards and puts them into their hands (including you). Frame another scene. Choose the most appropriate phase card for that scene and put it in front of you. You will continue in this manner until the “Climax” card turns up in the deck. Then you switch the scene to climax and wrap up the game. The “Game Master” pages explain all this in more detail and contain good advice.

Now that everyone has cards in their hand they can do things with this, including conflicts, stating opinions, and expanding characters.

When your character wants to make something happen and someone else stands in the way, use a conflict to resolve the situation. This is explained on the “Stakes” card. Don’t forget to set stakes, like the card says. Throw down a card from your hand. Use the card’s theme in your narration (like if it’s anger, show how angry your character is, or something). Now what you want will happen. Someone else can throw a higher card in the same way. Now what THEY want will happen. Keep going till someone has the highest card and no one beats them. The “Rules for Cards…” cards explain in more detail when you can play a particular card.

You can use opinions to pass cards around. See the “Opinions” rules card. When your character expresses an opinion that matches a card, you can pass that card to another player. Do this a lot and you won’t regret it.

You can use cards to expand your character. Notice that some cards (21-36) have little triangles on them. You can attach them to the little triangles on your role card, as shown on the “Making your Character” page. This lets you draw more face down cards. You can also use these to win conflicts by discarding them, but only if there isn’t a card drawn on top of them at the time. Cards 31-36 also become more powerful when you draw a card face down on them. Once you’ve drawn a card onto cards 31-36, their value jumps to the second number shown on the card (51-56). See “Rules for cards: 21-29” and “Rules for cards: 31-36” for more details.

Finally, some cards have special abilities. Discard the card to use its ability. Cards 1-9 let your character demand an answer from someone. Your character gets to ask a two-answer question. The other character must choose an answer or flee the scene. So, if you’re character asks “Are you trying to ruin my life, or are you just stupid?” the other character must answer: (a) I’m trying to ruin your life, (b) I’m just stupid, or (c) flee the scene. Cards 11-19 let you change the phase of the game, as described on the card. See “Rules for: cards 1-9” and “Rules for: Cards 11-19” for details.

I really hope that explanation helps people play Misery Bubblegum and have as much of a blast as I have. This is a really great game and there’s no other game quite like it. I appreciate feedback on this tutorial, as I’d like to make it better.

UPDATE: Members of the Story Games Community are collaboratively creating a revised draft of the rules of Misery Bubblegum on the Story Games Codex.


Hey, I just wanted to thank you for writing this up-- I played MB for the first time over the weekend, and this was really helpful in getting myself in the groove.

One thing I did find a little ambiguous was whether the GM can reuse phases that have already been laid down, but I suspect it's a moot point; we ripped through the whole deck in something like three or four phases, I think.

Good point! Yes, the GM can use any phases (s)he wants, in whatever order. You can even change in the middle of a scene if you want.

I wonder if the emotion on the card actually needs to be connected to the opinion expressed, when passing a card by expressing an opinion. The example seem to suggest not: "You're so spineless" while passing Kind.

I don't have my copy handy, but as I remember it when Tony LB ran it at Gen Con, we definitely expressed the words on the card. I would prefer not to do it that way, however, as it makes for more free passing of cards.

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