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Cartel is a tabletop RPG in which players portray bold narcos, naive spouses, and dirty cops caught up in Mexico's eternal drug war.
Cartel is a tabletop RPG in which players portray bold narcos, naive spouses, and dirty cops caught up in Mexico's eternal drug war.
1,061 backers pledged $56,244 to help bring this project to life.

¡Vamos¡ Berlin 1981, Awesome Blog Posts, y Aztlán 2033!

Posted by Mark Diaz Truman (Creator)

And… we’re at $40,000. I thought you would give me a few days, muchachos. And yet here we are. Already at $40,000. ¡Híjole! We’ve unlocked Berlin 1981, and we’re well on our way to our next two stretch goals: more narcocorridos y Aztlán 2033. We’ll talk about todos those stretch goals in this update, along with some awesome blog posts and actual plays!

Oh… as a reminder, the voting for the new santos candle closes tomorrow, ¡así es, mañana! Please get your vote in to determine the candle we add as an available option for backers:

Santos Candle Voting:

¡Bueno! On to the update!

Unlocked Stretch Goal: Berlin 1981

We’ve unlocked our first official hack of Cartel, Berlin 1981, giving you all the tools you need to bring the mechanical core of Cartel to a brand new setting: the Cold War. I’m super excited to expand what Cartel can do, and I’m thrilled that folks are excited about digging into the mechanics from a new perspective. Spy fiction has its own rich literary and cinematic history!

Berlin 1981 will be featured in Sin Fronteras, available to all of our $20+ backers as part of the digital stretch goals. We’ll make the materials available to backers for playtesting well before Sin Fronteras is published, so you all mendigotes will be the first folks who get to try out the hack.

New Stretch Goal: +2 Narcocorridos ($42,500) 

After our short jaunt to Germany, it’s time for us to get back to Mexico. Now that we’ve upgraded our Deck of Locations and added new tattoos and candles, it’s time to add a few more songs to Corridos de Durango:

If we reach $42,500, we’ll have Justin add two more songs to our album of custom narcocorridos, bringing the total to six songs of betrayal, amor, drogas, y dinero. I’m excited to give you all some authentic corridos to play at your table (and perhaps even use as songs for your characters!).

New Stretch Goal: Aztlán 2033 ($45,000) 

But we’re not stopping at $42.5k… we’ve got more stuff planned. First up, a second hack for Cartel, this time set as far into the future as Berlin 1981 was set in the past:

Aztlán 2033 is a hack of Cartel set in a fictional narcostate south of Canada and west of the Mississippi, a post-apocalyptic pseudonation wracked by climate changes and economic collapse. Aztlán—as the locals call it—isn’t technically part of Mexico...but it isn’t part of America either. Abandoned in the wake of a nuclear war precipitated by rogue artificial intelligence, Aztlán is cyberpunk dystopia haunted by diablos, programs that hijack human hosts to flee the restraints of La Red (the Grid). Now ángeles hunt those diablos, the trusted agents of the corporations who are paid to get the programs back in the box.

Aztlán 2033 is probably the most ambitious hack I will ever do of Cartel, a one player/one gamemaster noir engine that evokes Bladerunner and City of God in equal measure. 

If we reach $45,000, Aztlán 2033 will appear in Sin Fronteras—in both print and pdf—and will include all the materials you need to run a game of Cartel in a totally new, cyberpunk setting.

Awesome Blogs: Bluestockings and Save vs. TPK 

Since I launched the Cartel Kickstarter in early March, there’s been a goodly amount of internet ink spilled on the nature of the game, and the role it plays in our understanding of the drug war. It’s been really exciting—and sometimes stressful—to see people engaging with the material, and I’m still pumped to see folks thinking and talking about Cartel.

This past week, though, two of my favorite pieces have been published, and I want to share them with you.

Blustockings: Playtest Focus - Cartel 

First up, Kate Bullock wrote a fantastic piece on her blog (Bluestockings) reflecting on her experiences playtesting Cartel with myself and a few other Gauntlet regulars last week. Her piece is really honest, exploring what she found out about herself through the game:

“As I publicly shamed my husband for being less than a man, Mark looked at me and asked if I was verbally abusing or shaming someone. I blinked, stunned, that a game would mechanize emotional abuse. It's not something I've seen often other than in games that are exploring that topic. [...] It blew my mind that a game would own that bullshit, call it abuse, and acknowledge how much of a role these things have in the society it was talking about. In fact, the only Stress move that isn't abusive is confessing your sins to a priest, which is feeding back into community and healing. Yes please.”

And here's the playtest Kate is talking about on YouTube, a great example of the way that gender politics and familial drama plays out in Cartel:

Save vs. TPK: Without the Distance of Metaphor or Time

Over on Save vs. TPK, Ramanan Sivaranjan tackles some of the controversy and drama around Cartel’s subject matter, writing really elegantly about what games are able to do and how they are able to do it. As I said on Twitter, I’m honored he cast his critical eye on my project:

"The archetypes the playbooks of the game represent aren’t distant or fantastic: they are grounded in reality. Mark could tell his story about the Mexican drug trade using allegory (the cartel are the dark elves or some such nonsense), or he could push his story backwards or forwards in time (Cartel: 2120). As players you might be able to avoid dwelling too much on the reality of what you’re playing. But this seems contrary to everything Mark wants to do with his game. His goal—as he notes often—is to push people to play roles that might be uncomfortable for them. He wants people playing Mexicans."

Great stuff in both posts! Please go read and comment. Both these writers are really excellent contributors to the RPG community, and I'd love to see some Cartel fans engaging with them.

¡Last Week, Cabrones

We’re down to the last semana of the campaign. Just six more días until we close on Sunday, April 15th. Tell everyone you know! This is their last chance to be a part of this campaign.

¡Mil gracias, amigos! It’s been an amazing ride so far, and I can’t wait to see what the última semana has in store for us!


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    1. Lex on

      Should you need a playtester for Aztlan, I might know someone... (hint, hint!)

    2. Mark Diaz Truman 5-time creator

      @Steve & David - Great recommendations. Really looking forward to digging into more of the source material for these kinds of stories when I get to work on finalizing this hack!

      @Acronico - I think we're actually on the same page here! I want something much more like Bladerunner than The Veil, a world where technology has moved forward... but also where society has moved backward in some important ways. The people of Aztlán 2033 will be on the cusps of some major changes to climate, etc, but not everything will have arrived yet...

    3. AdamUltraberg on

      "Mark could tell his story about the Mexican drug trade using allegory (the cartel are the dark elves or some such nonsense), or he could push his story backwards or forwards in time"

    4. Missing avatar

      Steve Ellis

      For Aztlan 2033, can I also recommend The Water Knife if you havent read it? It covers the South West too, but talks about how decades of drought has made water the must have commodity- ruthless killers in this setting who will do anything to get the water rights are said to come from Cali - and its pleasingly ambigous as to whether they mean the Cali cartel or Californians. I love the idea of Angels hunting devils in this narco-state, but please throw in a bit of drought and water-scarcity too.

    5. Acronico on

      Hi Mark,
      Let me first congratulate you for the great work you are doing with Cartel.
      I'm loving the intensity graphic design and overall care in the text and rule adaptations.

      I'm writing to say that contrary to Ute I feel that Aztlán 2033 sounds a bit far fetch for me to swallow. If you are aiming for a post apocalyptic, cyberpunk dystopia I think you should place it further ahead in the future (2033 is just 15 years away!). Furthermore, all CC modelling doesn't show any major changes for mid-century, all major changes are set to occur from 2050-60 onward.

      I like the idea of a narco pseudo-nation and how this articulates with the neighbouring nations faced with increased isolationism. I also like the idea that wars will be run with major cyber components and that humans will need to interface with the machine to be able to win those. However, I have some reservations on a full fledged (late 1980s style) cyberpunk setting.

      Maybe I'm burnt by a recent failed attempt to run a Veil campaign. Even though we set our timeline starting in 2070 most of the players had a hard time to incorporate all implication of a post(trans?)-human reality in their play given the proximity to our timeline (one of the characters was a 102 y.o. ascetic monk, born in 1968, 3 years before me!).

      So for me I would run such a type of scenario if it was either dealing with the onset of such enormous changes, or set in a future so far or an universe so different that the player won't have the urge to project itself to it (e.g. fantasy RPG).

    6. Missing avatar

      David Thomas on

      Aztlan-wise, I hope it's redundant for me to recommend Ernest Hogan's work (try High Aztec and Smoking Mirror Blues), A great feature is that a lot of the vocabulary is nahuatl (there's a glossary but the author recommends that the readers work out the meaning from context). The result is very immersive and really, really good.

    7. Ute Gundacker on

      Wow, Aztlán 2033 sounds awesome!

      I'm currently running a shadowrun campaign, which relocated to Metrópole de Amazônia, wrote lots of stuff and tried to grab the feeling by spending hours in documentaries, reading, google street view and so on. Still not as good as travelling around in the area, but hey, budget is limited.

      So the idea for this new stretch goal is very appealing to me.
      I hope we make it!

    8. Lex on

      Interesting stuff! One-on-one play is a super underutilized niche.

    9. Mark Diaz Truman 5-time creator

      @Lex - Maybe! My current draft has only one playbook, but we'll see how it goes in playtesting. You'll get a front row seat to that process as a backer!

    10. Lex on

      Is Aztlan going to have multiple playbooks? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a one-on-one PbtA game before.