Explore The Rich World of Narcofiction With The Cartel RPG

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Each week here at Geek & Sundry we’re taking a look at new and upcoming exciting titles on Kickstarter! This week’s Kickstarter of the week is Cartel, a role playing game about the tensions between Mexican drug cartels and the families, police and politicians touched by drug smuggling. The Kickstarter has exceeded their $50K funding goal and is over $35K.  

Playing the rogue in an RPG is often a bit more fun than the other characters. Adventurers often have a bit of a criminal bent to them from looting all those ancient tombs and dragon hordes, but the rogue gets to be unrepentant about stealing and stabbing people in the back. When everyone is a criminal, however, things get much more complicated. Games like  Shadowrun and  Blades In the Dark are popular because everyone gets to put their heroic ambition aside and live on the dark side for a while. The newest game from Magpie Games, Mark Diaz Truman’s Cartel, focuses a light in the shadows of Mexican drug cartels to show off the good, the bad and the ugly reflected in these crime stories.

The game is inspired by narcofiction, which fans are likely to already have seen. Movies like Goodfellas, shows like Breaking Bad or Narcos show the compromises people make when they get involved in the drug trade. Cartel focuses on the city of Durango, Mexico. The city is caught between the traditional Sinaloa Cartel, the upstart drug gang Los Zetas and the authorities charged with slowing the flow of drugs from Mexico into the US. The players are also stuck in the middle, playing roles like the drug manufacturers, enforcers and even the spouses and relatives trying to justify to everyone how their family makes money.

Cartel 2

The game runs on a Powered By The Apocalypse frame, focusing on the stress that living this lifestyle puts on the people on the inside. When a character tops out on their stress, bad things start to happen and they have to make hard choices for their character. Does La Sicaria take that job that puts a bullet in the brain of her old mentor? Does El Narco side with one cartel over the other and expose himself to retribution? Interested parties looking to try before they back can download a quickstart from Magpie Games to see how Truman has sharpened the edges of the Apocalypse World engine to cut to the drama at the heart of these crime stories.

On the subject of the glorification of drug cartels, author Mark Diaz Truman had this to say during a Reddit AMA:

I think it’s a really hard question, one that I wrestled with for a long time while I was writing the game. I don’t want to be part of the narcocultura that makes the Cartel seem appealing (although I understand that the viewpoint arises out of the general failure of the Mexican government to provide a meaningful alternative in terms of economic development.)

But having run a lot of Cartel, I don’t think that the game is at all about making the cartel or its members look good. I look at shows like Breaking Bad or Narcos or The Wire… and while they sometimes make characters look cool, they don’t make me want to join up with a criminal organization. Life is nasty, brutish, and short when you’re in the drug trade, and Cartel doesn’t hide away from that fact.

On the other hand, I totally understand that some Mexican gamers aren’t thrilled to see Mexico represented by more drug fiction. I get that too, but I think that it’s my job to keep Mexico in my work so that this is just one story among many. I think people forget that I just finished work on The New World, my Mesoamerican Wakanda for 7th Sea.

Basically, we need Narcos/The Wire AND Black Panther. I’m hoping to work on all the points of that spectrum.

Backers have their choice of digital and physical packages. In addition to the core book, the Kickstarter is unlocking additional material as stretch goals. More books with drop-and-play NPCs, location cards, details on how the CIA fits into the drug trade and additional playbooks and even an album of narcocorridos, songs that tell the heroic and tragic tale of legendary criminals are available to backers. The world of the cartels is complex and messy. Cartel looks to tell those stories through high drama, hard choices and finding out through play.

The Kickstarter ends Sunday, April 15th. If you want to step into the world of the narcotraffico, you have to decide before then.

Interested in more amazing 21st-century games?

Image Credits: Magpie Games

Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd. He’s worked on dozens of different tabletop games ranging from Star Wars and Firefly all the way down to his own creations like CAMELOT Trigger. He can be hired as a professional  Dungeon Master for in-person or remote games. His Twitter is  here. His meat body can be found in scenic Milwaukee, WI.

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