Once Upon a Space Opera

At some point in the late 1980s, someone (I think Geoff H) suggested that it might be fun to create a Once Upon a Time variant based on the conventions/tropes of space opera. (In place of the fairytale tropes of OUaT.)

So we cut a bunch of index cards in half and invited friends to create cards for use in such a game.

We ended up with about 112 cards, divided up into the five OUaT categories: Aspect (adjectives), Character, Event, Item, Place. We also made about 23 Ending cards.

I don’t think we ever actually played the game; I think we intended to make some more cards and then do some playtesting, but I don’t think we ever did.

The cards ended up in my possession. They wandered in and out of boxes of my stuff for many years. At some point I put them in a ziplock bag. I eventually put the bag with some of my boardgames—but I didn’t put anything on the bag to indicate what it was, so I don’t think anyone ever did anything with the cards.

A couple weeks ago, a friend mentioned the fact that OUaT comes (or at least used to) with a few blank cards that you can write on and add to the game. And I glanced at my nearby coffee table and saw that the Space Opera OUaT cards were sitting right there (I had recently cleared out the cabinet they had been in), so I got them out. We talked about them, and I decided to put them online.

I put them in a Google Sheets spreadsheet, then I checked with some of the friends who might have been involved in making them, and heard no objections to posting them. (At this remove, we can’t be sure of who wrote which cards, and we probably don’t have a way to contact some of the people who were involved; but I figured the lack of objections from the people I did check with means it’s probably fine to post the cards.) I did some further cleanup on them—I was uncomfortable with a few of the original cards (including some of the ones I had written), and felt that there should be 23 cards in each of the five categories (to match the fairytale deck), and so on.

And now I’m posting them. But there are a few remaining issues that may make the game not great for playing in its current form. For example:

  • You would have to turn the spreadsheet into physical cards. Not all that hard to do, but would take some work.
  • I didn’t include Interrupts in the list. Some of the physical cards are marked with asterisks, which I suspect we probably meant to indicate Interrupts, but I’m not sure about that, and I haven’t transferred the asterisks to the spreadsheet.
  • The endings (in a separate tab of the spreadsheet) need significant work. There are only 23 of them (as opposed to ~50 in the OUaT set), and at least a third of them are unhappy endings like “and then the ship blew up,” which isn’t really in keeping with the tropes of space opera.
  • Some of us who wrote these cards may have had different ideas (from each other) of what constitutes space opera. For example, I would say that “Doc” Smith’s works are space opera, Star Wars is somewhere in the same ballpark as space opera, and Star Trek isn’t really space opera; but not everyone agrees with me. So there may be stuff on some of the cards that doesn’t really fit with the genre conventions implied by some of the other cards.
  • Fairytales are often a spoken medium, whether read aloud or told as stories. Space opera is almost never a spoken medium, so I’m not sure whether a space opera storytelling game would work as well as a fairytale storytelling game.
  • Space opera is often a pretty regressive genre. You might not want to tell stories using its genre conventions. But then again, the same could be said for fairytales, and I feel like OUaT leaves plenty of room for deconstruction and more-inclusive approaches. But then again again, these space opera cards don’t do anything in particular to make it easier to do deconstruction and more-inclusive approaches.

Anyway. For what it’s worth, here’s a link to the spreadsheet listing our cards.

If you want to propose more or better endings (or improvements or replacements for non-ending cards), feel free to comment on this post, or to add comments in the spreadsheet, or to contact me outside of FB.

One Response to “Once Upon a Space Opera”

  1. James Wallis

    Hello! I co-designed Once Upon a Time, and I’m overjoyed that people are still messing around with it and creating their own card sets. (Though I doubt you were creating variants in the late 1980s, as Andrew, Richard and I didn’t formally start working on it until 1990, and the first edition was released in 1993.)

    I’ve been kicking around a card-set for an SF version for decades myself. The trouble is that SF archetypes and tropes work differently to fantasy archetypes and tropes, and so the stories don’t often gel in the same way. Space Opera is a good solution; my own is… well, the working title is ‘Once Upon a Time in a Galaxy’ and you can surmise the rest.

    For reasons of potential IP infringement I’ve not looked at your card set, but I’m glad it exists.


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