Tales from the Loop by Modiphius – Review

Theme and What is it?

In this review I’m going to cover the base rule book, Game Masters screen, Our Friends the Machines & Other Mysteries supplement book, and the custom dice.

Tales from the Loop is a pen and paper tabletop Role-Play Game. Inspired by the films of the 1980’s that featured preteens in danger. Movies like the Goonies, Cloak and Dagger, Flight of the Navigator, and Monster Squad. It even takes a bit of inspiration from the recent Stranger Things Netflix series.

The assumption of the game world is that a Particle Accelerator was built in 1984. The children in this game live in the town that the accelerator circles. Thus giving us the Loop in the title. Because of the collider, science has moved forward at a brisk pace and there are numerous new and exciting inventions that anyone can use. However, as with all science far beyond it’s time there are problems as well.

 

The game involves the kids dealing with these problems. Which can include, rampaging robots, clones, time vortexes, dinosaurs, mad scientists, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Kids will have to rely on their wits, skills, luck, and the deep bonds of friendship that hold them together to get to the bottom of these mysteries and keep the town safe.

Gameplay Mechanics

Tales from the Loop uses a dice pool system. Every skill check revolves around a pool of six sided dice. The pool is made using a combination of your characters skill and a trait. Roll the dice and any sixes are counted as a success. The more sixes you get the more effects you can buy as part of the success.  

In the game you’ll need to face dangers, or get into trouble. These will require a roll in order to see if you successfully get out of trouble. Failing a roll doesn’t mean damage. It can mean succeeding to a lesser degree or having a complication added. Failing to climb a fence can still get you to the other side but now you have to deal with a guard dog, turning off a machine can mean that there was an alarm, or faking an illness to get out of class could get you an escort to the school nurse.

 

This doesn’t mean that you can’t be damaged. You don’t have Hit Points or a Health score in Tales. Instead there are a series conditions that can be assigned to you. There are four conditions; Upset, Scared, Exhausted, and Injured. With each of these your kid losses one dice from their pools. If you get all of these conditions, then there is one more, Broken.  If Broken your kid has reached the end of their rope. They can go on, they just can’t succeed anymore. You will automatically fail all dice rolls until you use one of the games healing mechanics.

Game in Action

I have briefly discussed the mechanics above. However, with Role Play Games, what you do to resolve conflict is rarely what the game is about. In Tales from the Loop that is also very much the case. One of the key things about the world of Tales is the Principles of the Loop. These are six ideas that make up the foundation of the game.

1.      Your home town is full of strange and fantastic things.

2.      Everyday life is dull and unforgiving.

3.      Adults are out of reach and out of touch.

4.      The land of the Loop is dangerous but Kids will not die.

5.      The game is played scene by scene.

6.      The world is described collaboratively.

These ideas help build the world. The town is filled with robots, high tech machines, and hover cars. However, you still need to do your homework, get ready for the big game, worry about bullies, and deal with problems at home.

In the tradition of these movies the kids are on their own. Parents won’t believe you when you tell them there is a velociraptor in the backyard, the new exchange student is a time traveling princess, or that your best friend was replaced with a robot. This is assuming you’ll be able to find one to tell. In the 80’s kids were typically allowed to run around on their own. “Just be home before the street lights come on,” was a common rule. The game does a good job of giving you that feel. Kids are riding bikes to get from place to place, never need to call a parent, and will rarely be able to get their help anyway.

The world is dangerous. You will have to deal with threats of varying degrees of danger. A lot of these threats are aimed at kids. Caught by a principal, chased by bullies, or attacked by a stray dog. There are also a bunch of dangers specific to the Loop: dinosaurs, cyborgs, and laser guns. However, no matter what danger your kid finds themselves in they will survive it. They may fail at their mission, but they will be okay in the end.

The game is described in scenes. For me this worked out as describing everything in movie terms. You don’t have to do this, but it worked well for me. At the beginning of the game everyone gets an opening scene. Every single movie has this moment. Each kid gets a quick scene of what they are planning that day, what problems they may be having, and even a place to drop hints of things to come. Off the top of my head is the opening of Goonies where the car chase through town passes by each of the characters letting us see them and get an idea of who they are. This is that moment in the game. At the same time it allows you to jump around. You can skip travel from one place to another. They used their bikes, took a bus, or got a ride from a parent. If it’s not really important then you don’t really need to show it.

The other thing this plays into is the collaborative sense of storytelling the game uses. This helps fill in the world. For me it was also useful to have other people describe things. What machines does the local arcade have? How does the school maintain the football fields? These things let me pull from my players memories of youth. That way the town felt a little more real to everyone.

This is encouraged by the way experience is handed out. At the end of each game are five questions. For each question a character answers yes to they get an experience point. Some of the questions encourage you to involve your characters defining traits for dramatic purposes. Because the game is collaborative you can ask the Game Master to allow you to have a scene where you deal with something. Have to decide between investigating the mystery and bailing on your brother again, having to deal with your parents arguing, or using your guitar playing to help you succeed.

Initial Impressions

I was excited about this game when I first heard about it. I watched a livestream on Itmejp’s YouTube channel where they played the game and gave a brief rules overview. The RPG One-shot they ran was fun to watch and gave me a good opinion of the game. I was excited to try the game for myself.

Artistic Direction

I love the art in this game. They have great paintings that show images of everyday life. I’m using one of these as the wallpaper on my desktop. Beyond that they have sketches of different people and characters you might encounter. They include several detailed drawings of different pieces technology and threats you might encounter. The art does a great job of giving the world a sense of what it looks like while at the same time being beautiful.

Fun Factor

This is very much a story driven RPG. If you like telling rich stories then you’ll probably enjoy this. I think the game shines when the players let themselves get immersed in the setting instead of the rules. That said, I think the rules are deeper than a straight improve game. Failing happens, and can hamper your character. Because of the more detailed rules you have a bit more crunch than something like Fiasco. I think that is a good comparison. It’s a chunkier version of Fiasco. Same storytelling but with a bit more rules for resolving conflict.

Age Range & Weight

I think the rules are simple enough that you could play this with kids around 13 or so. They may have a disconnect in the technology they will be dealing with. You are absolutely going to have to explain cassette tapes, VHS, phone cords, and the complete lack of cell phones. Once you get past that, they should be fine. In some ways they may be better since they will most likely be the age of the character they’re playing.

 

As for weight, I’d say middle light. The rules are easy to understand but can get a little tricky with remembering what you can do in some situations. While I know that will improve with time and play, it did come up.

Conclusions

The TL:DR of this game is that I had a lot of fun. It’s a really great game with a lot of good interactions. It is story heavy and I enjoy that. If you get players who are willing to take part in that it gets very interesting. It’s easy to encourage it out of them just by asking questions and giving them the list of experience questions at the beginning of the session. If you want to get into this, I think it’s worth it.

Though I think the game really shines with people who grew up in this era or are at least very familiar with it. A long conversation during one of my games revolved around one characters dad absolutely being the father from Family Ties. When we did the gearing up montage I asked what song is playing and people started yelling out the ones from their favorite movies of the 80’s.

 

As always you should try it out before you buy into anything, but I think this is worth taking the time to try.

For a more in depth discussion of the game here we go. A couple of things that stood out to me. The game is easily customizable for the level of darkness you want. While, the players will never die, there are options supplied for whether or not side characters are killed or lost. Parents can be alcoholics, drug dealers, having an affair, or not. It depends on what you want to make of the story.

The characters are between the ages of 10 and 15 yet one of the suggested options for how someone knows a NPC is, “they took my virginity”. If you don’t want that in your game, then you don’t have to have it. These things are easy to take or leave at your whim. For my game we left that option off the table since I felt the characters were too young. However, I can see someone using that as a character beat that brings real emotion into the story. I also realize that different cultures, experiences, and traditions are going to make this a different thing as well.

Inclusion in the game is also impressive. By that, I mean it’s available, but you don’t have to use it. One of the classes had the suggestion, “not a heterosexual,” for a point of pride. If you want that in your game its available, if you don’t you can easily ignore it. Basically, they don’t shine spotlights on it but they have it available. One of the players in my game wanted his kid to be in a wheelchair. There were no special points or advantages/disadvantages for it. Yet, it was easy to incorporate. We did have to make some allowances, BMX wheels on his chair, a loading ramp for packages and deliveries on the town shuttle, and he wasn’t able to enter the room with the final showdown but I placed a few things outside where he could still help.

The base book shows how to run and write your own mysteries for the kids. I like the system and ease at which you can grab a couple of different locations and string them together. The book suggests three clue based locations and one final showdown location. I felt that was actually a pretty good set up for an evening. It takes about four to six hours to get through that depending on how much you want to explore the characters.

This is a story telling game. This means your players are going to have to be on board. You also need to be in a certain mindset. You have to be willing to play kids. They may be smarter and more mature than typical kids, but still kids. If a player doesn’t get into the spirt of that or bucks at the part of the game where kids can’t prove what happened, they may not enjoy this. Think of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Warehouse 13 where amazing things happen and in the end bystanders go to ridiculous lengths to normalize or forget it. That happens in this game. If a player gets too focused on proving the mystery they may get upset by the plot armor the setting has.

That said, the game rewards creativity and unique thinking. In one session I ran a player wanted to use donuts to find the big bad’s lair. They abandoned the plan, but honestly I was willing and ready to let it work. Mostly because it was the exact sort of thing they would have done in the 80’s.

One of the other things I like about the book is that while it’s not written for the United States, they made allowances for it being read here. The game is based in Sweden but they have a section that shows how to play it in the US. There’s a bit more about this in the expansion book I’ll talk about in a minute. Part of doing this was to have different names for all of the characters and locations. Swedish version was the default, but they had the US version in orange right after. Gunther in Sweden and Donald in the US. While I don’t feel they needed it this was a nice addition.

The book also contains some useful play materials. There are four adventures in the back of the book that can be played stand alone or used as a campaign. I recommend campaigning them. There are tons of locations, NPC’s, and town secrets that are built into the back. A long section of dangerous creatures comes with sketches of each beast, robot, and machine. There is more than enough to get rolling on this.

Some of the things in the book were a little rough. It was difficult to find where some things were if I needed to refer back to them quickly. A good example, the five questions you ask at the end of a mystery are found in a sidebar in a section away from the rest of play rules. It feels out of place where it is. There are a few more small bits like that.

There’s one last thing I’ll add. While I haven’t done it myself I’ve seen a lot of people hacking the game for different things. I’ve heard of people playing it in Hogwarts, with superheroes, Naruto, and so many other locations. I think the game would allow for this on a very grand scale. I could easily see this as a way to run a game based on these properties and wonder if it’s something we’ll see in the future from Modiphius.

Our Friends the Machines & other Mysteries

The expansion book contains a lot of good supplemental information. There are new adventures. An entire section of basic hooks for building your own adventures around them. All of the hooks are named after popular 80’s songs. I particularly enjoyed Sweet Dreams. There’s also a section on the different types of machines that are in wide use in the Loop world. This was actually helpful with the first book where they set something in a Magnetrine but don’t explain what that is. There’s a nice layout in the expansion that has a good picture and explanation of the vehicle.

The other thing I really like about this book is an entire section on how to make your home town the one where the loop is built. It gives a good example of how things fit. It shows a step by step example of how to put things in place, the government organizations that would be needed, and the access areas to the loop itself. They even give some web addresses to map editor software so you can print out a copy of your new town map. This I found invaluable in placing the loop in my area.

I like this book. While I didn’t feel it was a must by, I think it can be very helpful.

The Game Masters Screen

The GM’s screen was nice. It’s got good art on the outside that sort of sets the scene for the players on the other side. The information on the inside was a nice break down of all of the rules. The only thing they were missing was the 5 end of game questions. It would have been nice if they found a place for that.

The only drawback to this is the GM never needs to roll dice. This meant that I never needed to have anything behind the screen. I ended up laying it face up in front of me and keeping my notes and books on top of it. Everything was still easily accessible, I just didn’t need the screen portion of it.

It’s hard to recommend the screen. I found it useful, but also a bit cumbersome.

The Dice

These are custom six sided dice. They come in a safety orange and each number has a circle with a pip around it. The six stands out by being particularly fancy. They are nice, solid dice. The quality is very good. However, they don’t really matter. You roll a D6 and all the sixes count as a success. You don’t really need special dice for that. If you want them, again they are very nice quality. 

 

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