Tales from the Loop is one of my favorite RPGs
published in recent years. There’s just something so perfect about it.
Based on the world revealed in the paintings of
Simon Stalenhag, this is a game about kids having adventures in an alternate
1980s, but while investigating the mysteries of wild science may seem like the
focus of the game, the real star is how the game centers much of the action on
the everyday lives of the kid protagonists.
The game mechanics are simple. Stats and skills
translate to a pool of six-sided dice. The more dice, the better. To succeed
most tests, you need to have a single six come up on one of the dice. Statuses
like fatigue and injury modify your pool total. And while kids can be injured,
they can never be killed. Easy.
While the overall plot of Tales from the Loop
is charted by a GM, the game turns on a concept called Trouble. Trouble is
anything that might prevent the kids from doing what they want to do, be it a
booby-trap at the entrance to mad scientist’s lair or a mom who is intent on
enforcing curfew. Trouble is a collaboration between player and GM, much like a
storytelling game, and it involves improvisation that naturally fleshes out
characters and relationships as the game goes on. It won’t be long before your
kids are ensnared in a whole host of entanglements with parents, teachers,
siblings and bullies that make dealing with giant robots all the more
Much of the nostalgic 80s atmosphere of the
game is conveyed through Stalenhag’s artwork. They mostly depict life among the
robots and other technological wonders that have become commonplace because of
the Loop (a Hadron Collider that has spurred international innovation and top
secret weirdness). Most of his work is set at dusk, capitalizing on his supreme
skill at capturing that magical lighting. 80s songs and Stranger Things
comparisons are one thing, but that light – that marks the border of freedom
for the day, having to abandon adventure to go home when the street lights come
on – is the vibe the fuels the whole game.