Sometimes a game comes along that fills you with the warm glow of nostalgia. Even if you didn’t grow up in the 80s, you’ve probably watched E.T. phone home, heard Madonna’s ‘Get into the groove’ or seen YouTube clips of early mobile phones, the size of bricks.
Welcome to the Tales from the Loop board game, set in an imagined 1980s and based on the work of Simon Stålenhag. Released by Free League Publishing and designed by Martin Takaichi, this co-op game is for 1-5 players, with miniatures courtesy of Dust Studios.
A huge particle accelerator and research facility, the Loop, now exists underneath your town. Large machines/bots patrol the area, guarding the place. OK, granted, that bit probably wasn’t part of your childhood.
I Heard a Rumour
Tales from the Loop plays across 6 different scenarios, each taking between 90 to 120 minutes to complete. You can also choose the sandbox mode, using the additional ‘Mystery Islands’ scenario.
You play as one of several kids, living on the Mälaren Islands, Sweden. Weird and not so wonderful things are happening, and the Loop seems to lie at the heart of it all. Players need to investigate rumours about what’s going on, follow leads and solve clues, to win the game.
As you’re a school kid in the 80s, you also need to get home in time for dinner and complete your weekly chores or your parents will get upset. This means you’ll lose the right to get a handy lift or maybe even get grounded.
These Are Not the Bots You Seek
Each player chooses one of the 8 characters and selects the matching player board, plus the item card specific to that player. During the game, further item cards will become available and you can use them in combination to auto-succeed at certain skills tests.
In Tales from the Loop, the kids will start their day at school, (or at home, at the weekend). When school is over, you’ll go off to explore the island’s secrets, whilst trying not to alarm the bots keeping watch over the Loop.
You’ll pick a scenario, which sets the scene and plays out over one or two weeks of the school calendar. A week equates to six rounds of the game. Every round has three main phases: the school phase, the adventure phase and the end phase.
In the school phase, you’ll choose a school card. This specifies which rumours to follow up and where to place the bots on the map. A set of diary cards further advances the narrative.
During the adventure phase, a number of actions are available, such as travelling to places, scouting restricted locations or resolving rumours. You can also hack bots to hitch a ride to your chosen place on the map. All actions cost time, represented by little wooden time cubes. Players can carry out as many actions of their choice as their time cubes allow.
Finally, in the end phase, discard excess items. Any kid not home in time for dinner becomes grounded. Kids who’ve successfully completed chores gain their rewards.
Throughout Tales from the Loop, players use dice to resolve skills tests. Success will gain you points on the Insight tracker and contribute towards winning the game. Failing tests, however, means points on the Enigma tracker add up, making defeat more likely to follow.
Nostalgia’s Not What it Used to Be... Final Thoughts
The Tales from the Loop board game creates an enthralling universe. While 6 scenarios may seem a bit limited, most offer multiple endings. So there is a good element of replayability.
The inclusion of player boards with insets is a neat trick, ensuring the time cubes don’t keep sliding off. Best of all is the way one character can jump in and help a friend to complete actions; this means the gameplay flows smoothly.
Since Tales from the Loop is a cooperative game, the solo play works really well - although it’s best played with at least three characters.
‘In the fantasy culture of the 1980s, there is no real past... this is replaced by an instant, magical nostalgia’, wrote Elizabeth Wilson in her book ‘Adorned in Dreams’. I certainly loved the ‘magical nostalgia’ of Tales from the Loop. Our games group will be playing this for quite some time to come.