Once upon a time a wonderful Swedish artist created a range of artworks based upon a simple premise – recollections of his teenage youth, but with giant robots. The art that Simon Stålenhag created was wonderful; whimsical, nostalgic, and with just a hint of menace. It was so good that Swedish RPG writers Free League wrote a game about it, called Tales From the Loop, going first to a highly successful Kickstarter game, before getting published in English by Modiphius – the same guys who are releasing the latest Star Trek RPG.
I first saw the VERY beautiful hardcover book when my colleague Daniel Wilks’ copy arrived earlier in the year, but I only just got one myself.
And it really is amazing.
The game’s elevator pitch is pretty much just like the art it’s based on – young kids with robots in the eighties. Or with dinosaurs, or airships, or… The more detailed premise is that the soviets invented some kind of super-tech in the 50s, and then two massive particle accelerators (the eponymous loop) were built in the late sixties. Now, in the 80s, it’s very much our world, complete with things like Take On Me climbing through the charts, ET making audiences cry, and Miami Vice on television… but it’s also one with anti-grav cargo ships, robots on the main street, and mysterious men in black running strange scientific projects just around the corner.
What makes Tales unique is that the game’s many mysteries aren’t to be solved by lantern-jawed heroes with a gun-fetish, but rather… Kids. The PCs are all aimed between ten and fifteen years of age, and their adventures are modelled more on The Goonies and Stand By Me than The Terminator. This is a game of whimsy and nostalgia, of discovery and invention, all balanced by the players’ own memories of the troubles they went through in their own early teen years.
Sure, you might be programming that secret, runaway robot in your spare time, or investigating Old Man Timms’ mysterious basement on the weekends,…