A Game Per Year: Tales from the Loop Starter Set (Bonus 2020)

I started to feel that I didn’t know roleplaying games well enough so I came up with the plan to read a roleplaying game corebook for every year they have been published. Selection criteria is whatever I find interesting.

The cover of Tales from the Loop Starter Set

The best thing about Tales from the Loop, the roleplaying game based on the setting created by the artist Simon Stålenhag, is how Swedish it is. The game follows the “kids on bikes” genre template of tv shows like Stranger Things but the Swedish setting makes it feel more real, relatable and nuanced. There’s a subtle melancholy in how the game doesn’t protect you from the tragedies that shaped life when we were all kids. Moving to another city, the loss of a friend, a parent who just can’t hide their fear. It’s an adult game where you play children.

The Starter Set contains a set of dice, a map, loose leaf readymade characters and two booklets, one summarizing the game and its mechanics and the other an adventure called The Recycled Boy. I’m fascinated by starter sets because they represent the ideas different publishers and designers have about how to appeal to new players. The high production values and beautiful visuals of Tales from the Loop are to its advantage here, making the crucial moment of opening the box into a satisfying one.

The introductory adventure is brief, clearly meant to be played in just a couple of hours. A classmate of the characters behaves strangely after a car accident and the kids try to figure out what’s what.

In terms of design, for me the most fascinating part of the game is in the interplay between scenes of everyday life and the exciting Trouble the kids can get into. Everyday life is depressing and you don’t have much control. In contrast, when you get into Trouble, success or failure are up to you. In the world of the game, adults are kinda useless when it comes to solving problems but there’s also a strong emotional motivation for the characters to do things themselves.

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