“The Loop’s presence was felt everywhere on the Mälaren Islands. Our parents worked there. Riksenergi’s service vehicles patrolled the roads and the skies. Strange machines roamed the woods, the glades,and the meadows.” – pg 11 of the Tales From the Loop Starter Set Rules Booklet
Tales From the Loop is a tabletop role-playing game by Free League Publishing that is inspired by Simon Stålenhag’s narrative art book of the same name. In the game, player characters take on the role of young teens in the 1980s investigating the dangerous techno-mysteries of their town while interrogating the trauma of growing up. Most of the mysteries in the game are intended to revolve around “The Loop”, a local particle accelerator that has enabled robots, airships, and drones to become a mundane part of everyday life.
The Tales From the Loop Starter Set released in June 2020 and features a quick-start rulebook, a ready-to-play scenario (called “Mysteries”) with five pre-generated characters, ten custom six-sided dice, and a full-color map of the two suggested settings. The kit serves as an introduction to the system for anywhere between one to five new players (plus a gamemaster) with a relatively cheap price point at about $25.
The Gamemaster Experience
I played through the Tales From the Loop Starter Set as the gamemaster, the person responsible for guiding players through the mystery, with my three players using the pre-generated characters that came with the kit. The game system moves the story forward through character-driven scenes. The players and the gamemaster collaboratively describe these scenes in order to discover clues and create a shared narrative. We played through the starter set in three hours and had a blast calling scenes and further flushing out the world through the characters.
As a gamemaster, I had fun working with my players to create unique story beats alongside the provided characters and plot. The scenario, “The Recycled Boy” had an interesting premise as well as many small details for players to uncover and weave into their own understanding of the world. Tales From the Loop provides a solid structure for a role-playing game based around being a teenager in a perplexing and sometimes cruel world.
However, I found the rules and background provided to be relatively generic due to their simplicity and ambiguity. This can be great for those looking for an easy-to-adapt system to reskin for their own purposes. But as someone trying to run a scenario within the lore of the game’s setting, I wished I had more background information about The Loop, especially since the atmosphere of the setting is one of the main selling points of the system. Since starter sets typically introduce games, I expected more explicit and robust worldbuilding in both the rules and the scenario in order to be better equipped to create the same ambiance as the beautiful artwork throughout both booklets.
The Player Experience
My players considered the pre-generated characters the highlight of the starter set. All of the characters had multifaceted backstories, actionable goals, and well-thought out bonds to each other and the larger scenario’s plot. These aspects made embodying these characters relatively easy and enjoyable. However, the players felt the enjoyment of the game would be largely dependent on who it was played with, especially since the main game mechanic is being able to improvise scenes. Due to the lack of traditional turns, suggestions on how to include multiple characters in a scene, and guidelines for best practices in collaborative storytelling the starter kit didn’t necessarily set them or me up for success. We were able to have a great time despite some of these pitfalls we ran into, but we could easily see how some role-playing groups could struggle to overcome these challenges.
Overall, my group enjoyed playing the Tales From the Loop Starter Set. I would recommend it for enthusiasts, though it may be a little light in guidance for those who are new to role-playing games, inexperienced in improvised story-telling, or looking for a lore-heavy role playing experience. The game art and overall concept is exquisite, and even though I wished for some more guidance, I’m excited to dive into the other resources the Tales From the Loop role-playing game has to offer! (3.5 / 5)
For a deep-dive into the Tales From the Loop board game take a look at the the gameplay review or game developer interview by Leather Snow.
Review: A Plague Tale series
Asobo Studios A Plague Tale series consisting of Innocence (2019) and Requiem (2022) has been out for a while. Weirdly enough, I struggled to put my thoughts into words about these games until now. The way I see it, it’s impossible to talk about one without the other, so let’s dive in, shall we?
Plot and characters
The story of A Plague Tale games takes loose inspiration from the Black Plague times with a touch of the Hundred Years’ War. Amicia and Hugo are siblings on the run from soldiers while also fighting off infected rats, meeting allies along the way. A huge theme of Innocence is Amicia finding a solution for Hugo’s long-term sickness. As one would suspect, it turns out to be connected to the plague itself. Amicia also goes from being a disconnected older sister to his biggest protector throughout the game.
Hugo himself is more or less an annoying kid who wants his mother. This is frankly a realistic characterization as he actually speaks and acts as a child would act. Granted, him essentially walking into the Pope’s trap is frustrating but the climax needed to be set up somehow. I also enjoyed Lucas’s character as an alchemist apprentice as he proved to be one of the more consistent helpers to the duo.
While Innocence ends on a hopeful note, with the characters on the verge of starting over somewhere new and the plague contained, Requiem shows this was a fake out. The sequel really puts Amicia through her paces. Her character is broken both physically and mentally to the point where she is barely recognizable. Hugo is more mature, although his insistence on this magical island that will fix the Macula issue is an immediate red flag. It’s not surprising the supposed safe haven turns into hell quite quickly.
The generational curse where the protector and carrier story repeats itself means a tragic ending for our protagonists. This means it can feel fruitless to play the two installments as the whole point of Amecia’s journey is to protect Hugo at all costs, which proves to be impossible. Was it because of certain choices they made or just extremely unfortunate circumstances? Either way, I felt horrible for them both while playing Requiem, so at least it invoked a strong emotion in me.
The series is a third-person stealth adventure with survival horror elements. Innocence has a clear-cut mechanic that relies on Amicia sneaking past or distracting threats with a certain number of puzzles to get past the rats. She is also extremely vulnerable, dying from one enemy hit, forcing the player to start all over. This is something Requiem updates, adding the opportunity for you to recover by running away from the enemy.
It can be frustrating to have to restart a whole section because of one mistake. However, it does make the player think methodically about what the best approach is. I found the challenges a tad repetitive which stopped me from binge-playing the game, but that’s just my opinion.
After taking this time to digest my feelings towards A Plague Tale games, I can still vouch for the amazing experience. The historical aspects are endearing, and the graphics are beautiful, as is the score. The scriptwriters knew what kind of emotional punches would hit the players just right and the voice actors really gave it all. It’s obvious a lot of love went into this project and I am grateful to have played it.
Regardless, there were certain aspects of the story that for me personally, did not sit right. I am not a massive fan of a tragedy that ends, well, in tragedy, especially with hints history will repeat itself again. The entire concept of the ‘greater good’ and the main characters sacrificing their happiness has been done before and while I can understand why they went that way, it also left me feeling a bit empty.
(4 / 5)
The Last of Us: Episode 7: Left Behind
The Last of Us series is winding down with only three episodes left. Directed by Liza Johnson and written by Neil Druckmann, “Left Behind” adapts the video game’s DLC story of the same name. Ellie and Joel are hiding out in a basement, and Joel is suffering greatly from his stabbing. He orders Ellie to go back to Tommy and leave him behind, but she’s reluctant. The episode cuts to a flashback of the events that happened before Ellie and Joel met, thus beginning the sweet, tragic backstory of our young protagonist.
Ellie is stuck in a FEDRA boarding school in Boston. Her best friend and roommate, Riley, ran away a few weeks back and Ellie has been grieving the loss. She gets into fights with classmates and even sends one girl to the infirmary to get 15 stitches. Everything changes when Riley suddenly returns and reveals she joined the Fireflies, the organization FEDRA is training students to fight and kill.
Ellie disapproves of her friend’s choices, but there isn’t anything she can say that will change Riley’s mind. However, as a sort of apology for leaving without saying goodbye, Riley asks Ellie to sneak out for a few hours and join her on a little adventure. Ellie reluctantly agrees.
The two sneak into an abandoned mall that was once used to hoard infected. Now it is filled with wonders and surprises beyond the youths’ wildest dreams. The girls connect like they haven’t been separated for weeks, and their chemistry is sweet and wholesome. Riley gives Ellie an array of gifts, from a photo booth and carousel ride to an arcade with Mortal Kombat and a brand new pun book.
All Good Things End
The evening comes to a halt when Riley reveals the Fireflies are sending her to the Atlanta base and this is her last night in Boston. Ellie is furious and runs away, fully intended on returning back to her dorm room. But she only gets so far before caving into her feelings and running back to Riley. They reunite in a Halloween store, where they wear goofy wolf and clown masks (replicas of the game’s masks) and dance to Etta James’ “I Got You Babe.” They share a kiss and the moment is so delicate.
Everything is perfect until it’s not.
An infected emerges into the store and attacks the girls. Riley shoots it and Ellie stabs it to death, but neither are unscathed. The clicker bit both of them. At the moment, any and all hope has been destroyed.
HBO’s “Left Behind” is the show’s truest adaptation of the video game thus far. The show cuts out the parts of the video game where Ellie roams through a mall and evades hunters as she searches for a first aid kit for Joel. Instead, The Last of Us focuses on Ellie’s history with her best friend and first love, Riley.
Just as Bella Ramsey is the perfect casting for Ellie, Storm Reid is perfect as Riley. The actors’ chemistry maintains the game’s charm; their portrayal of teenagers after an apocalyptic pandemic is pure and authentic. For the first time, Ellie and Riley can act like the kids they are, not the soldiers every adult is training them to be. It is endearing to see their relationship come to life.
Ellie’s backstory mirrors Joel’s in that it emphasizes their experiences of loss and grief. The pair have formed a connection they cannot lose. It is because of this that, at the end of “Left Behind,” Ellie goes against Joel’s wishes and stays with him to help him heal. She had to leave one friend behind before and she refuses to do it again.
“Left Behind” deserves five out of five Cthulhu. (5 / 5)
There are only just a few episodes left in The Last of Us. Episode 8 releases Sunday, March 5, where we should expect to meet the notorious cult leader, Dave. Until then, check out the other shows and games we’re loving here at HauntedMTL.
The Last of Us: Episode 6: Kin
Joel reunites with Tommy in The Last of Us‘ sixth episode, “Kin.” It was written by Craig Mazin and directed by Jasmila Žbanić, who take us to Jackson, Wyoming, a town with electricity, hot water and community. It’s a reality that feels like a dream. After worrying so long about where Tommy was, it turns out he is in better shape than Joel could have ever imagined.
It’s been a few months since Henry and Sam’s deaths, and Joel and Ellie have finally reached Tommy’s rumored location. But it’s not just Tommy who’s doing well for himself; his younger brother has a new wife, Maria (Rutina Wesley). Together they help run the whole town, taking turns doing patrol and other maintenance that keeps the town running. The Last of Us‘ set design of Jackson is akin to the second video game; in the first game, Tommy and Maria were still working on the getting the town running and nowhere near as accomplished. This minor adjustment adds a new immersive experience to the show, and emphasizes Joel’s qualms about how competent he is to take care of Ellie.
While Joel and Tommy reconnect, Maria brings Ellie into her home and let’s her take a shower and gives her a brand new period cup as a present. It is with Maria that Ellie discovers Joel had a daughter who died at the beginning of the outbreak in 2003.
Joel and Tommy reconnect in a bar, where Joel begins to wonder if Ellie would be better off finishing the route with Tommy in his place. Joel confesses that Ellie is immune and needs to reach a medical center in Colorado. Joel recounts everything he’s done wrong, how he’s not equip to take Ellie any further and protect her. He asks Tommy to do the journey for him, but Maria is pregnant and Tommy is reluctant to take such a drastic risk. After more pleading, Joel finally convinces Tommy to take Ellie. A new plan is set for the next day.
Ellie, however, overheard this conversation between the two brothers and is disappointed with Joel. He’s the only person he trusts, and he betrayed her. Ellie argues that she “is not Sarah,” to which Joel counters, “I sure as hell ain’t your dad.” Whether she likes it or not, she’s going with Tommy.
The next morning, Ellie sits in her bedroom and is greeted with disappointment when Tommy opens the door and asks if she’s ready to leave. She reluctantly says yes, and they head to the stables where Joel is prepping a horse. He tells Ellie that she should have a decision in the matter, and she immediately chooses Joel. They move forward to Colorado.
The duo eventually reaches an abandoned university in Colorado and discover the Fireflies are now located at a medical center in Utah. Suddenly, an ambush hits. Joel and Ellie are able to fight their attackers off, but one manages to stab Joel in the stomach before falling to his death. Ellie helps Joel onto the horse and they ride far enough away to safety. However, Joel can only go so far before he succumbs to the stabbing and falls off the horse. The episode ends with a horrified Ellie, trying in desperation to resuscitate him, but he cannot wake up.
Just like the video game, HBO’s The Last of Us is more than just a show about “zombies” or violence. It implements empathetic writing and various cinematic elements to study personhood and the human connection in dire times. Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin do a phenomenal job writing scripts for characters fans can connect to and love no matter how long they exist on screen.
Bill and Frank, Henry and Sam, and Tommy and Maria only exist in one or two episodes. Yet their impact is enormous, shaping the world in a way our two main protagonists could not do alone. While in theory they may just be supporting characters, The Last of Us finds a way to make them more than that. They are characters that stick with you long after they’re gone.
The filmmaking also cannot go unnoticed. From the intricate set designs to the natural outdoor world, the camera continues to bring the beloved video game to life through intimate still shots, timely cuts and a gorgeous score to support emotional scenes. The show also knows when to have fun with itself by including little Easter eggs, like when Ellie yells at a girl staring at her (a girl who looks quite similar to Dina in The Last of Us 2.) This is a rather slow part in the game (minus the various shootout sequences), and there is little to no action in episode six. This further proves The Last of Us‘ strength of a well-made series that benefits from creative liberties and changes, while still staying true to the source material. (4.5 / 5)
Until next time, check out the other shows and games we’re loving here at HauntedMTL.