Tales From the Loop is a board game from Free League publishing based on the art book of the same title by Simon Stålenhag. In it, 2-5 players play a group of kids in the ‘80s solving various sci-fi mysteries. Free League was kind enough to send me a free copy to review.
The games comes with 9 standees, 8 dice, 6 machine minis and sheets, 8 dice, 143 assorted tokens,45 time cubes, 5 favor cubes, 35 general counter cubes, 8 character boards and trait tiles, 9 event tiles, 2 dials, 2 summary sheets, a rulebook, a setting book, the game board, and 248 cards. Of those, 7 are scenario cards, 38 are diary cards, 12 are machine response cards, 20 are school cards, 20 are chore cards, 20 are items, 20 are anomalies, and 111 are rumor cards. There are also various bits that go with other things, such as mounts for the standees, stickers to tell the machines apart, and stuff to attach the dials to the board.
Like another game I reviewed, Final Girl, the insert has so many compartments that I was a little confused at how everything is supposed to fit in the box. I don’t think we figured out how everything is supposed to fit, but it does fit. There is some empty space (some of which is reserved for expansion content) but I can’t figure out if we’ve mismanaged packing it up or if there is generally more space than necessary.
I have some minor aesthetic complaints. In the standard edition the minis come unpainted. While I do enjoy painting minis, I’m not super keen on this. The robots are pretty iconic pieces in the Loop art, and I think they really lose something by not being painted.
I also dislike the dice. The color is just not flattering at all. One of my players liked them because they looked like the erasers they used back in school, but I’ve never seen an eraser like that so I can’t relate. I really like some of the specialty tokens though. They all have really nice art and look very good.
How to Play Tales From the Loop
The game takes place in three phases. First is the school phase. Draw a school card and place the new rumors, then the first player resolves the school event. Move the bots and resolve any firmware upgrades or state changes. Next is the adventure phase where each player has six time cubes to spend investigating rumors, hacking bots, doing chores, and trying to get home in time for dinner. Kids who get home in time for dinner maintain favor with their parents, which can be leveraged for car rides, and kids who aren’t home lose favor and risk getting grounded. When everyone is done then play moves to the end phase. Anyone who has more than 4 items has to discard down to 4, then check who was and wasn’t home for dinner, ground anyone who’s lost all parental favor, then heal injuries and resolve chores.
The theme is very well done. Aside from my issues with the robot minis, I think the game captures the Tales From the Loop feel pretty well. However, some of my players had a hard time grasping what Tales From the Loop was. I was the only one in either group familiar with the art book, and I did my best to try and explain it but I don’t think I did a very good job. The game does come with a booklet about the Loop universe but it’s a lot of text to get through and most people would rather get into playing the game than stop and go through it all. I personally think the setting is still really neat and you can still enjoy the theme without knowing the full lore, but enough of my players brought it up that I felt I had to mention it.
A minor detail that one of my players really loved was the dice probability of success table. It tells you how likely you are to succeed at a given task based on how many dice you’re rolling. Most other games with dice-rolling don’t have something like this, and they were excited to see that there was something to help determine which tests would be worthwhile.
The First Scenario
The game recommends that you run Bot Amok as your first scenario. I personally feel you shouldn’t. I tried it twice with two different groups of players and neither went well for a variety of reasons. The two that I’ll mainly focus on are the amount of time commitment it requires and the amount of interaction you need to have with the bots.
The Bot Amok scenario gives you both weeks instead of just one to complete the scenario. While scenarios that limit you to only one week are technically harder, they can give you a better idea of the amount of time it will take you to play the game, especially on your first run when you aren’t as familiar with the rules. The box has a stated playtime of about three hours, and it generally took about 3-4 hours just to get through one week.
A lot of that time is going to be spent going to the rule book to look something up. It’s an intricate game with a lot of moving parts and it’s hard to keep track of everything. It can be particularly confusing to people who don’t play board games much. The summary sheets help but they don’t have everything you need. There are also certain rules that seem like they should work a certain way, but there’s no direct confirmation in the rules to iron things out.
The bot interaction issue is twofold. One, the scenario starts with 3 robots instead of 2, and due to certain plot events, the robots are harder to maneuver around. In our second attempt, one of our players basically could not go home because there was an angry robot parked outside their house and the consequences for failing the avoid check was to get pushed out of the space. Two, pretty early on in the scenario you’re encouraged to start trying to hack things. Hacking is a mess, and I feel it’s responsible for a good chunk of the problems with the game overall.
Hacking and You
In order to hack, any number of players nearby a machine can spend at least 1 time each. The player who spends the most is the lead hacker who will take control of the robot if the hack succeeds. Each robot has a certain number of firewalls that must be passed for the hack to succeed. Firewalls are randomly drawn and placed on the robot’s board, then players begin to hack. Flip the leftmost firewall token and resolve the one or two skill checks (or special firewall action). Any participating player can make the role or help with the roll. In a 2-3 player game, the lowest amount of firewalls any bot has is 2 and the highest is 4; in a 4-5 player game the lowest is 3 and the highest is 5. If a player fails the firewall while the robot is in routine mode the robot becomes alerted, if it is already alerted the hacking attempt fails and they have to deal with the machine’s response.
In our second attempt at Bot Amok, my character was focused on dealing with rumors and generally not involved with dealing with the machines or hacking attempts, and it was almost like I was playing an entirely different game from the rest of the group. My other two players were frustrated, constantly looking at the rule book to make sure they were doing things right, trying and failing various skill checks. They also had to deal with getting close enough to the machines to try hacking them in the first place, which meant not only spending time to get there but also struggling through even more skill checks to see if they could even enter the spaces near the bot since they were either erratic, alerted, or both. There were so many hoops and hassles that it ultimately ruined the experience for them. We didn’t end the game by winning or losing, we gave up because it had been 4 hours but we were still only halfway through and the other half of the table wasn’t having fun.
In our third playthrough, we tried The Passenger, and generally had a better time, up until we got to the end and we had to go somewhere you could only get to with a machine ride and had to hack a machine. It didn’t feel great and contributed to a general feeling of a lack of player agency. It didn’t come down to what decisions we made or how we organized ourselves, either we succeeded at a repeated series of dice rolls or we did not. In the fourth game we tried Mysterious Islands, which is a much more rumor-focused scenario that we got through without interacting with the machines much at all, and it too was a generally better experience.
So What Should You Run First?
We ran Mysterious Islands again for game 5 with a group of 4 players, 3 of which were new players unfamiliar with the game. They lost halfway through, but they still had fun. It was by far our most successful game. Yes, it is difficult to win, and the lack of direction might put some players off, but I still feel it’s one of the better scenarios for testing the waters and learning the rules due to how straight-forward it is. It can serve as the base for a light-hearted practice run before you get into a bigger mystery.
The game can feel really punishing at times. The consequence for failure is usually taking a condition, which is ultimately a loss of time. Not only is that time locked off, you often have to spend more time to get rid of it. Losing time makes it harder to meaningfully contribute and still get home on time, which punishes you even more by causing you to either not help the team or get grounded and lock off 2 more time cubes. I imagine you’re intended to mitigate this by helping each other with rumor tests and by hacking the machines to make moving around faster, but depending on what rumors you get you might be forced to spread out and not help each other much, and we’ve already discussed the issues with hacking.
I give this game 3.5 out of 5 cthulhus. I think Tales From the Loop has a lot of potential, and there were parts I really liked, but there’s a big learning curve and parts of the game can be really frustrating. You can check out Tales From the Loop on the Free League website. (3.5 / 5)
Slay the Spire Downfall Review: A Masterclass in Fan Content
Slay the Spire Downfall, also known as Downfall, is a fan-made mod to Slay the Spire by Table 9 Studio. Table 9 is a small game studio that has primarily specialized in small projects but is soon to release its own original game, Tales & Tactics. Downfall is one of its first projects, and has been met with heavy support from the Slay the Spire development team and community. It has been so successful, it even has its own Steam page.
If you aren’t familiar with Slay the Spire, check out my review! Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the base game, let’s get into the expansion!
Downfall adds considerable content and new playing options to Slay the Spire. Generally, there are plenty of new cards, events, and relics. Additionally, there is a new hero, The Hermit, an undead gunslinger. Cards in their deck have increased abilities when played from the middle of a hand, creating better outcomes the more deliberate you play.
In addition to traditional Standard mode, the game’s meat and potatoes is Downfall mode. In Downfall mode, you can play as one of seven bosses from Slay the Spire. Instead of climbing up the tower, you work your way down defending it from the same heroes you’d play as in the base game. Each boss has its own unique playstyle and deck, resulting in even more varied play experiences.
The seven playable bosses are The Slime Boss, The Guardian, The Hexaghost, The Champ, The Automaton, The Gremlins, and The Snecko. All can be encountered as enemies during a Standard run. Their playstyles are as follows:
The Slime Boss
The Slime Boss’s special mechanic includes slime minions that can split from the Boss and have a variety of effects. Additionally, the Boss has cards that add Goop, increasing the damage of the next attack and causing additional effects when consumed.
The Guardian’s special mechanic is that they are able to phase between modes after taking a certain amount of damage. The cards also have gem slots, which allows gem cards to be combined with other cards to make them more powerful.
The Hexaghost’s special mechanic is that it has six Ghostflames that can be ignited by playing certain card type combinations. When ignited, a special effect occurs. A large portion of the cards in this deck are centered around end-of-combat buffs and cards that disappear if not played immediately.
The Champ’s special mechanic is that they change between Defensive or Berserker stance, giving them bonuses depending on which stance they are in. Their cards interact heavily with their stances.
The Automaton’s special ability is that they create functions, cards which are the stored combination of three already played cards. Their cards can cause compile errors when certain cards are used together, and the deck is focused on function synergy.
The Gremlins’ special ability is that you play as all five gremlins, each with their own health bar and buff effects. Cards have extra abilities depending on which gremlin is the main gremlin at the time.
The Snecko’s special ability is that they play cards of any class. This means they have access to hero and boss cards of all types throughout the run.
The new playable characters are a hit. They are so much fun to play and add an intriguing new dimension to the game. My favorite new characters are The Automaton and The Slime Boss, though every time I play any character a few times, I find a new favorite! Each character is refreshing and interesting in its own way.
Generally, the gameplay takes an already great game and gives it even more replayability. My biggest critique is that Downfall currently doesn’t work on the Steam Deck, unlike Slay the Spire. However, it’s an absolute blast to play either way. Because this is a fan expansion, it is free to download! But you do still need Slay the Spire in order to play.
I can’t recommend this game enough. It is enjoyable, has a high level of replayability, and a greatly executed concept. I only wish I could play it everywhere! (5 / 5)
Slay the Spire Review: Deckbuilding & Monsters
Slay the Spire is a roguelike, deckbuilding video game created by small indie studio Mega Crit Games. Released in 2017, Slay the Spire is the first and only game created by Mega Crit. However, the game has continued to see updates from the development team and fans alike since its release. In fact, a Slay the Spire Board Game just launched in November 2022 on Kickstarter to great success.
In Slay the Spire, you play as one of four characters as they battle their way through a magical tower filled with monsters, loot, and curses. The further up the spire you go, the harder and more lucrative your journey becomes. Will you defeat three of the many bosses awaiting you and receive your glory?
Within Slay the Spire, there are four characters (The Ironclad, Silent, Defect, and Watcher) each with their own deck and playstyle. You begin by choosing which one you will play as for the journey ahead. The Ironclad has a focus on healing and strong attacks, and is the simplest adventurer to play as. This makes sense, as they are the first character you have unlocked and introduces you to the mechanics of the game. Meanwhile, The Silent has a focus on many small attacks and poison. The Silent is very accessible in its mechanics just like The Ironclad, however is less forgiving to strategic mistakes. The Defect is more complicated and has a focus in channeling different elements to produce varied effects on the battlefield. Lastly, there is The Watcher, the complicated character, who has a focus on utilizing different combat forms to gain advantages. In addition to different playstyles through their unique decks, each adventurer also begins with a special ability and starting health.
After selecting your character, you journey deep into The Spire, choosing pathways filled with monsters, merchants, more relics, rest sites, and mystery events. Killing enemies provides rewards through gold, cards, single-use potions, and occasionally powerful relics which stay with you the whole run. Elite enemies provide better rewards, however, healing opportunities are usually few and far between. Fighting too many elite enemies may prove more dangerous than lucrative. At merchants cards, potions, relics, and the removal of a card from your deck can be purchased in order to improve your strength. Rest sites provide either healing or card upgrades, forcing you to choose between your precious health and the improvement of your build. There are three acts in a full run, with a boss at the end of each act. As the acts progress, the bosses become harder, testing the mettle of your improvements throughout the game.
I have absolutely adored my time playing Slay the Spire. The progression within a run is difficult but rewarding. There have been times when poor luck ended my run, however I still always had fun anyway. The diversity of characters and the resulting playstyles is great, even if I have found myself going back to The Ironclad time and time again. Additionally the game gives the player a significant amount of agency in the decisions on how to improve your deck and character. This creates replayability and a sense of ownership over a given run. The game also rewards and encourages taking chances, making it a blast to push your luck.
While I’ve had a great deal of fun, there are some areas for improvement. My biggest gripe is that there aren’t more unique characters, monsters, events, and bosses. I’d love to see more playstyles as well as see less repeats of bosses, monsters, and events. The system and gameplay is so robust, it just needs some more content to be a top tier game. That being said, there have been periodic content updates (including the addition of The Watcher in 2020) and the community has created an extensive content mod that even has its own Steam page. Also, despite my issue with the amount of content, I definitely will be putting at least 30 more hours into this game.
Overall, I love this game and highly recommend it, so much so, I cannot wait for more content. For $25 on Steam, this game is a must play if you enjoy rogue-likes and deck building games!(4.5 / 5)
The Last of Us: Episodes 8 and 9: The End
Sometimes life gets in the way. Maybe you watched the episodes the nights they came out, but then you got your stomach tattooed so you didn’t have the energy to type on your computer, and then you had to work nonstop for six days straight and housesit 20 miles out of town, and then you got into a hit-and-run car accident with your boyfriend (luckily you’re both okay but really very angry at the asshole that just drove away), etc. etc.. March has been a lot, but I finally rolled up my sleeves, made time for my computer and stopped procrastinating the job of writing my final review on HBO’s The Last of Us.
Here we will cover the final events of Joel and Ellie’s saga. Both episodes were directed by Ali Abassi and written by Craig Mazin and, in episode 9, Neil Druckmann. The adaptation continued to cover the story elements of the game, leaving out and/or changing most of the fighting and action scenes. This change is especially noticeable in episode 9, “Look for the Light,” but we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s first do a recap of episode 8, “When We Are in Need.”
“When We Are in Need”
Ellie is on the hunt for food and comes across a deer, which she shoots down almost effortlessly. It is in this moment that she meets a preacher named David (Scott Shepherd) and his partner, James (Troy Baker, (Joel’s voice actor in the video games)). After a moment of hostility towards the stranger, Ellie agrees to give the deer to David in exchange for penicillin. Shortly after giving Joel the medication, Ellie has to leave again to deter David’s religious crew from hunting her and Joel. It turns out Joel killed a few of David’s men, and the preacher is out for revenge.
The religious group captures Ellie and puts her in a cell, where she discovers David has been feed them human remains. Meanwhile, Joel finally awakes and is stable enough to escape the house and search for Ellie. He tortures two men into disclosing her location, but he is almost too late. David places Ellie on a butcher block and is just about to chop her up when she narrowly escapes. The two fight until she finally has the advantage and takes him down, bludgeoning him to death with an insurmountable fury of vengeance.
“Look for the Light”
Episode 9 begins with a flashback of Ellie’s pregnant mother, Anna (Ashley Johnson, (Ellie’s voice actor in the video games). An infected bit Anna just moments before she gave birth to Ellie. Moments pass, and Marlene finds the two in a pool of blood. She is forced to take the baby and kill her friend. Fast forward 14 years, and Joel and Ellie are almost done with their journey. They finally made it to Utah. Ellie, still processing everything that happened with David, is sad and somber. Joel tries his best to cheer her up, but nothing seems to work.
Suddenly, the youth sees something and runs off to get a better look. Joel chases her until he stops and stares in awe. The camera pans from him to Ellie inches away from a giraffe. She is her old self again, cracking jokes and asking a myriad of questions. Later on, when Joel reveals that he tried to kill himself after Sarah’s death, Ellie provides him as much comfort as she can. But the fact that Joel can trust her enough to reveal such a secret means is a comfort on its own. He asks Ellie to read some puns to lighten the mood, but his moment is interrupted when a group of Fireflies knock them out.
Joel wakes up in a hospital to see Marleen, who informs him that the doctors are preparing Ellie for surgery to remove the part of her brain that makes her immune. This procedure, however, will result in Ellie’s death. No matter how hard Joel fights, Marlene won’t budge. She instead has two Firefly soldiers escort Joel out of the hospital, but he kills them and everyone else until he finds the surgery room, where he murders the doctor in cold blood. He escapes with an unconscious Ellie and makes it as far as the parking garage until Marlene stops them. The camera cuts to Joel driving a car with Ellie in the backseat.
Ellie wakes up and asks Joel what happens. While he lies to her that there is no cure, the camera flickers back to the parking garage scene with Marlene. He shoots her once. After listening to her begs and pleas, he kills her with a final shot.
The duo have to walk the last few miles to Tommy’s town. At the top of a waterfall, they get a spectacular view of their new home, their new futures. Before making the final trek, Ellie tells Joel about her past and how she saw her best friend die. This lead to watching Tess, Sam and Henry die because of the disease. The fact that they all had to go through such gruesome deaths, only for there not to be a cure, is too much for Ellie to handle. She makes Joel swear that he is telling the truth, and in a beat, he does.
HBO’s The Last of Us is a remarkable video game adaptation that deserves all the high praise it has received the past few months. From the set design and effects to the filming, screenwriting and acting, the show is a peak example of how to do an adaptation well. It is heart-throbbing and terrifying.
A few issues with HBO’s adaptation is how much they excluded the game play scenes. Despite the world being filled with infected, they were rarely on screen. This is disappointing, especially because it increases the stakes and so much of Joel and Ellie’s relationship builds in these fight scenes. The biggest disappointment was in episode 9, in which the show completely cut out the game’s highway scene. Furthermore, there are numerous creative weapons the show could have included to illustrate Joel and Ellie’s means of survival, from molotov cocktails and nail bombs to the beloved shotgun and its shorty companion.
Despite these small quibbles, the show is arguably one of the best American video game adaptations out there. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey were the perfect casting choices for Joel and Ellie, as was the casting for all the other characters.
It will be exciting to see where Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin take The Last of Us 2. I hope they will include more gameplay (aka a little more violence), more screen time for infected, and some creative liberties with the original story while also sticking to the heart of it. We will just have to wait and see what they come up with. Until we meet again, don’t forgot to read about the other shows and games we’re loving here at HauntedMTL.
(4 / 5)