Imagine a setting in the 1980s and machines roam the landscape all connected to a mysterious facility and an equally mysterious power source used to generate various odd experiments that occasionally run rampant in your suburban life. The caveat? You’re all playing as kids, and only you can stop the machine menace. Free League Publishing released their ENnie awarding Tales from the Loop in 2015 which would later become of the “must play games” of 2017, and the game continues to grow with their first campaign book, Tales from the Loop: Our Friends the Machines and Other Mysteries.
The new campaign book consists of three mysteries, eight shorter mysteries inspired by songs from the 1980s, a chapter on machine blueprints, and a section dedicated to making your hometown the center of the Loop for your games. The chapters, design, and layout are identical to the core rulebook and honestly are aesthetically pleasing as they harken back to Swedish artist, Simon Stålenhag’s paintings.
- Our Friends the Machines is a great mystery that encompasses everything from Transformers, to Toy Soldiers or Toy Story if you’re so inclined mixed with opposing AIs and mind-control chips. There’s plenty of information for the game master to run these fully established mysteries and have the kids (players) investigating the strange happenings in their small town. There are a lot of alternate paths and endings, and it’ll be a reoccurring design choice you will notice with subsequent mysteries.
- Horror Movie Mayhem takes the moral panic of the 80s and adds the twist of subliminal messages and awful televised programs. It’s the classic “something went terribly wrong” sort of brainwashing and creepy PTA members to boot. There are some other elements that I feel I shouldn’t spoil but if anyone who grew up during this period of the moral panic, this one is for you.
- The Mummy in the Mist brings the ideas of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man meets Stephen King’s the Mist but with less blood and gore. This will have the kids exploring and investigating in several locations before it all leads to the showdown which has some great choices and equally great endings.
- The Mixtape of Mysteries are all mysteries with titles borrowed from iconic songs from the 80s, and each one is distinct in their flavor and stories. One of my personal favorites “Every Breath You Take” is a great twist from the original song that served as its inspiration into some perverse and somewhat grim which had my full attention. All eight of these mysteries set up the premise, the truth, provide hooks, and countdowns to help narrate the story but leave the ending open-ended enough for the players to draw their conclusions.
- The Machine blueprints provide insightful lore for the machines that roam within the Loop and provides suggested mysteries if the game master wishes to implement them.
- The Hometown Hack chapter is probably my favorite chapter for game masters to transplant their hometowns into the mechanics and aesthetics of the Loop. There are some useful tips for defining your town, establishing the Loop, and fleshing out the details of your characters’ hometown. After all, the players will be spending the majority of their time in this area, so it’s helpful to have them participate in the worldbuilding process.
I honestly enjoyed this campaign book, and if you already own Tales from the Loop, I highly suggest picking up this book as well. It’s a great companion piece to help give some meaning mysteries, provide hooks for some others, and great tips for bringing to the Loop to your small town. The last section on the Hometown Hack is worth buying this book already, very insightful information that allows a gamemaster to transfer the Loop to practically anywhere. The book is very well organized, the layout is easy to read and navigate, and expands on the setting provided from the core rulebook.
You can acquire your copy of Our Friends the Machines and Other Mysteries here and currently, at the time of this article, the book is sold out, but there are plenty of 3rd-party distributors that should have copies available. Additionally, Free League Publishing launched a Kickstarter, Things from the Flood, that is meant as a sequel to Tales from the Loop. If you haven’t picked up your copy of Tales from the Loop, the game is essentially the Goonies meets Eerie Indiana, and it just works with all of these different niche genres.