05 July 2019
Back in the Loop
The nineties were a weird time to be alive, weren’t they? The radio would jump from the Spice Girls to the Prodigy, grown adults wore parachute pants without any trace of irony and who could forget the way your friends kept stumbling into weird mysteries involving psychotic robots and science gone horribly wrong. No? Okay, maybe that last bit is unique to the teens from Things from the Flood.
Things from the Flood stands somewhere between being a direct sequel and a particularly hefty expansion to the wildly successful Tales from the Loop. In many ways it feels like the original game reflected in a funhouse mirror, staying essentially the same but becoming a little taller, a bit broader and much, much more sinister.
Where the earlier game dropped you into the shoes of kids investigating sci-fi mysteries in the ‘80s, this time you take up the role of a bunch of mid-‘90s teenagers. The core idea of sticking your nose into weird events while dealing with the trials and tribulations of everyday life is still present but, in moving from carefree youth to troubled, angst-ridden puberty, Flood has adopted a much darker, grittier and altogether moodier tone.
The sense of optimistic wonder that littered Tales’ robots, hover-trucks and mysterious portals is mostly gone, wiped out by the titular flood that destroyed the mysterious Loop facility. Robots are revolting in Russia, malfunctioning machines are spontaneously growing flesh along their wiring and all the adults are acting particularly weird.
These weird and often disturbing phenomena are what drive the investigations and intrigues of Flood. A group might spend a few sessions tracking down a rogue android who’s been abducting rough sleepers for bizarre experiments, for example, or searching for a missing classmate that everyone else in town has mysteriously forgotten.
Long stretches of these adventures can be driven along without the need for any dice, as the game retains a strong narrative focus, but sooner or later the teens are bound to run into trouble. When they do, the mechanics that keep things ticking over are simple and straightforward – though they’ve acquired a few interesting twists.
Whether they’re sneaking past some security guards or clocking a rogue ‘droid with a street sign, players build a pool of d6s based on their character’s skills and stats and try to roll sixes. A straightforward task might require one success, while a shot at the near-impossible needs three.
So long as you’re careful to stick to your strengths and take advantage of your surroundings you should have usually have a decent chance at passing the check, but life and luck aren’t always that kind. If you fail your character might well end up with some kind of negative condition – and, if things go bad enough, they might leave the game completely. Sometimes this means they bleed to death in a snowy field, and sometimes it means child protection services catch wind of the broken bones and whisk them away to a foster home.
If that sounds a little bleak, that’s because it is. Things from the Flood is a surprisingly dark game, largely because despite the sci-fi twists it has a much more accurate portrayal of teenage life than most films or TV shows. Drugs, sex and self-loathing all weave their way through the pages in a way that manages to be both refreshing and disturbing.
Where Tales had kids invoking their luck and pride to gain bonuses to their rolls, Flood’s teens instead rely on their shame and scars. It’s not a particularly significant rule change in terms of how the game plays mechanically, but it has a huge impact on how it feels.
Importantly, the designers have recognised that there’s much more to the teenage experience than writing depressing poetry and vomiting up your first Bacardi Breezer. There are plenty of moments of light and fellowship amidst the darkness, and they taste all the sweeter for the contrast.
Within Flood’s pages you’ll find some incredible art, a solid mini-campaign and more ‘90s nostalgia than you can shake a slap-bracelet at. If you’ve played Tales you might balk at the idea of buying what amounts to a tweaked version of the ruleset, but this puts just enough of a spin on the game to make it a truly unique beast – one that’s equal parts enchanting and horrifying.
Which makes it a pretty solid take on being a teenager, actually.
PLAY IT? – YES
It’s darker, deadlier and a little depressing in places, but this follow-up takes everything that made Tales from the Loop great and adds a new twist.
Designer: Free League team
Artist: Simon Stålenhag
This review originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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