Saturday, July 22, 2017

Accomplishing Big Things

I'm going to post something a bit meta today. I'm not going to talk so much about games, but a little bit more about the games industry. In fact, I'm even pulling back my perspective to talk a little bit about creativity in general.

Let me set the scene. I currently live in central Oklahoma. There's not a lot in Oklahoma. There are farms, there is oil and natural gas, and there is a smattering of a few other things. If you live in one of the two major urban areas (the Oklahoma City metro area, and Tulsa), there's a slightly broader array of things to do and see. A small handful of companies have their headquarters here (most notably, the drive-in fast food chain Sonic), and downtown OKC and Tulsa have some offices for various corporations.

But otherwise, there's not a lot to Oklahoma. The state tries to rely on its Native American heritage (all of which was basically imported from other parts of the country anyway) to promote tourism, but not many people think of Oklahoma as a vacation destination.

All this results in people here working in agriculture, oil and gas, and then a small percentage working in corporate offices, with a smattering of other occupations. The University of Oklahoma is located in Norman, just a little ways south of Oklahoma City, and that institution provides many jobs, as well as an influx of cultural influence that is very distinctly lacking from the rest of the state. In Midwest City, on the eastern edge of Oklahoma City, is Tinker Air Force Base, and in the southwest corner is Fort Sill; these two installations also provide jobs, but not so much in the way of culture.

If you're not working in one of those industries, you'll find yourself more or less alone. Even the public education system is actively besieged at the moment by the state's leadership, both governmental and religious, and teachers are finding it harder and harder to make a living for themselves.

This is relevant to today's topic because in places like Los Angeles, Seattle, or New York, there is such a great wealth of diversity that even niche industries are flourishing. It's easier for people in those places to break into a career because there is a very good chance they'll be able to meet people in that industry, if they don't already know someone.

So, circling back to my point: I was watching some videos this morning. Several were from Shut Up & Sit Down, and a few were from Geek & Sundry. Some of these videos were covering games that had been funded through Kickstarter. And as I'm watching these videos, I'm thinking, I wish I could do that.

Specifically, I wish I could make videos. I wish I could design and produce games (I'd prefer to publish roleplaying games, but if I were able to come up with any decent board game ideas, I'd like to be able to publish those too).

But I don't have the resources to do that.

Making videos requires equipment. I'd need decent video cameras, editing software, a good computer that's able to handle everything I'd need to function... all of this costs money I don't have.

Even if I had any ideas for game to try to publish (I've never been able to come up with a decent board game idea, and the RPGs I come up with are of the old-school Statistic variety, and it's become apparent that modern RPGs are moving towards a more Descriptive model of game design), I'd need to be able to produce videos to sell the idea, and funds to advertise it.

If I were able to somehow come to the attention of a big and well-known organisation like Geek & Sundry, I'd be too far away to be able to benefit from their resources. I couldn't very well go into one of their studios to film; it'd be a few hundred dollars to buy a plane ticket, not to mention hotels, meals, and transportation.

My actual job is as a teacher. As noted before, being a teacher in Oklahoma is a difficult proposition. Most of the other teachers I work with have summer jobs to help ease the financial burden of working in such a poorly-paid profession. That, along with the volunteer work I do on some evenings, and especially this year as I've developed some health issues that are eating up a lot of my time, means I haven't even had an opportunity to work on the novel I had wanted to finish before August.

I know this post sounds very 'Oh, woe is me!' so far. But I'm actually using my situation to illustrate a larger point. It's not just my situation that is regrettable. I'm sure there are many others who would have more to offer than I do, but are just as stymied by their lack of access to resources. Maybe there's someone living in Quincy, Iowa that would be the next Reiner Knizia if only she were given an opportunity to explore and foster her ideas. Perhaps there's someone living in Sweetwater, Idaho, who would be able to create amazing video content for the Dice Tower YouTube Channel if only he were able to get his hands on a decent camera and video editing software.

I don't really know for sure where I'm going with this. Idle rumination, perhaps. But that's what I was thinking about today.

Anyway, something to contemplate. Until next week, remember to

Game on!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Giving It a Try

Before we get started, please allow me to remind you that I have set up a Facebook page for this blog. If you like reading the stuff I write here, head on over to follow me, so that you can keep up to date, and see interesting new stuff that I might post there!

A friend recently drew my attention to an interesting post on Facebook. The short version is this:
An employee from Portal Publishing was irritated to see people claiming that a game is unbalanced and worthless after only playing through once or twice. Instead of learning the ins an outs of the game and getting good at playing that game, they give it a cursory single play-through and then give up on it entirely.
Really, the entry is quite interesting. It's a little emotional, as the author is clearly upset. But I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

I find this interesting, because it touches on some things I've talked about before. One thing that stands out to me is the way that people often forget that there's a difference between personal preferences and objective quality. In other words, if a person doesn't like something, that person usually has trouble understanding that other people do like it. To use an extreme example: most people take it for granted that everyone loves to drink beer. When they meet someone who does not like beer, for whatever reason, they cannot fathom that it's even possible for someone not to like beer. Often, this goes to the extreme of something like, 'What's wrong with you? Who doesn't like beer? That's un-American!' and other simplistic platitudes.

But in exactly the same way that people have different tastes, and some people may not like the flavour of strawberries, but other people do, someone may find the taste of beer to be unpleasant.

It's the same way with games. I, being a Storyteller player type, am drawn to games like Changeling: the Dreaming and FATE Core, which emphasise and accommodate games that focus on plot and character development. It is very hard for me to understand why so many people like Dungeons and Dragons, which uses a system that is usually detrimental to story-based games.

But the important thing is that I don't have to understand it. I just need to accept that people do like D&D. Their reasons are their own. No one is obligated to like the same things as me for the same reasons as me.

And that is often difficult for people.

Dominion still sits at #57 on the Board Game Geek's Top 100 list. It's variant, Dominion: Intrigue, is at #51. Clearly, a lot of people like this game. I don't. In my opinion, most deck-builder games suffer from a certain set of problems that I find unenjoyable (there are a few deck builders that have found ways to work around these problems that make them much more palatable to me: Tyrants of the Underdark and Miskatonic School for Girls being two examples).

But whatever I think of these games, other people clearly like them. Otherwise they wouldn't be on the top 100.

And here's the point: I recognise that. In fact, the majority of the reason that I developed the games review rating system that I use is because I felt like too many reviews (not just of games, but of movies and books and other things as well) told the reader whether or not they should like the subject of the review. In finding a random movie review online, I read quickly through a review of Wish Upon, and ultimately, it ends with a run on sentence that begins with: 'The movie is almost worth seeing for the scenes where the heroine's dad reconnects with his love of the saxophone...' The reviewer does not say, 'The only thing I found worthwhile in the movie...' or 'You might find it enjoyable when...' Instead, he simply offers a blanket statement describing his own personal opinion of the film and expects his readers to fall in line with his views.

I always make a point to describe my opinion of the game, and to say 'You might disagree with me!' I try to describe the game in objective terms, and let readers decide for themselves whether they want to try a game. A perfect example is my recent review of Apples to Apples. At the end, I say 'I hate this game.' I don't say, 'This is a bad game.' I offer my opinion. And I explain why I have that opinion. And I specifically state that other people love this game: 'I have described how I feel about Apples to Apples. Perhaps you disagree, which is fine. People like games for different reasons.'

The only time that I say flat-out that a game is bad is when it's objectively bad for concrete reasons. To date, the only game I have reviewed that received this treatment was The Princess Bride: Storming the Castle. That game is objectively bad (as you can see in my review of it) because the components are poorly designed and constructed, the rules are broken, confusing, and contradictory, and the interaction of elements of the game don't make sense. It's not a game that someone might like because they have different tastes; the game itself is actually bad.

Another important thing to remember (going back to my original topic of the Portal Publishing Facebook post) is that some games are more complex than others, and must be practised a few times before you can claim to be 'good' at them. This touches on what the Facebook post mentions when it says, 'You need to learn how to play each faction and how to fight each faction. Play more.' Just playing once doesn't allow you to know how to play the game well enough to have a decent chance of winning.

I've touched on this topic before as well. I mentioned specifically that one of the downsides to the Golden Age of Board Games is that I don't have an opportunity to practise and improve my skills with games at which I'm not very good. I spoke of economic development games like Terra Mystica and Scythe, both of which I suck badly at playing. But apparently, the difference between me and other gamers is that I am actively seeking opportunities to learn more, to improve, to find out how to be a better player. I recently had a fairly lengthy discussion with my friend expressing a desire to do exactly that. I told him that I would love for him to teach me how to play these games. Not as in 'teach me the rules,' but 'teach me how to formulate a strategy,' 'teach me how to be more successful,' 'help me to grow and develop an understanding of this type of game so that I don't feel like I have no chance of winning at all.'

And apparently, not many people think that way. Which is a shame.

Anyway, hopefully I've given you something to think about. So, gentle readers, muse on that topic for a week, and meet me back here next Saturday for another fun-filled entry. Until then, remember to

Game on!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Board Game Review: Hoyuk

As I continue to write reviews for those games that were kindly sent to me by Mage Company, I come to the largest of the games that I received: Hoyuk. In this game, you control one of five clans of primitive people settling in a valley. You compete to build houses, fill it with people, attach livestock pens to those houses, fill those pens with cattle, and build add-ons like ovens and shrines.

The game box next to the board set up as if in the middle of a game. The box art shows large stone letters spelling out the title, Hoyuk, standing in a desert landscape against a sun preparing to set. The board shows a valley with stone outcroppings, trees, a river, and a pond. Tiles representing houses and pens are placed about the board, with meeples representing ovens, shrines, villagers, and cattle on some of them. Supplies of meeples are grouped on the right edge of the board, with various cards and building tiles on the left edge.

One quick note before we get started: I have set up a Facebook page for this blog, so if you like what you read, head on over, like us, and share with your friends! Now, let's start this party properly!

Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take. Gamer Profile Ratings measures how strongly a game will appeal to players based on their interest in one of four areas. These areas are measured as High, Medium, or Low. Strategy describes how much a game involves cognitive challenges, thinking and planning, and making sound decisions. Conflict describes how much direct hostile action there is between players, from destroying units to stealing resources. Social Manipulation describes how much bluffing, deceiving, and persuading there is between players. Fantasy describes how much a game immerses players in another world, another time.

Strategy: 5
Randomness: 2
Complexity: 2
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Game Play: 1 hour
Gamer Profile Ratings:
  Strategy: High
  Conflict: Low
  Social Manipulation: Low
  Fantasy: High

An overview of Hoyuk

Each player controls one of five clans. Each clan has a special ability, so there's some level of asymmetry to this game, but the abilities are fairly minor, so it's not very unbalancing, even for novice players.

The rulebook describes how to play the 'basic' version of the game, which does not include villagers, cattle, or the shaman, and has only three methods of scoring points. The 'medium' version increases the number of ways to score points to five. The 'advanced' version includes everything. Thus far, I have only played the advanced version. It's not really harder to play, in terms of rules. Each level of play only increases strategic options and possibilities.

The game is played in rounds, until one player has built all of his houses, at which point the player with the most points is declared the winner. Each round occurs in four phases.

Phase One: Construction

Construction tiles are dealt, one to each player. These tiles each permit you to build two houses and one other thing. Depending on the tile, that other thing may be a third house, a shrine, an oven, cattle, villagers, or a shaman. 

Here are a few sample construction tiles:
Six construction tiles. Each is long and narrow with room for three icons in a row. All of them have two icons representing a primitive stone house in the middle of construction. The third icon is different on all of them. Four tiles have a single icon in the third position: one shows a stone pillar with two feathers dangling from the capstone. This represents a shrine. Another has a stylized cartoon creature representing cattle. Another has a cartoon man with a beard and moustache in black clothes and headdress holding a staff, representing the shaman. The fourth three cartoon people in orange clothing, representing villagers. The last two tiles have multiple icons in the third space. One has two icons: a clay oven and a ring-shaped fence creating an enclosure. The final tile has four icons in the last space: the fence, the shrine, the oven, and the half-built house.

Whichever tile you are dealt determines what you can build. In the photo above, the top four tiles allow you build (starting in the upper left and moving clockwise): a shrine, a cattle, a villager, and the shaman. The bottom two tiles give you options for the third space. The one on the left lets you choose to build either an oven or a livestock pen. The one on the right gives you four options: a pen, a shrine, an oven, or a third house.

Houses are played onto the board in any square. However, you must follow the rules of 'families' and 'blocks.' A 'block' is any group of adjacent tiles. All houses, pens, and ruins that are connected to one another are called a block. If a single house is not adjacent to any other tile, it is its own block. A family is a group of adjacent houses of the same colour. So the photo below shows a single block of seven houses and four pens, and within that block are four families: one each of a single colour (the purple house and the blue house, which has the grey oven meeple on it), a family of two yellow houses, and a family of three red houses.
Eleven tiles on the board. The leftmost column has two livestock pen tiles in the bottom two spaces. The bottom tile has a cattle meeple on it. The next column has another pen at top, followed by a purple house tile, a blue house tile with a grey oven meeple on it, and a yellow house tile. The third column has the topmost space empty, with a pen containing a cattle meeple, then a red house tile, and a yellow house tile (the yellow house being adjacent to the yellow house in the previous column). The final column has two red house tiles in the bottom two spaces, so that the top one is adjacent to the red house tile in the previous column. There is also a white shrine meeple on the top tile in this column.

This is important, because when you build new houses, you cannot connect existing blocks. You may play a house to an empty space away from other tiles, starting a new block, or you may play into an existing block. If you already have houses in an existing block, any new houses built into the block must be placed adjacent to them, so that you are adding to an existing family. You cannot create a new family in a block where you already have a family. You also may not play a house in such a way that a livestock pen becomes completely surrounded; pens must have at least one side open. You are, however, allowed to build over a ruined house. Simply replace the ruins tile with your house (more on ruins in a moment).

Additionally, you may play a house tile on top of one of your existing house tiles. This represents adding a second floor to the house. This can only be done if that house is not currently surrounded on all four sides by other houses or pens (ruins do not count for this purpose). If you already have a shrine, oven, or villager on a house, adding a second floor destroys those items, and the meeples are returned to the supply. You cannot have more than two floors in a house. Two-storey houses can be useful in breaking ties, and in the medium and advanced versions of the game, are worth points in their own right.

Theses construction rules seem complicated, but once you've played the game a time or two, it will be much easier to understand. They are also, by far, the most complicated part of the game.

The third icon lets you place another item on the board:
  • Another house - this is built the same way as any other house.
  • Livestock Pens - These are placed adjacent to one of your houses. There's an arrow on the tile, which should be placed pointing to the house to which it is attached, so you know who owns that tile. If the attached house is destroyed, the pen is discarded.
  • Shrines and Ovens - These are placed on top of any one of your own houses. You may only have one on any single house; you cannot have two or more shrines, two or more ovens, nor an oven and a shrine on any house.
  • Villagers - These are also placed on top of any house. They may share a house with a shrine or an oven, but not both. There may be only one villager on any given house. Villagers are only used in the Advanced version.
  • Cattle - These are placed in the livestock pens. There may only be one cattle in any given pen. Cattle are only used in the Advanced version.
  • Shaman - There is a single Shaman meeple in the game. If you get to build a Shaman, you take him from where he is (either in his space on the edge of the board or from a player's house) and place him on one of your houses. The Shaman protects that block from catastrophes (more on catastrophes in a moment). The Shaman is only used in the Advanced version.
After all players have built everything they can on their tiles, a second construction tile is dealt, and players build on those just as they did the first. Then we move on to:

Phase Two: Catastrophes

This phase is skipped during the first round of the game. This is where the randomness comes in: a Catastrophe card is drawn and the effects are applied to each block where the conditions can be met. Here are a few examples:
Eight catastrophe cards. Each contains art with a one or two icons in the top section. Art includes: a house collapsing as a crevasse opens in the ground, a stone altar spattered with blood, a village on fire during the night, a flood washing through a village, a mother sheep and her lamb in the snow, a tornado, a locust on a plant stalk, and a repeat of the mother sheep and lamb.

The icons determine what happens. Some of the debacles that may occur include:
  • Fire #1: Half the houses of each colour in the block with the most ovens are flipped over to their ruined side.
  • Fire #2: Half the houses of each colour in the block with the fewest ovens are flipped over to their ruined side.
  • Bad Season #1: One house of each colour in the block with the fewest shrines is flipped over to its ruined side.
  • Epidemic #2: Each player with houses in the smallest block (not counting pens and ruins) discards half of their villagers.
  • Locust Swarm #2: The largest block cannot win any aspect cards this round.
  • Sacrifice #1: One house of each colour in the block with the most pens is flipped over to its ruined side.
  • Flood: The Shaman meeple is returned to his space on the edge of the board.
And so on.

Phase Three: Aspect Cards

On the left edge of the game board are spaces for Aspect Cards. These are the primary way of gaining victory points, and it is in Phase Three that the cards are awarded. It works like this:

The player with the First Player token chooses a block. That block is scored on all areas. The player with the most of the appropriate item wins the top card of that stack. Once all areas have been scored for that block, the next player chooses another block, which is scored in the same way. This continues until all blocks have been scored.

The areas to be scored are:
  1. Most Ovens: The player with the most ovens in the block being scored gets the top Aspect Card from this stack.
  2. Most Shrines: The player with the most shrines in the block being scored gets the top Aspect Card in this stack.
  3. Most Pens: The player with the most pens in the block being scored gets the top Aspect Card in this stack.
  4. Most Houses: (Medium and Advanced version only) The player with the most houses in the block being scored gets the top Aspect Card from this stack.
  5. Most Two-Storey Houses: (Medium and Advanced version only) The player with the most two-storey houses gets the top Aspect Card from this stack.
  6. Most Villagers: (Advanced Version Only) The player with the most villagers in the block being scored gets the top Aspect Card from this stack.
  7. Most Cattle: (Advanced Version Only) The player with the most cattle in the block being scored gets the top Aspect Card from this stack.
If a block contains only houses of a single colour, that block is not scored. Although it may seem advantageous to avoid building into a block that has just been started and so contains only one colour of house, this goes against the spirit of the game; you should always make it possible for other players to score, so that they will in turn be willing to play houses in your blocks so that you can score.

Note that the stacks of Aspect Cards are always face up, so that you can see which card you will get from each stack.

Aspect cards can be used in one of two ways. First, they may be used to build additional items. Each card has an icon in the corner (shrines, cattle, pens, villagers, etc). Players are given a chance to play aspect cards between each phase of a round; they may play a maximum equal to the number of families they control. Each card so played allows you to build one of that item anywhere it is legal permitted to do so.

Secondly, cards may be played for victory points. You are still limited by the number of families you control, but each group of cards that you play with the same icon scores you points. The more cards in a group, the more points you get. For example, if you only play one card, it's worth one point. If you play two cards with (for example) the shrine icon, they are collectively worth three points. Three cards with the same icon are worth five points, whilst four cards with the same icon are worth eight points, and five cards are worth twelve. In addition, if you are playing the Advanced version, playing a group of five cards activates your clan's special ability.

Phase Four: End of Round

Now we perform a couple of housekeeping tasks. Each player, in turn, gathers up all of the Aspect Cards that he played during the round. The entire stack is placed on the bottom of a stack already on the board. In this way, the stacks are replenished for later rounds. However, keep in mind that since you cannot divide your cards into several stacks during this phase, it is possible that some stacks will eventually be exhausted. If this is the case, no more cards can be placed on that stack; once a stack of Aspect Cards is empty, it must remain so for the rest of the game, meaning that no one can earn a card in that area any more!

Finally, the player with the First Player token gives it to another player of his choice. Then a new round begins with Phase 1!

End of the Game

Once a player has played his last house (normally 25, but you may choose to play with only 20 or 15 for a shorter game; it is also recommended that in 5-player games, you only use 20 houses to avoid running out of room on the board), you will finish the round and then perform final scoring. Any Aspect Cards remaining in your hand are worth 1 victory point each. Additionally, you must examine each block on the board; the player with the largest single family in each block gets one additional victory point per house in that family.

The player with the most points is the winner!

Final Thoughts on Hoyuk

I like this game. It's a very strategic game, but it's a different sort of strategy than I've found in any other game. It's not enough to try to build the most of any specific thing: you have to pay attention to where you are building so that even though you may have fewer of something, you may still score more than other players through shrewd placement decisions. Also, I found that the order in which you score blocks during Phase Three is essential. Because you know which cards are coming next, you can carefully select blocks to give yourself an advantage and royally screw over the other players. 

This game is very thinky-thinky. But, unlike economic development games, it can easily be won by someone who was doing poorly in the early stages of the game. By shrewd decision-making, a player can experience a surge in points at any moment and steal victory away from someone who was sure he had it won. That, in my opinion, is the mark of a very good game.

So that's my thoughts on Hoyuk. As I said above, the house and pen construction rules can seem intimidating at first, but once you've got that handled, the rules are actually pretty simple. The strategy on the other hand will have you tied up in knots no matter how many times you've played. So if thinky-thinky games are your thing, I recommend you give it a try. But, as always, look at my ratings and decide for yourself. That is the point of my rating system, after all!

So that's it for this week. Be sure to check us out on Facebook, and I will see you back here next week. Until then, remember as always to

Game on!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Tales from the Loop

In 2015, Swedish musician/artist Simon Stålenhag ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of his art book, Tales from the Loop. In this book, which was completed in 2016, the reader will find a wealth of paintings that show suburban Sweden in the 1980s, but with the addition of a number of sci-fi elements such as enormous technologically-advanced towers, magnetically levitating cargo freighters, debris from failed particle accelerator experiments, robots of various sizes, and even an occasional dinosaur brought forward through time portals.

This was so wildly popular that in November of 2016, a new Kickstarter was launched to turn these paintings into a roleplaying game. This one was also a great success, raising almost forty times their target. Thus, in early April of 2017, backers received their copy of the core rulebook.

The cover of the rule book. It shows a painting of four children in their early teens, dressed in winter coats and hats with backpacks and bicycles, standing in a field of yellow grasses and cedar saplings, looking away from the viewer into the distance at three large cooling towers, slightly obscured by fog, with futuristic lights on the tops. The title is printed in white across the top, and along the bottom, it reads, 'Roleplaying in the '80s that never was.'

My good friend John has a copy of this game. He has suggested running a game for me and some others, so he loaned me his book.

I'm pretty excited to try this game. It looks like a lot of fun.

The first five chapters are the only ones the players are allowed to read. It contains the background, setting, and main rules. The remaining seven chapters are for the GM only. They contain further behind-the-scenes information on the background, as well as several pre-written adventures.

Seeing as I'm going to be a player in this game, I haven't read anything beyond the first five chapters. Those five, however...

An Overview of Tales from the Loop

In the fictional history of Tales from the Loop, Russian scientists discovered 'the magnetrine effect' in 1943. The book describes this as a powerful reaction with the Earth's magnetic field resulting from a neodymium rod spinning inside a metal disc. This discovery also leads to other advances in the fields of physics, and by the end of the 1960s, at least two enormous particle accelerators have been built: one in Sweden (on an island just west of Stockholm), and one in the US, very close to the Hoover Dam. The rules say that you can have others built, if you prefer to play in or near your home town, but there is a chapter on each of these two core locations in the main rules.

By the 1980s, robots are fairly common, and one can frequently see 'gauss freighters' – basically, enormous warehouses with an array of magnetrine discs on the bottom. Many teenagers report seeing strange things in the areas surrounding the particle accelerators (known colloquially as 'the loop'), but the adults always dismiss such stories as kids' overactive imaginations. 

A person in winter coat and hat walking through the snow towards his or her house carrying groceries, who has stopped to look at the two large gauss freighters passing by in the sky. They both look like futuristic cargo spacecraft floating a few hundred meters off the ground, with lots of discs sticking out from the bottom.
An example of the largest variety of gauss freighters

Players take on the role of children, aged 10 to 15, living near one of these 'loops,' who are constantly exploring the wilderness around their homes. PCs are known in this game as 'Kids,' and once a Kid turns 16, he is no longer able to be played, and becomes an NPC. The game follows several strict guiding principals:
  1. Your hometown is full of strange and fantastic things.
  2. Everyday life is dull and unforgiving.
  3. Adults are out of reach and out of touch.
  4. The land of the Loop is dangerous, but Kids will not die.
  5. The game is played scene by scene.
  6. The world is described collaboratively.
And in this setting, you play your Kid, setting out into the less-developed areas around your neighbourhoods, where you find strange things and mysterious events, and must rely on yourself and each other to figure out what's going wrong and overcome the Trouble in your scenario, before returning home to the mundane existence that you've always known.

The Rules System

The rules in Tales from the Loop are very simple. Kids have four attributes: Body, Tech, Heart, and Mind. Each attribute governs three skills. By adding the skill level to the attribute, you have a number of dice to roll. Roll that many d6, and if at least one of those dice results in a 6, you succeed (the GM may require two 6s for very difficult tasks, or even three 6s to attempt something that he feels is almost impossible). You can 'push a roll' by taking a condition to reroll a failed roll, or you can spend a Luck Point to reroll without taking a condition. Also, once per Mystery (their term for a single story within a campaign), you may use your Pride (more on Pride in a moment) to gain an automatic success, assuming your Pride is applicable.

The older your Kid, the more you have in your attributes, but older Kids also have fewer Luck points. In addition to the characteristics described above, there are five 'conditions.' These include 'Upset,' 'Scared,' 'Exhausted,' 'Injured,' and 'Broken.' Any time anything happens that would cause a Kid to experience one of these conditions (usually the result of a failed roll, or as a result of the actions of an NPC, but also choosing one as appropriate when pushing a roll as described above). Each condition a Kid has gives him a -1 to all rolls until he can clear those conditions. 'Broken' is special; all the other conditions are considered 'mild conditions.' If all four mild conditions are checked, and he must take another condition, he checks the Broken space, and fails all rolls until he is healed.

The character sheet has spaces for several other characteristics, such as Drive, Problem, and Pride. These are basically descriptions of the Kid's personality. Drive, for example, is what compels your Kid to investigate the game's Mysteries; some samples include 'I'm always looking for the answers to the big questions,' 'I'll do anything to escape the burden of popularity,' or 'I'm doing it for love.' Your Problem, on the other hand, is something that worries your Kid about everyday life. For example, 'My brother refuses to leave his room since the accident,' 'My parents are always arguing,' or 'That weird man keeps following me.'

Most of these have no mechanical effect, and are just there as guides to how to play your character. The exception is Pride. This describes what makes your Kid feel special or important. Some samples: 'I play guitar,' 'I stood up for my friend,' and 'I helped a bird with a broken wing.' Once per Mystery, in a situation where your Pride is applicable, the GM will allow you to use your Pride to gain an extra success on a roll (whether this is the only success you get, or if you are adding to success(es) you already have).

Final Thoughts on Tales from the Loop

This game looks like a lot of fun. It is imaginative without being too alien, but offers the potential for a lot of unique and innovative adventures. It's delightfully rules-light, making it accessible to novice gamers and those who want story-driven games. And it has a major nostalgia factor as well, for old fogeys like myself who wouldn't mind romping through their childhood again.

Of course, this is all dependent on actually playing the game. I'll let you know more once I've had a few sessions. So you have that to look forward to! Until then, play more games, and remember to

Game on!