With a few players down for our usual Hollow Earth Expedition group, we decided to kick the tires on Tales From the Loop. This is a game that’s been getting a bunch of good press — it’s an ” ’80s that never was” game where you play middle school/early high school kids investigating a weird techno-world in Goonies-style adventures.

We used the canned Boulder City, NV setting — it’s a real town, so I hit the interwebz and pulled down as much info on the 1988 BC as I could. We did character creation for three players in the space of a half an hour, using the checklist they had to let the players define the kids’ trouble, pride, and other elements of their personality and family life. We had the trailer park troublemaker who was the leader/defender of the group, his best friend and wannabe musician, their photography geek buddy. They would later be joined by the latchkey kid with a nurse for a mom (“punk rock!”), and the ham radio/phone phreak.

I ran the Our Friends the Machines adventure, more because one of my players is a mover and shaker in the Transformers fandom and I thought he’d appreciate the “Go-Bots of Go-Bots” quality of the adventure. They tracked down the toys that were a distributed intelligence and used the ham radio to good effect to jam their signals and dumb them down. It ran so well, we opted for another adventure.

The system is dead simple: it’s a dice pool of one of your four attributes and the associate skill (if you have it), and maybe a die or two for an iconic item. Get at least one 6 for most things, maybe 2 or more if it’s a really tough task. We’ve been surprised by the number of times we get no successes. Fortunately, there’s a luck and a pride mechanic to let you roll failed dice. You can also “push” the test by taking a condition. The GM doesn’t have to roll, so it’s pretty easy to run the game. The kids can get tired or scared, or injured, but death is off the table, and you get healed up by hanging with your anchor (a person you trust and confide in) or hit the hangout/hideout together. The characters’ is in a bomb shelter in the backyard of the photo geek’s house, complete with bunk beds, a storage room, dumbwaiter to get things into the hideout, and a bar and TV.

Free League is making some great stuff and it is being distributed by the behemoth Modiphius. It’s running $50ish buck for the main book and it’s definitely worth it. Buy the GM screen for the full ’80s gaming experience. I’ve backed the Kickstarter for Things from the Flood the ’90s follow-up/sequel game and should be getting it in a few months. I’ve also picked up Forbidden Lands, their strangely old school-feeling fantasy game using a more complex set of these rules.

So, as you can guess by that last paragraph, I’d say it’s worth the price.