We all know Free League for their excellent TTRPG titles such as Alien RPG, but they also regularly branch out to things like illustrated versions of classic tales like At the Mountains of Madness. They’re returning to the world of board games with an adaptation of Tales from the Loop, and we spoke to Martin Takashi, the project lead for the game, to find out more.
How and when was the idea to turn Tales from the Loop into a board game first conceived?
That was an ongoing discussion that came up as we began the design of Crusader Kings: The Board Game. We were talking about which of our own games we might want to turn into a board game and while the answer is, of course, all of them, Tales From the Loop came up as a front runner. Partly because of how close the setting is to our own childhoods and partly because of how Simon Stålenhag was a rising star and it simply felt like the right time to do it.
The Kickstarter for the game was extremely successful. What were your expectations going into it?
It did great and we are so grateful to everyone who joined in to make the game what it is! While we had some ideas and expectations it is always tricky when launching a game that is a different format from what Free League is known for doing. While we did make Crusader Kings a couple of years earlier, that had its own fanbase that we could tap into. So Tales From the Loop also worked as a way to test the waters of us doing more board games. However, we’re lucky in that I think that while only a fraction of board gamers also play roleplaying games, almost all roleplayers play board games, so we got a strong showing from our regular fans. That said, it has been really gratifying to see new backers supporting the game that did not have an earlier history with our other games. We’re hoping we will be able to build our brand in the board gaming community, just as we’ve done in the rpg community.
Who was part of the team behind the development of the game?
After initial concept discussions with myself, Nils Karlén and Tomas Härenstam I sat down to design the core of the game. In these early stages new iterations are quickly implemented and I kept tweaking things until we had a playable game that felt like it had a fun core experience. After that it is more about adjusting things, and cutting as much fat from the game as possible. The alpha version that we had in the Kickstarter as a print-and-play, was from this stage of development and was practically out of date when the Kickstarter launched as we kept working and refining things.
Towards the end of development we brought on Nils Hintze, who wrote the roleplaying game, and Rickard Antroia, who has written adventures for it. They joined in to write several of the scenarios, with Nils sketching out a general story and me and Rickard developing these to full scenarios. At this time Rickard, who is also a great board gamer, had some great feedback on how we could streamline some of the mechanics so near the end of development the two of us worked in tandem to polish the final version of the game.
What are some of the challenges involved with turning the TTRPG ruleset into a board game?
When starting the design of the game I decided early that while the rpg would of course be a large source of inspiration I didn’t want to try and do a 1-1 conversion of the mechanics into a board game. I felt that it would be better to begin at a different starting point to see how the game would grow closer to the rpg, rather than making it very close to the rpg and then see how I could make it different. So the first iterations were more different and then as we playtested and had feedback rounds, we discovered what parts of the rpg that would actually translate and work well in the board game. One of these things was the push mechanic that was not in the game from the start, but simply felt like a natural addition as I kept testing and iterating.
How do you go about translating Tales from the Loop’s narrative-driven elements to a board game setting?
One of my core game design instincts is to make sure the mechanics evoke the setting, rather than just the art or “fluff text”. Of course art is extremely important (especially in a game based on an art book!), but if the beautiful images feels disconnected to what you actually do in the game, the theme will feel off. From the start I had some cornerstones of design that I wanted to be in the game to anchor it to the Loop setting, most of them based around what a regular day looks like for a kid at this age; the day is bookended by going to school and coming home for dinner and homework. I felt that if the structure and mechanics of the game could capture just a mundane day and give the players a sense of recognition it would be on the right track. As long as that feeling was there adding the fantastic things like machines and dinosaurs would be much easier to implement.
How newcomer-friendly is the new board game?
From simply a perspective of the setting and themes I think it is actually very approachable. The premise is so easy to explain and in today’s media landscape there are many touchpoints to quickly get the idea of the game across. To also have a large part of it based on just regular kids’ stuff makes it familiar to anyone who has gone to school and then gone on adventures with friends. The Kickstarter also allowed us to include a short booklet on the world of the Loop, to work as a kind of primer if you are interested in the setting. However, all you really need to know is that you play as kids in an environment where fantastic technology and strange phenomena are common.
What can you tell us about the creative process that went into the creation of the game?
For the miniatures we came to the conclusion early that we wanted to offer pre-painted models of the machines. With that in mind we looked around at potential partners, and decided on Dust Games since their painting standards are so high. It was a real joy working with them and they have such a wealth of experience when it comes to designing 3D models, things to keep in mind with injection moulding, and of course painting. The map was made by Reine Rosenberg who is a long time collaborator of Free League and who has illustrated most of Mutant: Year Zero. He has a very good sense of capturing a style that is both clear and realistic while also evoking a coming book style that paired perfectly with the character art that Simon had made. The map is full of little details from the art books that really helps bring it to life (as well as give fans of the book fun things to spot!). For the card art our graphic designer Christian Granath used a combination of Simon’s art as well as adding his own versions of iconic items from the eighties, except often with a slight twist.
Now that there’s also a TV series, can we expect Tales from the Loop to emerge in other forms as well?
We are always looking at new ways of how to portray our many different worlds in ways that could bring them to new players. We really love all kinds of games so nothing is out of the question! Of course, right now we are keeping a close eye on the reception of Tales From the Loop – The Board Game and I personally have a number of ideas on things we could potentially do in the future. Let’s not forget that Simon has made two Loop books – Tales From the Loop and Things From the Flood – with the latter focusing on the 90s and the slightly darker stories of corrupted machines and monstrous beings appearing in the landscape of the Loop…