I really want to get this review out there for people who are on the fence about purchasing this book. I know $24.99 seems a bit steep for a PDF, but really aren't going to regret it if you love any of the following: 80's films (especially films like Goonies, E.T., Stand By Me etc...), colorful and elegant science fiction artwork (by artist Simon Stålenhag, the whole game in fact is inspired by the illustrations he created for the graphic novel of the same name), rules light systems, and the teen noir mystery/science fiction genre.
The mechanics are fairly simple and use The Year Zero Game Engine: You roll a certain number of d6's based on numeric ratings (what the kids are good at) ...sixes are successes and you rarely need more than one success to achieve what you are after. If you get more than one 6, you get bonus choices to add to what you were already trying to achieve. If you fail, you can try again, but you risk hurting yourself or getting scared. The kids can't die in this game, its stated many times, so this is mostly a mystery telling game engine, much like Bubblegumshoe.
When I saw this particular game, I was actually writing a mini-campaign using the Bubblegumshoe system to create a game similar to material presented in this book. The game I'm writing is set in the 80's and is mystery game that is a mix of Stranger Things, Freaks and Geeks, and and Veronica Mars. I was recommended Bubblegumshoe as the best similuation for this style of storytelling, but I can never have too many teenage mystery/noir role playing games so I had to read through this book to see what it adds to the genre.
I think its fair to say that the two games have a lot of similarities. Both are rules light systems; Bubblegumshoe is a lighter, less crunchy and combat based version of the Gumshoe system by Robin Laws. I'd say, Tales from the Loop has less of a learning curve than BGS, and is about half of the length of that particular rule book. Both systems do not feature combat heavy systems, they assume that the kids aren't going to be staying to fight the monsters/creatures/or evil adults, but running away and finding other solutions to the issues at hand.
A lot of the text and style of communal world creation reminds me a lot of Apoclaypse World powered games, I can definitely tell this game was inspired by that particular role playing system. Which, to me, is a positive thing, because I enjoy that the GM ends up having less prep work to do in more collaborative style systems.
I do hope they offer more "Kid" templates to pick from, as the ones in the book do seem a bit too generic (Rocker, Computer Geek, Bookworm, Jock, Hick, Popular Kid, Troublermaker, Weirdo. Drive and Relationships are important to character creation in Tales From the Loop, just like it is in Bubblegumshoe, but the skills are definitely more streamlined in this particular system and are based off your attributes (Body, Tech, Heart, and Mind).
Body- Sneak, Force, Move
Tech- Tinker, Program, Calculate
Heart- Contact, Charm, Lead
Mind- Investigate, Comprehend, Empathasize
Another nod to an Apoclypse World game (Monsterhearts) is the use of Conditions in this game, which gives a modifier of -1 to actions that would be affected by their particular condition.
There are Luck Points in this game, which are pretty much like using Inspiration in D&D 5e...meaning you can spend them to reroll a failed dice roll.
So, which system should buy if you want to run an 80's style, kids game with elements of Stranger Things, E.T., Stand by Me, and Goonies? I'd say it depends. Do you want the system to be more streamlined? Go for Tales from the Loop. Do you want the system to be more fueled by clues and the mystery you are writing for you game? Use Bubblegumshoe, as it has mechanics to ensure your Sleuths never miss core clues. Do you want to run your game as a one shot? I'd say go for Tales from the Loop (also, you can run this game with very little prep as there is a mystery map right in the book if you want to do an open world type of adventure where your sleuths walk around and deal with whatever they come across).
Both books are excellent and I'd say, if anything, I'd give a slight edge to Bubblegumshoe just because I feel it really delves into the socilogcal and psychlogical issues teens face at these ages, while still giving a fantastic engine for mystery solving, but if you want less high school social combat, and more science fiction Tales From the Loop is going to appeal to you more.
[5 of 5 Stars!]