Prepare yourself as you enter the dark and miserable world of Gloom, created by renowned RPG designer Keith Baker! You, the player, take control of one of four, miserable families, all as eccentric as the each other and full of misfits and misanthropes. During a game of Gloom, you have one simple goal: To ensure your family has the most miserable and sad time possible before meeting their untimely, yet rather comforting demise.
It is said that the quality of afterlife is made better by the gloomier of existences beforehand, hence the need to put your family through the worst days of their lives. Use cards such as 'Mocked by Midgets' to lower your families' self-worth and make them feel unwelcome and unloved and just utterly miserable, while at the same time trying to boost your opponent's families, making them feel joyful and happy with such events as weddings which rapidly increase a players self-worth! The player with the lowest family self-worth at the end of the game will be declared the winner!
Printed on rather unique transparent cards, Gloom allows players to place modifiers on cards with other players able to see the modifiers throughout! While this game may sound miserable and depressing, don’t be fooled by the deceptive title!
Player Count: 2-5
Time: 60 Minutes
Imagine if you will a world of monochrome and grey, leeched of all colour and vibrancy, a world full of mishaps and misadventures, of downfalls and dysentery, and, ultimately, an Untimely death, with the occasional unsightly skin disease thrown in for good measure. This my friends is the world of Gloom.
Now this may sound at first like a rather unpleasant way to pass your time, not to mention your hard earned cash, playing a card game with all this depressing nonsense going on when you could be playing a nice fluffy happy game with Lamas in it! Well folks you’d be dead wrong, no pun intended.
Quite the contrary, this is exactly what makes this game such a blast. Because once you get to grips with the rather simple mechanics of the transparent card laying and iconography, you are then free to let your imaginations run rampant and allow yourself to become possessed by the ghosts of Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft and thence free to give yourself over completely to the alchemy and insanity of the storytelling elements of this game!
What the Devil!?
So let’s get down to brass tacks, or should I say, sharpened stakes! The mechanics of Gloom are simple enough and after your first run through you’ll be laughing or more appropriately, crying into your cold tea if we are to keep in the spirit of the game, no time like the present to get into character.
The game of Gloom is for 2-5 players. Each player chooses one of the four families available, if you are playing a four-player game, each player discards a family member of their choice and returns it to the box, this will stop the game going on too long. If you are playing a five-player game, the fifth player uses the discarded character cards and forms a misfit family. Each Player draws five cards form the draw pile forming their starting hand, consisting of Modifier cards, Event cards, and Untimely Death cards. This is placed in the centre of the table.
You decide who is to be the first player by working who has suffered the worst day. Now this may lead to squabbling and re-enactments of old Monty Python sketches involving all players dissing another player’s miserable day by shouting ‘Ha! Luxury!’ eventually leading to a stalemate with no one willing to back down, if this is the case then the person who owns the game goes first. Or better still just grow up! First player starts the play continues clockwise.
Upon your turn you have two plays, which can be; play a Modifier, play an Event, or, play an Untimely Death Card (this you can only do when a character score has (-) self worth points), you can discard your entire hand, which is best to do on your second play, and finally pass.
You can make the same play twice; the only exception is the Untimely Death card which must be played on the first play. Some modifiers will bend this rule slightly. When playing the cards you are strategically looking to make your own character cards unhappy by giving them (-) self worth points and your opponent’s characters (+) Self worth points. This is when the transparent cards come into their own.
For example, if an opponent places a (-) self worth points card over one of his/her characters you may get the chance to cheer them right up with a healthy dose of (+) self worth points. Ha Ha! Take that! And then say another player, seeing how happy this character is, suddenly places an Untimely Death card on it, thereby killing the character and so rendering the points worthless. The lower the self worth of your characters the better because this is ultimately how you will win.
You must remember that to get your points towards ultimate worthlessness, only dead characters count towards you total points cost. The lower the points the better! And the more dead you have, the are the better!
What's the Story?
Now having thoroughly fired through a sample of how some of the rules work, I’ve missed out the best stuff, and that is the storytelling part. This is done when placing any card from your hand onto your own or opponent's character, for there are many fiendish ways to dish out devilment and death to these miserable souls.
Say for instance Angel (from the family Blackwater Watch), the ‘Starry Eyed Serial Killer’ who has “Always had a hankerin’ to go to the big city…and kill someone”, is looking particularly low in the (-) self worth points area and you just happen to have an Untimely Death card that gives you extra bonus points when played at the right moment, and bears the legend, ‘Choked on a bone’, You make up an elaborate tale of how Angel went on a date with a vegetarian gentleman in the city and when she finally got him on her plate she was just about to congratulate herself on a job well done on her first kill when she ‘Choked on a bone’, oh the irony! ‘At least you had a last supper’. You getting the idea?
Final Thoughts on Gloom
So now we have come to the end of this tale of woe and onto the pros and cons of the game.
Pros first because we want to end this on a low point and do the cons last. Gloom has loads going for it, in particular the really cool see through card mechanic which is unique to this game and works well. The cards themselves are quite durable and hard-wearing, and are also waterproof so if there are any spills on the table while playing, fear not as you can wipe them down with aplomb! No aplomb, I said! Oh never mind!
Cons for me, include couple of things, because of the very dark nature of the tales this may not be suitable for younger players, so discretion is advised. One more down side, but this one is in itself not an irredeemable one, and that is that the storytelling part of the tale may not be suited to all players, especially those who are not natural storytellers.
However this is something that shouldn’t frighten these unfortunate souls who squirm at the idea of making up a story on the hoof, it is something to embrace and go with because there is much fun in breaking free of your own self-imposed restrictions. So get out there and enjoy Gloom, or should I say, go suffer and be damned till your last dying breath sounds and you have gone to meet the choir invisible…