Creepy clans conduct conspicuous capers causing character casualties. The torture transmitted to thyself today translates to triumphant time thereafter.
In other words, the world of Gloom is a dark, gothic place where miserable families lead miserable lives hoping for a miserable death. It’s thought that the darker and more pathetic a person’s current life is the more joyous their afterlife will be. It is up to you to drag your clan members through as many dark and depraved events as possible.
Does spending your time torturing translucent cards not sound appealing? Click on through and give me the chance to change your mind.
At the start of the game each player picks out a family to torture. There’s no particular advantage to which one choose as they are all just there to facilitate the story you might choose to tell for each character. You’re dealt a set of five cards that are a mixture of modifier, event and untimely death cards. The most common of these is the modifier card, which supply characters with positive and/or negative pathos points which help calculate that character’s self worth. Happy events are worth positive points and unfortunate events are worth negative points.
All the cards in Gloom are transparent so that they can be placed on top of the character cards. Whatever points or text is visible is what’s active and in-play. This adds a fun…ahem…layer to the gameplay that you usually don’t find in card games. While you’re trying to pile negative points onto your own characters you want to play positive points onto your opponent’s character cards. When you use an untimely death card it locks in the pathos points (providing that the total is not zero or higher). Only the characters that have been killed count towards the family’s total self worth at game’s end.
The modifier cards may contain a rule variant that’s active while showing (such as imposing a draw limit) and some flavor text. Adding a good bit of your own imagination makes the game a bit more entertaining and takes some of the sting off of someone doing something “good” to your cards. Event cards are one-time use cards that have an action that applies immediately and then gets discarded. Most of the time it’s something like “Switch the top card between two characters” or “Bring a character back from the dead”.
The cards themselves are of a super high quality. The plastic feels like it can take a beaten but not having played the game too many times it remains to be seen how scratch-resistant they are. Hopefully the quirky, Tim Burton-esque artwork doesn’t get ruined over time.
There are three expansion packs available, each adding a new family and over 50 new modifier, event and untimely death cards. The base game can accommodate up to four players, which is how we played it for review. The game moves quickly and you’re involved on almost every turn if someone plays a card that involves one of your characters. We all commented that it would make a good game for people who aren’t usually into non-mainstream board games. In fact, my wife was the one who brought it to my attention at our local game shop.
I haven’t played a game that comes close to matching the vibe that Gloom puts out there. Everything from the alliteration on the cards, the artwork and even the name of the game is cohesive to its theme. It’s definitely something that would be easy to throw in a bag and keep on you in case of a game emergency, or more likely, centering an entire night of gaming around putting your characters through as much misery as possible. Even if your characters don’t get to have a happy afterlife, you’ll have had fun trying.