By July 25, 2006

Gloom Review

GloomI love games. I grew up on them, and all of my friends have been game players. One of us always has a new game to play, whether it be on the computer or in meatspace.

Each player controls one of four families. Every family has five members, ranging from a disembodied brain to a crazy dog to a spooky-ass circus ringleader. My personal favorite was the murderous clown, however the possibly-conjoined twins were very popular during our test game. The object of the game is to make your family as sad as possible and then killing them off. Unfortunate events, such as “mauled by manitees,” result in negative happiness points. The more negative happiness points a character has, the sadder they become. Positive happiness points come from cards involving puppies, yummy food, or a good night’s sleep. You may kill any character (yours or controlled by an opponent) once they have negative happiness points. Dead characters’ happiness points count towards your total score at the end. The player with the lowest score wins the game.

Each player is dealt five cards at the start. There are three types of cards: modifiers, effects, and untimely deaths. Modifier cards increase or decrease happiness; effects do things like bring dead characters back to life or interrupt turns. Family members are laid to a (usual) final rest with the use of an untimely death card. The game starts with whomever had the worst day.

Players begin their turn by playing any card or passing. You may play any additional card except an untimely death after the first card, or pass. Each player draws back up to five cards (or more/less, based on modifiers) and play continues clockwise. I liked that you may only kill off a character with your first turn; this prevents slamming down a huge negative happiness card and then killing a character off before anything can be done about it. This makes for interesting strategy, as players try to gradually make their family sad without attracting too much attention from the other competitors.

Each family member has three happiness adjustment slots on the left side and one effect them slot on the right. It’s possible for a character to have happiness adjustment cards valued at +10, -10, -20 on the left for a total of -20 happiness and then a bat icon in the effect slot on the right. Certain cards can only be played when a character has a certain icon in their effect slot. For example, one of my untimely death cards gave a bonus if my family member featured a bat icon. Each character has a textplate underneath their portrait. A character summary is visible at the start of the game, but as play rolls on the bio text may be covered up by modifier and effects cards.

The cards are beautifully illustrated. The copy is witty, and aids in vocalizing amusing ways that characters become sad, happy, or perish. Gloom encourages storytelling, and instead of just playing “pursued by poodles,” each player is encouraged to spin tales of heroism, happiness, and despair. This is the kind of game that’s more interesting with, uh, slightly off-kilter folks.

The cards are clear plastic, which allows for multiple modifiers to be played on one character. This is a really novel idea, but unfortunately the printing process used isn’t very durable. We played the game for the first time, and some of the ink had been worn off just sitting in the box, wrapped in cellophane. The biography text was particularly beaten up. I doubt the cards could handle extended playing without losing the copy and icons that give Gloom its charm.

Luckily for the crappy printing process, Gloom isn’t the kind of game that lends itself to multiple playing anyway. After one game we had enough. The four of us agreed that while Gloom was amusing, it wasn’t engaging enough for us to play again and again. One of the problems with the gameplay is that there aren’t enough modifiers and effects cards, so we wound up seeing the same cards over and over again. Being mocked by midgets is only funny the first time.

Keep It In the Family

  • Clever, unique gameplay.
  • The game design and artwork is very creative. If you like movies like the Corpse Bride or Beetlejuice, you have the sense of humor for this game.
  • The game seems well-balanced, even down to the card level. We were unable to find any significant exploits or advantages.

Doom and Gloom

  • The print on the cards is not durable at all. You’re fucked — if you enjoy this game, the print will rub off. If you don’t enjoy this game, the print will be OK but you’ve just wasted your money. Catch-22 😉
  • Not enough variety and quantity of modifier and effect cards.

Gloom seems like fun for a spin every once and awhile, but won’t be supplanting Settlers or even Apples to Apples in our roster any time soon.
Three and a half out of five STFU mugs!

Gloom is available from Funagain Games online, or fine game merchants everywhere.

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3 Comments on "Gloom Review"

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  1. Ed says:

    Agreed. It was amusing, but not strong. A further critique is that it sold itself as a story telling game, but the cards did not lend themselves or encourage the art of storytelling. That was a piece that I found most disappointing.

  2. HerderessOfCats says:

    Yeah, I thought it was too monotonous for more than a game or two.

  3. Ctrix says:

    Might the cards fit into clear plastic sleeves (like in Magic:The Gathering) to increase their long-term playability?