Ghastly Games by Daphne Strasert: Gloom

Game Review: Gloom

The sky is gray, the tea is cold, and a new tragedy lies around every corner…

The distinguished characters of Gloom do not have happy fates awaiting them—not if you have anything to say about it. You control what happens to them through the course of the game, building tales of woe for your unfortunate family. Your objective is simple (and grim): make your characters as miserable as possible before killing them off one by one.

Gloom is a thematic game for 2-4 players. It takes about an hour to play.

Game Play

Gloom offers four nefarious families to torture. Will you play with Darius Dark and his ill-conceived circus of misfits? Or the rich, but malevolent Hemlock family? How about the undead results of Professor Helena Slogar’s experiments? Or the extended kin of the Blackwater Matriarch, who proves you can’t choose your family, but you can choose which of them survive?

Beware, you’ll probably get a little attached to your family as you ruin their lives. In my experience, players develop an affinity for a certain family, sometimes continuing their stories from previous games.

Once you’ve chosen your victims, you’re ready to start their tales of woe. In your hand are several types of cards. Some contain horrific incidents that will make your characters miserable. Some contain happy moments that you can use to lift the spirits of other player’s families. Other portend the ultimate calamity to befall a character of your choice. Choose wisely and time your characters’ deaths to bring you the most advantage.

The game ends with the demise of one entire family. That family doesn’t necessarily win, though. One supremely horrible life can outweigh five mildly grim ones. Whichever player has the most miserable score for their dead characters takes home the macabre victory.

Game Experience

The cards in Gloom are the real stars. Each features delightful callbacks to Edward Gorey style grim humor with cute alliterations that makes torturing your family delightful (“Widowed at the Wedding” or “Mauled by a Manatee”, anyone?).

The cards are clear, so the values of preceding play can still be seen. The clear cards make for more complex gameplay, since all new moves build off former ones. It requires some strategy to maximize misery. Because the cards are plastic, though, there are problems with them sliding off each other (shuffling is not great).

The cards create a great base for weaving together the tales of woe that befall the families. Gloom is a storytelling game and piecing together the miserable lives and deaths of the characters is as much a part of the game as killing them off. However, I found that the story takes a back seat to strategy and is usually summed up by what can be found on the cards. If you’re looking for more creative outlets, there are better options.

Final Thoughts

Gloom is a fun, easy game to play, once you get the concept. Most first-time players struggle with the idea that they want to murder their loved ones, but once they get over that hurdle, they take to the game with glee.

While the premise is simple (bad actions take away happiness points and good actions give them), there are a few different types of “happiness” and the cards interact with each other to change those. First time players should pay attention to what you’re doing. It can get complicated.

My favorite parts of the game are the art, the snippets of writing on the cards, and the characters, which build a macabre tapestry. Overall, Gloom is fun and casual, a little like playing a part in the Addams family.

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