Gloom is a card game of morbid humor. Your goal is simple – to make all five members of your family die; after living the most miserable lives possible, utterly dejected. And how do you do that? Well, by playing a variety of unfortunate situations on them while making sure to play a variety of happy situations on your competitors.
Appearance: To start with, Gloom’s comes in a little 2 player card case that contains the two decks of cards and the rule sheet. Nothing to comment on here, it’s the usual light cardboard packaging for any deck of cards.
The cards themselves on the other hand are a different matter entirely. Gloom cards are plastic and transparent. It’s an innovation that allows players to place cards on top of one another, hiding bonuses and other card effects. I like it, it actually made the count up of points very simple – one glance and you knew how many positive and negative pathos points a character had.
There are two minor issues with this – because they are printed on plastic, the print quality is only average with some blurring occasionally. The other problem is that at times, you’re requested to have cards randomly discarded from your hands by other players. Since the cards are transparent – and bonuses come in three levels of rarity, each shown by a different dot on the left side, someone who wanted to cheat could easily pick cards that had the most number of bonuses from your hand. Not a huge issue, but still something to keep in mind.
Rules / Ease of Learning: Rules for Gloom are relatively simple, though I would have preferred a clearer write-up. They try to explain and show how each card is different in the rules, which can be difficult to pick out since differences are all in the margins of the card. We also found that the game itself played a lot simpler than what the rules made it out to be. Kudos however for the strategy tips – those were a great primer.
We took about 5 minutes to go through the rules with one another, a few minutes more to set-up properly and then started playing straight away. There was, as mentioned, very little confusion once we got the hang of the different types of cards in Gloom. There really are 3 – modifiers that add or subtract pathos points from a character, event cards that could have immediate or continuing effects (like the Untimely Death cards) and character cards.
Actual Gameplay: There are 4 families available in the base game, each of them with their own horrid, morbid descriptions. Gameplay wise, there are no actual bonuses for choosing one family over another in Gloom.
Each turn, players may play or discard up to two cards and then draw back to their hand maximum (normally 5). They can only play an Untimely Death card as their first card normally (unless otherwise stated on the card) and characters may only have an Untimely Death if they have a negative number of pathos points.
Modifier cards are the meat of the game – each turn you play negative modifier cards on your character to make their lives more gloomy and if you wish, positive modifiers on other players characters to make their lives better. Event cards provide well, events and shake things up a bit, from bringing dead characters back to life to killing new characters or just stopping other event cards.
When all of one family are dead and the points are tallied. Whoever has the least number (since you are making their lives miserable) of pathos points on their dead family members wins’.
That’s really the sum of Gloom mechanics wise. Theme wise, it carries it through very well since each card is generally morbid (e.g. Shamed at the Dance – with a quote about glass shoes or Suffering from Consumption) or seriously silly happy (Found Love on tthe Lake or Saw Ducks). The added bonus is the ability to storytell or make horrible excuses for why each card is played on each character.
Conclusion: Gloom is a fun, if morbid game. Not side-splitting laughter we found, but more black humour with a snigger or two. All the families are so horrid in their description anyway that you can’t fault the bad things happening to them. While the gameplay is light, the cards have enough variation to make the game replayable and some advanced strategies can arise. I certainly wouldn’t buy this game for children, but it’d be perfect for any Goth (or ex-Goth) or those with black humor.
Best part? There are two expansions – Unhappy Homes and Unwelcome Guests