Part story-telling, part manipulation, this game is a fun, quirky introduction into more cerebral game play. Featuring 55 clear plastic cards with Edward Gorey-esque illustrations and creepy typeface, Gloom immediately lures you into its eerie atmosphere.
Setting up the game is simple. You separating the action (events, modifiers, and death) cards from the character cards. Five characters each make up the 4 families. Expansion sets give you the ability to add more players with a new family and storyline in each box. Luckily, no family has one advantage over the other, but all family members have hilarious snarky tag lines. I played with the red family, a motley crew of circus freaks, bonded by their hideousness. Each player also receives several action or death cards to play. The object of the game is to have the lowest family self-worth.
Play begins with the player who has had the gloomiest day. As head of the family, you try to balance out making your relatives miserable by such things as “terrifying Mr. Giggles with topiary” or “mauling Thumbelisa with a manatee” with making your opponents happy with such alliterative modifiers as the person was “delighted by ducklings.” When you play a modifier card, the negative actions have a negative self-worth value; the positive modifiers, a positive value. The cards are clear plastic with different circles that reveal points or cover them up. A character’s portrait can get quite crowded the more cards get laid on top of it.
How do circus freaks and butlers (because of course there’s a rich family) get tangled up in such tragedies? That’s the best part of the game – it’s up to you. The most entertaining part of play is creating storylines for how characters end up in such sad or saccharine situations.
Event cards mix up the play and let you rob graves and throw a wrench into the works. But use them carefully, gear accidents can be quite bloody. Overall, the strategy can get quite complicated the more players you have or the more you Fates, the players, decide to gang up on one family and you lose track of everyone’s self worth. You’re not psychologists after all. But you are called to be the Grim Reaper and play an Untimely Death Card on your opponent (or yourself!) at a very timely moment.
With Gloom, you’re literally making life or death decisions every turn. Do you kill off a character with a sort-of low self-worth, wait to let your opponent be torn from limb to limb, or commit suicide by being “consumed from within”? The story-telling component keeps the game light and social. Like any good strategy game, it puts the power, or the fates, rather, almost entirely into your hands.