In Tako’s Tabletop Time I will review boardgames I’ve played, take a look at tabletop roleplaying rulesets and rage about the stuff my players pull in my tabletops.
I love making people happy, mostly my friends cause I am to selfish to make strangers happy.
However a part of my soul is blacker than my blackest ink. Sometimes I just wanna make people feel miserable and if you catch me on my bad days..you know those days in the month..I will make you suffer deep! Luckily for both parties I found a perfect relief for my darkness. A cute little game called Gloom.
Gloom is a game designed by Keith Baker, a game designer with his roots in creating D&D modules. So playing to his strength this game is not focussed around it’s deep strategical gameplay but around storytelling. When you telling a story you usually want to end it with ‘and they lived happily ever after’ but not in Gloom.
This game lets you pick one of four families and you have to make their lives as miserable a possible before you send them to an untimely death. It is humor of the blackest kind and it’s great fun to find out who of your friends has that hidden dark side as well.
One of the greatest strength this game has is its theme of misery blended in in every aspect of the game. Each family already has seen enough misfortune for a lifetime, there is a failing circus filled with freaks, a frankenstein family, a family plagued by possession and a clan with a murderous matriarch.
Enough gloom to get you started at least, but the despair doesn’t only apply on the level of the characters, the players will be involved as well. The player who had the worst day for example is the one who can start the game. As soon as one entire family is pushing up daisies the game ends. The misery is tallied up and the most miserable family wins. This doesn’t always equal the family who’s having tea with the grim reaper.
Be careful though, when you ruin your families live, they might ruin your day. Karma’s a bitch and that certainly applies in Gloom.
Pain and Suffering
You wreck your families lives by playing two cards each round, with a starting hand of five you can draw up to three types of cards, modifiers, events and untimely deaths. A deck is build out of mostly modifiers, which adjust a family’s self worth. Events allows you to do numerous things, from cancelling modifiers to drawing four additional cards and so on. Finally untimely death cards which allows you to kill someone off before their time, these cards can only be applied on people with a negative self worth. Modifiers usually inflict misery upon characters, a few examples: was covered in sores, was pierced by a porcupine, was greeted by ghosts and so on. These cards usually hold negative modifiers in one more more variation positions. All cards are see trough and thus can be placed on top of each other, so if you play cleverly you can inflict several forms of misery onto a character, but be carefull cause only the readable numbers count.
On its own this would be enough for storytelling but Gloom plays to a wonderful little fourth wall breakage that blends players together with their chosen family.
Many of the more miserable cards in this game have special effects to them which a player has to abide by. From reducing your hand limit to discarding your entire hand and skipping the next draw phase (effectively skipping a turn and leaving you defenceless to counter), if your family is miserable so will you be. In a nice diabolical twist however you can play both modifiers and untimely death on any person in this game, meaning you are not limited to your family. Nothing feels as great as making discard their hand , inflicting a lot of misery ,-20 + -15 upon them and making them die without sorrows on the next turn (all modifiers end on 0).
However this brings me to the first negative of the game as well, as fun as these combo’s are, they tend to be slightly overpowered in a one versus one scenario. It’s relatively easy to lock the other player out of making any decent actions, if you play your cards right, and due to many effects being continues a smart player can effectively nullify an opponent’s ability to play the game.
Though this doesn’t guarantee a win it can be rather obnoxious and ruin a player’s mood. As much as this is part of the game it just doesn’t feel right you can completely deadlock someone.
The Artstyle of Gloom is quite pretty and similar to the Artstyle of Edward Gorey, the see through cards allow you to check out this fabulous artwork, but then there isn’t much of it. With the exception of the 20 character cards, a single rendition of untimely death and some detailed linework on event card there is no art, this I find both strong yet also bad. I would have loved to see just a little bit more art, in the form of untimely deaths most likely…like if someone fell of a stais make the skull cracked, if someone was poisoned add a little vial on the drawing, something small like that would have really helped. That being said , the unique style fits in so well with it’s theme and what art is there is really gorgeous and remains so during the entire game, due to the clever see through cards.
These are a bit slippery though so you might have to readjust your stack from time to time to keep things from looking to cluttered.
The game is incredibly easy to pick up and has a manual of only two pages, half of it is about flavoring your story. Story icons on the modifiers help you gain additional boosts but also help you develop your story, which is very welcoming as a game of gloom is as good as the weakest it’s weakest storyteller, the weaker players are helped by both the stronger players, building a story on their family as well as the story icons. Gloom manages to unite the storytellers and gameplayers in a very easy whimsical way. Whether you play to win or play to tell a story gloom offers something for both sides.
Though the box says games last about an hour I found that you will need significantly more time then that. Untimely death cards don’t come around that often and are playable on even less turns, add in the fairly common effect that you have to discard your hand and Gloom may almost last double of what it claims. Though Gloom is wildely entertaining and very amusing in most the games I played I noticed I was eager to give my characters or a that final opponent’s character the sweet relief of death and end the current story. However after that I would be ready to cause some more people misery.
*The negative in the score is just for flavor