Gloom: Where wishing the worst on yourself is best

"The world of Gloom is a sad and benighted place. The sky is gray, the tea is cold, and a new tragedy lies around every corner. Debt, disease, heartache, and packs of rabid flesh-eating mice—just when it seems like things can't get any worse, they do. But some say that one's reward in the afterlife is based on the misery endured in life. If so, there may yet be hope—if not in this world, then in the peace that lies beyond. (Excerpt from the game page)"
Such a depressing quote, but this is exactly describes how Gloom is. Gloom is a 2-4 player game where your goal is to kill of your own family of misfits and try to keep your opponents' family happy and healthy. You have to make your family as miserable as possible by decreasing their self-worth, which can be done by playing cards with negative values on them, and try to keep your opponents' family alive by increasing their self worth. Once a member of your family looks as miserable as they can be, you can kill them off with an Untimely Death. Don't take too long trying to make them miserable though, because if your opponents kill off their own family first, the game ends and the points on your living family members no longer count.


Box of gloom

110 cards

It's a card game, so naturally Gloom will have a ton of cards. What sets these cards apart from the other card games though, is that it's made from transluscent plastic card sheets. You can stack cards on top of another, where the self-worth values are printed on designated spaces. So when you look at your card, you'll know how much self-worth a character has quite easily. They are also strategically placed, so a certain card can negate or overwrite some effects of a previous card, as shown in the photo below.

Overall, the cards are of excellent quality and since it's not made out of card stock, you can pretty much live without a sleeve or drop some food on these cards and just wipe it off. The design is a unique take to a card game.

Rules and Gameplay

First off, you choose an unfortunate family of 5 which you will call your own. The fortunate (?) families who weren't chosen gets set aside and they can live their lives freely with no misfortune following them. The base set lets you play with 2-4 players, but the expansions add a player each so with three expansions available, the maximum you can have is 7.

Once you have chosen your family, the rest of the deck gets shuffled and each player draws 5 cards each to form the starting hand. The player who has had the worst day goes first. If you argue that all of you had equally bad days, the owner of the game goes first.

The round begins and you get 2 plays. On the first play, you can play any card, discard a card, or pass. You can torment your family with modifier cards to reduce their self-worth, like one of them found maggot on meat or is hunted by horrors. The game actually encourages you to do some story-telling leading to the event, but we found that it's hard to think of stories because the situations are so specific. You can say "he went to the butcher and bought a meat which accidentally had maggots." It doesn't really add anything to the game, but if you are eloquent go right ahead. You can also shower your opponent with good vibes to send their self-worth up, like they found love on a lake, but these cards usually come with perks which you may or may not want your opponent to have so you need to weigh your options. Also, you can only play Untimely Death cards to kill your family on the first play. On the second play, you can play any card except for Untimely Death cards. This is to prevent you from putting a negative self-worth card on your family members and killing them right away on the second play.

Once your 2 plays are done, you draw cards up until your hand limit, which can be altered by card effects. Your turn then ends and moves to the next player. The game ends when any player's whole family dies, and you all add up the family worth of your family. Only the dead people count so if you end up with a family where 3 dies and the 2 are still alive when the game ends, only the 3 people's self-worth is added. The person with the least family worth wins the game.

Overall, the mechanic of overlaying cards adds a bit of strategy to the game, since a well built-up negative self worth can be negated by a positive card with a well-placed point icon to override it. There are also event cards that allow you to switch the cards between members, so this card game is actually a pretty well-rounded out game by itself. You need good hand management and there's a good amount of "Take that!" moments during our game.

Length and Replayability

A game lasts around 1 hour, but you'll actually be too busy plotting your family's demise so you won't notice the time. There may come a lull in the middle of the game, since you already know what cards you need and you're just waiting to draw them from the draw pile. The characters don't add much to the gameplay itself, so the game is mostly dependent on your luck and strategy skills. It has a good replayability level, but it's not the type of game where you'd want to play it consecutively.

Overall score

The use of transparent cards and the overlaying mechanic is not something you'd see on a card game, but they integrated it well with the rules and gameplay so I would recommend to give this game a try. At its core, it's a well-themed hand management game, so there's nothing drastically unique with the rules, but this may be fun for both old and new players alike. 

View the BGG game page here.

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