Atlas Games, $24.95
A friend gave me Gloom as a present a few years ago. I had no idea what to expect, because the premise is…out there. Your goal in this card game is to make your family as miserable as possible.
That sounds pretty dark, and it is—but in a funny way.
The game is for between two and five players, and each player controls “an eccentric family of misfits and misanthropes,” as the game describes it. (For example, one family member is a brain in a box.)
You have a card for each member of your family. The gameplay consists of drawing other cards that describe various things that can happen to your family members—like getting swarmed by bees, getting baked into a pie, getting mauled by a manatee, etc., as well as some rare positive things like being delighted by ducklings.
Those events are all worth different point values—the worse the event, the more points you lose. Your goal is to get the least points. There are also “untimely death” cards in the same vein, and the game continues until an entire family has died.
The most notable thing about the game, aside from the premise, is the design. The cards are all transparent, and you play them on top of other cards. Doing so will cover up some of the previous card’s point values while leaving others still visible—whatever you can see is what counts.
We took some time during the day to dive into this game. Here’s what we had to say.
Matt Hartman, Content Manager: Alright, friends, it’s time to weigh in on Gloom. How did it feel to send your family members to get eaten by bears and charmed by circuses and perturbed by puddings?
Catherine Bergman, Graphic Designer: It felt fabulous! (Spoken like a true winner—of this game, at least.)
Hannah Peele, Staff Specialist: I was actually more interested in either killing or showering gifts (+s) on other people’s family members.
Matt: I feel like a psychologist could make a lot out of these answers.
Catherine: And a coworker listening in on our game discussion could have been fairly alarmed.
Matt: It is a weird game to overhear! But that is half the fun. Without all the dark humor, the game wouldn’t be anywhere near as interesting. But on the other hand, it’s also a lot more strategic than you might think, given how goofy it is.
Evan Owens, Social Media Specialist: There was a real contrast between the last game we reviewed—Hive—and this one. Hive was pretty fast-paced, and it was easier to visualize a path to victory, with the game playing out in a physical space. With Gloom, it took longer for us to take our turns, since we got caught up in the storylines. Putting together a strategy proved to be challenging because you’d have to lean over and count the number values on each player’s cards.
Catherine: That’s a good point. Also I don’t know if this was part of the “real” rules or “house” rules, but I liked the requirement to creatively tell the story of your character’s fate!
Matt: It is encouraged in the official rules, though not required. But more games should involve making up convoluted stories on the spot. That’s one of the best parts of Gloom, in my opinion.
The other thing is that it’s just a very interesting design. The character names and events all have a very Addams Family / Edward Gorey feel to them. Dark and spooky, but in a charming way.
Evan: Yeah—a game where the goal is to make your characters as miserable as possible and achieve the lowest score definitely stands out among the majority of card / board games. Compare it to the Game of Life, and even though the mediums are different, they’re almost mirror opposites.
Matt: Do y’all think this is a good game for TIPsters?
Hannah: I think they would like it and have a lot of fun with it. I think it may be a good idea to play again and invite some others?
[Editor’s note: Insert game break here.]
Matt: Well, you’ve had a night to sleep on how it felt to ruin your family’s lives. So, how did it feel?
Ivan, Media Coordinator: Evan kept picking on me.
Catherine: While the two of you focused on each other’s families, the rest of us focused on amassing as many negative calamities for our own families as possible!
Ivan: I guess that’s why we lost!
I have two main things to say about this game: (1) It reminds me of games like Exploding Kittens and Killer Bunnies, where wreaking havoc on unsuspecting and lovable victims is the whole point. Dark comedy. (2) It’s very much a collaborative game in a way. Everyone kind of has to agree to play together to keep the game and the story going. If one person goes rogue (I’m looking at you, Evan. Again.) then strategy really goes out the window for everyone.
Hannah: As an observer this time, it was really fun to see all of your expressions as you plotted to be nice to your opponents families
Ivan: (Evan is clearly in a meeting right now and won’t be able to respond for a while, so I’m going to keep attacking him.)
Hannah: And secretly…or not so secretly…cheering on Evan’s plans to take you out, Ivan.
Ivan: I see how it is, Hannah. I see how it is. I feel OKAY about coming in last place. Really. I’m not harping on it or anything. Katy really flew under the radar because she was pretending to be confused about the rules the whole time. 😂
Catherine: Hey, I should get SOME credit for sparing you that one bad card and handing it to Matt’s family instead! Maybe Katy’s near win can be attributed to Hannah’s strategic counsel?
Hannah: If Katy would have just killed more of her family members she’d have been golden
Ivan: Dark. I’m absolutely getting this game for my eleven-year-old niece.
Catherine: Eleven-year-old niece?! I’m getting this game for my grown-up self! [age withheld] But I do think kids would have a lot of fun with this one too.
Ivan: I’d get it for my wife and me, but she prefers pure strategy games. She would hate the storytelling component, and I think the game might fall flat if you don’t incorporate the storytelling component.
Evan: I’ll say that as fun as it was ensuring Ivan’s family had the best lives possible (so as to ensure he had the worst score possible), focusing on that made it hard to follow all of the other moves everyone else was making. This left the door open for Matt and Catherine to quietly take the lead. For the record, though, it was still totally worth it.
This is one of those games where you want to make sure you’re playing with people willing to make fools of themselves coming up with funny story lines for each character and move. I could see how a group of people who weren’t into that creativity aspect wouldn’t have as much fun with this one.
Ivan: Absolutely. It wouldn’t be fun if you just zoom through the game play without enjoying the story lines. There’s some strategy, sure, but I feel as though it’s closer to a game of War (the card game) than a game of, say, chess.
Katy, Director of Marketing: First of all, I would totally have won if I had been able to get my hands on a Death card. Seriously, I know my grandmother lived to be 106, but my card game family? They were immortal, apparently.
Secondly: PARENTS PLEASE READ THIS BEFORE YOU CONSIDER BUYING THIS GAME. This game is a niche game that offers you some awesome opportunities to practice deductive reasoning and have fun with some over-the-top interactions between siblings and friends. It’s a safe way to explore death, bad events, the concept of happiness, and other big issues kids may be grappling with. But it is not for everyone.
The point of the game is that you assemble a strangely Gothic and afflicted family, then do your best to ensure bad things happen to them (thus winning you negative points) and you do this by applying the game cards to specific characters until your card family dies (thus locking in your points). You can give opponents positive points, and whittle away their lead, by presenting them with cards that make good things happen to their card family. Got it?
Counter-intuitive for sure, and if your child does not delight in over-the-top gruesomeness and silly, scary stuff (think Edward Gorey meets Monsters—or perhaps The Munsters, depending on your age—meets the Addams Family meets Alexander’s No Good Terrible Day meets the vivid imaginations of many a middle-school boy seeking to scare his sister), or if you have a rule in your house that you do not joke about misfortune to others, do not buy this game.
Does your child love Halloween? Does he or she set up a fright room each year with peeled grapes for eyeballs and spaghetti for worms? They’re gonna love this game. It’s a bit complicated and it stretches their strategic skills and it is completely engrossing with lots of opportunities to tell tall tales, embellish your character’s life stories, and communicate with other payers.
I second Evan’s comment about this game being way more fun if everyone gets into the storytelling aspect of it! In fact, if you have a budding writer, and especially a detective or mystery writer in training? Perfect game for them!
Ivan: It is worth noting that our game ended as follows: everyone was playing along and telling ever more intricate stories (about Catherine’s mummified circus twins or whatever they ended up being, for instance), but then Evan got bored and killed off my family in one fell swoop to end the game, even though he knew he wasn’t going to win. So I would just reiterate that it’s a collaborative game even though you’re playing against each other. You have to strike a good balance between keeping things moving along but giving everyone’s stories time to breathe.
Katy: Much like real life, I quietly hid the true nature of my deeply weird family so that their success in being miserable went largely unnoticed by others. If only they hadn’t insisted on living so long! Catherine’s twins, on the other hand, went on to be displayed at the circus, where I believe they were trampled by elephants. (See what we mean about this game?!)
Hannah: I can see this game becoming something like War that gets put down after a while, when it’s dinner time or time to walk the dog or just becomes tedious but not tedious enough to end, and picked up later, then put down and picked up etc. and actually is played over days not hours. I personally like the idea of prolonging the torture. No quick deaths for my family members!
Have you played a good board game or video game, read a good book, or seen a good movie? Submit a review to Insights by the time the next issue comes out, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Gloom. Find details on the submission page.