Love live the Empress!
For the Motherland!
In addition to Gloom, I will be also adding a line or two titled "What the Expansion Adds" to cover the Unhappy Homes expansion (which is almost necessry...more on that later).
Obejctive: Designed for 2-4 players (or 2-5 with the expansion) each player has a family that they try to have the worst day possible, and then kill them off before they cheer up. Whoever had the worst day (and died), wins.
Game Components: The game comes in a double-wide card box, holding about 50 cards per side (there's about 100 cards in the original set). The box is poorly designed; there is no divider between the 2 halves, making it a pain in the a$$ to get the cards back in when you are done playing. It would have been much better had Atlas made a thicker box (the size of a Deck Protector) and sold the game that way.
Pros: The cards themselves are quite original. They are transparent, such that when you play one card atop another, you can see thru it to any text, numbers, or pictures below it (assuming that card doesn't cover any of those things up...which it frequently does as part of the game). Even with 10+ cards on top, it's still easy to see through to the points/text below it (an integral part of the game). The cards shuffle well and, since they are made of plastic rather than paper, they hold up to playing with multiple times. As a bonus, all the text is very tongue-in-cheek, which is where this games appeal comes from. Taking the lead from Cheapass style humor, it's hilarious to watch you kill your people by "pickled pudding" or "widowed at the wedding" or "tickled by ticks". It comes with 4 families, and it seems at least 1 matches each players style: Adams family-like, circus, psychotic, and a 4th I cannot recall.
Cons: Because the cards *are* plastic, the text/points/pictures tend to "flake off". I cannot tell you how much this ruins the game, causing endless arguments if that value read "-5" or "-15".
What the Expansion adds: They add about 50 more cards, including a 5th family and mystery cards for each family. The cards have the same pros/cons as above, with 1 additional (and a big one it is) con. The expansion uses symbology in the "text section" of each card. While this is a great mechanic (see below), the font is so small and the printing is so poor, about 20% of the symbols cannot be read without an electron microscope. This again leads to endless arguments. Add this to the fact that they flake off, and you can imagine the frustration.
Mechanics: The rules are incredibly simple and straightforward, which is a bonus. At the beginning of the game, each player chooses a family; each family has 5 members. The choice is purely for fun...no difference between each family except theme. Each player then draws 5 cards into their hand. Starting with the player who "had the worst day", you play 2 cards. Cards come in 3 flavors: (1) Modifiers = Add or subtract self-worth to a family member. These are played on top of ANY living family member, yours or an opponents. (2) Events = Played on the table, and are "instant effects" to game play. They are discarded immediately after they are played. (3) Untimely Death cards = These can be played on top of ANY living family member, yours or an opponents, who has a NEGATIVE self-worth score; they must be the 1st card you play (not the 2nd), and it will kill that character (that's the point!). After you play your 2 cards, draw back up to your hand limit, and next lpayer goes. When 1 player has his entire family dead, the game ends. Add up all the points of the DEAD characters. Whomever has the most negative self-worth points (i.e. who is the most worthless) for his family, wins.
Pros: The clear cards are a neat gimmick. You look through the cards to whatever value is being displayed, that is the self-worth value of that character. Since cards can (and often do) cover up those numbers, you can change the self-worth value by playing a card on top that covers the old value to replace it with a new one. Make sense? Secondly, there is often a trade-off with Event and Modifier cards that is a well-thought out design. For example, you can give one of your character a lot of negative points, but you may have to skip your next turn, or only hold 4 cards in your hand. By playing positive self-worth scores on your opponent, you may be giving them extra cards to hold in their hand, or you may have to discard. Third, because of the nature of the see-thru cards, the "modifying text" (such as only being able to hold 4 cards in your hand) can be covered up by playing another card directly on top of it that DOESN'T change the self-worth score. Thus, it's all about combinations of see-thru cards.
Cons: Not much. The mechanics are straightforward and simple.
What the expansion adds: The mystery cards are a welcome addition. It allows you to play mysteries to the side of your family. Think of them as objectives. You get bonus points (or rather, more negative points) if you have those objectives completed (such as having 2 dead characters that were killed by things that rhyme). Again, a simple mechanic, but a welcome one.
Pros: Well, it's easy. Kill off your characters first.
Cons: This is where the game falls horribly short. Since you only get points for dead characters, I have never seen a game played where anybody BESIDES the person who goes out first wins. In other words, if you are the first to kill off all 5 family members, you are going to win. To be quite honest, this is not a hard thing to do. Even if your opponent has 4 dead characters worth a boat-load of negative self-worth points, having that 5th dead character seems to make all the difference.
What the expansion adds: The mystery option makes the strategy a million times better, as you can get HUGE bonuses by fulfilling the criteria on the mystery cards. This almost...ALMOST...makes it possible to win without killing off all 5 family members first, but it still does not balance the game out. A shame, too.
Will it worth well with few (2-3) players versus many (4-5) players?: With more players, it becomes mildly more difficult to kill off family members since more people are going to be playing positive self-worth cards on your family (such as "Merrily Married"). But with 5 family members per player, it's still quite easy to kill off family members. So not much difference.
What the expansion adds: A 5th player. Not much more.
Will my non-gaming spouse/friends like it?: Most likely, yes, assuming they enjoy the tongue in cheek humor. It also acts as a sort of easy version of Magic: the Gathering in that you can play cards onto cards. This gives the non-gamer the chance to see fun combinations/tricks without taxing their brain too much about LIFO (if you need to know what LIFO is in M:tG, please check the internet for multiple explanations; and if you need to know what M:tG stands for…oh, boy). It is also playable in about 20 minutes; another non-gamer plus.
What the expansion adds: For the non-gamer, not much that the gamer won’t also enjoy.
Does it work well with kids?: I’d be hard pressed to let my 9 year old niece play a game where the point is to try and die. Although the rules are quite easy, I would argue the theme may not be appropriate.
Pros: Easy rules.
Cons: Inappropriate theme.
What the expansion adds: N/A.
Should I buy it?: The base game is $21.95 and the expansion is $12.95. The game is truly only bearable if you play with the expansion and at $35, I can think of about 50 other games I’d rather spend the money on. Given the fact that the cards flake off, the strategy is non-existent, and it tires quickly, I’d save your money and go see a movie for 2 with popcorn.
Hate to contradict, but being the first to off your family is not a sure fire win. Fact of the matter is, you don't have to off your own family (its actually in your best intrest to torture them as long and heavily as possible). Its much more effective to inflict an early demise to several of your opponents family members, then focus on making yours suffer, and THEN offing them. I've played many games where the "last man standing" still won, despite having one or more living family members.
This is WITHOUT the expansion. Your and your partner/groups playstyle perhaps limit the possibilities for win conditions, do not fault the game in any way for that. It's been, as stated, quite the opposite for myself and my group.