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Subject: Was Gladdened by "Gloom" rss

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H. M.
United Kingdom
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25/07/17 - Updated to correct a typo, and I'd neglected to mention Event cards.

I first came across Gloom, rather fittingly, in a Victorianesque pub during a tabletop gaming night whilst a thunderstorm was going on outside. After being handed five cards bearing the faces of circus freaks (Dark’s Den of Deformity, whom I would later come to know and love well), I could tell right away this was the game for me. Being a huge fan of spooky humour – Tim Burton, Charles Addams, Edward Gorey and suchlike – I instantly liked the game’s theme and flavour, and as an hobbyist writer with a love of "am dram", having the chance to tell stories about this motley crew was the cracked icing on the mouldy old cake.

About the Game

In Gloom, you take control of a melancholy family of misfits – who are given a brief introduction on their cards, and a mini-backstory on the instruction sheet, which becomes important later. Your ultimate goal is to make them as unhappy as possible through the use of special Modifier cards, thus wracking up the highest possible negative Self-Worth score, before finally killing them off with a ghoulish Untimely Death – since they are, quite literally, worthless to you alive.

Two cards are played by each participant in each round, but if they want someone to die, this has to be the first card they play each time. This works well, and prevents what I call “cry and die”, where you could make someone miserable and then immediately bump them off.

The cards themselves are transparent – which, aside from looking pretty cool, adds an interesting aspect to the game. Only points on show count, and by playing cards that cover other points up, you can potentially drastically change that character’s Self-Worth score.

Not all Modifiers carry horrible fates, however. There are also happier events such as courtships and weddings, inheriting vast fortunes, and becoming a much-loved member of society. You play these on your opponents to further boost their characters’ worth – and if a character is happy, they cannot be killed.

Some Modifiers also carry additional effects whilst in play, such as increasing or decreasing draw limits, or temporarily allowing you to kill a character with a positive Self-Worth score. These effects apply to the player/family the card is played on, rather than who deals it.

Furthermore, there are also red-text Event cards, which allow you to play "special moves", for want of a better term. Examples include swapping over characters' Modifiers (essentially exchanging their score and roles in the story), being able to play certain cards outside of the normal rules, and nullifying the last card played.

Both the Modifiers and Untimely Deaths are darkly humorous, and, along with the backstories, become vital when you consider another key part of this otherwise typical Take That game – storytelling. As the families’ fortunes rise and fall, the players must build and create a verbal narrative of what’s going on.

When one family is wiped out, the game ends.

Views

Now, as I mentioned, I’m bound to be a bit biased towards this game, as the whole thing is right up my street: both with the themes and storytelling aspect. I’ve played it so often, I now practically know the families’ stories back to front. (One of the files offered here on the site consists of little cards with the backstories on them – I highly recommend printing them and giving them to first-time players, just to help them get in the swim.)

That said, this does seem to be a game that divides a room: most of the people I’ve played it with either love it or hate it. I do feel a major part of this is their personal attitude towards the storytelling: if that isn’t something you enjoy, and you’re not willing to put your all into it, then this may not be the game for you. Technically speaking, you can play the game without it, but in my view, this strips a lot of the fun out of it.

If there is an experienced player at the table, it may be best to start with them (even if they’ve not had the gloomiest day!) as other, less comfortable players may be able to use the story threads they create as a springboard for their own. Personally, I love to use the wedding modifiers to forge bizarre, unintentional alliances between players – I’ve had the Old Dam marry Willem Stark, Elias E. Gorr and Samson O’Toole all in the one game before. (Darius Dark stayed well out of it – in my canon, at least, he belongs with Elissandre.)

(Yes, I have created canons for the families. That is how seriously I take my storytelling.)

Modifiers with special effects can be troublesome too, as you can forget whether or not they are still in play, or if they’ve been covered up by another card since. The small print on the cards can also lead to a lot of questions, especially if someone has to lean over a table to see them. Phrases like “What’s my draw limit again?” and “What’s that guy called?” may get banded around a lot during a game, which can disrupt the flow a little.

However, those are really the only quibbles I have. On the whole, I find this to be a hugely enjoyable game – although I acknowledge it may not be one you want to play week in, week out, as the storytelling can drag it out a tad. Best to wait for a dark, stormy night, when the scene is well-set, and you can immerse yourself in this strange, spooky world where the sky is gray and the tea is cold…
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
United States
Corvallis
Oregon
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Tete Montoliu - Tootie's Tempo
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A new reviewer who knows their subject and knows how to write - what a rare treat. Bravo!
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H. M.
United Kingdom
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Many thanks. I've never written a review before, and I'm not all that familiar with technical tabletop terms, hence my more casual approach. I'm happy to hear that it's still readable nevertheless.
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