Gloom by Keith Baker - Box Art
Misfortunes, Mental Breakdowns, and Murders
Gloom (Second Edition)
Publisher: Atlas Games
Format: Card Game
Number of Players: 2 - 4
Playing Time: 60 Minutes
MSRP: $24.99
Release Date: 2005
I’ve played games of all kinds. I’ve had to ruthlessly steal my opponents’ resources for myself, leaving their civilization to wither and die. I’ve had to backstab enemies and allies alike. I’ve been in battles where thousands upon thousands of innocent bystanders were killed by the clash of two relentless superpowers. I’ve hunted down civilians intentionally, whether because I needed to eat them to restore my own health, or simply because I wanted the money in their pockets. I’m a big fan of Cards Against Humanity, and trying to freak out people sitting next to me. None of this has ever made me wonder whether I might actually be a horrible person.
Gloom did.  Now, I'm pretty sure that I'm a bad person after all.
Gloom, designed by Keith Baker and produced by Atlas Games, is what would happen if Edward Gorey made a card game. The premise is this: You control the fate of a particular family of characters. Your goal is to kill them all, but it’s not quite that simple, nor that pleasant.
You see, you cannot kill the characters until you’ve subjected them to horrible situations and awful events. A character who still feels good about him-or-herself cannot be killed; you have to depress them first. You must destroy whatever sense of self worth they might have had, and get their Pathos modifiers into the negatives.
When their lives are ashes, then they have permission to die.
All the characters are serial killers or robbers and the like.  So that makes it okay... right?
The characters themselves have no stats, as they’re purely for flavor. The gameplay and the storytelling - since the two are inextricably linked in Gloom - come from Modifiers, Events, and the ever-sought-after Untimely Death cards. You can see an example of a rather strange card, the "Our Dearly Departed" in the picture above: it’s an Untimely Death card, used to kill a character, but it also has modifiers on it. This one resets all Pathos modifiers on that character to zero, making them as worthless in death as they were in life.
Some good storytelling comes out of this game, if you have a creative bent. For example, one of my characters married a wealthy woman courtesy of one of my opponents, who was trying to make him happier. Through some well-timed cards on my part, that character ended up widowed (which overrode the happiness modifier from the wedding), dead broke, and finally just plain dead - from suicide, appropriately enough.
It's good, clean fun for the whole family.
You can see that the cards are mostly transparent. This lets you stack them on top of each other, allowing the various modifiers to overwrite each other. Interestingly enough, the designers seem to have gone to some effort to keep modifiers within the same themes, as in my example above where the tragedy of being widowed directly overrode the joy of being married. It won’t work out that way every time, of course, but it was consistent enough that I made note of it.
It's a popular enough game that there's plenty of expansions to keep adding more variety to your evil plots
That’s how the game goes: doing terrible things to your family, while sometimes actually trying to help your opponent's family not feel as terrible about themselves. It’s fairly quick to learn, once you get past the “wait, what?!” moment that you have upon hearing the premise. Anyone with any CCG experience will find the rules and mechanics simple enough, and the implementation is actually pretty cool. The object of the game, as I’ve mentioned, is to depress and then kill your characters. The game ends when one player manages to kill off their entire family, and the winner is whoever has the lowest combined Pathos score at the end.
That’s Gloom: a fairly short, entertaining game with some surprisingly good storytelling, which leaves the players with a sneaking suspicion that you’re all going to Hell. If you’re a fan of the dark and morbid, it’s definitely worth checking out... doubly so if you plan to unleash it on friends who've never heard of it before.
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