Board Game Review – Gloom


Quick Facts

Designer: Keith Baker
Genre: Storytelling, Take That
Players: 2-5
Time: 30-60 minutes

Once upon a daytime dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
A quaint and curious card game I’d never played before—
While my hand I was surveying, suddenly there came a playing,
‘Twas my opponent gently laying, laying cards on my E. Gorr.
“No! My gravedigger,” I muttered, “has fallen dead upon the floor—
            Now he can do nothing more.”

Gloom is a card game where players are competing to have the most miserable family.  They do this by playing modifier cards on their family members to make them more and more miserable (and hopefully dodging positive life events played on them by opponents), until they eventually shuffle off of this mortal coil.  The unique part of Gloom is that its cards are clear, allowing additional modifiers to add on to or replace those already played on a character.  Light some candles, turn down the lights, and turn on some Evanescence, because it’s about to get Gloomy…


In Gloom, each player controls a morose family who is trying to have the most misery befall them before they all die.  At the same time, you want to “help” your opponents’ families live long, happy, fulfilling lives.  The game ends when one family is completely dead, and at that point the player who has the most negative score wins!

IMG_1384To begin the game, each player selects one of the four families (color-coded for your convenience) and places the five family members face up in front of them.  When playing with 4 players, everyone should discard one of their family members and start with four to keep the game relative-ly short.  When playing with five players, the fifth player takes the four discarded characters to form a new, misfit family.  All the rest of the cards are shuffled together to form a draw pile.  Each player draws a starting hand of 5 cards and the game is ready to begin.  The player who’s had the worst day goes first and play proceeds clockwise.

On a player’s turn, they may make two plays, which almost invariably involves playing IMG_1381cards from your hand.  There are several types of cards in the game: Modifiers, Events, and Untimely Death cards.  Modifiers make up the bulk of the deck — these cards describe the terrible misfortune (or occasionally good things) that can befall the characters in the game.  Modifier cards have 1-3 circles on the left hand side with positive or negative values.  These affect a character’s self worth, and due to the nature of the transparent cards, additional modifiers played on a character can replace previous self-worth scores.  On a player’s turn, they can play modifiers on any living character in play, including those controlled by other players.  When playing a modifier, there may be an effect on the bottom of the card that can be immediate (such as “Draw two cards”), or continuous (such as “Your hand limit is decreased by 1 card”).  Modifier cards also occasionally have a story icon in the bottom right, which can affect other cards — Untimely Death cards often give extra negative points if the dead character had a certain story icon showing.

IMG_1380In addition to the Modifier cards, there are Event and Untimely Death cards.  Event cards are played on a player’s turn for the effect on the card and then discarded.  Untimely Death cards can only be played as a player’s first action.  As you might imagine, Untimely Death cards allow you to kill off any character (again, not limited to just your own).  The caveat is that these cards can only be played on characters with negative self-worth scores, because only miserable characters can die.  Once a character has died, they are set aside and for the most part out of the action.  A few event cards can affect dead characters (and the Unquiet Dead expansion is all about characters rising up once more as zombies), but no modifiers can be played on the deceased.

If you don’t want to (or are not able to) play two cards on your turn, you can use an action to discard your entire hand or pass one or both of your actions.  Then, at the end of your turn, draw back up to your hand limit, which is typically 5 cards, but can be raised or lowered by modifiers on your characters.  The game ends immediately when all members of one family are dead.  At this time, players total up the self-worth scores of their dead characters only, and the player with the lowest total self-worth is the winner.

Besides the mechanics of the gameplay, a big part of Gloom is the storytelling aspect.  Say why the misfortune befell a certain character or how he or she got into their situation.  It’s fun to build upon the stories that other players have started to create a long and macabre narrative about the odd and eccentric families.

Amber’s Review

Gameplay/Mechanics: 6
Theme & Integration: 8
Components & Artwork: 9
Scalability: 6
Fun Factor: 8

Overall: 7.4

It was the clear cards.  Honestly, I don’t even remember where I first saw this game, or when we played it first, but I love the theme of the game and as soon as I saw those clear cards, it was game over.  I’ve discovered that this game really works well with people who have a bit of a devilish sense of humor, as the theme of killing off your family can be a bit morbid for some.  The storytelling aspect of the game is also important, though while unnecessary, it really adds to the fun of the game.  The game is pretty simple to play and the mechanics aren’t really anything super spectacular; it’s really the theme and the artwork that makes this game.  A lower player count seems to be best with this game so that you get your full family, which is okay with us as this is one that I really enjoy playing with Ethan.  Overall, an enjoyable game with a bit a bit of a twisted theme.

  • Pros:
    • Those beautiful  see through cards
    • The morbid, twisted theme
  • Cons
    • Storytelling can be hit or miss depending on your group
    • Game play is just ok

Ethan’s Review

Gameplay/Mechanics: 6
Theme & Integration: 8
Components & Artwork: 8
Scalability: 6
Fun Factor: 7

Overall: 7/10

Gloom is a a fairly unique card game with its use of clear cards as the major gameplay mechanism.  I’m pretty sure that’s what initially drew us to this game, but in addition, the artwork is pretty great.  The characters and other card art look like something from Tim Burton’s wildest fantasy.  The only downside is that all of the modifier effects can’t be depicted, but some of the mental imagery they can provide is great in its own right.  I feel like the game plays best with 2 or 3, because once you add 4 or 5 players, you have to shrink down the sizes of the families just to keep play time reasonable.  Another downside, which is common with these types of games, is that if you play the game a lot, you’ll start to see the same cards popping up again and again.  The storytelling aspect of the game helps alleviate that somewhat, as the same modifier can be incorporated into completely different stories, but people don’t always get super-engrossed in the story aspect of the game.  Fortunately, there are quite a few expansions for the game, all of which add some cards as well as new mechanisms, such as the undead in Unquiet Dead.  In addition, there is now Cthulhu Gloom (because of course there is) and Fairy Tale Gloom, so you can mix up your gaming experience quite a bit.  Another downside of the game is that there isn’t too much strategy involved — play negative modifiers on your own characters and positive ones on others.  The card effects help with this somewhat, since negative cards usually involve negative actions, such as discarding your hand or reducing your hand size, but in the end the storytelling aspect of the game is what really carries it.  So, if you want to play the card game version of the Addams Family that delights in misery and the macabre, and if you’re not afraid of a little storytelling, check out Gloom!

  • Pros:
    • Good artwork on character, event, and death cards
    • Dreary and miserable theme that works well and is unusual in the realm of board/card games
  • Cons
    • Fairly simple gameplay
    • Doesn’t play as well at higher play counts
    • Some people may not get as engrossed in the storytelling aspect, which is half the draw of the game

Gloom on BGG

Buy Gloom on CoolStuffInc for $16.49

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