Gloom: Enlightened by Exposition

Rated by a Reviewer!

We all love our family, but we’ve all got “that relative” who you wouldn’t mind if they were pestered by poltergeists. In Gloom, you control a family of your own with the objective of giving them the most miserable lives possible before helping them pass on to the well-deserved respite of death (actually what it says on the box). Originally released in 2004 by Atlas Games, 2014 brought a fully backwards-compatable second edition with rule clarifications and new card art.

Ready to be the George R.R. Martin of card games? Sharpen your Stakes and Prepare the Poison, this is Gloom.

Pre-game (5/5)

The base game can accommodate 2-4 players with each expansion allowing for an additional player. For the purposes of this review, I’m going to focus on the base game only. Gloom’s pre-game is incredibly simple. Each player chooses one of the four families and lays them out in front of them. In Gloom, no family has any sort of special rule or advantage. Everything being equal, the winner is determined entirely by player skill and the luck of the draw. Then the deck is shuffled and everyone is dealt five cards. It’s that simple. Now that the game is set up, let’s roll with it.

Gameplay (5/5)

Gloom is played in a series of turns with each player taking two plays before they pass play to the next player. When a player plays, they may either play a card, discard a card, or pass. Cards can be played on a players’ own family members, or the family members of other players. In Gloom, sabotage is expected and encouraged! The cards range from adding (bad!) or subtracting (good!) points, providing continuous effects to the player and their family, and ending their lives in the game. Once a player has made their two plays, they draw cards until they reach their hand limit. For a more in-depth rules explanation, read them here.

The objective of the game is to have the lowest score (quantified as Pathos) at the end. The game ends when all of the members of one player family have met their untimely death. At this time, play immediately ceases and all dead Characters are separated from the living ones (because Pathos is all we care about). Each player totals the amount of Pathos their deceased Characters have, and whoever has the lowest score, wins the game.

Component Quality (4.5/5)

One very impressive aspect of Gloom is the quality of the cards. While they are great for those who like to drink at the table (due to their transparent plastic nature), they can sometimes be troublesome on perfectly dry, or slanted surfaces. The cards are so smooth that if lightly tossed, they will glide across a dry surface, but stick to slightly damp ones.

Additionally, because they aren’t made of regular cardboard, they have a very distinct odor to them. While the smell will dissipate over time, I’ve owned my deck for over a year and the scent still lingers on them. I often find myself washing my hands after the game because I have a pretty sensitive sniffer.

Experience (5/5)

The aspect of Gloom that makes it shine is the storytelling factor of the game. While optional, I would encourage all new players of the game to start with the storytelling aspect being mandatory. Why would you refuse explaining how Mr. Giggles (an undead circus clown) was greeted by ghosts? Or how Grogar (an adorable franken-teddy) was badly betrothed. My friends and I love this game at smaller get-togethers because we can go wild with the storytelling (especially after a few drinks). If you have a verbose entourage, prepare for hilarity and hijinks. Taking all factors into account, I give Gloom a 4.5/5.

Useful Links

Wil Wheaton and his friends play Gloom

Board Game Geek’s page with reviews.

RPG.net’s review by Shannon Applegate.