Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Games Review: Gloom

I think its fair to say that the Web Series "Tabletop" has cost me a lot of money. Its a pretty fun series hosted by Wil Wheaton (yes, that Wil Wheaton) and three guests, where they play boardgames for your entertainment. It's really slickly put together with cut-outs for rules explanations, and on-screen graphics, and edited to be pacey and funny. It's good stuff, but for a family full of gamers its...expensive. Especially for smaller, shorter, more portable games that look like they'll run well for newbies as well as more veteran gamers. One such game was Gloom, a card game based around making your characters as miserable as possible, and then killing them horribly.

The goal of Gloom is pretty simple. You have a family, of five characters. You have a hand of cards made up of terrible events, happy events, and dark fates, plus a few specials you can in unique ways. Each turn you play up to two cards onto any characters in the game, with the aim of making your family members sad, and your opponents family members happy. When you feel that someone has suffered enough, you can kill them off, and when all someones family is dead you net up their unhappiness and the darkest, gloomiest family wins.

The cards themselves are really cool - they're transparent, with the happiness/unhappiness values printed on them in a range of places. As you stack the cards up, some of the spots get overwritten and some done, so card placement can be nicely tactical. As an aside, the printing ink stank when we first got them out of the box, which certainly isn't a reason not to buy the game but was pretty striking when we opened the box!. The cards also have a nice gothic aesthetic and the descriptions of the cards themselves are all very in keeping - "Devoured By Weasels" being one of the favorites in our family.

The gameplay itself is pacey but a little basic, so what really elevates Gloom is the suggestion in the rules that you start to construct narratives for the unfolding events. So if you're playing a card about how one of your family members was ravaged by some horrible disease, you describe how they caught it and how they suffer, usually with reference to other events that have gone before it. Very quickly you can string together darkly comedic twists of melodrama as doom befalls all the families in the game. Part of the game becomes social, trying to get laughs from the other players and pull inspiration from the cards. It makes it a lot of fun, and a little bit less competitive, and a little bit more communal, which makes it fun for younger players. And as suspected, 12-year-old boys like games where people die in amusingly grim fashions.

So Gloom is a decent game under the hood, raised to a higher level by some great production design and the whole concept of making it a narrative, story telling experience on top of that. It's also fairly cheap, portable and whilst it does need a table to play on, could certainly join the ranks of a good "pub table" or "airport lounge" game. Good times all around, unless you're one of the luckless family members in play!