Card Game Thing-Where-I-Talk-About-It: Gloom

This is a "Thing-Where-I-Talk-About-It" and not a review because I have not, technically, played this game yet, so I can't really review it. Still, that won't stop me talking about it.

I bought a card game from a game shop the other day called Gloom. It's released by Atlas Games, makers of various card games as well as the Ars Magica RPG series. The premise of the game is quite interesting. The idea is that you live in a culture that holds that life on earth is nothing but suffering and death. But: their vision of the afterlife is that the more you suffer in life, the richer your rewards in death. Hence, the game. You take control of one of four families. Your goal is to inflict the most misery possible on them before killing them off. Once everyone's dead, the family with the lowest total self-worth score wins.

The game play seems fairly simple. Everyone starts with five characters. You draw a hand of five cards to start, then the player who has had the worst day begins. Each turn consists of three phases. You start with the first play phase, in which you may play any one card from your hand or discard a card. This is followed by the second play phase, when you may play another card subject to the rule that you can't play an Untimely Death card. Finally comes the draw phase, in which you draw enough cards to put yourself back up to five. Play then passes to the left.

There are only four types of cards. The first type are Character cards, which everyone has five of and are layed out at the start of play. You play your Modifier and Untimely Death cards on the characters. Modifier Cards represent things that happen to your character which alter their self-worth. These are things like "Mocked by Midgets" or "Galled by Gangrene." They can be either negative or positive, and you may play them on either your characters or your opponents'. The interesting thing is that most of these cards have associated penalties and advantages, like skipping your draw phase or getting an extra turn. The trick is that the penalties are on the cards with negative modifiers, the ones you want, while advantages are on positive modifier cards. So you're constantly shooting yourself in the foot to get ahead. There are also Event cards, which let you do random special things, like "A Tragic Misunderstanding," which allows you to swap the modifier cards on two living characters. Finally, there are Untimely Deaths. These kill off characters, locking in the points they currently have. Like Modifiers, they can be played on your characters or your opponents'. They can also give bonuses to your character's point value.

An interesting optional rule, which would slow down play considerably but would likely make it more fun if you're playing with the right group, is Storytelling. In this mode, every time a card gets played you have to tell the story of how it happened to explain it. For instance, how it came to pass that Lord Slogar, on your last turn, was Wondrously Well Wed, but this turn is Driven to Drink and Chastised by the Church.

The cards have an interesting Victorian gothic style to them. Most of the modifiers have alliterative names, bringing to mind the titles of Lemoney Snickett books. The deaths, meanwhile, all have matched rhyming pairs. This wouldn't come out in a game, but if you sort through your cards and take out the death cards you can pair them up. For example, there's a death called "Drank Too Much Rye" and another called "Choked By a Tie." It's very reminiscent of Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies. Moreover, what artwork there is is very reminiscent of Gorey's style.

I say "what artwork there is" because there isn't very much of it. That's because one of the unique conceits of the game is that all the cards are transparent. You put the character card on the bottom and stack the modifier cards on top of it. Later cards can cancel out the effect of earlier cards by covering up parts of them. It's quite an interesting idea, but it means that there's only artwork on the character cards. All the rest just have a title, the modifiers on the side, instructions at the bottom, and perhaps some flavor text. It'll be interesting to see how it plays, but it is a bit disappointing to get so little artwork with a card game.

It'll also be interesting to see how the play experience alters playing with cards printed on transparencies rather than card stock. It seems as though the actual material is somewhat sturdier than card-stock, so the base will hold up longer as you play it. At the same time, the printed part is just sort of stuck to the transparency, rather than inked into a card. I've just taken it out of the box and already some cards are starting to have the printed part scratched off a bit. I'm worried that excessive play will wipe cards off entirely. They also seem a bit more slippery than standard cards.

In any case, I'm quite excited by it, and hopefully I'll find someone to play with soon. The board game club isn't meeting until next semester, so I may have to wait until then. I'll update with my thoughts on the actual game once I've played it.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on December 14, 2005 5:09 PM.

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