“The world of Gloom is a sad and benighted place.” These are the first lines of the instruction booklet for Keith Baker’s Gloom. Imagine, if you will, that the Addams Family designed and created their own version of the game of Life where your only goal was to inflict as much suffering on a family as possible before their inevitable deaths. Like golf, the person with the person with the lowest score wins. Grab a lively crowd for this one because it can go dark fast and, unless you’re the sort of twisted misfit who enjoys a little gallows humor from time to time. In that case, you’re in for a treat.
Gloom, The Game of Inauspicious Incidents and Grave Consequences lets you control an eccentric family full of dark secrets and bizarre traits. Characters include The Old Dam - Murderous Matriarch, Lord Slogar - Brain in a Box, and my personal favorite Mister Giggles - Creepy Clown. Each player assembles their family face up in front of them. The cards are clear plastic and the transparent background is important as it’s how you place the game. You draw a starting hand of five cards.
Modifier cards allow you to add torment to your own family or to another family as well as bringing a little bit of joy into their drab, gray lives. Each turn you have two plays. You can choose to torment your own family, add some happiness to another family, and generally push everyone towards an untimely death. The scores on the sides of the modifier cards are the overall life satisfaction of the character they’ve been played upon. When a character has a sufficiently miserable life, you end it for them and move down the line until all your family is dead. Whoever had the least satisfaction at the end of the game wins.
The artwork is astonishing on this game. The characters and cards are designed in a style befitting Edward Gorey and the game itself is designed to tell a story befitting the man’s artistic style. The cards themselves are very smooth, very durable, and easy enough to shuffle and deal without risking any damage. The instructions are simple enough and there are some great quick start cards in the deck that can help you get going if you’d rather dive straight in instead of reading the rules pamphlet. The player who has had the worst day goes first and, honestly, the game is as much a catharsis as anything else as you can inflict your personal misery on others without actually inflicting anything on anyone.
Gloom is definitely a game night opener for me, something to get everyone started before we move on to the main event. The rules are simple and easy to learn, the gameplay is fast, energetic and fun, and it really is a sure fire way to cure a bad day. Like many games, there are expansions including a great Call of Cthulhu expansion that takes all your favorite Lovecraftian characters and allows you to bring about a horror befitting the dower author himself. My only complaint, in fact, is the slight difference in artwork style between the base game and the Lovecraft edition but, to be fair, cosmic horrors always look better in vivid color.
You can find Gloom and its expansions in gamestores, on Amazon, and through atlas-games.com/gloom. Give the gift of suffering and enjoy a night of Gloom with the family.
Dan Lee is a film critic, editorialist, independent author, and horror culture correspondent from Tennessee. You can also follow him on social media @dotdblog.