Top critical review
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Almost a great game
on 6 December 2012
Gloom is almost a fantastic game but a couple of niggles let it down in the long run.
The basic idea is that each player is in control of a family of misfits, all lovingly realised pictorially on the cards and with a backstory in the manual. Your goal is to ensure that every member of your family leads as miserable a life as possible before dying under some tragic circumstances, while simultaneously trying to ensure that your opponents' families live happy and fulfilling lives. The more miserable each family member is when they die, the more points you get and the closer you are to winning.
Turns consist of piling cards representing life events on your or opponents' family members. These events have different levels of effects on them, mainly happiness or sadness, and a key novel aspect of the game is that the event cards are partially transparent so that you can see past events as well. Thus a chain of scores can build up, or you may be able to cancel out a previous undesirable event if the uppermost card in the pile hides the effects of an earlier card.
All of the events are tragi-comic, and another really fun aspect to the game is that you're supposed to make stories up for your characters as you play the cards, explaining the events that befall them and building up a rounded life history inspired by the starting background and the hints on the event cards. With a group of like-minded individuals, the unsusual mechanic of semi-transparent cards together with the fun of telling stories can lead to some great laughs.
The problem is, the game lasts for just too long. The novelty and humour run dry about 2/3 of the way into the average game and you get to the stage of just playing cards in an effort to kill everyone off and finish it. It doesn't help that you're regularly having to add up to 3 different numbers together from each or your 5 family members to work out your sadness score, and then comparing it to similarly complicate scores of the other players to see who's closest to winning. It just causes the game to drag a bit when it should be leaping forward.
I found one solution to that problem is to play with fewer family members, although the balance of the game seems off when doing that. A bit more playtesting and tweaking could have worked wonders for this game.
It also doesn't help that the plastic on the cards gets scratched quite easily, making them progressively less transparent and harder to see through the more you play.
Overall, Gloom is a novel, interesting and fun game to play once in a while if you've got 30 minutes to an hour free on an otherwise dull Sunday afternoon. But you won't be desperate to play two games in a row and you might find it gets left on the shelf more and more.