The Joy of Gloom
I love Gloom.
I have a gothic, morbid, Edward Gorey–esque streak a mile wide. I've been that way my whole life. Gloom satisfies that love of creepy and adorable in one go, with the added bonus of being a game. It's a bit more active as activities go than parking on the internet looking for creepy-cute art for my house. Gloom was created by game designer Keith Baker. It's a 2-5 player game, and appropriate for ages 13+. It's got a lot of death in it, so it's not really a game for small children.
The point of Gloom is simple: You want the lives of the people in your deck to be a miserable, penny dreadful wreck. You want your opponent's to be full of happiness and joy. Using Modifier and Event cards, you torture the characters in your deck mercilessly, till they finally meet their Untimely Death. The first person to destroy the lives of the characters in their deck, and end the game with the lowest score (high scores go to the lives of the happy, joyful people) wins. It is an over the top, melodramatic race to the bottom.
Half the fun of Gloom, regardless of which edition you're using, is in the storytelling. If you play Gloom straight, it's just an exchange of cards and points. Not very engaging. If you play Gloom as you're supposed to, every Modifier and and Event becomes an entry in the fraught, abysmal, joyful, nutty lives of the characters on the table. Sagas of their families wend their way across the gleaming tabletop, as marriages and terrible calamities follow the rise and fall of positive and negative cards played on those characters.
Then, because it's Gloom, their tragic, Untimely Death occurs. Put your hand to your forehead for a moment, and contemplate the agony! The terrible tragedy of these poor creatures! The drop of your score that gets you closer to winning, because these poor characters have lives that suck.
But your opponent! At every turn you attempt to improve their lives! Happy marriages, university graduation, employment and psychotherapy! All things that turn their dreadful lives right side up, as their existences are filled with joy and a lack of tribulation. I find it a charming, dreadful, wonderful game.
When you get into the technical end, Gloom has easy-to-follow rules and lovely art. The design and layout of the cards helps enforce what details you need to pay attention to right now. Gloom cards are transparent, and stack atop each other, but you only pay attention to the information on the card that is currently visible. The cherry on top of this horror sundae for me is that Gloom is a respite. Horror and card games alike come with a lot of expectations, rules and baggage that I don't always want to consume.
I get my dose of doom and (please forgive me) gloom in an adorable wrapper, inside of which is a game that gives me full license to use funny voices, be ridiculous, and best of all, leave sexism at the door. Gloom is a vacation from the real world. Some days, I want to read an Edward Gorey book. But on the days I want to be one, Gloom is there for me. There are still designers making games that are not a cornucopia of gender bias. For every game that is discouraging and disheartening in its content, there are little gems of games like Gloom to balance the scales.
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