Gloom Game Review

If you want a lesson on perspective and how your day-to-day problems could always be worse, then enter the world of the Gloom card game, where you’re not trying to get ahead in the rat race so much as keep from falling too far behind with the rats chasing you down, except these rats are not rats, but mice – carnivorous mice with a taste for human flesh. With Gloom, the outlook is bleak or you’re not playing it right.

Gloom is a strategy game where you play one of four different families, who are not necessarily vying for power, but merely trying to make it through a troubled life. Your job is to stop them, to make matters worse, and visit all manner of poxes upon your own house.

Do not misunderstand me. This is not a game strictly for sadists (although it’s true they would probably get a kick out of it). These families deserve their misery. And if you’re feeling merciful, you can pour your blessings upon the other players’ families. The object of the game is for your family to have the most cataclysmic life before they all die horribly.

With these families, it’s not a hard sell to want disasters to fall upon them. Castle Slogar, for instance, is the home of a mad scientist/necromancer, her husband, a brain in a box, her only child, and that child’s “teddy bear,” animated from so many dead parts. An itinerant grave digger who finds regular work from the Slogars rounds out this family.

Another family features diabolic twin children, a devoted and amoral nanny, a less than savory butler, and a grief-stricken widower patriarch, who was cuckolded by a demon, the game suggests. A “wild-child” daughter who only wants to escape her family, for better reasons than most, completes the infernal clan at Hemlock Hall.

Darius Dark’s Den of Deformity is not a family in the most traditional sense of the word, but as a carnival of freaks, they only have each other, which is the quintessential definition of family. However, even as a freak show, they leave something to be desired. Rather than a bearded lady, this carnival has a bearded man, whose only true deformity is he’s not deformed enough for this line of work. The tattooed lady is consumed by modesty, so she keeps herself forever covered up, and the animated marionette is a wannabe fat lady opera singer in miniature. Mister Giggles, the creepy clown, makes certain the children that actually do get away, remember him ever after in their nightmares.

The Old Dam rules over her family at Blackwater Watch, with the help of a handyman for whom no job is too dirty. Her brood includes a young, up and coming serial killer, a redheaded stepchild, who is somehow also the result of inbreeding somewhere down the line. The ubiquitous dog, Bathalzar knows where all the bones of the family’s victims are buried.

This is the best part of Gloom, the suggestive nature of the cards. To call this game morbid is an understatement, and to call this a game of strategy is an oversimplification. The game takes strategy to win this game, but this isn’t even the game’s most attractive feature. Whenever a player plays a clear overlay card on one of their family to visit more calamities upon them, or a card upon their opponents’ cards to cheer that family along its way, each player accompanies this with a story based on the cues on the card.

For example, one player regaled us with the story of Elias E. Gorr, the travelling gravedigger who always can find work with the Slogar family. Gorr was experiencing a bout of dysentery from consuming too much embalming fluid. The card this player played indicated the dysentery issues, but drinking embalming fluid came entirely from this player’s imagination, and it led into his next play, another horrible card for Gorr, who, smelling of corpses, was shunned by society.

The game play is simple, leaving players time for intricate stories. This aspect of the game can make it go for a long time, so keep this in mind when planning an evening. The game ends when one player has successfully killed off each member of her or his family. At this point, whoever has the highest negative point total wins.

Each player takes turns playing two cards, which will have various results listed on them, telling the stories behind these cards, and ending the turn by drawing a card. Cards are transparent with symbols designed to overlap in places, so that the point total of one card placed on top of a character can change quickly when another card with different point totals covers up the first card’s points. As a result, the game can feature huge reversals requiring you to change your tactics on a dime.

One aspect of Gloom that emerges from the storytelling aspect of the game is that it becomes immensely entertaining and engaging regardless of whether you are winning or losing. Frequently, I found my own approach to the game changing in the middle of games. I may begin fully intending to win quickly, only to be stopped and nearly eliminated from winning at all. I may at this point change my focus to either stopping another player, or weaving a more fantastic story.

With Gloom, everyone gets to experience that ancient human social behavior of swapping stories, but in this case, the stories are not merely sad, but melancholy and macabre, and often hilarious. The game is perfect for Literature majors, story tellers, or anyone who enjoys being creative with horror movie tropes. Of course you may find out how twisted and dark your friends’ minds really are, so have an escape plan in mind.

DriveThruCards.com Grand Opening

I don’t just play card games. I’m also a fan of RPGs, especially old-school roleplaying games like Runequest and Dungeons and Dragons. So it’s probably not a surprise that I’ve spent a few dollars over the years buying products from DriveThruRPG.com. Today they sent me an email announcing the launch of their new site, DriveThruCards.com, which is a pretty nifty idea, and I thought I’d mention it here.

Basically, DriveThruCards.com offers a print-on-demand card game publishing service. This is great news for game designers, because one of the biggest expenses involved in self-publishing your own card game is the printing costs involved. With print-on-demand, indie card game publishers don’t have to pay for that, and they don’t have to maintain inventory or deal with shipping. DriveThruCards.com handles all of that for them.

This is also good news for card game aficionados like me. I love trying new card games, but the expense involved in most of them can be a bummer. They’re having a grand opening sale at the site today, and their prices looked really affordable. The prices on the 10 card games they were featuring ranged from $1.99 to $20.99, but most of the products hovered around the $10 mark.

The $1.99 game was called Mayhem Mines. I’ve never played it, so I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of the game, but how can you go wrong with a $2 game? According to the description on the site, players take the roles of Dwarf miners who are trying to collect treasures before the mine collapses on them. I was expecting something cheap-looking, but the pictures of the product were in color and seemed to have reasonably high production values. It’s hard to be sure just from looking at pictures, but I did like the artwork.

On the other end of the spectrum is a game called Directors Cut Survival Horror, which features over 250 cards. Players take the roles of characters in a horror movie. Only one of them will survive to the end of the game. The description indicates that each card includes gory photographs, but there were no example cards on display at the site. If you play with your kids, this probably isn’t the right choice, but I know a lot of horror film fanatics who would love something like this.

Of the publishers listed, I was only familiar with two: Cheapass Games and Looney Labs. I’ve been a fan of Cheapass games for a long time, and their games never fail to be a lot of fun. I’ve never played any Looney Labs games, although I’ve heard good things from some of the gamers in the Dallas area when I visited.

At any rate, I just thought this was the kind of thing readers of this blog might be interested in.

Odds and Probability

I’ve taken a little bit of a sabbatical from blogging about card games lately, but I’m back today, and I’d like to write an article about odds and probability in card games and other games where luck is a factor. I know that’s different from our usual format here, but I thought it might be a fun change of pace. I also have a new review that I’ll be posting later today. By the way, if you hate math, you should just skip this post, because probability is ALL about math.

What Is Probability?

Probability is the mathematical study of chance. It’s how we measure the likelihood of certain events occurring. If you want to know how likely it is that you’ll be dealt an ace on the river, then you’ll get your answer using this branch of mathematics. If you want to know the likelihood of rain tomorrow, then this is your field. In fact, probability is used in almost all fields of human endeavor, from business to politics to science to education.

There are two kinds of probabilities. Some of these are uncertain, like when we try to predict how likely it is that the planet Earth will collide with an asteroid. They’re just estimates. The other kind, and the one we’re most interested in, is certain probability, where we know all the potential outcomes and the likelihood of each.

For example, if you ask someone to pick a number between 1 and 10 at random, and you want to know how likely it is that they’ll pick an even number, you know that the chances are 50/50. Half of those numbers are odd, and half of them are even, so in a truly random trial, the odds of getting an even number are the same as the odds of getting an odd number.

The easiest way to start thinking about probabilities is by thinking of them as fractions. The likelihood of something happen is a fraction where the number of ways the desired outcome is the numerator, and the number of total possible outcomes is the denominator. For example, if you want to calculate the chances of rolling a 6 on a single six-side die, you take the number of ways you can roll a 6 and divide it by the total number of potential outcomes. That probability becomes 1/6.

This can be expressed in multiple ways, including as a decimal, a percentage, or as odds. 0.1667 or 16.67% or 5 to 1 would be those expressions, respectively. You should have already learned how to calculate decimals and percentages in school. You might not have learned how to express such a number in odds format, though.

To express a probability in odds format, you take the number of ways something can’t happen and compare it to the number of ways something can happen. In this example, there are 5 ways to NOT roll a 6 and only 1 way to roll a 6. So the odds are 5 to 1.

This starts to matter in card games when you want to estimate how likely it is that the next card you’re dealt will help you or hurt you. For example, in a Texas holdem game, you might have 4 cards to a flush, and you want to know how likely it is that you’ll hit your card on the river.

There are 13 cards of each suit, but you already have 4 of them, so there are 9 of them left in the deck. 6 of the 52 cards in the deck are accounted for already–you have 2 of them in your hand, and there are 4 cards on the board. So there are 46 possibilities, and 9 of them will fill your hand, so your probability of hitting your flush is 9/46. That’s almost 20%, or close to 4 to 1.

How would this information help you? Suppose there’s $1000 in the pot, and you need to put $100 in the pot in order to stay in the hand. That’s a 10 to 1 payout if you win, compared to a 4 to 1 probability of winning. By understanding the odds, you’re able to estimate whether it’s mathematically correct to stay in the hand.

Sometimes you’ll want to estimate the likelihood of multiple things happening at the same time. In that case, you multiply the probabilities by each other. For example, if you’re playing an old-fashioned slot machine game, there are 10 symbols on each reel, and there are 3 reels. The probability of hitting a particular symbol, say a cherry, is 1/10 on the first reel. That chance is the same on the 2nd reel and on the 3rd reel, but if you want to know what the likelihood is for getting a cherry on all 3 of the reels at the same time, you’d multiply 1/10 x 1/10 X 1/10, and you’ll get an answer of 1/1000. That’s 999 to 1 on that particular symbol.

That kind of problem occurs when you’re calculating the odds of this happening AND of that happening. If you want to calculate the odds of this happening OR that happening, you add the probabilities together. Since there are 10 symbols, you theoretically have 10 different winning combinations. How do you figure out your chances of winning some combination? You add up the probabilities for each symbol:

1/1000 + 1/1000 + 1/1000 + 1/1000 + 1/1000 +1/1000 + 1/1000 + 1/1000 + 1/1000 + 1/1000 = 10/1000.

You can reduce that to 1/100, which converts to 99 to 1 odds on any single combination coming up.

The main thing to remember is that if the probability question includes the word “AND”, you multiple the probabilities. If the question includes the word “OR”, you add the probabilities.

I’d like to thank my cousin in Texas (who runs http://www.slotmachinemakers.com/) for that 2nd example regarding slot machines. I came up with the other examples myself.

Of course, this is just a beginner’s introduction to how probability works. You can find additional information about calculating probabilities on these pages:

  • A Basic Probability Textbook Online – This one’s a little bit dry, but it’s detailed and accurate.
  • A Beginner’s Primer on Probability from GnomeStew.com (See also Part 2 of that post.) By the way, if you’re into RPGs, Gnome Stew is one of the coolest blogs out there.
  • Probability for Kids – I’ve found that with math-related topics in general, stuff that’s aimed at a younger audience is often more easily understood, especially by adults who have a little bit of math phobia.
  • MathProblems.info – The author of this site specializes in probability, and he runs another site about casino gambling, too. The math problems on this particular site aren’t all probability-related, but it’s still a great resource.