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.


The Resident Evil Deck Building Game Review

After trying the DC Comics Deck Building Game, I decided to buy some more deck building games to see what else is out there. I enjoy Dominion tremendously, and I even enjoyed the DC Comics game, even though I didn’t like it as well as I like Dominion. So I made a trip to a game store this weekend and bought three new games, one of which was the Resident Evil Deck Building Game.

I should mention that I am a big fan of the zombie movie genre, and I also loved the various video games in the Resident Evil franchise, so I might have been predisposed to like this game a little extra just because of my interests. On the other hand, I had no problem distinguishing between the greatness that is Dominion compared with the relative mediocrity of the DC game, and I’ve been into comic books, especially DC comic books, since I was 7 or 8 years old.

The production value of this game is excellent, but I have one quibble. I’m not young, and my eyesight isn’t what it used to be. Still, I don’t think anyone has such great eyesight that reading the rulebook for this game is going to be an easy or pleasant experience. For one thing, it’s a tiny book, but for another, it also uses and extremely tiny font. Some of the text is in a lower contrast color with the background, and I literally had to ask one of my nieces to read some of the rules to me because I just plain couldn’t make out the text for myself. The artwork on the cards is great, though.

Like the DC game, Resident Evil requires you to randomly select a character to play, and your character has a couple of special powers. The characters, like Ada Wong, will be familiar to anyone who has played through the video games. One aspect of this game that I enjoyed was the Health score for each character and the leveling up aspects. It added a touch of RPG-like fun to the game, and it was entirely welcome. Characters start at level 0 but once they defeat a couple of infected, the level up fairly quickly. Each character’s special abilities were interesting and fun to play, too.

The rules for the basic game have a “Story” mode and a “Mercenaries” mode. We only played the “Story” mode, but it was a lot of fun. The mechanics of the game are quite similar to the mechanics of other games of this genre, but the combat had a few nice wrinkles that distinguished it from other deck building games I’ve played. For example, you have ammunition cards as well as various firearm cards, and in order to use certain firearms, you must have enough ammo for that card. Generally speaking, the more damage a weapon does, the more ammo you need. Some weapons, like the combat knives, don’t need any ammo at all.

On each turn, a player gets a single action to take, a single buy action to take, and a single explore action to take. The player can take these actions in any order they like, and they can also use items. Using an item doesn’t cost an action. Certain action cards allow the players to gain additional actions, buys, and cards.

The winner of the game is the person who receives the most “decorations”, which is Resident Evil speak for victory points. Each infected that you fight and destroy becomes attached to your character’s card, and at the end of the game, you count up and compare your totals. The number of decorations you have also determines your level.

Combat takes place during your mansion exploration phase. You don’t have to explore the mansion if you don’t think you have enough firepower, but if you do choose to explore, you usually face a monster from the top of the mansion deck. Each monster has a health score and a damage score. If the total amount of damage your weapons deal are equal to or greater than the infected’s health, you defeat him. If not, then the creature lashes out at you before retreating back into the mansion. This requires a little bit of bookkeeping on the part of the players, because they have to track how many hit points they have.

If you run completely out of health, you lose a turn, then you get back into the game, but your maximum health is reduced by 20. If your maximum health ever reaches 0, you’re out of the game. This didn’t happen to any of our players either time we played.

The game ends when the boss monster is defeated. He’s shuffled randomly into the mansion deck.

The Resident Evil Deck Building Game does a fine job of emulating the video game it’s based on. If you hated the video games for whatever reason, then you probably won’t find much to like here, either. On the other hand, if you like this genre in general and that video game in particular, you’ll find a lot to enjoy about the Resident Evil Deck Building Game.

Also, this game requires less strategy than Dominion, but more strategy than the DC Comics Deck Building Game. At some point in the future, I might invest in the expansions, but there are still several scenarios in the rulebook that I haven’t tried yet. I’d say that this game has excellent replay value. It’s a good value for the money, but the audience for it is somewhat limited by its theme.

One last thing–the box says that the game is for ages 13+, but I played with my 11 year old niece, and she had no trouble with the rules at all. I think it’s possible that the age range is based more on the type of content the game represents than how difficult the game is to play.

Have you played the Resident Evil Deck Building Game? If so, what did you think?

Spooks Card Game Review

Spooks is a horror-themed card game from Steve Jackson Games. 3 to 6 players can play. The game only takes about 10 minutes to play, but it’s a lot of fun. Even though it’s recommended for ages 12 and up, I’m pretty sure an intelligent child of 8 or 9 could probably handle the game, especially if they’ve played some card games before.

The game has five suits, and they are not the traditional suits used in a traditional card game. The suits in Spooks are:

  1. Bats
  2. Ghosts
  3. Goblins
  4. Skeletons
  5. Spiders

The cards in each suit are ranked numerically, from 1 to 10. Each suit also has a “master card.”

To play, you deal out all the cards in the deck to the players. (Shuffle ’em first, of course.) Whichever player has the 1 of Spiders goes first. When it’s your turn, you just play a card face up in the center of the table.

Depending on what card is face up in the middle of the table, the rules for what card you can play changes. With Spiders, you always have to play a card that’s one rank higher than the previous rank. So, for example, the first player plays the 1 of Spiders. The next player has to play a 2 of something, regardless of suit.

With other suits, you might have to play any other card in your hand, regardless of its rank, as long as the suit or the rank matches. (If you’ve ever played Uno, you’ll recognize this game mechanic.)

When Goblins have been played, the game changes into a trick-taking game like Spades.

The “Master” cards in each suit have special powers that also change the rules. For example, you might

When the first player plays the last card in her hand, the round ends. The goal is to have the lowest possible score. Any cards left in your hand at the end of a round (or hand) gives you penalty points. You play until someone hits a pre-defined number of points.

The production value and the artwork on Spooks is surprisingly good. The gameplay is pretty abstract. This isn’t a horror-themed card game in the same sense that the Call of Cthulhu card game is a horror-themed card game. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either. When my nieces and nephews come over on Halloween this year, I’m going to break out the Spooks deck at the Halloween party and try to get them to play with me. I’m sure I’ll need to bribe them with candy, but I guess that’s okay, too.

For the price, Spooks is well worth the money. This isn’t Magic: The Gathering, Bridge, or poker, though, so if you’re looking for something really involved that’s going to get your creative juices flowing, you’ll probably need to look for another game. But if you’re just looking for a fun game to play with some buddies, this is a neat one, and it has a neat theme. The game sells for just $10, although you might be able to find a used Spooks deck with the rules for less than that on eBay or BoardGameGeek.