Board Game Night: Gloom

Good day to you, sir or madam. My name is [retracted], and I am a well renowned member of a local family known for its misadventures and trying times. My entire family is filled with misfits and strange entities. Every day feels like a scene straight out of a horror movie. But don’t let the dreariness or dank conditions fool you. It’s actually a comedy. And a tragedy. And a romance. And a gothic thriller. And…well, depressing. Throughout our stunted time on this tortured earth, we have lived through some of the worst tragedies known. My sister became an alcoholic, was attacked by the gardener, got locked in a train car for over a month, slipped on a banana peel, and died her untimely death due to tuberculosis. It was a terrible death, but our creator and puppeteer scored quite a few points for her death, so I suppose it was all worth it? I simply sit here and wonder when my time will come and what estranged fate awaits me in the future.

Enter Gloom, a card game meant to encourage conversation and narrative storytelling instead of simple game mechanics. You’re tasked with taking on and controlling the fate of an abnormal and unconventional family consisting of outsiders. Your goal, as depressing as it may be, is to make your family suffer the most horrific tragedies imaginable before killing them off in a gruesome way and granting them their deserved deaths. Gloom is a game of dark comedy that reminds me of a more graphic version of the Addams Family.

Gloom is for 2-4 players, takes approximately 60 minutes to play, and is meant for those aged 13 or older.

The setup for Gloom is as follows. Each player should choose one of the eccentric families. Once you’ve chosen a family, place them in front of you in a row of five in whatever order you’d like. Set the families that didn’t get chosen off to the side. Shuffle the deck of cards and place it where each player can reach it. Each player then draws five cards. Leave space for a discard pile next to the draw pile. And that’s it! You’re ready to play Gloom.

The object of the game is to have the most negative points on all of your dead family members at the end of the game. The game is played out over a series of rounds where you work to give your family a series of tragedies or make the families of other players overly happy. Here is how it works.

On your turn, you’ll look at the cards in your hand and take up to two actions. For your first action, you can either choose to play one card from your hand to a family member on your side or to a family member that belongs to another player OR you can discard 1 card from your hand. You may also choose to pass. For your second action, you may play another card from your hand to your family or another’s, however, you may not play an Untimely Death card (more on this later). You can also choose to discard 1 card or pass your turn for the second action. Once your actions are done, now draw cards up to your draw limit. The base limit is five, but some cards will change this limit. If you have more than five in your hand, you don’t draw or discard. You simply wait until you have less than your allowed card limit.

While it sounds extremely simple, I want to discuss how the scoring and cards work in the game. The cards in Gloom are fully transparent which means that gameplay dictates that you’ll place a myriad of cards over the top of other cards, only ever having a row of five cards in front of you. This means the game takes up very little space on the playing area. Each card has a type and/or action on it. The card types are as follows:

Untimely Death


Modifier cards are the most played cards in the deck and simply serve as a way to score points or change the aspect of a character’s story. Modifier cards contain a title, Pathos points on the left side (such as the red -10 in the picture above), a story icon, and/or an action at the bottom of the card. Pathos points are how you track the Self-Worth of your family. Any positive numbers (a black circle) will add Self-Worth to your family member. Any negative numbers (a red circle) subtract from the Self-Worth of your family member. At the end of the game, you want your dead family members to have the lowest possible Self-Worth in order to win.

The story icons found on these cards are the symbols containing a bat or a stack of coins in the picture above. These story icons serve to interact with other cards, usually your Untimely Death cards as a way to lower your Self-Worth even further. There is also an “action” at the bottom of each modifier card, and these contain things that affect you as the player. Some cards will have actions that you resolve right away (such as discard your hand), and others will have actions that continue as long as that card is visible (such as increasing or decreasing your hand limit) or that trigger when other actions are taken (when this character dies, lose and extra -10 Self-Worth if the Untimely Death matches the story icon from this card).

When you play a modifier card, sometimes the story icon, action, and/or Pathos points will be covered up by the card you just played. When that happens, only the top card applies. This means that your hand limit might change from an ongoing action or you will have a different Pathos point Self-Worth at the end of the game because of it. All cards that have a card played over the top of it cancels out anything that gets covered up. This is part of the strategy of the game.


Event cards are far simpler and less frequent than the modifier cards. Event cards contain no Pathos points or story icons. Instead, they simply have a title, an effect, and either a devil or angel symbol. Event card effects are resolved immediately and then discarded instead of staying in play. Event cards will bring people back to life, decrease or increase scores on a certain card, and a myriad of other things. The devil and angel symbols are a way of defining what kind of event is taking place.

Untimely Death

Untimely Death cards are how you kill your family members. Remember, these cards cannot be played as your second action. Instead, you can only play them on your first action. However, no matter the circumstance, you can only play an Untimely Death card on a family member if it has a negative Self-Worth score. Something terrible has to happen to the family member before he/she/it can die. You can play these cards on your own family members or on other player’s family members.

When a family member dies, you are no longer allowed to play modifiers on that family member. That person is dead until the end of the game or an Event card brings him/her/it back to life.

When one player’s family is completely dead, the game comes to an end. Everybody stops and counts the Pathos points of each dead family member. Only the dead family members in front of you contribute to your score. The person with the lowest Self-Worth is the winner!

The fun part of Gloom lies in your ability to improvise and tell stories about your family. We usually start by describing our family members by reading the fun text at the bottom of the card and describing who each person is. As we play our modifier cards, we make sure to describe what happened to the family member along with how and why. As the game progresses, we find that our families go through some rather rigorous atrocities and the stories always have a way of somehow coming together to make a nice narrative. This ultimately lends itself to the game and makes it far more fun to play. Since the cards simply have a title of what happens and then game mechanics attached to it, we like to embellish what the title of the card says and how it played out in the world of these eccentric families. The storytelling aspect of Gloom is not necessary to play the game, but we find it increases its fun factor by quite a bit.

Gloom is actually one of the simpler games we own. The box is quite small and easily fits into a purse or small bag to carry with you when you’re traveling or out and about. It’s a fun game of gothic horror that plays much like a dark comedy rather than an actual horror story. If you enjoy table talk and narrative story telling within a game while still providing a sense of strategy, then this game is perfect for you. It’s simple to set up, easy to play, and fun for those that have a great sense of humor.

Board Game Geek: Gloom

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