Time to play: 45 mins
Set-up time: 5 mins
Average price: $20
Gloom is both the best and worst name for this superb little card game. On the one hand, the objective really is to spread gloom among the quirky family you adopt when you play. On the other, you’ll get so many laughs playing this with your friends and family that it’ll be one of the most uplifting games you can play. So, a bit of both. It’s a quick and easy to set-up game and, while there is some tricky strategy involved, you’ll definitely understand what’s happening on your first playthrough. While not endlessly replayable, you’ll definitely get plenty of sessions out of Gloom (opens in new tab), especially if you play it with different social groups (and it’s got enough universal appeal to support that).
Mauled by manatees
The aim of the game is to score negative points, and the player with the lowest total (eg. -45 points beats -40 points) wins. That scoring system influences tactics for Gloom. Players each take control of a family of 4-5 characters, and by drawing cards from a central pile and playing them from their own hand, they can either heap misery on their own family or attempt to cheer up their opponent’s families. Isn’t that nice? In other words, this definitely isn't one of the best cooperative board games - and that's in its favor. Gloom is delightfully vicious. Making characters miserable lowers their score, whereas happy characters gain a positive score. You don’t actually bank any points until you’ve gone one step further and played an Untimely Death card, which then kills off a family member and locks in their total score.
So, crudely speaking, you want to kill your own characters when they’re as miserable as possible, and kill your opponents’ characters when they’re as happy as possible. The game ends when one family is completely killed off, so you need to be smart about how you play. Sure, you could just kill off an opponent’s characters while they’re happy, but you need to balance that with banking negative scores yourself. There are a number of cards that can change a character’s fortune in an instant, so making sure you score points is absolutely essential.
As with most of the best board games (opens in new tab) and card games, Gloom really comes to life (ahem) if you get into the spirit of things. We find that reading out the cards as they’re played makes a huge difference to the overall fun factor. It’s just funny to hear that one of your family is sad because they were delighted by ducklings, or that they were mauled by manatees, so playing it as a story is highly recommended.
The cards themselves are delightfully illustrated, and they’re semi-transparent plastic so they can be stacked on top of each other. This makes them much more sturdy than other card games, so you’re less likely to damage them when shuffling (a real bonus), although they’re also quite slippery which is a problem when playing on a glossy table surface. While you only get the base game in the regular version of Gloom, there are expansions to help you add a little variety and complexity.
While it may initially seem morbid, and unsuitable for family play (it's definitely at the 'board game for adults (opens in new tab)' end of the scale), Gloom is surprisingly accessible, funny, and will suit play among friends, parents, and siblings. It won’t take too long to understand the rules, especially when you see how the cards stack on top of each other, and it’s both easy to play and set-up. You can chew through a quick game in 30-45 minutes, so it can work as a palate cleanser in between more complex board game sessions. And while best enjoyed with four players, it’s fine for three or even as a board game for 2 players (opens in new tab) at a time. Cheap, funny, and easy to play? Gloom will definitely put a smile on your face.
Want to play something new? We'll be here each week to let you know about a tabletop gem - like the Pandemic board game (opens in new tab) - that you should definitely try. For example, we took the deliciously evil Disney Villainous (opens in new tab) for a spin before trying out the Jaws board game (opens in new tab).