By Bob and Briony
Brutus Rating: 8 out of 10 gruesome daggers in the back
Pairs well with: Port, red wine, some Edgar Allan Poetry.
Cast your minds back to bygone days of yore. Days when still had a deputy Prime Minister to rein in our cartoon-villain overlord, and the horseless carriage was just coming into vogue (wait, no, too far back). The year is 2012, and your misery farming friends have been invited to a wedding. Well, to the reception anyway. Some of us (Bob) arrive way, way too early and have to find creative ways to pass the time while the proper grown-ups do things like ‘say their vows’ and ‘give speeches’. Luckily the wedding is at one of those fancy hotel/castle/stately home affairs with lots of turrets and nooks for exploring. Bob also finds a similarly left-out comrade in the form of former Call of Cthulhu RPG buddy Joss. Joss has a copy of Gloom, and Bob has a bottle of port and a plan.
You see, here at the Misery Farm we are all about three things:
- Blanket forts.
- Board games (obviously).
Therefore, it should be obvious that miserable board games in a pillow fort are the best things ever. And hotels, for those of you who don’t know, are prime pillow-fort territory. You simply call up reception and ask for extra pillows and blankets, and before you know it you have yourself a fabulous and comfy little nest – the ideal set-up for a two-player card game. With port.
Gloom is simple, cheap, and portable. Cthulhu Gloom is slightly less simple, but just as cheap and portable.*
Both games are based on the premise of winning at misery. Each player gets a uniquely melancholic and gloomy card family and the aim of the game is to make them as sad as possible before killing them off. More sad means more points.
Here’s where it gets interesting. To make your family members miserable (or make other players’ families happy) you play modifier cards on them (see-through plastic, so you can see the modifiers below!), but you must tell a story to explain what happens to make them sad. Luckily there are prompts on the modifier cards so you don’t have to come up with a complete story on your own:
‘Alas!** Poor Lavinia Whateley, she was travelling a dark forest path, driven in search of she-knew-not-what by dark, insane dreams beyond her comprehension. Suddenly there came before her a clearing, hideously illuminated by the moon, in which she saw mounds and mounds of misshapen mushrooms. And that is how she ‘found some funghi’.’
Then you play the miserable modifier card on poor mad Lavinia and she gets however many negative points it indicates. Once you have deemed a family member to be sad (and therefore point-rich) enough, you kill them off with a ‘sudden death’ card. As soon as a whole family is completely dead the game ends, and you tally your scores. Only dead family members count, so it’s a payoff system between killing them quickly and scoring high. Of course, you can also sabotage other players with some happy points:
‘Joy be!*** Lavinia, after her squamous encounters in the dark forest walks through the night and, coming to the edge of the forest, finds before her the incredibly cheerful and fortifying sight of a family campsite. Yes indeed, it was in fact a completely harmless forest in Wales, and a whole host of achingly friendly North-English families are keen to welcome to her to their holiday party. There are breakfast bacon sandwiches and healthy nips of gin all round. And that is how Lavinia came to ‘forget the funghi’.’
In Cthulhu Gloom all the family members are based on Lovecraft characters, and modifiers and deaths based on narratives from the stories. Your Whateley family might be minced by Mi-Go or discover a strange new colour. Asenath Waite might finally get revenge on her father, or maybe just show up on your doorstep in the dead of night, dead. Charles Dexter Ward’s infamous cat even makes an appearance, though thankfully with a new name.
When we finally get round to playing it as a blogging cohort it is completely the wrong atmosphere. Late morning on a Sunday and we’re still not quite sure whether what we’re feeling is hangover or just some sleepiness and stress-residue from a busy week of being adults in the competitive world of post-graduate research.****
We decide to skip some of the more awkward bits of the rules, mainly because Bob accidentally threw away the rule book and can’t be bothered to find them online. This is not recommended, as the Cthulhu version does have some extensions and changes which means that even seasoned Gloom-players would do well to re-read the rules. There are, for example, full game objectives which will, if fulfilled, add a big pile of misery to your final score. This adds a stealthy strategy element distinctly lacking in the original. Otherwise the expansion mostly just clears up some fuzziness in the original rules like when to play one-off event cards, and how long effects like increased hand-limits last.
Don’t play Gloom, Cthulhu or otherwise, with people who have no imagination. It’s a dire experience as they take so, so long to play the damn card and stop rambling on, and without the stories it can be kind of boring in its simplicity. Do play this game with people who are new to board (card?) games as it’s straightforward and fun but definitely falls into this whole quirky ‘modern age of board games’ era. Despite the port, this actually doesn’t make a very good two-player game, so we recommend three to four players.
Bob appropriately wins this game, as she has the darkest lipstick and most morbid outlook. Death to some and misery to all the rest!
* OK it’s not actually that portable. It just looks portable because the cards are clear plastic so you think ‘wow, those are some durable cards, unlikely to suffer any water damage and therefore perfect for pub trips and long car journeys.’ But then you take them to a festival and try to play a game of Gloom in a leaky tent during a sudden rainstorm, but you’re a bit drunk and the tent is full of people and suddenly the cards are sliding around everywhere and you eventually give up on playing but by then you’ve lost a few in amongst the inebriated bodies and sleeping bags. Not that we’re speaking from experience or anything.
** We like shouting ‘alas’ when there’s some fresh woe. Makes the whole thing more dramatic.
*** See ‘alas!’ footnote, previous.
**** Ironically, Bob is actually the furthest-along in her PhD and has spent at least 15 hours this week playing Hearthstone. This was, obviously, a mistake.
Photos by Dr Photographer