Two Summer’s ago Atlas Games came out with Cthulhu Gloom, a stand-alone expansion to their much-lauded 2005 Origin’s Award Winning Gloom. So naturally it’s taken me this long to get into the mix and actually sit down and play this storytelling and highly amusing card game. And the result has been that with every chance I’ve gotten to play, a suprising amount of laughs and enjoyment has been had by all involved.
I learned about the game from watching a group of player’s enjoying its foibles on an episode of Table-top, the Geek & Sundry channel dedicated to all things Geek. Based around H.P. Lovecraft’s dark and sinister and genre-creating horror mythos, the crux of its gameplay is to get your family, consisting of 4-5 Character Cards to negative values of ‘self-worth’ points before killing them off using Death Cards that typically detail horribly painful and maddeningly unnatural ways of dying. It’s quite a twist from your traditional gaming mantra of gaining the most prestige, money or other value-added ‘token’s’ which is a fact that seems to be its endearing trait.
As has been said before there are some games out there whose design is such that they lend themselves to being thoroughly enjoyed by both gamer’s and non-gamer’s alike and this certainly seems to be the case with this Cthulhu Gloom. I originally picked up the game to accommodate my weekly group after a player expressed an interest in it. After a few plays I found that it possessed enough of a story-telling element to excite the Role-player’s at the table (like myself) but also contained enough built-in ‘combo’s’ and mechanics to keep the power-gamer’s content as well. But it was the first quality, the story-telling, that has intrigued the non-gamer’s in my life and which has proved to be the most interesting aspect of the game.
I first tried out the game with my partner who has never played Dungeon’s and Dragon’s much less any type of Role-playing game before . Although she has tried her hand at a few card games like Munchkin much to my disappointment this has not led to any levels of addiction to gaming that I had hoped might develop. But the story-telling mechanic of Gloom, combined with the perverse almost power-tripping aspect of controlling her family members gave her considerable leeway in letting her creative juices flow as far as the role-playing went. As she’s been taking creativity classes of late, the chance to let her thoughts go was quite freeing for her, and we both played off each other’s developing family stories of misery and woe with gleeful abandon. With just the two of us, she thoroughly enjoyed the game and although we ended up cutting it short, she was anxious to try it again.
Next up I took the game to my weekly group who as expected also enjoyed it, though with a competitive mindset towards winning. It was interesting to see the dark places where everyone in the group took their characters, especially as they had five different members to play, and kill, with equal determination. The best part came about through interlocking stories and one such plot, concerning Mr. Carter and my own Faithful Feline involved overly judicious amounts of romantic interest spiked with bizarre investigations around amorous fungi!
I’ve played the game a few more times in settings with other family members and members of my girlfriends family, all of whom have never played D&D or any Table-top game beyond Life or Monopoly and the results have been the same. Everyone has really gotten a kick out of narrating, especially with the darker aspects of storytelling that the game promotes, which is something I’ve been secretly thrilled to witness. When you can get a non-gamer to think of ingenious ways why one of their family members went Cavorting with Cultists, you know you’ve got a special game on your hands. And bringing in new Gamer’s to the fold is a sure sign of an excellent design, especially when it holds up to scrutiny by serious Gamer’s too.
One negative aspect of the game is the inclusion of the card ‘Tigger-man’, which is a reference to one of H.P. Lovecraft’s most famous and favorite (one of mine included) stories, “Rat’s in the Wall” which has a cat called -igger-man; hint it’s not a ‘T’ in the original spelling. It’s a well-known fact that Lovecraft had certain opinions on certain types of people, chalk it up to the sentiments of the day, but the inclusion of the character, even with the spelling change seemed wholly unnecessary and actually quite off-putting. And although the feline ended up being a regular component of most of the stories in the games I played, I feel his presence could have easily gone without, especially considering the story was only ancillary to the Cthulhu mythos on the whole.
But aside from that minor hiccup, the game-play is thoroughly engaging and appealing to Gamer and non-gamer alike, so when you get a chance, and are looking to lure some of those non-gamers in your life you may know into the mix, pick up a copy of Cthulhu Gloom, or the original Gloom, and
Catch a game of Gloom in action:
Atlas Games official:
Buy it on Amazon:
Check out the Cthulhu Mythos at: