Cthulhu Gloom - A Playtest Review

The daughter and I sat down to give Cthulhu Gloom from Atlas Games a test drive. She likes card games, and it is always worth having a few that can be slotted in at the start or indeed end of a gaming evening. Something not too demanding, which can be played in an hour or less. Gloom, or rather, Cthulhu Gloom, fits the bill.

I've owned Gloom for some time, and recently bought its Cthulhu Mythos love child without even having played the original. Gloom is about trying to bring misery and disaster down on the heads of your otherwise happy family (each player has a family of five characters with a distinctly gothic timbre reminiscent of Tim Burton's films). The objective is to firstly play as many disasters on your own family members as you can, and then hopefully eliminate them in some exotic manner, thereby allowing you to lock in your score - the worse the disaster that befalls them, the better for you! Meantime, there are nice cards to play on your opponents.

The game uses transparent cards that are laid on top of the character, thereby keeping track of their dismal progress, and also recording whether they have died or not. Once one family has become totally extinct, the game ends, and the points for deceased characters are totted up. You can't kill off happy family members, nor can you score characters still alive at the end of the game.

Cthulhu Gloom is a very similar game to Gloom, but uses the Cthulhu Mythos as its theme. I believe there is also a Dreamlands expansion. Characters are selected from the pages of H. P. Lovecraft's stories, and my opponent gleefully recognised Herbert West, but only because he also appears in Cthulhu Fluxx! My family was the Charles Dexter Ward.

Cthulhu Gloom features an additional element called story cards, which you can claim if you have enough symbols on your cards pertaining to a particular theme  e.g. Madness or Monsters or Investigation. As events are played, some of these symbols will begin to crop up. I was able to claim Friends of the Feds as a story theme, for example. This is as nice twist, and something the core Gloom set does not possess, although it may be covered off in other ways in one of the Gloom expansions.

At some point I will attempt to chronicle some of the tales a typical game of Gloom seems to throw up. My two dancers from the King in Yellow play were locked up in a sanatorium and later chased down tunnels by flying polyps. While they were interned it became very hard to do anything with them. A clever play of the asylum card by my youthful opponent.
A story card from the game
One of my characters (Randolph Carter) fell in love with a librarian, who encouraged him to go to university, keeping him well inside positive territory for most of the game. It was only after viewing some Pickman paintings and perusing a diary, that he finally decided to join an expedition to the Mountains of Madness. By that stage, however, the game was close to conclusion, and I was unable to kill him off, although my alienist character did manage to die screaming when he met Nyarlathotep and my cat got eaten by ghouls.

Still, the scores on the doors were 168 - 94, so I was thrashed, fairly and squarely.

I did actually really enjoy Cthulhu Gloom, and it does neatly fill the niche of not too demanding to play, and also possible to finish well inside 60 minutes. I have yet to give the original a go, but am sure I will find takers. I am also casting my eye over the expansions to see if there is anything worth acquiring to increase the scope of the game. Gloom, for example only comes with four families, and sometimes were are five or six, so an extra family would not go amiss. The designers advise against going beyond five players, however, presumably because this will slow the game down too much.