Shuffle Deep the Gathering Gloom

Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.

For all of my writing about role-playing and tabletop wargaming (I used to host a sci-fi tabletop modeling site), I've actually not spent that much time heavy-duty gaming, at least not since I was a teen/20-something. Most of my gaming time in adulthood, and definitely my most enjoyable time, has been playing various light-duty card games. Since a lot of my friends are not as deeply geeky as I am, it's often hard to get them to sit still long enough to learn rules for an RPG or tabletop game, and by the time they've created a character or an army, the little lightweights are tired (many of them have these bizarre constructs I don't understand called "day jobs") and they need to head home. Card games usually have easier rules, quicker play times, and tend to be more social/less serious (proverbial beer and pretzel games). I've never played a game of Steve Jackson's Chez Geek without everyone involved, regardless of how into such games they are, not coming away having had a ball. I can't recommend that game, and its spin-offs (Chez Goth, Chez Guevara -- for all your leftie-commie friends, etc), highly enough. And for the anarcho-libertarians in the chez, there's always Illuminati. It's more "medium-duty" than Chez Geek, but still suitable for general play. I've been playing that game since it was one of the infamous "pocket box" games (go Car Wars!). My most recent attempt at feeding my friends a gateway drug to deeper gaming nerdom is Keith Baker's Gloom, from Atlas Games. I tend to be attracted to games with gimmicks and this has a great one. The cards are printed on clear plastic. As you play your hand, and cover the cards you've laid down with further draws, the cards change values/capabilities, depending on which attributes show through the card stacks. The other thing that attracted me to the game is the objective. As you play, you try to increase the happiness of the other players' characters, while increase the miserable things that happen to yours (you choose from four families of dysfunctional freaks in the core game). You want to end up with the gloomiest family in the end. Gloom good, happy bad. (Does Morrissey know about this?) The artwork on the cards is really lovely, evocative of Gorey, Addams, and Lemony Snicket. The game is designed for 2-4 players and the rules are fairly simple, so even older kids can play. Unfortunately, since I bought it over Christmas, I haven't been able to cajole anybody into playing it with me yet. Pocket-Protector Barbie sez: "Being a geek is HARD."


  1. I had a copy of this game. It was difficult to play because the rule text on the cards is printed in an ornate, serif-ful font, white text on black, with lots of thin spindly bits. If there isn’t a light source directly above the table, or one of your players has vision problems, expect to spend a lot of overhead time reaching across the table to grab a card you can’t read and pull it close enough that you can… then trying to remember where you pulled it from, so you can put it back…

    I can’t comment on the gameplay, because I didn’t get to really *play* the game enough to find out about strategies.

  2. I adore this game. The cards have proven to be quite durable, and we require that you recount each step of your poor character’s journey in rhyme, if you can manage it.

    Don’t get the cards wet, though. It doesn’t hurt the *cards*, per se, but it’s a bitch to get them apart with a micro layer of water between them. Like a slide specimen….

  3. Gloom good, happy bad. (Does Morrissey know about this?)

    Yes. And it makes him cry and he wants to die. La da de, La de daaa.

  4. #1 “Have you tried the Arkham Horror? Great beer and pretzels gaming.”

    This is sarcasm, no? Or are you instead just a foaming-at-the-mouth-crazy-person? I cannot tell. ?Maybe reading one too many of those unfathomably ancient unspeakable tomes?

    I mean, Holy Christ – ‘Arkham Horror’ (a very good game, btw, I’m not arguing that!) is NOT ‘beer and pretzels’. It takes serious concentration to play well, and you won’t wrap up a single game of it in less than 4 hours. In contrast, a game of ‘Gloom’ starts feeling longer-run-than-usual if it takes 30 minutes.

  5. I’m in a similar fix in regards to gaming these days. There’s a local group that does card and light duty board games. (Last week: Acquire and a game about racing steamboats on the Mississippi.) Nothing heavier. Gloom might be worth trying there.

    I actually had a dream about playing a wargame the other night. It might have been Tactics II, which I had a coon’s age ago.

  6. “evocative of Gorey” is a bit of a understatement; “Shepard-Fairey-caliber ripoff” is more like it. Still, our family enjoys this game, although I will say the expansion packs actually serve to undermine the game dynamics.

  7. I have also become interested in the lighter gaming of cards. It is great because you can toss it in your pocket when going to a friends house, and you can play multiple games in one sitting. I will have to check these games out. Two other games that are similar and pretty fun are Fluxx and Family Business.

  8. A similarly fun game is Graverobbers from Outerspace, in which you try and “build” a b-horror movie (and the sequel, which mixes in nicely with the original card set) However, don’t get fooled into trying to mix other genre expansions (Western etc. doesn’t mix logically with the horror cards. Ruins the fun.)

  9. My favorite thing about Gloom is making up the story of how all this stuff happened. Which it tells you to do in the rules.

    I highly recommend Chrononauts, as well, a game where you try to change the timeline of history to match the source timeline of your “identity” card. Killing Hitler screws up the timeline bigtime!

    Also, Apples to Apples (pick from a set of nouns the one which the person in charge of the hand will think matches an adjective; gets very silly) is great for small to mid-size groups, and Taboo (similar in concept to Pictionary or Charades, except instead of drawing or miming you talk without saying the target word or several related ones) for mid-size to very large groups.

  10. I was going to chime in with a “Gorey rip-off” dismissal, but Baker does go to good lengths to acknowledge the influence (among others) on his web-site. Some of those characters, though…

  11. Wow. I never thought I’d see the Moody Blues and tabletop gaming come together in quite this way.

  12. My family (full of varying levels of nerdery) is big on the aforementioned Chrononauts, and some other Loony Labs games (makers of Fluxx). Our favorite of late however, is Bang! (formerly of Mayfair games, I think being republished by somebody else right now?) Really fun Spaghetti Western card game that goes over well with gaming newcomers.

  13. #5 dderidex:
    I and a few friends finished a game of Arkham Horror in an hour and a half, but then again we were all experienced players and we got really lucky.

    Back to the topic at hand, I got Gloom as a Christmas gift and introduced it to a few friends of varying gaming experience a few days later. Everyone from the most novice gamer to the more experienced gamers loved it.

  14. I bought Gloom happily. I returned it the same day because the TERRIBLE design makes the cards almost impossible to read.

    And yes, I have great eyes. They can see well, too.

  15. Not everything in the Cheapass Games catalog is a win, but there are a couple strong favorites in our group.

    For a quick, shallow, silly game that’s easy for non-gamers to swallow, try Give Me the Brain. (This one works well even — or especially — if some of the participants have concentrated overly much on the “beer” side of the beer-and-pretzels equation.)

    For something deeper that offers serious opportunity for strategic play (while still being fun, and usually lasting under an hour), Kill Doctor Lucky is an excellent choice.

    Moving from beer and pretzels to energy drinks and hors d’Å“uvres, I’ve mined a great deal of amusement from the rich veins of RoboRally. The expansions turn brilliant tactical purity into a chaotic mess, and throwing down with a WoTC games will undermine your precious indie cred, but this? Solid.

    Finally, Dragonmaster is a hoot, if you can manage to scrounge a copy someplace. Play the “Advanced” (not “Expert”) rules. Vaguely bridge-like, but has it’s own subtle character. Viddy the scrumptious early-80s fantasy art. Suggested pairing: Barossa Valley Shiraz, and wasabi crackers.

  16. Is this one of those games that my mom wouldn’t have allowed me to play when I was a teen? She wouldn’t let me play D&D, she was afraid I would become possessed by Satan or would try to kill my self – or something similar to that.

    Any game named Gloom sounds like my kind of game, so I’ll have to give it a try.

    * My mom did let me buy a TSR sci-fi game, but of course no one in my family read sci-fi – or read at all for that matter, so I had no one to play it with. My therapist and I are trying to sort all of this out. We think we’re close to a break through!

  17. Great suggestions for these other card games. Chrononauts and Killer Bunnies look good.

    I have an old board game in the attic that has bunnies armed with various weapons assaulting a farm for the carrots. That was always fun too.

  18. Unfortunately, since I bought it over Christmas, I haven’t been able to cajole anybody into playing it with me yet

    A friend of mine has had the game four years and has not been able to persuade anyone to play it with him. Groups of us have intended to do so, and have oohed and aahed over the cards; but it’s just never happened.

    As other people are giving recommendations… the best card game I’ve played recently was Bohnanza.

  19. The art on the cards is from Tardi, a comics author. If you like it, works from the same author shouldn’t be too hard to find.

  20. Recommendations, eh? I love Fluxx and Chrononauts, both of which have been mentioned already, but lately most of my card gaming time has been swallowed whole by Race for the Galaxy, which is kind of like a card-based version of Master of Orion, or some other space colonization game. It’s hard to get up to speed on at first, but once you do, it’s easy to lose an entire night playing game after game. Just like the real Master of Orion!

  21. Great, great post/suybject. I started playing “computer” games on a mainframe with Colossal Cavern and a Space Invaders hack in the mid 80s. I stopped playing comp games in the mid 90s, I’d had enough. I’d love to see some more coverage of board/card games, especially quick games that I can play with my non-geek wife. I mean, we get bloody BoingBoing Offworld every day and that’s just here. Has anyone noticed a shortage of computer game coverage?

  22. i had thought about getting gloom because it seems fun in theory but it seems like we would never play it. i did get carcassonne a few months ago and love it. it took a little while for my wife to get the hang of it and she enjoys it too. there are several expansions available that supposedly make it more challenging and extend the length of game play but i have yet to purchase them.

    i recommend carcassonne for anyone looking for a good little 2 player game. i haven’t been able to play it more than my wife and i.

  23. +1 for Cheapass Games.

    ‘Give Me the Brain!’ is one of the funniest card games I’ve ever played; the action of the cards can flip things around very fast, and how can you resist a game with card titles like “That’s not mayonnaise!”

    I have Kill Dr. Lucky too, but our usual favorite is Deadwood, in which you’re all playing bad actors, trying to collect the most money you can from bit parts in worse B movies. Again, the card text is hysterical, and the gameplay is clever.

  24. I bought a pack of these for my fiancee for Christmas. She and I love playing it together, or cajoling some of our friends into joining in on a round or two. Getting people to go along with the story-telling element of what happened to the characters is always the most difficult and the most rewarding/lol-inducing.

  25. I’ve played this game before. One of my old roommates had it. Nice twist to regular card games. I’m not a gamer by any means but I like this game. :)

  26. Thanks for the shout out to Chez Geek! I lived in it, and helped to create it, lo these many years ago, and it’s nice to see it still getting play.

  27. I certainly love Chez Geek but after all the expansions, it can take a goodly time to play and can occasionally feel like it’s dragging a bit in the end game. Munchkin too is a lot of fun but the mechanics of it means that it will never really end, except by general consensus.

    Gloom is a recent and welcome addition to the many card games in my house. We like it a lot.

    Every game we play comes out differently – the stories build on each character, and they can even cross games to build up in-jokes for our gaming group.

    Two thumbs up.

    For all those who’ve never been able to scrounge up a group to play – we’ll be happy to oblige :)

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