“Gloom,” a Literary Gothic Card Game

26 November 2011

Gloom is a game of creative misanthropy wherein players compete to enrich the lives of their character-families with as much misery as possible, while cursing their opponent’s houses with plenty of unwanted light and good fortune.  It is played on a set of transparent cards, most representing events of good or ill fortune that befall the characters they are played upon; tragedy cards score negative “pathos points” (good), and blessings positive (bad). As these accumulate atop one another, each character’s biography unfolds. 

On the surface, Gloom is a straightforward, turn-based strategy game, but it is designed with storytelling in mind. Players are encouraged to narrate their moves, imagining how one event might lead to another. Often, a solid tactical decision can make for a particularly challenging (or particularly silly) story:  

Balthazar the hound is cursed by the Queen.



It happened in an instant. The months of finishing school—wasted. The lavish balls in the Waterloo Room—gone forever. Balthazar had struggled against every obstacle to overcome his canine proclivities and refine his manners to the standards of the Court, only to be undone by a single moment’s indiscretion. If only he had known that Her Majesty was touring Hyde Park that fateful afternooon, he would never have let himself be seen licking his balls. 

Happy modifier cards are normally played upon an opponent’s character, and can be used to erase preexisting tragedies. Here, a character worth -10 Self-Worth points is modified to score +10, making Professor Slogar less valuable to her owner:


Professor Slogar is diverted by drink.



A warm, numbing sensation washed over Professor Helena Slogar as she sampled the absinthe. Its smooth, complex flavor mirrored clockwork of the difference engine. She could envision it now in its totality; it’s many small components working in unison, calculating, analyzing, thinking. Professor Slogar was laying the groundwork for a new sort of consciousness—a machine consciousness—and a machine consciousness, it now dawned upon her, would require a machine language—a language of mathematics! 

Players can only cash in points on family members that have suffered untimely deaths before the end of the game, and so it becomes important to know when it is time to “close the book” on a character:

The nefarious nanny perishes on the moors. 



The moors were impassable by night, but Goody Zarr had no recourse but to cross them, and to cross them quickly. There would be no returning to Hemlock Hall.

“Why did I shake the baby? Oh—why did I shake the baby?” 

The howls were surrounding her now. Shadows were drawing near. Her eyes darted from left to right as she ran slapdash and slipshod over the moonless moors. 

“Why did I shake the baby?”

Suddenly the ground gave way beneath her. Falling, splashing. A well of black, soupy water. Thick, sucking mud. Enveloping. Grasping. Sinking.

As the water rose to her chin, Goody Zarr looked to the heavens, but the night was overcast, and the stars did not deign to look down upon her.   

“I’m sorry.”

Score -10 for Purple. 

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