Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Wheaton Effect Part Four: "Gloom"

Curse you, Wheaton.

As a frustrated writer and ham-ball actor you knew that I'd be susceptible to Gloom's charms, didn't you?  You knew that by featuring the game on your shmantzy interwebz show Tabletop that I'd rush out and buy it!  Didn't you!?!?

We'll I say to thee...NAY!  I most certainly did not rush out and buy your wares like the enthralled dupe of a snake-oil salesman!  Like a Zoloft-addled attendee at an Anthony Robbins symposium!  Like a...

Like a Republican voter in November!  Zing!  

No, it took me a two whole weeks to buy a copy of Gloom.  So there, Wheaton!  I thumb my nose at your Svengali-like powers!   

Okay, enough with the cutesy intro.  Here's the specific episode that (eventually) reeled me in...

Oh, by the way, the video's appeal for me has absolutely nothing to do with my crush on Michele Boyd.  Or my crush on Amber Benson.  Or my crush on Wil Wheaton.  Or, fuck it, my crush on Meghan Camarena.

I had a chance to play an introductory match of Gloom during our first Cabin Con.  Here's my description of the game from that entry:

"In the Edward Gorey-esque world of 'Gloom', players represent a dour and eccentric family of misfits.  The goal of the game is to make your clan as miserable as possible before they expire whilst (and at the same time) making your rivals cheery and transcendent.  This is accomplished with the artful play of various modifier cards such as 'Diverted by Drink' or 'Mocked by Midgets'.  

"With the unique transparent card design, it's easy to keep tabs on the relative mood of any given character.  The game continues until one player's entire family is pushing up the daisies.  As soon as this happens, cumulative scores are calculated and the player who's family is the most miserable in death wins!"  

Wanna peruse the full rules in all their hoary glory?  You can find the document o' the dead right here.    

Like every other game we played that weekend, we really fucked up some of the rules.  For example, we may have played "Untimely Death" cards on characters with positive Self-Worth.  A-a-a-n-d I'm almost 100% sure that we added up points from all of the characters at the end of the game, both living and dead.  Whoopsie.

I wish I could blame all of this on intoxication but honestly, we weren't really that drunk.

Anyhoo, last weekend I really wanted to run it for Cheryl and her cousin Justin, properly this time.  But, as Gloom itself quickly teaches you: the best laid plans often go horribly awry.

So here, then, is how our little tragically unfolded:


I represented Dark's Den of Deformity consisting of:

Darius Dark, Sinister Ringmaster
Elissandre DeVille, The Illustrated Lady
Thumbelisa, The Diminutive Diva
Samson O'Toole, The Bearded Man
Mister Giggles, Creepy Clown

Cheryl was the Blackwater Watch clan including:

Willem Stark, Disturbing Handyman
The Old Dam, Murderous Matriarch
Angel, Starry-Eyed Serial Killer
Cousin Mordecai, The Red-Headed Stepchild
Balthazar, The Unfaithful Hound

Justin became Hemlock Hall, featuring:

Lord Wellington-Smythe, Dumbfounded Duke
Lola Wellington-Smythe, Wild Child
Goody Zarr, Nefarious Nanny
The Twins, Adorable Tots
Butterfield, the Lurking Butler

Since we couldn't agree on "who had the worst day" (man, I can't wait until the novelty of these gimmicky 'who starts first' rules finally wears off), I went first as "the owner of the game".

Dark's Den of Deformity

Darius Dark, ringleader-in-chief of Dark's Den of Deformity, often held elaborate banquets to keep the morale of his freakish staff up.  This elaborate meal included a home-made shark-infested custard which Darius was rather proud of.  Little did he know that his star freak, the Illustrated Woman Elissandre DeVille, had an irrational fear of custards and was thoroughly "Perturbed by the Pudding" (-10 Self-Worth).

For my second play I discarded and drew a new card.

Blackwater Watch

In search of a suitable Mr. Right, the Starry-Eyed Serial Killer Angel, ventured off to the big city to get her kill-on.  So frustrated was she by her inability to find an appropriate victim that she was eventually "Driven To Drink" (-15 Self-Worth).

Meanwhile The Red-Headed Step-Child Cousin Mordecai, was unceremoniously disowned by the rest of the clan.  He was immediately "Crippled by Creditors" (-20 Self-Worth).

Hemlock Hall  

The Wild Child Lola Wellington-Smythe abandoned her afterthought brats at Darius Dark's Circus so that she could lurk around behind the scenes and indulge her twisted fetish for tiger-baiting.  Unfortunately, the wily felines proved to be more clever then she anticipated and Lola was mercilessly "Taunted by Tigers" (for a whopping -30 Self-Worth).  

After hearing their mother's screams for help, The Twins rushed to her aid.  En route they tripped, fell into a rack of unicycles and "Broke Many Bones" (-20 to Self-Worth).

Dark's Den of Deformity

Horrified by the fin-filled flan, Elissandre DeVille hastily moved on to the main course:  prime rib.  Unfortunately, she "Choked On A Bone" and died!  

But not so fast!  Justin played "A Second Chance", canceling my "Untimely Death" card!  So, just seconds before Elissandre passed out, Mister Giggles (who's apparently trained as a first responder, BTW) rushed up and applied the Heimlich Maneuver.  Thanks to the Creepy Clown quick thinking, the bone popped out of Elissandre's gullet and bounced along the ground.  Nummie!

Good fortune continued to abound.  Although young Mordecai was "Crippled by Creditors", a wealthy uncle heard about his plight and personally wrote him into his will.  Co-incidentally, this same uncle died twenty three hours later.  After "Landing a Legacy", things were suddenly looking up for the Red-Haired Black Sheep (?) (now standing at +15 Self-Worth).

Blackwater Watch    

Suspecting duplicity, Mordecai's fellow family members booby-trapped his ill-begotten inheritance with a snack pack of cobras, black mambas, vipers and asps.  Just as he began counting up all of his phat lootz, Mordecai was suddenly "Started by Snakes" (for a total -20 Self-Worth).

Meanwhile, Angel, still drunk out of her gourd, began to "Suffer From Sores" after languishing in bed for so long (for a net -30 Self Worth).

Hemlock Hall 

In an effort to forget about the horrible meal that she'd just suffered through, Elissandre DeVille fled from the big top and took a stroll by a nearby lake where she was "Delighted By Ducklings", giving her a net +10 Self-Worth.   A-w-w-w-w-w-w-w-w.

Justin then went on to play "Misfortune Favors the Old", allowing him to play up to two additional "Untimely Death" or negative Modifier cards.

Oblivious to all the drama happening to his wife and kids, Lord Wellington-Smythe was approached by a pack of panhandlers while out for a stroll on boardwalk.  After being chastised by the wealthy magnate for "sponging off responsible job creators", the mob suddenly realized that Wellington-Smythe was the one who closed down the monocle factory and shipped all of their jobs off to Mexico just to make the investors happy.  As such, the dumbfounded one-percenter was "Beaten by Beggars" (-15 Self-Worth).

Meanwhile, a particularly militant member of PETA, who'd just witnessed Lola Wellington-Smythe's blatant tiger-baiting, pushed in to feign assistance.  She led the dazed and deviant dilettante to the top of a set of steps and then "Pushed Her Down the Stairs", putting her into a deep, deep coma!    

And with that, Lola was sent six-feet under with a -30 Self-Worth!   

Dark's Den of Deformity 

My first card play was "A Tragic Misunderstanding".  So, as it turned out, Elissandre DeVille was the one who "Broke Many Bones" (net self-worth -25) while descending the nearby river bank while the Wellington-Smyth tots were so "Delighted by Ducklings" that they apparently forgot all about their now-deceased mother.   

Meanwhile, the entire population of the local leper colony scored a bitchin' Groupon deal and bussed in for a performance at Dark's Den of Deformity.  Not surprising, three days later the Den's Bearded Man Samson O'Toole was "Plagued By The Pox" (for -30 Pathos Points).

Blackwater Watch

Freaked out by his serpent-tainted windfall, little Mordecai ran screaming out into the woods.  In fact, he ran so far into the forest that he became hopelessly lost and "Never Returned" (scoring a grand total of -30 Self-Worth, including a -10 bump for having a matching 'Beast' icon).    

In her second play, Cheryl dropped "To Be Or Not To Be" on Lola Wellington-Smythe and the notorious Wild Child suddenly emerged from her coma.  Meanwhile, The Old Dam, fed up with all the puke-filled bedpans, decided to push Angel down a flight of stairs as she was stumbling towards the bathroom one night to take a leak (-30 point final total).         

Hemlock Hall

Little did the Twins know but the ducklings they so closely admired were afflicted with the very same pox that had recently swept through the circus.  The result: they "Contracted Consumption" and dropped to -30 Pathos Points.  

Given his abject failure to keep certain members of the Wellington-Smythe family intact, the incongruously-sensitive Butterfield turned to drink and was eventually "Ruined by Rum" (-25 Self-Worth).  

Dark's Den of Deformity

Alcoholism suddenly became rampant in the little town of Gloom.  To assuage the pain of having every bone in her body shattered, Elissandre DeVille also took to the bottle.  Unfortunately she was unaccustomed to the effects of hard liquor, "Drank Too Much Rye", and pulled a "Jimi Hendrix" (perishing with -35, thanks to a -10 bonus for the matching Goblet symbol)! 

As if that wasn't bad enough, RT broke the story that Darius Dark was using (*Gasp!*) fake freaks in his Den of Deformity!  Zounds!  The Sinister Ringmaster was immediately "Scarred by Scandal" for negative 25 Pathos Points.

Blackwater Watch
Since the disfiguring nature of the pox plague had transformed Samson O'Toole into a legitimate freak, he was completely unfazed by the recent scandal.  As such, he became "Charmed By The Circus" (and ended up with a heart-warming -5 Self-Worth value).

Painfully aware of how many bodies were buried on the property by his homicidal mistress, The Old Dam's Unfaithful Hound Balthazar became "Pestered by Poltergeists", earning Cheryl -20 Pathos Points.  

Hemlock Hall

Seeking a distraction from all their recent ills, the Twins attended a high-profile cotillion.  Unfortunately they were "Disgraced At The Dance" after they started making out with one another right in the middle of a particularly heated Lambada session.

Meanwhile, with Lord Wellington-Smythe in traction, Butterfield in the Betty Ford clinic and Lola catatonic with tiger-trauma, Goody Zarr, the Nefarious Nanny, was left in the mansion all by her lonesome and nearly "Starved During A Storm" when a nasty hurricane hit to the town (gaining her a net -20 points).  
Dark's Den of Deformity

Sampson O'Toole was so charmed by his life in the circus that he neglected to look for a spouse until  
he was old, decrepit and devoid of any charms.  As such, the poor, bearded, poxy fuck "Died Old And Alone" (-30 point total).

With their true feelings for each other finally revealed, the Twins decided to thumb their collective noses at society's rules and "Were Married Magnificently" (crawling back up to -5 Pathos Points!)

Blackwater Watch    

To try and offset all of the recent tragedy, The Old Dam ordered house handyman Willem Stark to go out into the woods and cut down a Christmas tree.  Little did she know that Stark's entire family was killed in a bizarre logging accident and he became "Terrified By Topiary" for -20 Self-Worth points.  

Looking to escape the oppressive atmosphere of the circus, Darius Dark accepted a high-profile invitation to dine with the town's luminaries.  So relieved was he to be surrounded by normal folks for a change, Darius proved to be both witty and urbane and "Found Fame At A Feast" (making him suddenly +10 to the good!)

Hemlock Hall  

Justin started with a "Twist of Fate", allowing him to "replace the top Modifier on a character with one from your hand".  So, just moments before Sampson O'Toole was about to succumb to the lethal effects of a broken heart, a charming circus groupie named Pamela invited him to a "Picnic in the Park".  Her precious company and the charming surroundings revived the Bearded Man, giving him +15 Pathos Points!

(Quick FAQ for any 'Gloom'-fans out there: was this a legal play?  Although 'Died Old And Alone' is technically an 'Untimely Death' card, it still had a Modifier on it and 'Twist of Fate' didn't specify that it it only works on 'Modifier CARDS'.  Bottom line is: we allowed it)

Although there was some debate as to whether or not that last play was legal, we really fucked up by allowing "Died Old And Alone" as a second card play.  As stated clearly in the rules, "'Untimely Deaths' can't be played on your second play".  D'oh!!!   

Dark's Den of Deformity

My first play ("A Chance To Begin Again") removed all the modifier cards on poor, beleaguered Sampson O'Toole.    

On the way to visit his newly-acquired love, the sheltered Sampson got "Trapped On A Train" for -20 Self-Worth points.

Blackwater Watch

While running back and forth on the train yelling "LEMME OFF...LEMME OFF...LEMME OFF...LEMME OFF...LEMME OFF...LEMME OFF!!!" Sampson drew the attention of a high-ranking member of the clergy.  After he was "Blessed By The Bishop", the pox-ridden freak spent the rest of his train trip in a total state of zen (+20 total Pathos Points).

Meanwhile, The Old Dam hit a mid-life crisis.  She began wearing cut-off jeans and tube tops (*HURRRK!!!*) and started banging anything with a body temperature over thirty-seven degrees.  As she "Grew Old Without Grace" her self worth plummeted down to -20 points!  Take heed, Madonna!  

Hemlock Hall      

After being horribly tortured by The Old Dam for his foliage related-fears, Willem Stark quit his job as the estate's handyman.  Free from the Blackwater's dark influence he instantly became "The Toast of the Town" gaining a net +15 Pathos Points in the process.

After having more loads dumped into her then a Maytag, The Grand Dam drowned her guilt and shame and was "Diverted By Drink" (making her +10 to the good).  

Dark's Den of Deformity  

Just before the train finally pulled into the station, someone told the Bishop that Samson was part of that "degenerate circus" run by a "reprobate" named Darius Dark.  Upon hearing the truth, the Bishop recanted his blessing and made sure that O'Toole and his ilk were "Chastised By The Church", giving him a net point total of -25.  

Notoriously cheap Lord Wellington-Smythe finally got a therapist for his tiger-fied (tiger-fied, geddit?) wife Lola.  After she was cured of her psychosis, Lola was positively walkin' on sunshine.  As such, she really wasn't paying attention when she left the shrink's office, walked out into traffic and was promptly smoked by a bus.  Still, she "Died Without Cares" and an unfortunate 0-point Pathos value!    

Blackwater Watch

Balthazar, driven mad by the persistent poltergeist pestering, leapt out of the mansion's top floor window.  He died after "Falling From On High" taking -30 points to the grave with him (-10 for having the matching Death symbol).  

After making every hot after-hours underage nightclub in town look supremely lame, The Old Dam  was "Chased Away By Children" (bringing her to -10 Pathos Points).

Hemlock Hall  

One of those Taylor Lautner types made the mistake of chasing The Old Dam to a nearby lake where she used her feminine wiles (and two bottles of Smirnoff Ice) to seduce him.  "Finding Love At The Lake" boosted her Self-Worth factor to a nauseating +15.

Meanwhile, Lord Wellington-Smythe ordered Butterfield to remove a sizable hornet's nest affixed to the eave of their twelve-car garage.  Unfortunately the butler, still completely soused, tried to get it off with a pair of tongs and some oven mitts.  After he was grievously "Wounded By Wasps", Butterfield was now rockin' an enviable -45 point depression total.

Dark's Den of Deformity

Although a freak, Samson O'Toole was still a pious freak.  Being called out by the church really crushed his spirit and he "Was Consumed From Within", taking -25 Pathos points with him to the grave.  

I followed this up with "A Stormy Night", allowing me to draw four cards and play "An Unpleasant Surprise".  Just as the dinner party was wrapping up an intoxicated Darius Dark nullified his feast fame by climbing up onto the table, inviting the guests to witness the "Biggest Show on Earth" and then dropping his trousers.  "Scarred by Scandals" once again, Darius sat at a (dis)respectful -25 Self-Worth.      

Blackwater Watch

Willem Stark's reputation as the town's golden child didn't last for very long.  The savings which he earned working for The Old Dam eventually dried up and one day he was caught "Stealing From A Stiff", reducing his Self-Worth to a balance of zero.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the corpse he looted just so happened to belong to the local "traveller" community.  Assuming foul play, Stark was "Jinxed By Gypsies" and suddenly found himself at a suicide-inducing -45 Pathos Points!  

Hemlock Hall

Blinded by wasp stings and possessing the blood-alcohol level of Christina Aguilera, Butterfield wandered off into the woods where he was "Devoured By Weasels" (perishing at a truly admirable -50 Self-Worth, thanks to a +10 bump due to the "Beast" icon ).

Despite what appeared to be a happy union on the surface, the Twins became "Burdened By Boils"!  Oh-oh, looks like someone's been steppin' outside the gene pool!  (-30 total self-worth)

Dark's Den of Deformity

Humiliated by his recent "overexposure" and distraught by the loss of his most lucrative freaks, Darius Dark "Died of Despair" (try saying that five times real quick).  All told, Darius managed to rack up a good -40 points before shuffling off the mortal coil.

This particular "Untimely Death" card forced me to discard my entire hand, nullifying my second card play.

Blackwater Watch

The gypsy curse on Willem Stark turned out to be a pretty nasty "Stop Breathing" curse.  Eventually the disgraced handyman "Ran Out Of Air", taking an impressive -45 Pathos Points into the afterlife.

Cheryl then decided to discard and redraw for her second play.

Hemlock Hall

En route to the STD clinic, the Twins were set upon by a pack of vicious...poodles.  "Pursued By Poodles" was the final humiliation for the incestuous imps, bringing their self-loathing total down to a whopping -45 points!

Tired of all the greed, scandal and abuse of power, the previously unseen Count Wellington-Smythe took decisive action and excised his son Lord (yes, his first name is actually 'Lord')  "Out Of The Will"!  Understandably shocked, Lord Wellington-Smythe vowed to clean up his business practices and reconcile with his family, a pledge that lasted for approximately twenty-five minutes. (-35 Pathos Points)

Dark's Den of Deformity

My first card play was "Body Thief".  Creepy Clown Mister Giggles (0 Pathos Points) was revealed (to no-one's surprise) as a slimy corpse-thief, making off with the remains of Willem Stark (-45 Pathos Points).  Both were immediately removed from the game.  

Meanwhile the pox continued to circulate around the Den.  This time it was the Diminutive Diva Thumbelisa who came down with persistent poops after her delicate digestive system was "Distressed By Dysentery" (for -25 Self-Worth).  Holy alliteration, Batman!

Blackwater Watch

Drunk on love (and six quarts of brandy), The Old Dam slipped on the trail coming back from the lake and was "Pierced By Porcupines" (net 0 Pathos Points).

"The Root Of All Evil" was Cheryl's second play, allowing her to steal a card from both Justin and I.  As it turned out, the Old Dam Managed to crawl out of that nest of porcupines and made her way back to town.  Unfortunately, during the painfully protracted trip back, she "Was Hunted By Horrors" (for a total of -55 points).

(Note: this play would have been awesome if it had been legal.  Part of the condition of playing 'The Root Of All Evil' is that 'you must have a living character with the Lucre icon to play this card."  At the time, The Old Dam had the 'Marriage' icon.  Honestly, am I the only one who didn't cheat during this game?)  

Hemlock Hall

In order to recover from being written out of the will, Lord Wellington-Smythe's business practices became increasingly dodgy.  Eventually his abuses became so blatant that he was publicly "Cursed By The Queen".

An incredibly illegal "Untimely Death" card was then played on Wellington-Smythe, putting him in the dirt with an obscene -50 points.  Zoinks!

Dark's Den of Deformity   

Still pursued by horrors real and imagined, The Old Dam went to her family doctor and got a prescription for Atavan, allowing her to "Sleep Without Sorrows" (raising her total to only -20).

I then chucked out a card and drew a new one.

Blackwater Watch  

The previously tabled "Was Hunted By Horrors" forced Cheryl to skip her turn.

Hemlock Hall

The Twins managed to beat their pursuing poodles to death, but found no solace when they were "Greeted By (Their Vengeful) Ghosts" for a hefty total if -50 points.

Yet another illegal "Untimely Death" card ("Choked By A Tie"?  "Overcome By The Measles"?) killed The Twins whilst adding an additional -10 for the matching Skull icons (for a total of -60).    

Dark's Den of Deformity 

I played "To Be Or Not To Be", revealing that The Twins had experienced a premature burial.  I tried to shift this same card to Thumbelisa and finish the game but Justin countered with "A Second Chance", giving him the power to cancel one "Untimely Death" Card as it's being played.  Curses!

For my second play I chucked out a card and drew a new one.

Blackwater Watch

After dodging a near-death experience, Thumbelisa experienced a personal Renaissance.  She set up a profile on "Plenty of Fish", started dating Tom Cruise and soon both of them were "Wondrously Well Wed" (bringing her up to +10 Self-Worth).    

Meanwhile The Old Dam woke up from her firful slumber feeling famished.  Unfortunately, the drunken Butterfield tried to prepare her meal in an Easy Bake Oven and she was "Sickened By Salmon" (for a decent -40 Pathos Point total).

Hemlock Hall    

Justin started his turn with "A Stormy Night", allowing him to pull four new cards and play "A Chance To Begin Again", liberating The Old Dam from her myriad of burdens!

For his second card play, Justin re-killed the Twins!  Just as he was completing his second card play, Cheryl inexplicably played "Body Thief" as a reaction (?), removing The Old Dam and Darius Dark's husk from the game.

(Note: this was also a flagrant rules oversight.  The only way that Events can be played as a response is if it says 'Cancel ______ as it's being played'.)     

And so, oblivious to the Death Star-sized asterisk hovering over our heads, the game came to its dubious conclusion.  

Final Scores

Justin / Hemlock Hall...-125 points 
Cheryl / Blackwater Watch...-90 (-20 bonus for matching icons) 
Me / Dark's Den of Deformity...-60 

As a rabid fan of Risk 2010 and Sid Meier's Civilization: The Boardgame I wasn't quite sure how Justin would react to a hand management storytelling game.  But between Gloom's vague similarity to Magic: The Gathering and the ability to give fits of frustration to your opponent, he really seemed to dig it.

Finally, my apologies to the good people of Atlas Games as well as to designer Keith Baker for fucking up so badly.  Honestly, the game is very easy to learn and play.  I know, I know...I really feel like turning in my Rules Lawyer degree.

If it's any consolation we still had an absolute blast exercising our creative muscles with Gloom.  Honestly, I can't think of a better way to get warmed up for Halloween!

Gloom scores four hideous pips on the die-o-meter.

Sick and tired of wearing shades 'cuz yer future's so bright?  Click on the image below to order a copy of Gloom and help out ye olde blog at the same time...


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