Posted on August 19, 2011 by Monica Valentinelli
Available at Amazon.com
To celebrate Lovecraft’s birthday this year, we went over to a friend’s house and popped open our shiny, new copy of Cthulhu Gloom from Atlas Games. Dubbed “the game of unspeakable incidents and squamous consequences,” our group consisted of five players — two of which weren’t as familiar with the Lovecraft mythos as we were.
So before we began, we attempted to channel Kenneth Hite and explain who Lovecraft and Cthulhu were. It was interested to see their reactions when they learned that one man inspired so many popular horror authors like Stephen King, Brian Lumley, etc. That, for me, was the best part about the game because then the cards mean something beyond their pretty pictures.
And pretty they are indeed. Instead of families, you play investigators ranging from those who work at Miskatonic University to the Village of Innsmouth. Since we played with five players, we each paired down our investigative group by one and gave that character to the fifth player.
It took a little getting used to the enhanced rules for this edition. Many of these rules have debuted in the expansion packs for Gloom (which makes me think I need to get a new core set of cards), but truth be told I wasn’t as familiar with some of the shiny bits. Here, you don’t just make your characters suffer — it’s about their particular story. The Story Cards were an interesting twist because one card can change the outcome of the game on-the-fly — which they wound up doing in our game.
In this set, there weren’t as many positive cards as in the previous decks and you can only give a character an Untimely Death if they have negative Pathos Points. Both of which make total sense for a Lovecraft-themed game. We also liked many of the cards that weren’t Untimely Deaths that seemed like they were. Some effect cards like was stuck in a sanitarium had the image of an Untimely Death on the back. So this whole card counting business (for those of you who do…) is drastically reduced. You don’t know what cards are in someone’s hand.
We made it through the deck a few times, but then we started running out of cards. The more cards that are placed as modifiers on the twenty-five characters around the table, the smaller your deck will be. By the time that became an issue, however, we were close to finishing the game.
Both of our new players found the game pretty easy to pick up on — and one of them won by taking a huge gamble. As it turns out, there were a few cards that had a big impact on our game. Went mad at the mountains forces the recipient to discard their hand and doesn’t allow them to draw up on that turn. This card, while it’s worth fifty Pathos points, removes that player from the game for two turns because they have no cards to play. (Incidentally, I did play this ON another player who was beating me up with Untimely Death and event cards…)
The second card, which pretty much solidified a new player’s sanity-risking, game-changing experience was this: The Festival, an event card that allows you to set aside your hand, draw three cards, and use all of them on your family if you can as free plays. Since there weren’t as many positive Pathos cards by the time he played this? He had some nice, sanity-sucking cards and the negative effects didn’t mean as much because his group of investigators were mostly dead already.
The artwork is fun, the cards are great quality and the game? The game has some very witty references (*coughs* Even D&D…) that will leave Cthulhu aficionados rolling in the aisles. We didn’t take any pictures, but we did have one player (who shall remain anonymous) who bust out laughing in the middle of the game for no apparent reason whatsoever…
Madness, madness I tell you. Which is precisely why Cthulhu Gloom is a great game to introduce people to Lovecraft or facilitate a snicker or two from existing fans of the mythos. Why should you play? Well, you only have your sanity to lose…
Review by Monica Valentinelli