Cthulhu Gloom is the newest tabletop card game from Atlas Games, makers of titles like Cults Across America and Lunch Money. Cthulhu Gloom is a standalone game from the original Gloom card game that originated back in 2004. The goal of each player is to have the unhappiest family possible. Although you might think such a morbid goal would be off-putting to some, Gloom managed to win the 2005 Origins Award for “Best Traditional Card Game,” and it has gained three expansion packs over the years. Cthulhu Gloom marks the second stand-alone creation for the franchise in the series seven year lifespan. Since we’re all big fans of the Cthulhu Mythos here at Diehard GameFAN, this was definitely a game we’ve kept our eye on. Our own Chuck Platt was able to sit down with the Gloom‘s creator, Keith Baker (who you might also know as the creator of the Ebberon campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons), to discuss why Cthulhu Gloom should be on your radar.
Chuck Platt: For people that haven’t played the original Gloom and are hearing about the game for the first time via this interview, could you explain a little bit about how the game is played and who would enjoy it?
Keith Baker: In Gloom, you control a family of eccentric individuals. Your goal is to have your family suffer terrible tragedies and die, while keeping your opponents happy, healthy, and alive. The game uses transparent plastic cards; as you lay the cards over your characters, the cumulative effects alter their value. Part of the fun of the game is building a story as you go; why was Herbert West Investigating Innsmouth, and what does it mean that he Felt Rather Fishy?
While there is strategy to Gloom , it’s a casual game; it’s best for people who are looking to tell a fun story with their friends.
CP: What drew you towards doing a Cthulhu Mythos version of the Gloom card game?
KB: I’m a long-time fan of the Mythos, and as I mentioned earlier, it’s a very logical theme for Gloom. You’re telling a story in which your characters face horrors, go mad, and likely die; your opponents try to keep you healthy and sane.
CP: How does theCthulhu Gloom game interact with the original Gloom?
KB: Cthulhu Gloom is designed to stand alone, but the mechanics of the two games are close enough that you could mix the cards or add any of the existing expansions. There are a few cards with mirrored effects; Even Death May Die is similar to the original Second Chance. As the cards have different borders, it is easy enough to mix the games together and then separate them later.
CP: What is the biggest difference between Cthulhu Gloom and original Gloom?
KB: On a small scale, having the chance to start over with a new base game gave me an opportunity to streamline certain basic mechanics. More notably, Cthulhu Gloom adds a new type of card – the Story card, which allows you to compete to have Cthulhu or one of the other major Mythos elements in your story. It also adds transformations – modifiers that have lasting visual and mechanical effects on your character. So you might become a Deep One, gibber with ghouls, or have your brain stuck in a cylinder by Mi-go!
CP: What led to your choice of the four groups in the game? Were there any others considered?
KB: The game draws a great deal of inspiration from The Dunwich Horror and The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and the Whateleys are an actual family, so the Dunwich and Innsmouth families were obvious choices. Miskatonic is an iconic element of the mythos and provided a logical opportunity to draw in characters from a number of different stories. The Sanitarium is a catch all for characters that couldn’t carry a family on their own but who I really wanted in the game, like Randolph Carter; we also have Cassilda and Camilla to represent The King in Yellow.
I didn’t consider any other families, but there were certainly other characters I could have used. Charles Dexter Ward, Arthur Jermyn, Albert Wilmarth, and Richard Upton Pickman were all on my list.
CP: How easy would you say it is for a casual gamer, who is a Mythos fan, to enjoy Cthulhu Gloom?
KB: Very easy. The mechanics are simple. The main thing is to enjoy creating your own stories. People who approach it from a purely strategic or tactical perspective really miss the best part of the game. With that said, you don’t have to know the Mythos to play Cthulhu Gloom; you still have a good time making Wilbur Whateley marry a Marsh and matriculate at Miskatonic. But people who know the Mythos and thus recognize Miskatonic and the Marsh family will get that much more out of it.
CP: Are there any additional challenges dealing with the transparent plastic card material instead of card stock?
: From a design perspective, the main thing is that people can see through your hand. While it’s a casual game, the challenge was making enough overlapping silhouettes that there’s a minimal amount of useful information one can get in this way; an Untimely Death and a Transformation have the same silhouette.
CP: Were there any additional challenges to designing the game using the Mythos setting as opposed to the more Edward Gorey style of the original Gloom?
KB: The Mythos setting is perfect for Gloom. People sometimes wonder why you want your family to suffer in Gloom; when you understand that you’re trying to create a Mythos story, it’s easy to see why you want your characters to uncover horrors and go mad.
One challenge was coming up with a way to involve elements like Yog-Sothoth, the Necronomicon, or Cthulhu himself. It didn’t feel right to have a game called Cthulhu Gloom without Cthulhu, but it also seemed weak to have it just be an event card. This was resolved with the Story cards, which I’m quite happy with.
CP: Over the course of your career, you have worked on video games, pen and paper RPGs, and card games. Do you think that your familiarity with these disparate types of game design has altered how you approach your craft?
KB: In some ways, it’s similar to practicing martial arts and fencing; while the two are very different, you start to recognize underlying principles that link them together. MMORPGs, pen and paper RPGs, card games – each one is very different, but there are basic aspects of balance that apply to them all. So sure.
CP: Are there any other horror properties that would work with the Gloom game?
KB: Oh, sure. You could easily do a Walking Dead sort of Gloom, where it’s all about who suffers the most before having their brains eaten by zombies, or a Twilight Gloom that builds on romantic angst before the werewolves get you. We could do a Dilbert Gloom where it’s all about suffering from managerial incompetence before getting fired. I don’t know if we will, though.
Cthulhu Gloom will be hitting stores later this month and you’ll be able to buy it everywhere from Brick and Mortar gaming stores to Amazon.com. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about Cthulhu Gloom, you can always visit its official product page over on Atlas Games’ website. There you can download rules, see the members of each family/faction and much more.