Friday, January 10, 2014

Put a Cthulhu on it

Depending on who you ask, H. P. Lovecraft was either a master of cosmic horror or a hack who padded his word counts. Either way, his work has fired the imaginations of a lot of people, from his contemporaries such as Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith all the way up to the game designers of today. He definitely had a distinctive vision of the universe.

It helps that all his work is in the public domain, making it very easy for game publishers to use Cthulhu and Lovecraft's other creations, and perhaps going some way to explain the huge shadow he casts over the gaming industry.

Cthulhu Gloom is one of many Lovecraft-ized versions of existing games. In this case it's Gloom, a game whose transparent cards have always intrigued me, but whose "cute goth" theme has always been a bit of a turn off. With the game re-skinned and filled with Lovecraft references, I finally decided to give it a try.

Each player controls a family of five characters, and the object of the game is to play cards on top of them in order to make them worth as few points as possible, and then have them meet an untimely demise. When all five characters belonging to any single player are dead, the game is over and the points are tallied; the player with the score most deeply into negative numbers is the winner.

The transparent cards make for some interesting game play. Along the  left of each card is a row of between zero and three circles containing scores, either positive or negative, and along the right are different icons such as horror, investigation and madness, which are affected by other cards. As each new card is played on top of the previous one, these circles overlap each other, making the stack worth more or fewer points depending on which circles are showing.

I have since played the original Gloom, and the game play is virtually identical, but I enjoy Cthulhu Gloom a lot more simply for the humorous Lovecraft references on all the cards.

Rating: 3 (out of 5) An amusing diversion, but not something we're ever going to spend a lot of time with.

Date played: December 27, 2013

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