How do you add to a card game about making hapless family members as miserable as possible, then killing them? By bringing in the Lovecraftian mythos, naturally! Cthulhu Gloom, from Atlas Games, bring the characters and horrors of H.P. Lovecraft to the original Gloom game -- with quite pleasing results.

As in the original Gloom, the goal of Cthulhu Gloom is to give your family members negative modifiers and kill them, so when the last member of a family is done away with you win by having the lowest score. Players can control members of Miskatonic University, the Whateleys, Village of Innsmouth, or Arkham Sanitarium; no family has any special abilities, so the selection is for personal preference, not strategy.
On a player's turn they can take two actions: play a modifier, play an event (for an immediate action), play an Untimely Death (only as their first play, and only on a character with a negative value), claim a story (if they have the requirements, giving a point advantage for the end), discard their hand, or pass. Some cards also give players free actions. After their second play they draw back up to their hand limit -- usually five cards.

The key to Cthulhu Gloom is the modifier. These cards have Pathos points in some of the three spaces on the left side of the card, possibly Story Icons on the spaces on the right, and often a game effect on the bottom. Negative modifiers help you win the game, but they often have a bad effect on you (like reducing the size of your hand or letting other players take cards from you). Conversely, positive modifiers hurt your score, but they can have a good effect on you. And all Modifiers are transparent, and what a new Modifier covers up replaces any modifiers under it. It's not uncommon for someone to play positive Modifiers on themselves early for the benefits, then cover them with negative ones later -- or to play positive Modifiers on an opponent's family members.
And if this sounds dry, Cthulhu Gloom also follows its predecessor with a wicked sense of humor. The art on the cards is inspired by such souces as Charles Addams and the opening of Mystery, as it works just as well for the Lovecraftian goings-on. The card titles usually have clever alliteration or assonance -- "Went Mad at the Mountains," "Saw the Sticky Star-Spawn," "Matriculated at Miskatonic" -- and the flavor text is also quite amusing: "Found a Curious Color" informs us that "We're calling it 'smellow'" while Lavinia Whateley is described thus: "Lavinny's read some, an' has seed some things the most o' ye only tell abaout. So back off, nerd." For a game about misery and death, this has plenty of laughs.

Cthulhu Gloom doesn't wander far from the rules of the original Gloom -- but why should it? The dark humor works as well for Lovecraftian characters as it did for the original doomed English families, and the strategies (choosing negative points or advantages in play, for yourself and your opponents) change from game to game. Cthulhu Gloom isn't original, but it remains challening, funny, and fun -- even if [shudder] you're not a fan of H.P. Lovecraft.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

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