Gaming Unplugged: Gloom


Gloom Logo Sketch

Have you ever wanted to kill your family? Well now you can take out the pent up rage out on sad little people on see-through cards. Gloom is a wonderfully sadistic game where the winner has a team full of losers. In Gloom, each player controls the fate of one family of five lovable losers. There are only four families so the game is designed for four players, but it can be played with five by each player giving up one family member to the fifth player.

The game play is really simple. Each player has one family they are trying to cause misery too while making their opponent’s family members happy. Once you have your family members depressed enough to your liking, you want to try to kill them off one by one. Players can also play actions to make things harder or easier. The first player to kill off all of their family members ends the game and then the sadness (points) are tallied up. Then a winner is declared.


The families are already very gloomy to start things out. The little gothic portraits are fantastic and fit the theme of the game perfectly. The families are comprised of delightful characters; the circus family has a creepy clown that’s wonderful. There’s a brain in a box and a Frankenstein teddy bear, weird twins, and what is surely an evil butler, the family dog and the red-headed stepchild. There’s a family to murder for everyone.

Gloom Cards

Game play is simple enough. Essentially, each player takes turns inflicting unpleasantness to the individuals of their own respective families. These misfortunes give each family member a negative number that represents their mood. For example Grogar, the Frankenstein teddy bear, may have “contracted consumption” giving him a mood of -30. Once your family member has enough gloom to your liking, you can happily kill them. No reason a very sad Grogar can’t be “burnt by a mob”, as the card says, “Fifty people with torches and pitchforks can’t be wrong.” Players also can have good things happen to their opponent’s families. Poor old Balthazar, the unfaithful hound has had a rough life so maybe he deserves to be “the toast of the town”, giving him a +15 to his mood. As you’ve probably picked up by now, you want negative numbers on your family; the worse off they are, the better!

When playing the mood altering cards, modifiers, you do have to pay attention to the actions that come along with them. Cards have effects that can be quick and painless or be continuous. You may have to pass along cards to other players or limit yourself to how many cards you can draw. Many of he modifier cards also have little story icons to go along with them. These icons represent story elements to use in the description of the bad things that happen to the characters. They also come into play in different way with the other cards. The story icons can also be covered up and replaced by playing different modifier cards on top of them. There are event cards that are just quick play for quick strikes against your opponents. The untimely death cards are what finish off your family and they all have their own rules and provide bonuses. If you want to play the “died old and alone” card you can’t play it on anyone with the heart symbol currently visible.

The first player to wipe out their clan ends the game and then the players tally up the negative points on their dead family members. Sorry — the alive ones don’t count. The player with the most negative points wins. It’s a simple game of murdering your family that happens to be a lot of fun. I think the best part of this game is the stories players come up with for the terrible things that happen. You can just play the cards and go about your business but where’s the fun in that? Get creative! PLAY GLOOM!

Gaming Unplugged: Smash Up

Have you ever wanted an army of aliens and zombies? What about one of robots and wizards? Well all of your crazy arm dreams have come true with Smash Up.


Smash Up is a simple fun card game for two to four players. The gameplay has a much shallower learning curve than a lot of modern tabletop games. Each player picks two different deck s at random; the decks represent different armies or races. There are eight very different armies to you could wind up playing with, some combinations are utterly ridiculous. The basic Smash Up box has robots, aliens, zombies, tricksters, pirates, ninjas, dinosaurs (which may be cyborgs), and wizards. You play two of them at once! Players use these armies and the special abilities that come with them to take over bases. The bases are also themed after the different armies.

Now despite each army being awesome in their own way they also have their own play style. Zombies let you draw from the graveyard, aliens change the bases, wizards allow players to chain action cards. Every time you play you’ll have to compose a different strategy because you’ll never know what you’re dealing with. Playing aliens and changing out a base right before it scores is super satisfying.

smash up things

Players win by playing minions on bases to score the bases and claim victory points. Each base has different point values and different bonuses/extra rules. The bases all of have a point value and players place minions, with their own point values, on the bases in order to reach the total for the base. Once the last minion necessary to score the base is placed the three players with most minion points score the victory points for that base. Each player scores a different amount and sometimes it’s better to have the second most on a base. That sounds like a lot of number, but trust me once you look at the cards you’ll understand.

Smash Up looks like a really goofy game, and it is, but it’s also a very strategic minded one. You have to pay attention to what everyone is playing and determine the best course of action for yourself. On top of playing minions to score bases you all play actions. Actions are special cards that pair up with the style of play your particular army has. For example Pirates are great at moving units between bases and eliminating weaker minions so they have action cards that focus on those attributes. The pirate action “broadside” let’s you wipe out any minions of a chosen army with a value of 2 or lower. They can’t really take out anything stronger than that though. Smash Up is a fantastically strange strategic card game.

There is a lot of replay ability with Smash Up since the armies are always chosen at random, it’s the box of chocolates of card games, you never know what you’re going to get (sorry couldn’t resist). If you find yourself getting bored with the basic armies Alderac Entertainment Group, the makers of Smash Up, have put out some wonderful expansions with some of the most terrifying armies around (BEAR CALVARLY). The latest edition is the Pretty Pretty Smash Up it’s full of princesses, kittens, fairies, and horses.

If you’re looking for a great little card game with friends that is sure to get a few laughs, or if you’ve ever wanted to control an army of ghosts, Smash Up is an excellent choice. With plenty of reason to play multiple times with a different experience each time. Mix in a few expansions and you can play Smash Up until your hands can no longer hold the cards.

Gaming Unplugged: Steam Park

So it turns out the robots love amusement parks. In the board game Steam Park, it’s your job to provide fun rides and handy stands to give these robots the best time of their lives. Steam Park is a fun and innovative game from Iello games, the publisher of the very popular Kings of Tokyo.

Steam Park is a management game where each player decides how to build, expand and maintain their theme park to attract robot patrons. I realize it sounds a little odd but trust me Steam Park is a great little strategy party game. The game mechanics use strategic planning and speed to move the game along really make it interesting.

One of Steam Park’s high points is the art direction of the game. There is a very whimsical and fantastic feel to all of the rides and stands that the players use to build up their parks. The illustrations are fun and very appealing to the eye. The art direction is very creative and I feel has hints of a Miyazaki movie built into it, especially the rides.

steam park

The game play is a good mixture of speed, planning and sacrifice. The object of the game is to collect money and improve your park while trying to keep on park maintenance. This is all done with rolls of the dice. Each player will try to build the biggest and best theme park to attract the most attendees. Players can build rides that come in different sizes or stands that have strategic use. Each stand has its own special ability. Instead of taking individual turns like in other management games, like Stone Age, Steam Park adds a twist of simultaneous play with benefits for being faster than the other players.  Steam Park also is a game designed to be played quickly.  After six rounds the game is over and the player with the most money wins.

Each round starts with all of the players rolling six dice simultaneously. This adds a layer of excitement not normally seen in a management style game. The players are rolling dice looking for specific results. Each side of the dice represents a different aspect of managing the parks. If a player wants to build rides they’ll be trying to get a different dice face to show up as compared to if they wanted to build stands or attract customers.  With everyone rolling at once the board can get a little hectic, but fun.

The rolling phase does come with extra attributes. This phase is all about speed. Players can re roll any number of their dice. But if a player is too slow getting the dice roll that they like it could affect their park in a negative way. There are bonuses for getting the dice roll you need first also. Players must also lock their dice once they’ve decided what actions they are looking to complete. If one of your dice flips over after it’s been locked, that’s really unfortunate for you. You suck it up and deal with it. I did when it happened to me.

Next, depending on how fast you were at rolling your dice players take turns spending their dice to either, build rides, build stands, clean dirt, draw robots or expand their park. Different dice faces allow the players to do these different actions. Rides entice robots to visit your park and stands give you special abilities. All the things you want for your park come at a price. Most of them will also make you take on more dirt in your park. The more dirt you have the more dice you have to sacrifice in later rounds to remove it.  You’re dice choices are the largest part of the strategy to the game.

Building rides is where the money is. Without rides you can’t get robots, without robots you can’t gain money, and without money why are you playing this game? All of the rides are these fantastic Studio Ghibli looking wonder buildings. There are six different rides with three different sizes. The larger the ride the more dice you must spend to build them. You’re welcome to build multiple rides per turn but never the same sized ones. So if you roll four ride dice you can build a size three and size one but not two size two rides. Also when placing your rides in your park there are different placement rules everyone must follow. With the limited amount of space that the players start with you need to realize what you’re building and where you’re putting it during while you’re rolling. You can expand your park also, but again that will cost you dice.


Stands are your other building choice. There are different types of stands that allow you to improve your dice rolls and assist in your robot picks. I think the most helpful stands to have in your park are the Direction stands, covered in arrows, and the Toilets. Direction stands allow you to temporarily use robots of the wrong color for your rides and the toilets double the amount of dirt that can be removed per die. There are also Security, Promotional and Casino stands, all with their own bonuses. Build them and use them wisely.

I know you’ve seen me mention “dirt” a lot through this article. Dirt is bad. The more dirt your park has at the end of the game the more money you lose at the end of the game. You can actually have so much dirt that you automatically lose.  Dirt piles up with everything you build and every robot you have in your park. Robots are the key to winning but they do come with that one drawback. The more robots you have making you money, the more dirt they leave behind every turn. You can roll shovels with our die and each shovel roll allows you to remove one dirt and if you’re fast in your rolling you can remove extra dirt. If you’re too slow in your rolls though you will gain extra dirt. So again….dirt bad.

steam park 2

There is one last element to Steam Park that could change your strategy. Everyone always has at least three bonus cards. You can choose to ignore these cards altogether or you can use them to gain extra money. All of the cards have different ways to earn money. Some will give you money for stands, some will give you money for even the dice you roll. There are many different ways to use these. But again if you want to use a bonus card you have to roll a die for it, so they take away from your ability to perform other tasks.

I realize that this must be the longest board game review I’ve written and if you’re still with me, bully for you! Steam Park may seem like an overly complicated nonsense game, but it’s not, I promise. The game is simple, fun and fast paced. It’s also short. There are only six rounds per game. It’s an excellent strategy party game. I would like it better if it supported more than four players but you can’t have everything. I like Steam Park because it’s really different than other management style games and a lot easier to jump into. It’s definitely one of my new favorites.

Gaming Unplugged: Betrayal at House on the Hill

In recent years, cooperative games have become very popular. Games like Pandemic, Castle Panic and Forbidden Island have shown us that it can be just as much fun to work together as it is to tear each other apart. Well Wizards of the Coast, famed producers of Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons, ask the question “Why can’t we do both?” Betrayal at House on the Hill is an exploratory game where one of the explorers will turn against the group and sometimes all hell breaks loose, literally.

In Betrayal you and your Scooby-Doo-esque group of explorers decide it might be fun to go check out that creepy old house on the edge of town. Naturally this turns out to be a terrible idea. While exploring the old mansion, the group will come across items and witness creepy visions that will unnerve them. Now some of the items everyone will come across have a taint of evil attached to them; these are omens. After each player discovers an omen, there is a chance that the haunt will begin. When the haunt starts, the gameplay switches up and a traitor is revealed. That traitor will undoubtedly try to kill the rest of the group.

What makes Betrayal at House on the Hill such an intriguing game is that every time you play, it changes. There are 12 different playable characters all with different stats, the layout of the house changes every game, and there are 50 different scenarios to play out. There is a great amount of replay value here. Even if you have the same scenario as a previous game with different rooms on the board and different characters, there is still good variation between each game.

Betrayal at House on the Hill

The gameplay is fairly simple. The game supports six players and has 12 different characters to play, and each character has their own unique stats. The explorers all start in the main entrance of the house and each player can move around the house however they choose; you don’t have to move as a group. As the explorers reveal new rooms of the house they will uncover items, omens, and be witness to creepy events. The items are merely items to help you out thorough the game. The events are strange visions that if you have strong enough will, and a good dice roll, can increase your stats. If you aren’t so lucky, they can hurt you and the other explorers. The omens are mystical items tied to whatever evil maybe in the house. As omens are found, the explorer who discovered it must roll dice to see if the haunt begins. Once it does everything changes.

The haunt is where a traitor is chosen, and one of 50 scenarios starts. Which scenario plays out is determined by which omen is discovered and what room it’s discovered in. For example, if you find the ancient ring in the catacombs as compared with finding it in the dining room the group will play through different scenarios. There is even a chance that the traitor will not be revealed right away. The explorers have to then stop the traitor from completing whatever mission is theirs.

Betrayal at House on the Hill is a great game with a lot of creativity put into it. With the excellent atmosphere and the constant change between plays, this is definitely a game to add to your collection. If you’re into campy horror movies, it’s even more fun. It is a little on the pricier side of things though; it retails for around $60.00. When you think about the work put into this one though and the actual physical quality of the game itself, it is worth the price. Pick up this one and send your friends to hell!

Gaming Unplugged: Malifaux

Gaming Unplugged is a monthly musing of different table top games played, examined, and reminisced by Scott McCauliffe.


It’s Christmas time so I figured this month we’d go with a little brutality, magic, and horror. Festive I know. It’s time to cross the dark portal and horde your soul stones in Malifaux.

This is the first time in Gaming Unplugged I’ll be focusing on a larger scale game. Malifaux is a traditional style table top miniature war game. This war game in particular is on a smaller scale then some of the bigger powerhouses in the genre. What’s good about that is it keeps the price point down, and therefore makes a good gift for that person you know who wants to declare war.

Malifaux does everything it can to separate itself from the major war games already on the market. First off, the armies are small; starting out with four to six figures is enough to get right into a full blown game. Second, it’s army choices are not like any others you’ll see. It’s like the creators got together when deciding on factions and said, “Pick any style you want! They don’t need to mesh.” The major factions in Malifaux range from western to demons. There is a little bit of everything for everyone. Even people who don’t want to resign themselves to one style or look of characters can choose to make a mercenary army comprised of units from all the other factions. Lastly, Malifaux is the only war game I’ve seen that doesn’t use dice as encounter deciders; in this case they use cards.


A big pull of Malifaux, at least for me, was the scale. I used to play Warhammer 40k and that game is big. it’s huge, it’s sort of absurd. With Malifaux, a single purchase of a base box starts you with any army ready to go (some assembly required). After that, you only need a rule book and a deck of cards. It doesn’t even have to be the Malifaux brand cards, although it should be. The figures are inexpensive enough you have the option to have two different factions without breaking the bank. You want steampunk and magical beasts? No problem. Get them both and decide which one you like playing more.

The most interesting thing Malifaux has going for it is the different army/factions to choose from. If there is a subgenre of fantasy you like, Malifaux has it. There are seven overall Factions to build your crew from and each of them has different leaders with a little different style between them.

The Guild (Old West) – Fire, Guns, Steampunk

Resurrectionists – Undead, Serial Killers, Japanese Ghosts

Arcanists – Magical Beasts, Ice Monsters/Magic, Steampunk/Electrical Magic

Neverborn – Demons, Witchcraft, Nightmares

Outcasts – Criminals, Mercenaries, Assassins

Gremlins – Goblins and pigs

Ten Thunders – Treasure Hunters, Asian Mystics, Evil Spirit Possessed People

There is basically anything for anyone.

The Malifaux gameplay is very original but can be confusing. Certain creatures have stats that others don’t and the rule book doesn’t always explain the finer points in the best way. What sets Malifaux apart from other table top war games is the fact that battles are decided with a deck of cards instead of the tradition dice rolls. You are also given a chance, every turn, to “cheat fate”. What that means is if you don’t like the current outcome of a duel you can draw another card in the hopes that you’ll have a more favorable result. The catch is you could have bad luck and wind up with a worse outcome than before. Let’s say your opponent attacks one of your figures and the initial result is your figure is going to take one or two damage. You could cheat fate and draw a new card to hopefully take no damage. You could also draw a card and wind up making it a critical hit instead of just a regular one, therefore doing more damage. It’s an interesting way to handle things, but can also draw battles out a little bit. Not only can a defender cheat fate, so can the attacker if they so wish.


Like any other war game there will be work that goes into getting your army set up. First and foremost, you will have to assemble your pieces. Your characters do not come with arms and/or legs attached. They are also metal, so basic super glue isn’t always strong enough to hold everything together. I don’t know how many times the legs of my steamborg executioner fell off. Get yourself something good for metal.

I really like Malifaux for its style and it’s scaled down take on the traditional table top war games. It’s easy to get into and plenty of fun to play. I do wish there were more customization options, though. One thing some of the other miniature war games have going for them is being able to choose your army’s weapons and armor. In Malifaux, all of your figures have predetermined load outs. Also some of the finer rules, such as what the hell happens with “terrifying units”, is a little muddy and takes constant rechecking in the rule book for how to handle it. Over all, though, Malifaux is fun and will eat up hours in your day before you know it. And that’s a good thing.

All pictures belong to Wyrd Miniatures.

Gaming Unplugged: Elder Sign

Gaming Unplugged is a monthly musing of different table top games played, examined, and reminisced by Scott McCauliffe.

elder sign

I realize Halloween is a week past, but I want to keep the scary going. Also, it’s completely cooperative so it can be a family game. Look how I tied Halloween and Thanksgiving together! Elder Sign gives you and your friends a chance to fight terrible horrors in an effort to save all of humanity from one of the many ancient gods.  The idea is simple, through the rolls of dice and the use of special items, uncover elder signs to lock away the elder god before he awakens and really wrecks everyone’s day. Oh yes, and it all takes place in the realm of H. P. Lovecraft.

You and a group of other investigators are looking into strange happenings at a fairly creepy museum. As you go room to room there are puzzles to be solved and monsters to be dealt with. All of these problems are handled with the rolls of dice. This game is nearly impossible to win, by the way. As you close down certain rooms and handle certain creatures you gain elder signs. These signs are used to keep the ancient god at bay, if you collect enough you win. But to make it a little harder, with some of the elder signs you gather, more monsters will be released into the museum.

Each of the investigators you can choose to play as have slightly different stats and starting equipment but the gameplay doesn’t differ from person to person.  The private investigator might start with a weapon whereas the scholar might start with a spell.  The other difference is how much sanity or health each character has starting out. Sanity and health keep you character alive, run out of either and you must retire that person. I’ve played where as long as there are still investigator cards left you’re more than welcome to pick up a new one. This is usually a good idea considering the difficulty of the game. A few unlucky rolls of the dice, and you could find yourself dead or insane rather quickly.

You and your group go room to room, which are picked at random, to find awards and hopefully seal away the big bad for another time. This is done by using dice, and consumable items be they spells, weapons, or mystic items. Each room has a certain combination of dice that must come up on your rolls to take the room off the board, instead of numbers though the use symbols. The catch is certain rooms need rolls to be in a certain order and every time you roll the dice, you will lose one or more. This happens even if your roll fails. This game can be punishing.

I realize from what you just read, this game seems confusing, and the bottom line is: it is. There is kind of a steep learning curve, and it will take more than one play through to get the hang of it. And you may have noticed that I’ve mentioned the difficulty of Elder Sign a few times.  I think the bottom line is defeating Cthulhu isn’t supposed to be easy. Dice get locked, monster appear, bad stuff happens. You might be asking yourself why you would want to play something so challenging. Well a lot of the fun is teaming up and helping each other. I really enjoy the wave of cooperative games that have come around recently. The creators added some great theme and style elements to the game. Flavor text brings fun story elements and provides atmosphere. The artwork is wonderful. Everything looks like it’s out of an old pulp book, but with a little more high end quality to it.

Elder Sign is extremely well thought out and put together. You can tell the creators have a love for the source material. It may crush your soul at some times, but that’s half the fun. If ancient evil gods and their minions were easy to deal with that wouldn’t be fun, and it wouldn’t fit into the atmosphere of the game. Elder Sign is a tough game meant to be played with friends, hopefully ones you won’t get mad at if they roll poorly. Go get it just in time for some Thanksgiving Day fun!

Gaming Unplugged: Munchkin

Gaming Unplugged is a monthly musing of different table top games played, examined, and reminisced by Scott McCauliffe

Dungeons & Dragons is the granddaddy of table top games. It’s intricate, well designed, well balanced and a lot of fun to play. Sadly, we don’t always have four hours to sit down and play a decent game. Luckily, in 2003, Steve Jackson Games took everything we love about D&D, threw out all of the complicated stuff and added a great dose of humor. Munchkin is a semi-cooperative card game that should be a part of everyone’s table top game collection.

Munchkin sees each player start out as a level one classless adventurer. During the course of the game, players gain classes, races, gear, magic items all by fighting monsters and random luck. On each player’s turn that player kicks down a door (figuratively of course) and behind that door is a monster, a curse, or something else that could be good or bad. Monsters can be easily defeated, such as a level 1 Potted Plants (I did not make that up) or be much more difficult, such as a level 20 Abominable Snow Monster, who will pick his teeth with your ski poles. If the player happens to defeat his enemy he gets good stuff, treasure and levels. If he fails to defeat it then he gets bad stuff, which can range from nothing at all to being reduced to level one and losing everything.


Now where the proper fun comes in is when all of the players start to interfere with each other. You thought you were fighting a level 1 Maul Rat but suddenly another player makes it a level 11 Legendary Maul Rat, and now you’re in trouble. There is some joy to be had when you watch the light fade from another player’s eyes as they realize they’ve just been boned.

Another great aspect of Munchkin is all of the different game types you can play. You don’t like fantasy? That’s ok Munchkin also does Western, Science Fiction, Zombie, Vampire and Cthulhu, just to name a few. Each version is essentially the same game with different paint and some different rules, so if you know the rules to one type you can pick up a different style with almost no learning curve. If you really want to get crazy, you can actually combine the different types. This means you can be a level 5 Elf Vampire Space Marine. I say buy a few of your favorite genres and go a little nuts. There are also several expansions series for each style and a few sets built from license material, such as Penny Arcade.

For the traditional Munchkin set, they’ve also added dungeon cards. When a dungeon card is in play, it creates a set of rules that everyone must follow until that dungeon is removed. This can make for very interesting play. Just be careful, because in one particular game I was playing I did not properly read the card I played. Basically what happened was I made it so there was one dungeon in play per player, in this case that was eight players. So there were eight separate rule sets all happening at once.

Munchkin is a fantastically fun game for stepping into modern table top gaming. It’s simple, it’s a lot of fun and it is constantly expanding so it doesn’t get stale. Munchkin is also inexpensive to try out; it’s only $25 for any set you want. Depending how many people you have in your group you may want to get an expansion with a few more cards to mix in. Munchkin was the first game to move me past traditional board games, and though Monopoly and Clue will always be near and dear to me I’ll always love Munchkin for showing me that table top games can be more than rolling dice and moving around a board.