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: 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: Star Wars: X-Wing

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

Star Wars is one of the things that I feel defines a part of me. So when given the chance to pilot an X-Wing and dogfight against a handful of TIE Fighters, I said “Yes please!” Star Wars: X-Wing teams players against each other in fun space battles dodging asteroids and enemy fire. You can choose to join the Rebel Alliance, the Imperial Army, and with the new Scum and Villany expansion set coming out, you can be some good old fashioned mercenaries.

The game does take some playing to really catch on, but the learning curve isn’t very steep. The basics of it all go like this, pick a side, decide what ships you want to fly, choose a pilot and perks, and blast each other into space dust. The game play happens in a few different phases. If you’ve played any sort of miniature war game before this will be familiar territory.

Star Wars X-Wing

The phases are simple, planning, activation, combat, and end phase. So much of the game comes from the planning phase. This is where each player decides how they plan on moving their ships. The catch here is you’re only deciding how to move, and all the players do it at the same time. So you have no idea how your opponent will move. You could set yourself up to be a major target or poise yourself to destroy your enemies. Hell you could both wind up flying directly into each other. Activation is when the players reveal their planned movements and move accordingly, in turn. Players also decide on using boosts and bonuses at this point. Combat is where all of the shooting happens, if your foes are in range you’ll both roll some dice and resolve any damage done. The end phase is basically there for clean up between turns.

As a major Star Wars fan, one of my favorite parts of X-Wing comes in choosing the ships and pilots. You want to control an X-Wing piloted by Luke Skywalker? You got it! You might prefer having Han Solo command the Millennium Falcon. Fantastic, you can do that! Boba Fett and the Slave I? Yes I think I’ll do that. You can even go outside the movies and have Kyle Katarn pilot his HWK-290. It’s fan service at its best. If you’d like to get a little more creative and think outside the box, each ship has multiple pilot choices. You can have Chewbacca fly your Falcon if you so choose. Each pilot has different stats and perks. This gameplay consideration allows for excellent customization to your fleet.

The developers also thought, “Hey maybe players don’t want to do the same thing over and over.” There are mission packs, and soon campaigns coming out that give the players specific tasks to complete to completely be successful in their battles. These added story missions add some nice variety and keep the game from getting too stale.

Star Wars X-Wing 1

My own personal suggestion is to play in teams. Teaming up and splitting up the command of your fleet adds a small bit of role playing to your fights. It gives a little bit of wing-man feel to the gameplay. You can both use the same ship too, even the same pilots so there is no conflict of interest, but I say if you’re using the same ships choose different pilots; this will change up the gameplay for your team. Also, download the X-Wing Soundboard for your phone. It’s fun adding in some sound effects to spice up the combat, just don’t go overboard.

The game runs $39.95 for the core game set, which comes with one X-Wing and two TIE fighters. This is just enough to get in some good quick games. If you want to make it really worth your time though, you have to buy expansions, which will run between $15 and $30, depending which ships you would like. The Falcon and the Slave I are very popular and will cost you a little more than a plain X-Wing. Fantasy Flight Games also has some epic sized ships, like the Tantive IV and Rebel Transport expansions. These will cost you $90 and $60 respectively. In the end though all that really matters is the game is fun. The best thing to do would go in on the core set with a friend. If you don’t like Star Wars X-Wing the worst that’s happened is you’re each out $20, but I promise that won’t happen.

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.