Designed by Dan Blanchett | Published by Plaid Hat Games
2-4 Players | 90-180 Minutes
Your unique set of skills only outweighed by your questionable moral character brought you to his attention. It’s been 20 years since the scientist Victor Frankenstein met his end. Now the creature has summoned together a suspicious group of participants capable of competing to deliver the one thing the mad scientist never could: a companion. Travel to the year 1819 as you scour the streets of Paris seeking the means… and the flesh to bring another abomination to life.
Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein is a highly thematic, story-driven, worker placement game where you’re a scientist looking to gain expertise, build your reputation and gather spare body parts in an effort to bring to life another creature. The strong theme is heralded by a series of events and encounters with the creature over the course of 13 turns that drive the game forward. Along for the ride is the Captain Robert Walton, fully determined to finally eradicate the creature once and for all.
Each player takes on the roll of a diversely ominous character, greatly skilled and ranging from grim to down right nasty in demeanor. You’ll work to attract assistants that will help you compete against your opponents to gather the necessary human remains and ultimately please the creature by creating new life.
To set up the game, a variety of cards are placed through the game board highlighting places you’ll be able to interact and gain achievements to help you in your quest. Players also receive their own personal laboratory where they will work to collect human parts and reassemble them.
Each turn consists of 4 phases: Event Phase, City Phase, Lab Phase and Reset Phase.
During the event phase, the first player draws and resolves 1 card from the event deck. This is where much of the narrative for the game takes place. Players might either draw an event or encounter card. Each may require an immediate action or one that may come into play later in the game when the necessary criteria is met (players activating a certain location or achieving certain goals). The encounter cards provide a scenario to be resolved and may require difficult decisions to be made with a positive or negative outcome. The first player chooses someone (possibly themselves) to resolve the encounter.
Players then take turns placing their meeples one at a time throughout the city or in your lab to trigger benefits. The main pursuit here is spare body parts to reassemble later in the lab, but players may also seek to level up their 3 primary dials to better achieve their objectives. Many of your needs can’t be attained until you’ve previously met these level up objectives.
Each player’s laboratory board features 3 dials: Humanity, Reputation and Expertise. Leveling up these dials will help you gain additional points, more and better assistants and additional benefits to help bring your monster to life.
As players travel through the city placing their meeples, there are a number of places where human remains can be obtained such as the cemetery, hospital and morgue. Players can also choose to replace human parts with animal parts or visit the docks to hire unsavory characters to help you out. Of course those types always require some form of payment be it coins or a piece of your own humanity. If you’re looking for the freshest meat you could even take the life of some unsuspecting soul by committing murder. Fresh body parts always work best when it comes to the lab phase, but murder will alert the authorities and lead to negative effects.
Players can also pursue less sketchy options on the board such as volunteering at the church, hospital or giving lectures at the academy. These typically provide humanity, expertise and additional bonuses.
Once all players have finished placing their meeples, the laboratory phase begins. Each player works independently to fulfill the requirements necessary to build their creature, piece by piece. Each creature requires a head, torso, 2 arms and 2 legs. Body parts each feature 2 separate phases (muscle and skin) before they can be completed. Players use various body parts collected such as muscle, organs, blood, bones and animals parts. Players might not be able to use all their body part cubes and can save them for another turn, but body parts left out in the lab decay and lose value. Each turn you’re unable to play a specific body part it gets downgraded providing less points when used and will ultimately have to be discarded. For each phase of decay you can only hold so many body part cubes so careful management is key. There are a number of other opportunities to benefit from in the lab, but I’ll let you discover some things on your own.
When a body part is completed (muscle and skin phases) – players can “flip the switch” attempting to bring the creature to live. Players will roll a dice hoping for success. Failure in the roll can lead to damage and potentially downgrade your body parts. Achieving higher levels on your expertise dial will give you the option to upgrade your dice for a shot at greater success.
Players continue the phases over 12 rounds or until someone successfully brings their creature to life. The player with the most points at the end of the game is declared the victor.
This game has a TON of pieces. There are multiple card decks, player cubes, tokens, meeples, coins and body part puzzle pieces. Everything is high quality and feels really good in your hands. The main board is nice and thick. It folds really well and has a cool spot gloss coating over specific locations and buildings. The individual laboratories are the only thing that falls into the questionable category. The cardboard quality isn’t quite as good, but it does have the built-in dials and they function really well. Overall the components are fantastic.
The artwork does a great job of setting the tone for the game. The gothic 18th-century rendering of the streets of Paris gives the game a nice table presence. The laboratories look great and clearly communicate all the spaces and options you have to play. The high-quality character illustrations from players cards to hoodlums at the dock are dark and moody. One thing I haven’t mentioned up to this point is there are a lot of dead people in this game – all of various states of decay. That being said, there is a lot of blood: severed heads, various wounds, etc. This game definitely isn’t for a younger audience and if that sort of thing bothers you… you may want to pass. Overall, this is a real work of art, sets the proper tone and draws you right into this seedy, dark world.
Plaid Hat Games recently released a companion app to go along with the game. It’s completely free and adds some nice touches overall. The introduction, game endings and encounter cards are now presented in a theatrical audio presentation bringing the story of the game to life. The app also frequently plays background noises from the streets of Paris such as dripping water and horses wandering down the cobblestone streets. There are also thematic background tones that ratchet up the tension (i.e. spooky noises). While not 100% necessary to play the game, the app does bring a more cinematic touch to the game along with a few other easily accessible resources such as rules and FAQs.
So the theme is absorbing, the components are high quality and the artwork is amazing, but does the game work?
Even at low player counts, I felt the worker placement aspect of the game was very tight – especially later in the game when you needed blood to fire up your monster and there wasn’t enough to go around. You can always bump a player off a spot, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to grab the resources you need as you race to the finish line. I loved how the tension in your decision making increased as the game went along. Suddenly your decisions matter more than ever as you anxiously watch your opponents shore up resources ahead of your turn.
I loved working in the laboratory. I’m not a huge fan of set collection, but gathering the right amount of body parts to meet an arm or leg’s requirements seems very satisfying. Of course in the laboratory you’ll need to energize your Leyden jars (used to bring electrical life to the monster) and hope for a successful roll of the dice. There is plenty of apprehension about when to roll the dice and risk possibly damaging your hard-earned body parts. I didn’t go into all the details of the laboratory, but there’s an option to put body parts “on ice” so they’ll last longer. Perhaps you save them to trade at the market on your next turn. You can also give blood, practice and repair your creature, but it all requires the use of your precious meeples. So many options – so little time to bring your monster to life!
Speaking of length, my primary critique of the game is the length. You better settle in because this can be a long game initially. My first game lasted 3 hours with teaching and setup. Like any new game it was slow going for the players who had never played before. By the end things were only bogged down due to implementing strategy versus a limited understanding of the game. I imagine playing with the same knowledgeable group multiple times can help you hit around the 90 minute mark. Plaid Hat does provide an option called the Igor Variant that reduces the number of turns and kickstarts each player’s monster build to reduce game time.
Overall, I had a great time playing Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein. While the game length is a tad long, the theme and game pieces look and feel great. The app really helps set the mood and there is plenty of tension in the game’s decisions. There are also many ways to win the game. The quickest to bring their monster to life isn’t always the overall winner so balancing your time spent earning points as well as bringing your monster to life all plays into a winning strategy. The narrative and character bios help paint a macabre and dangerous backdrop for these scoundrels, wrapped up in a dangerous game. It is a bit dark and some of the imagery may be too intense for some players. But if you’re looking for a spooky good time at the game table that’ll force you to outplay and outwit your opponents, I highly recommend Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein.