21st Oct2019

‘Abomination: Heir of Frankenstein’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

abomination-box

I’ve always considered Lords of Waterdeep to be among the very best thematic eurogames out there. My love of the Dungeons & Dragons license combines perfectly with my favourite genre to create a game that I never seem to tire of, especially with the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion. With that said, it may just be that I have a new contender for the title of actually being the most thematic eurogame, and that contender is Plaid Hat Games’ Abomination: Heir of Frankenstein.

In Abomination, each player takes on the role of a prominent doctor in early nineteenth century Paris. When approached by Frankenstein’s monster and tasked with creating him a companion, the doctors have tough choices to make – should they throw away their humanity in a mad quest to build the most life-like creature, or do they preserve their reputation and instead vow only to use the parts of the already dead, or even animal parts, resulting in a lesser creation.

Wait, what? Did I just say that players would be making a monster from various body parts? In a eurogame? Yes, I really did. Each doctor has three tracks to consider – their humanity (essentially a measure of what good remains in them) their reputation (as a respected practitioner) and their expertise (their actual ability to perform.) These tracks must be managed throughout the game, and as players gain and lose points, they may also gain additional victory point, assistant or other bonuses, such as when one track affects another. These tracks drive a lot of the decisions you’ll make from turn to turn.

On their turn, a player will simply take one of their meeples (either their doctor, or one of the smaller assistant pieces) and place it on a space on the board. Each space is different, and some offer benefits for using your scientist, whilst others do not. Visit the church, for example, and you may take a humanity card (which will usually restore your humanity when used.) If you visit the church with your scientist meeple, you will also pay pennance, allowing you to gain one humanity immediately.

Many locations allow the player to take a body card, with varying states of decay. A fresh corpse from the Public Square will potentially yield more valuable parts than one dug up from the Cemetery, but public executions are rare (and only occur when certain event cards are drawn) which can lead players to the Dark Alley. At this location, a player can perform murder, obtaining a corpse as fresh as one from the Public Square, but at a huge cost to their humanity and at the risk of being caught by the police.

On almost all occasions when a body card is taken, the player can choose between either studying the corpse to increase their expertise, or harvesting it for parts. Each body yields a certain amount of muscle, organs, blood and bone, and has a freshness rating of one to four. Level one parts are very fresh whilst level four are old, and bone never decays meaning that it has no freshness rating. Parts harvested this way are placed on the player board in the slot that represents their freshness and at the end of each round, any parts that are not used will decay by one step.

And so that’s how the City Phase of each round plays out. The players essentially take turns to place one of their meeples onto the board, taking the cards and/or other effects as they go, collecting parts and cards, or adjusting their three tracks as appropriate. Blocks of ice can be purchased to help slow the decay of parts, and leyden jars (which store electricity to help awaken the monsters) can be bought and charged up. This continues until each player has used all of their available meeples, at which point the Lab Phase begins.

The Lab Phase is when players use their available body parts to create the monster. Each player is given an aide memoir that explains what expertise they need to have in order to build a body part – three for an arm, for example. The same card also shows how many victory points are scored for doing so, with a lesser amount of points scored for using less fresh parts, and the maximum score for any body part is always capped by the least fresh part. Animal parts can be used to substitute almost any other part, at a cost of minus two victory points for each animal part used.

Before a monster is complete, it must consist of two arms, two legs, a torso and a head, and each part must first be build in its “skin off” form, before the skin is then added in the same way. Adding skin to the torso and head requires fairly high expertise, so the game expects players to balance collecting parts rapidly with learning more and more expertise. Regardless of your strategy, expect each game of Abomination: Heir of Frankenstein to last at least two hours with three or four players – it’s much longer than the box suggests in my experience.

During the Lab Phase, players may also discharge their leyden jars to roll dice and try to bring a part to life. At higher levels of expertise, the player will also receive special dice that have better odds of a positive outcome. This is because electrifying your monster can damage it, causing skin on pieces of the body to flip back to their skin off side, or causing the side with no skin on to be destroyed, should shock symbols be rolled.

It’s fun and thematic to roll dice to try and awaken the monster (and it feels like a thrilling race late in the game) but it can also be frustrating to have your plans foiled by repeatedly poor rolling in a game that is otherwise very keen to give the players direct control of their destiny. In addition to the possibility of the better dice, there are many, many ways in which the luck factor can be changed or mitigated through cards or other means, but players purchasing Abomination should know that the luck factor exists here in a way that it doesn’t in some eurogames.

I should also mention that each game of Abomination lasts for either twelve rounds, or until one or more players complete and awaken their monster during a lab phase. With each new turn, an event card is flipped over and will affect the board. As an example, a card might explain that a particularly cold winter is causing people to stay home and freezing the ground, making the Cemetery and several other locations inaccessible for the round. Sometimes, an encounter card will be drawn, and the player who is doing best or worst in a specific area may be affected. The player with the most victory points at the end of the game wins.

As I mentioned right at the beginning of this review, Abomination: Heir of Frankenstein is easily the most thematic eurogame that I’ve played, but with that said, it’s also perhaps the most grotesque. Players need to understand that at best, they are going to be making a living creature out of animal parts and by digging up dead bodies. At worst, they’ll be murdering people only to harvest them and bring them back to life. The card images include severed heads, people with their eyes gouged out and even one poor woman who has had her jaw torn off.

The quality of the components is without question, and there’s no doubt that the graphic imagery adds to the macabre theme. If you love gothic, horror storytelling and you’re also looking for a proper, deep strategy game, then Abomination is almost certainly one you should consider. There’s a lot going on here even over and above what I’ve mentioned – from the randomised bonus objectives to the special rules for each possible player character. Abomination is a proper gamers game, but it is certainly one that I think will polarise opinion because of the subject matter. Personally, I like it a lot, and I look forward to playing more of it.

****½  4.5/5

Abomination: Heir of Frankenstein is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator

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