Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday 14 April 2020

Grave Robbing: the Moral Choice:- Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein

Game: Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein

Publisher: Plaid Hat Games

Designer: Dan Blanchett

Year: 2019

Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein is a 2-4 player worker placement game in which you take the role of a scientist trying to create a second Creature. Whether you are doing it for the thrill of scientific discovery, of through fear of the rage of Frankenstein's original creation you'll need to do the same thing: gather up body parts (the fresher the better) and learn to surgically attach them together to create a patchwork mockery of the human condition. Before exposing the creature to just the right amount of electricity to bring the spark of life to it, without burning its limbs off! Exactly how you will go about this varies. An honourable doctor might be able to take cadavers from the morgue for "research purposes", while a less respectable, or more desperate, scientist might find a willing thug to bring them a body "no questions asked". If you get really desperate, you have a scalpel and Paris is filled with dark alleys...

You start the game with 1 scientist, 2 assistants (hunchback not included) and a lab completely free from any decaying body parts! After drawing an event for the round, players will take it in turn to place workers on several spots on the board to perform the associated action. Most spaces offering a bigger reward should a scientist be placed there. Should the space you desperately need be taken, don't fear, you can always bump a player off in exchange for a franc. Many of the placement spaces offer body parts in one of 4 forms: muscle, organs, bone and blood. Depending where you get them they will be at different levels of decomposition (rated from 1-4). The fresher is better, but acquiring fresh human bodies is rarely a pleasant task and often saps your purse, your humanity, or both. You can't hold onto the parts forever either, almost all parts will decay over time.

Each player has 3 dials they need to manage; Humanity, Expertise and Reputation. Humanity represents how moral your character is, with a high humanity offering bonuses to your reputation. You largely get humanity by volunteering at the hospital or visiting the church which gives you cards to prevent the other players from being so evil. Expertise is gained by dissecting corpses for study (rather than components), working at the university or simply by creating monster parts, you need a high expertise to make the more complex parts such as the head. Finally Reputation is how people see you around town and is most important for increasing the number of assistants you have and even upgrading assistants to scientists.

At the end of the main phase each player can simultaneously perform a lab phase, this is where you actually make the monster parts. Arms, legs, torso and head all have a different requirement to be made. At first you'll need to spend muscles, organs and bone to create the musculature and skeletal structure of your part of choice and later spend muscles, organs and blood to flip the tile over, finalizing it's form with skin and blood. Each of these activities rewards points, with greater rewards for using fresher materials, if you're stuck on supply you may even swap out some human parts for animal parts, but that comes at a point cost too! Once you have some parts ready to go you can expend charged leydon jars to try to bring the monster to life. Doing so requires rolling dice which each have a relatively low chance of success, and a fairly high chance of damaging the body parts you lovingly made! The game ends either when the first player successfully brings all 6 of their body parts to life, or at the end of 12 rounds at which points Frankenstein's creature is captured.

Abomination feels like a game of two parts, during the start you are desperately cobbling the body together, while in the second half you are jolting the creature to life as you finish off the last few parts. The first half, then, is all about worker placement, while the second half is more of a dice game. Let me say first that the worker placement in Abomination is done impeccably well. Each space has a purpose, you always feel like you could have done more with just one more worker and almost always feel like one of your opponents has foiled your plan, even in a two-player game! While there are countless ways to get bodies they each have their own advantages and disadvantages which balances well with the points rewards for using "fresh materials". It probably does without saying at this point that the game works best with a morbid sense of humour, you are playing as characters that are graverobbing and stealing the bodies from the executioner's block, if not outright murdering people. The game isn't afraid to show it either, the art design for the creature parts is bad enough, but some of the decaying bodies of guillotine victims have downright gruesome art! Abomination is disturbingly faithful to it's source material.

That brings us to the second half of the game: bringing the creature to life. At this point it's worth noting that I am salty. Imagine taking a teacher's display model of Sodium Chloride, then dipping it in the dead sea, only to empty a salt shaker over the top while it's drying. This is almost half as salty as Abomination made me. I have had, admittedly, some of the worst dice luck I have ever known while playing this game. The odds of doing as poorly as I did in bringing my creature to life game after game are astronomical. But that doesn't mean that the fault can all be blamed on the fates turning a blind eye to me. Abomination is a long game, clocking in at 2-3 hours with 2 fast players. Most of this game is worker placement, which features a small, but noticeable amount of card luck. But when it comes to finishing the game you suddenly are at the whims of dice. Evil, spiteful dice with only 1 (or 2 for the upgraded version) winning sides. While there is some dice mitigation available, it doesn't go far enough to prevent the awful feeling of watching 2+ hours of work be destroyed by a couple of bad dice throws.

And despite this ending, despite the face that my body is now made of 90% salt, I really rather enjoyed Abomination. The first half of the game is so well tuned that it made up for the cuboid humiliation that I got to suffer at the end of every game. The reality is that no-one is ever likely to suffer so poorly at the hands of those dice ever again in the history of humanity. While I think Abomination would have been a far better game if they had found another way to bring the creatures to life. While a 4-player game could do with ending before the heat death of the universe. Abomination is still a fantastic game and one I highly recommend giving a go. With 2 players. Neither of which suffers from AP.


Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK & Plaid Hat Games.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your thoughts on the game. I think this game is a pretty good one!