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Board Game Reviews

Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein Review

AL Updated May 28, 2020
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Not quite a Modern Prometheus

Game Information

2 - 4
There Will Be Games

Not quite a Modern Prometheus.

Had the occupants of a holiday chalet in Geneva 1816 been less beset by the inconvenience of an unseasonably cold summer, we may never have been gifted the tale of Frankenstein at all. Birthed of a creative story-telling competition amongst a cadre of fops du jour, the puffy sleeved ensemble of proto-emos Byron, Shelley, and Polidori were roundly outdone by the eighteen-year old Mary Shelley (nee Godwin), as she unspooled a tale of body snatching and tragic obsession that has proven resonant enough to spawn an ongoing procession of offshoots that straddle the entire media landscape as successive generations unpick its motif and metaphor, while it continues to play upon our own dark obsessions with mortality.

The latest in this shambling parade arrives courtesy of Plaid Hat games in the form of Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein, a 2-4 player development in the mewling but burgeoning ‘narrative eurogame’ experiment.

Normally the prospect of a ‘midweight euro’ would hold about as much appeal in my house as a pair of tan coloured slacks. The thrills of worker placement and multiplayer solitaire are largely lost on me when compared to the ebb and flow of a great narrative boardgame, but theme counts for a lot in my estimation, and Abomination waved promises of something delightfully macabre coupled with branching story-elements that left me eager to step into the shoes of a Parisian scientist as they grappled with quandaries both moral and morbid. Elbows bloodied at their operating table, silhouette framed by the crackle of electricity as they stitched together both cadavers and their fraying reputations at the behest of a lovelorn beast.

I had read numerous pieces warning of the game’s graphic nature. Pundits furrowed their brows over its ‘confronting artwork’ and wrung their hands over mechanisms that prompted players to commit unholy deeds as though the taint of corruption was upon it and the mere act of opening the box would lead me into some kind of perilous pit that would compromise my very humanity.

Needless too say, this was a big selling point for me.

Sadly, it turned out to be largely hyperbole. This thing is PG13 to the bone. A smattering of gore and some decidedly textbook manifestations of sinew and gristle are as nasty as it gets. The subdued colour palette comes across more dreary than devilish and the play mechanisms tend to rob the player’s narrative actions of their visceral heft, couched as they are in mathematic abstraction.

abomintaion board game

In addition to the vanilla worker placement element of the game where players dispatch scientists and their assistants to various locations throughout Paris, there is an engaging laboratory phase that tasks players with constructing their own Prometheus, toiling to complete body parts hewn together from the disparate shreds they have harvested, all while harried by time constraints, their hand forced by the onward march of decomposition.

Even more compelling are the three primary attributes players are tasked with keeping track of throughout their ordeal. The business of body-snatching is grisly, morally compromising work and must be conducted with a modicum of clandestine flair, lest the good people of Paris, or worse, the resolute Captain Morgan discover each scientist’s demonic dabblings.

Throughout proceedings, certain actions and events will affect players Morality, Reputation and Expertise, as they either resolutely resist the monster’s urging, toe a pragmatic middle pillar, or succumb with glee to the wetwork at hand.  This balancing act is a welcome wrinkle in an otherwise rote set of action selections, and whilst it brings to mind the corruption mechanic from its antecedent Lords of Waterdeep’s expansion, it does so with a thematic binding that enhances the weight of decisions, as players seek to balance the relative rewards of obtaining more fleshy plunder vs. spot-cleaning the cascade of stains upon their immortal soul. It is entirely possible to achieve victory via a circuitous route of deception and benevolence, doing just enough to appear in acquiescence with the monster’s demands whilst steadfastly refusing to engage in the grand guignol he truly desires.

Of course, this runs counter to the game’s appeal and is decidedly much less fun but the range of characters offered to players to embody is kind enough to offer a backstory and motivation for varying modes of play that is a pleasing addition to the games relative thematic strengths.

Narrative-wise, the promised interactive storytelling element falls a little flat as though animated by a defective Leyden Jar, feeling somewhat tacked-on even as it adds a little spice.

At the start of each turn an event or encounter card will be drawn that may direct players to delve into a slim selection of passages tucked into the rear of the manual. These well-written snatches of prose will often lead to a binary choice of actions that tend to telegraph their strategic merits. A welcome addition, at their best they are a strong reminder of the stakes at play, the urgency of your tasks and the insistent shadow of the lurking Monster, who can otherwise become an afterthought, obscured as he is by the focus on corralling and maintaining your resources.

abomination 02

At a not quite tight three hour run-time, the relative paucity of actions and options, combined with the scant mechanical development on offer as the game unfolds may render this a bit of a slog for some groups. There are thrills to be had though. The pressure to complete your creation before Captain Morgan’s looming arrival, the gleeful schadenfreude of the ‘take that’ elements and the tension as the dice tumble during the critical reanimation phase all lead to some boisterous table talk and fraught puzzling that will surely be enhanced by groups with enough improvisational nous to truly embody their characters and thematically gild their actions.

Whilst it doesn’t reach the heights of other recent euro-style darlings such as Everdell, Abomination will nonetheless find its fans, it’s intermittent bolts of lightning enough to sustain it, even as its blood remains congealed.

You can get a copy of Abomination here.


Not quite a Modern Prometheus

Editor reviews

1 reviews

Andi Lennon (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Andi Lennon is Sydney based writer, musician and soap dodger. He graduated from Wizbang University with full honours and no teeth. When he isn't feeling conflicted about Morrissey he likes to play indie games with a dubious 80's aesthetic.

You can read more of his work by visiting Mongol Cult

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Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #309309 16 Apr 2020 16:08

The subdued colour palette comes across more dreary than devilish

Yeah, my first look at that example pic made me think: "That looks... grey."

and the play mechanisms tend to rob the player’s narrative actions of their visceral heft, couched as they are in mathematic abstraction.

Aha! So it's Tiny Epic Quest, except not as fun! It does sounds kind of involved, mechanically, for a "storytelling" game. I'm not into all the "choose your own adventure" stuff most of the time, either. The only type of that game that I've ever held on to is Arabian Nights and that probably should've been traded/sold a long time ago.

the resolute Captain Morgan

Bottle or just a beaker?
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #309319 16 Apr 2020 17:29
I enjoyed the review. I won't even give this game a try, because the only thing worse than a euro game in my book is a long euro game.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #309324 16 Apr 2020 17:51
Yeah it's grey. And not in a particularly evocative 'dense Victorian fog' sense either. Honestly the aesthetic stumbles are probably the single most disappointing element of the package here. They could have gone hog wild with it, instead we have art that is very competent, and equally generic. Maybe I just have a higher threshold for grizzly, but it failed to summon any thrills n chills in me.

I've not played any of the tiny epics so I can't comment there but I will say that Captain Morgan has probably 'seen some shit man' and thus wouldn't be adverse to a few drams of his titular tipple.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #309325 16 Apr 2020 17:54
I wouldn't lose any sleep over it. I can appreciate a good euro, even if it's not really my jam. At least this one isn't about baking bread or trading beads.
Frohike's Avatar
Frohike replied the topic: #309330 16 Apr 2020 20:16
The best thing I can say about this game is that it hints at a design space that it just... fails to achieve. There are some really interesting ideas here, for sure, but the WP options are so stolid and un-evolving that whatever crescendo is being conveyed by the event cards and the Captain's implacable timer is lost in 3 hours of extremely repetitive WP processing. The aesthetic limpness of it just made the decision to unload the game onto the secondary market that much easier. It's unfortunate because I can tell that whatever it was attempting to tap into was really quite powerful, but the heart of the design and that flash of brilliance in associating Mary Shelley's work, Ameritrashy events, take-that dynamics, and WP just got lost in the execution.
RobertB's Avatar
RobertB replied the topic: #309332 16 Apr 2020 20:42
My company has a games channel on Slack; video, board, etc. One of my fellow employees told us on that channel that he loves this game. Whole family plays it all the time. A three-hour worker placement games did seem a bit long to me, though.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #309333 16 Apr 2020 20:58
Agreed. My anticipation levels for the possibilities of such a design potpourri were only mirrored by my disappointment in their execution. Perhaps one of the officials variants released in order to truncate its running time may help alleviate the systemic blue balls that the third hour of rote placement engenders. It's definitely not a bad game, just not a memorable one. Which is perhaps an even more grevious failing.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #309334 16 Apr 2020 21:01
That may be the nub of my issue actually. It probably is a great family game, but as such it kinda rubs against the grain of what it was perhaps hoping to achieve with its theme.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #309335 16 Apr 2020 22:02
By establishing a heavy euro game bias early on, Boardgamegeek hobbled this hobby at a crucial early stage. Some gamers got so hung up on the euro games that they never tried anything else. So when they come up with a neat topic for a game, like say conducting a military siege of a castle or constructing a frankenstein monster, they are unable to choose suitable mechanics to express that topic, and fall back on the same few popular euro mechanics and components. Worker placement. Wooden cubes. Resource management. Tableaus. Bidding. Perhaps an elegeant rondel. It's laughably incompetent, and leaves the hobby cluttered with junk.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #309336 16 Apr 2020 22:18
Yeah, the whole 'accumulate brown cubes' thing left me on the island too. To each his own I guess. Any medium is going to have its morass however, and in doing so it gives extra weight to the outliers.
jpat's Avatar
jpat replied the topic: #309344 17 Apr 2020 12:03
Just to deviate a bit from the pile-on (though it's not a poorly argued one), here's what I wrote after three plays.

Great and dare I say elegant integration of mechanisms and theme. While there's flavor text (and pretty good text), mostly the theme is evoked by the player actions, which, to me, is far more valuable. Component quality is very good, particularly considering the very reasonable price. It's on the medium-heavish side, but we cut probably an hour off of our second 2p play and probably came in slightly over the 2 hours--and I don't really care whether it "plays long" if I'm having a good time, which I have been so far. If there's any downside so far for me, it's in the slightly annoying but fairly easily managed board reset at the end of rounds and a concern that, long term, the storytelling element's limited extent may result in repetitiveness (that I'm assuming an expansion could address in a game that doesn't seem like it otherwise would need it). One more thing, perhaps, is that the grey dice seem pretty harsh--one "alive" side and either blanks, humanity loss, or damage otherwise. This can be mitigated with substitution or card effects, and the damage is fairly easily removed and usually not fatal if done after several body parts have been built, but the weakness of the grey dice means that the one character's ability to add an extra grey die seems underpowered. Maybe it's too early to say that, though.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #309354 17 Apr 2020 18:33
I certainly didn't intend to initiate such a kicking Hahaha! I can definitely see the appeal for some groups. Like I said, I don't believe it's a bad game, just a missed opportunity. Honestly with a little tweaking it could probably sing. Glad you're enjoying it!