ABOMINATION: THE HEIR OF FRANKENSTEIN Invites Players To Unlock The Secret Of Life

Come up to the lab and see what's on the slab.

By Sean O’Leary · @SeanOlearyNJ · April 27, 2023, 4:00 PM EDT

At the end of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's seminal novel Frankenstein (spoilers ahead, but read it, please. It's only been 200 years), the Creature, after learning of the death of his creator, father, and worst enemy, Victor Frankenstein, vows to Captain Walton, the book's framing narrator, to go off into the arctic wastes and end his miserable, solitary existence.

In Dan Blanchett's tabletop game Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein, we are transported to Paris in the year 1819, a full twenty years after the conclusion of Shelley's novel, and the Creature has, evidently, rethought his decision. A mysterious stranger, "one with off-putting coloration and an array of ghastly scars" (yep, that's him), has arrived and initiated a competition among the world's most elite and daring scientific minds (that's you) to unlock the secrets of Victor Frankenstein's pioneering, and forbidden, work. The result for him will be a companion who understands his particular challenges. The prize for you will be learning the secret to initiating the spark of life and keeping yours if you're lucky.


Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein, published in 2019 by Plaid Hat Games, is a worker placement/resource management game for two to four players, with each taking on the role of a scientist, drawn to participate in the contest for their own unique, sometimes dark and mysterious reasons as alluded to on their character card.

Avoiding the theme-crushing decision to have each player simply be their own Victor Frankenstein, Blanchett let his setting solve that problem.

"There is only one Victor Frankenstein, after all, and it didn't make sense for each player to be him," says Blanchett. "So a continuation of the story seemed the proper way to go, and that led me to muse on what befell the Creature at the end of the novel. The story implies he may have built a large funeral pyre and destroyed himself or sunk beneath the cold waters under the ice. But what if he didn't? What did he do? So I imagined an entire scenario that takes him from that decision point (to die or not to die) all the way to his appearance in Paris twenty years later as a secret benefactor. I know what happened during that time, even if the players do not. It's an intentional mystery, which we only get hints of in the backstories of the scientists he enlists to finish Victor's work."


Players will send their assistants, or go themselves, to various locations around Paris to raise funds, garner expertise, or, through various methods, procure necessary materials in the form of bone, muscle, organs, and blood to perform their forbidden experiments and, hopefully, bring their conglomeration of dead parts back to life, winning the contest and staving off the ire of the Creature.

It all sounds pretty simple and "mechanical," right? But, even as I write this, I'm telling myself not to, for we must certainly be at the point where we're over, as gamers, insisting that "Euro-style" games must, by their nature, be devoid of theme. Let's allow Abomination the honor of finally putting that to rest (ironic, I know, in a game about resurrection). This game is replete with theme!

Locations like the Academy or the hospital offer choices of rewards based on whether you send yourself or your assistants. At the hospital, you can earn money by working or increase your Reputation score by volunteering. If your Reputation is high enough, you or your assistant can gain various cards from the hospital deck, yielding cadavers for your experiments.

The Academy offers opportunities to increase Reputation and Expertise and earn a little money in the process. Visit other areas around town, like the Morgue, to bribe the attendant into turning a blind eye while you "spirit away" some of whoever is "on hand."

If you're in luck, the Town Square will have a fresh corpse or two after a public execution, while the Cemetery offers a safer place to acquire materials away from prying eyes, but at the cost of freshness.


At the Docks, you can always find a rotating array of unsavory individuals for hire, yielding materials or increases to Reputation or Expertise at a cost. Then there's the Dark Alley, where you can make your own luck by committing murder, yielding an abundance of the freshest materials but decreasing your humanity while also drawing the attention of the police. Too many visits will put the heat on and hamper your efforts.

And the freshness of materials is the key. You'll bring everything back to your Laboratory Board, which is where the revenant meets the road, so to speak. Materials come in four degrees of freshness, and there are spaces on your board to place them. You can keep them there until you're ready to use them, but, each round, they will decay, moving one space to the right and being downgraded in the process. Once they move off the board, they become too decomposed to use and are discarded. Players can buy blocks of ice to delay decomposition, but the ice will melt away each round, so you better get to constructing parts.


You'll build your companion creature following a "recipe" of sorts for constructing each part. You'll need the right materials in the right quantities and the necessary Expertise to assemble a head, torso, and one pair each of arms and legs. If you find yourself short of some required materials, you can use animal parts, but there's a trade-off in the number of points you'll score for success with such low-quality ingredients. They are, however, more readily available and easier to come by at the Slaughterhouse.

Once assembled, your parts will need to be covered with skin, and then it's time to "throw the switch" and attempt to bring the dead parts to life. If you're lucky, you'll succeed and draw closer to winning the contest. If not, you can destroy those parts, and it's back to the drawing board.


And don't forget about the Creature, because he sure won't forget about you. From time to time, he'll check in on your progress, and if you haven't gotten far enough, he'll be extremely disappointed. Remember his "ire" I mentioned earlier? Well, he won't silently judge your efforts, look sternly over his glasses, purse his lips, and shake his head like a middle school woodshop teacher evaluating your bloody-fanged ursine toothbrush holder (if this sounds oddly specific, it is). His displeasure is much more physical. In one game, the Creature became enraged at my lack of progress and killed one of my assistants. While I was set back by the elimination of one of my helpers, I suddenly found myself possessing a number of extremely fresh materials.

Moments such as that emerge in the form of Encounter cards, which are seeded into the Event deck at the beginning of the game. Encounters send the player to the accompanying rule book, where several pages of short narrative passages drive the story forward, deliver consequences, or offer a choice.

Besides the monster's impatience, players have to race against a clock in the form of Captain Walton. He's also back, pursuing the Creature to Paris, intending to end the Creature's existence. Every round, Captain Walton moves closer to the end game. The game ends if players can complete the contest before that time (round 13). Then they'll add up points garnered throughout the game on their Expertise, Reputation, and Humanity dials, body parts they managed to bring to life, and bonus objectives. There's also a bit of narrative to read, depending on which scenario triggered the end of the game.


Thematically, it's all appropriately very gruesome. The theme is underscored and even heightened by the art direction. There's certainly nothing cartoonish about the art, and it doesn't shy away from the darker aspects of the theme and story. Blanchett agrees, but gives credit to the team:

"I love the game's art! And I think that's one thing that gives Abomination its distinctiveness in a crowded marketplace. However, I can't take much credit for it. We had a great Art Director, Sam Vega, who oversaw the visual design of the game, as well as a very talented graphic designer in David Richards. I did provide a detailed outline of my notes for the visual look and feel, complete with reference images, and my prototype layout was largely adhered to in the final version. But regarding the more gruesome illustrations and character designs, that was all Sam and his team of artists."

Fango readers, of course, are not a squeamish bunch, if I may be permitted to generalize a bit, but market considerations are a real thing if you're trying to make a go of it as a small publisher in the hobby game world. Plaid Hat's commitment to Blanchett's design and vision is commendable.

"It was maybe a risk to push the envelope on what level of gruesomeness the market will embrace," says Blanchett, "and I certainly saw plenty of comments from those who were 'nope, not for me.' Not just with the art, but also with some of the darker choices this game affords you (like murdering for fresh materials in the Dark Alley). That said, I feel the audience we served far outweighed any we may have lost. And in the end, I made the game I wanted to play: a dark, macabre, thematic eurogame that does justice to its source material. That's all most of us, as designers, can ask for. And then we just hope we are not the only ones who appreciate it!'

After release, some players expressed a desire for a shorter game. As it stands, a play of Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein can take up to three hours. If you don't have that much time but still want to get in some mad science, there are two variants: one unofficial, but sanctioned by the publisher, is designed by Blanchett himself and called the "Prometheus" variant. Another, offered by the publisher, Plaid Hat Games, is called the "Igor" variant. You can find links to both here. Plaid Hat also offers a solo variant.

Fango readers might remember a recent article on another gothic mad science-themed game called My Father's Work. Interestingly, while Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein is Blanchett's first published game, that same year, he accepted a full-time job with Renegade Games, publisher of My Father's Work. Blanchett's first assignment was development work on T.C. Petty III's ambitious game of branching narratives and forbidden experiments. I'd say it was the perfect fit. Both My Father's Work and Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein have earned permanent places on my shelf.

Now, Plaid Hat… how about an expansion?

Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein is available from Plaid Hat Games and wherever hobby board games are sold.