No bride for Frankenstein
As soon as the solo mode for Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein was announced by Plaid Hat Games, the game went straight to the top of my wishlist. Even though I'm not a eurogamer, I occasionally break my Ameritrash routine if a euro catches my eye. And lo and behold, Abomination not only has a wonderfully macabre theme, it also pits you against the game itself and even gives you a clear win condition! It's as if someone said, 'Athena, we know you don't like automas and are therefore deprived of the joys of eurogaming. Here, we created this solo mode just for you'. It would be inexcusable of me not to purchase it.
Abomination is a bare bones worker placement game, with some extra dice rolling thrown in the solo mode. The background story takes place in the 19th century and has you, a scientist, being visited by the Creature. He has kidnapped your family and threatens to kill them, unless you give him a companion.
To do so, you must send your workers in various Parisian locations to collect cadavers. Cadavers give you cubes: each cube colour represents either muscle, organs, blood or bones. By taking these in your lab, you are able to eventually construct arms, legs, a head and a torso. Details like the decomposition of the parts after each round, and the option to buy ice to preserve them for a while, add to the 'realism' the theme. This grim crafting business doesn't go unnoticed, however. The Captain is after the Creature itself, and police investigators patrol the streets. If an investigator ever catches one of your workers, they may either try to escape or bribe the policeman. If they ever catch you, you may even choose to murder them and put their fresh parts to good use.
A common complaint you see in reviews of the multiplayer mode is the game length. This is not a problem when you play solo. Rounds go by fast, and if you know what you are doing, the game doesn't take more than 2 hours. Rules are very easy to learn. At the beginning of each round, you draw an event card and execute what it says. These cards often block locations for the duration of the round, but may also give you a small benefit. The multiplayer game also comes with Encounter cards which are not used in solo. Sadly, this means that we don't get to read the story snippets included in the rulebook and lose some of the flavour.
In the next phase, you send your two workers and the scientist at places like the Cemetery, the Morgue, the Market, the Academy or the Docks to either find dead bodies or collect resources: money, Leyden jars, expertise etc. The investigators follow right after. One is patrolling outside the Morgue at the start of the game, and three more show up in subsequent rounds. You roll two dice for each of them and move them around the board, rondel-style. The location they are standing on is blocked for the next round and until they move again. Finally, if you managed to bring organic matter to the lab, you can follow the instructions to make a body part, and if the Leyden jars are charged, you may roll the dice to see if these parts come alive.
I have by now tried to assemble and power up my monstrosities three times. My first session was a learning game, figuring out how things work. It took me two more games to form a complete humanoid and throw the switch to bring it to life, but I lost to the final dice rolls. If my creation's left arm hadn't rotted (due to a maggot infestation event), I might have had a better chance at winning.
My impression so far is that the solo mode of Abomination turns it into a frantic race for body parts. You have limited time to finish up your creation, and investigators are breathing down your neck. If you are averse to dice rolls deciding if you win or lose, you may find the game annoying. You may end up with a nodding head, moving arms and legs, but a dead torso, just because you didn't roll well enough. The game can sustain a good number of plays, also because you will fail some of your attempts. You may try different characters, although not all of them have useful abilities (you may need to house rule, and give them your own). I didn't count my score in the end, but you have the option of doing that too, if you win consistently. Not counting points makes the game a very different experience than the multiplayer version. You no longer have to worry about finding the freshest parts, and may even add animal organs to complete your task without any penalty. Time is the enemy here, so some quality discounts don't matter.
I saw that an expansion may come out in the future, and I hope it takes the solo player into account. It would certainly give the game some longevity, as repeated plays may make you feel that you are following the same pattern. Still, the uniqueness of the theme makes this game a worthy addition to anyone's collection. I would also appreciate it if they added at least one female torso. I wanted to form a lady companion for the Creature and the male torso didn't match her head. I'm sure that's why she didn't come alive.