2-4 players, Competitive, Worker Placement Monster Builder
Designer: Dan Blanchett
Artwork: Mikhail Palamarchuk, Tony Sart
Publisher: Plaid Hat Games
When this game popped up on my radar I was going wild with excitement. The game looked macabre and interesting AND the board design looked awesome. My first thoughts were, “will this finally be a worker placement game that dethrones my fav worker placement, Lords of Waterdeep?” Months later I’m wandering like a lost fool through a local Barnes and Noble store and WHAM! There it is sitting on a shelf. I look back and forth for a moment unsure of this mysterious oasis I have stumbled upon and then quickly snatch a copy and rush to pay for it. Did it dethrone my all-time fav? Let’s find out….
Overview of Gameplay
In Abomination players will be placing little meeples in different spots on the main board and their player board in typical worker placement fashion to collect resources. Ultimately the players will be trying to create body parts of a monster with these resources and bring it to life by shocking the snot out of it. That’s the abridged gameplay overview, read on for the full platter of details.
The VERY first thing that has to happen is the reading of the rounds event card. At setup there are 12 of these cards shuffled and placed in a deck on the event board and at the onset of every round the player with the first player token draws the top card and reads the side that corresponds to whatever round players are on. These cards will change all kinds of stuff from preventing the use of certain spots on the board to having players read a certain excerpt out of the instruction manual that may or may not have negative consequences.
After that players will take turns placing their starting three meeples, one at a time, on the boards to take actions. There are quite a few spots to place with each location only having a single space for a meeple, however there is also a “Bump” space that allows up to three bumps in a four player game. So players can bump another player off a spot to also take that action, they just have to pay the player they are bumping a coin (or 2 coins if using the last bump space). Also players start with one scientist meeple and two assistant meeples to place. Some locations can only take the more powerful Scientist meeple and even other locations can take both BUT give better benefits for placing the Scientist. There are also a few placement spots on your player board (these are the same for each player) that manipulate your monster a bit as well as give you some resources. I’ll go into MUCH more detail about these “resources” later.
Once all the players have placed all their meeples, the next phase begins where players all simultaneously utilize the resources they collected to build or complete any monster body parts they can. Then they can “throw the switch” if they have any charged Leyden Jars to try and zap the parts to life. This is where the randomness of the game takes over with players rolling 2 custom dice per charged leyden jar they have. On successful rolls you can bring fully fleshed out body parts to life, however on unsuccessful rolls you can damage them or even bring down your humanity points.
After all that shenanigans is finished players will go through the clean-up phase which is resetting the cards on the board with new ones, collecting their meeples and (my favorite part) the decomposition of the “resources”, where all the resources will move down one space on the 4-part track. This will cause resources that were not used or stored to basically be discarded over time.
And that is more or less the gist of the game. Players will do this over and over until either one player has successfully brought ALL the pieces to their monster alive or the round tracker has reached the very last spot on the event board, in which case the investigator has tracked them down and stopped them. Points are still calculated either way with alive body parts collecting the most points and other point generators such as the random bonus point tiles and how each player fared on the three gauges, Humanity, Expertise and Reputation. These tracks will fluctuate as you play depending on the choices you make. For example your humanity will suffer if you murder someone in the dark alley location but will prosper if you attend the Saint-Roch church location. The player with the highest score at the end wins!
The game board is fantastic! I love the artwork on the board and the locations look ominous and interesting. The board also has that very nice spot-uv coating on the locations to make them a bit shiny when looking at them at a certain angle which is a super nice touch. There are also some player boards which unfortunately are pretty thin although they do have a nice finish on them to make them feel more premium. They are also HUGE so be prepared to have a decent amount of space setup not only for each player but around the board as well. I mean the board itself isn’t overly large but you will need space all around the outer edges of the board to set the multiple decks of cards that you will be pulling from each round. Add the large quantity of different tokens that will need to be within grabbing reach of all players and you will have quite the setup indeed.
Going back to those player boards, I really like these things! I mean yes, they are table gobblers, and yes they are pretty thin. But they are not only awesome to look at but super fun to play with as well. The entire bottom of each has the three large gauges to track you humanity, reputation and expertise with little dials that you have to assemble for each. These are a very nice touch although when packing them back in the box, it gets a little tricky. Above those you have the 4 sections for the resources that will move through their various decomposition stages. Next to that is the table where you will be placing the body parts for your monster and the spots for your leyden jars. AND finally at the very top are the few spaces that you can send your meeples to as actions during the city phase. I mean there is a lot going on here on the player boards but I think it works out very well and looks awesome. It adds so much to the theme that the table space it takes, in my opinion, is worth it.
The cards are all of a nice quality with the vast majority of them being of the mini size and the custom dice are really nice. The meeples are all colored wood with different shapes for both the assistants and scientists. There is also one for the investigator that you use for the round tracker and one for the monster itself that you use for the first player token. The rest of the cardboard tokens are pretty average quality and let me tell ya, there are A LOT of them. Be prepared to sort through all these piles of different tokens which I’ll speak more on in the Storage section of my review.
Now, let’s finally discuss those “resources”. So, the game has five different kinds of resources you will be running around harvesting to build those monster parts; blood, organs, bone, muscle and animal pieces. All these are represented in the game as little colored plastic cubes and honestly I think they missed a really thematic, if not macabre, opportunity here to make those look more interesting. I mean the colored cubes WORK and honestly you will be maxing out some of your space on your player board with these cubes but the colored cubes also lessen that epic thematic feel that the game just oozes. As you end up collecting these cubes you will find yourself just remembering that you need the “red” cube or the “orange” cube instead of needing “blood” or “animal parts”. This is a shame to an otherwise incredibly thematic game.
The box is a tiny bit too small IF you leave the insert in. After you assemble the dials on the player boards the box lid doesn’t close fully because of the extra space they take up. However with this game especially you can easily toss that insert out as it does nothing to help at all. It’s a cardboard thing that looks nice with the brick design but hinders space allocation. Also this is a game that SORELY needs a good insert. There are a lot of different components that you will want to separate and keep separated during play that will need to be bagged as such. The game has a few bags that components come in but you will need to supply a few more to get everything. And because of the large variety of different components, setup and take down is a bit of a chore. Opening up the box to play after a few sessions I was overwhelmed at the amount of bags I needed to open, dump out and prepare. Not to mention the sheer amount of different decks of cards that you will need to shuffle and set up.
Now all that said, I do like the game enough that I will for sure have my eyes open for a good quality insert for it. It’s frankly amazing at how a good insert can improve the playability of a game.
Visual Appeal /Theme
Now this is where the game shines and I LOVE thematic games. And Abomination exudes theme from almost every orifice with more theme to spare. The locations on the board and the way they work is incredibly thematic. Such locations as the dark alley where you can go to literally MURDER someone, which, will lower you humanity tracker…BUT….you get the most fresh and prime of “resources” from there. Or like when you visit the cemetery, you can dig up three graves but you might just find a skeleton in one coffin which ONLY gives the bone resource. Or heck you can mosey on over to the docks and hire an unscrupulous individual to get you some parts. Of course this will usually cost you coin and perhaps even more humanity. OR you can mosey on over to the Academy and teach which will gain you expertise which you can also gain when you create parts. Or head over to the hospital to gain reputation and ALL these things work someway within the overall game!
I mean this very well MIGHT BE the most thematic game I have ever played. In a super dark and morbid way, but still! Visually you will see dead bodies galore so if this is not your thing you might as well look elsewhere. You are digging up graves, robbing bodies from the morgue, murdering people for parts, running in and grabbing up parts from freshly beheaded people in the town square. I mean yeah this game is not for the squeamish. Personally I love the theme and am glad to have it especially for the Halloween season.
The artwork is also something to be aware of. It’s good artwork to be sure but there are depictions of beheaded people, different stages of corpses depending on where you get the bodies from. Overall though the artwork is really great and the box art, to me, almost makes the game seem “less” adult than the inner contents of the game. When I look at that box art I’m thinking, “ok a little cartoony must not be that bad”. But open it up and the artwork on the cards is much more realistic looking, at least for the corpses. The player character cards art much more matches the box artwork.
Overall though my highest regards for the theme. This is a game I plan on keeping and will try to play as much as possible just because of how cleverly interwoven the theme is with the gameplay. Outstanding.
Now I didn’t have a lick of confusion with understanding the setup or how to play the game with this rulebook. HOWEVER the way its setup is almost mind numbing to read. Very small text and line after line seemingly almost stacked on top of each other. When I opened the rulebook for the first time and took a glance at all the tiny words mashed within, I mentally prepped myself for what I thought was going to be a long journey of understanding.
LUCKILY the game is super easy to learn and I think a big part of that is because of the style of game. Once you play a worker placement game, you have a pretty good idea the basic gist of ALL worker placement games. I mean you place a dude, do whatever the location has and repeat. There is a nice 2 page spread of all the locations and what they do at the back with which you can easily reference whilst playing. I mean one play of this game and you will remember everything easily. There were a couple little ambiguities like the bumping meeples was a bit confusing at first but for the most part the game is very straight forward.
The game also comes with some very nice reference cards that give a rundown of the round order, resource and icon descriptions. As well as other reference cards that show the resource cost of building the parts of the monster which is super handy.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
As with most games of this type, the more players you have, the more interaction you will have. There are finite amount of locations to place your meeples and as the game progresses, players will acquire up to four meeples each which really makes first placement critical. So that usual spot you can place to grab the first player token is actually a prime location! And of course you can bump people off places but then you have to pay them. AND even though there are multiple places to go to get bodies and parts, each different place has different quality and types of parts. You just need some bone? Hit up the graveyard. You REALLY need some animal parts? Check out the Slaughterhouse. OH? You are in dire need of BLOOD?! Well then you should mosey on over to the DARK ALLEY AND MURDER SOMEONE. If you are not feeling THAT evil you can also place on your player board to “Give Blood” for some blood as well, BUT you are missing out on all those other super fresh parts.
The game is also balanced in an interesting way to try and keep the player interaction up even with a lower player count, such as two players. Printed on the board is the bumper space for a four player game, you can bump up to three times. Now included with the game are a couple tiles that decrease the amount of bumps you can do in a round that you place over that spot at lower player counts. So for example at a two player game you can only bump ONCE. This means that even at two players, when you have SO MANY places to go between the two of you, this still creates this sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) for those more prime locations.
There is a ton of fun to be had as well. I mean the strategy of worker placement and collection of the resources mixed in with the bit of randomness of the card draws and what resources you will get. After all that how all players simultaneously build the parts of their respective monsters. Also the events add a bookoo of fun to the game as well especially with the large amount of story pieces that change stuff up included in the back of the manual.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
Sadly enough this isn’t one that you would want to play at the full four player count and this is due to the incredibly long playtime the game has. For a first game expect to spend close to four hours learning and playing this with a full four players. Of course the experienced will play much quicker and if this amount of time is ok with you then by all means. I would never play this with the AP prone either, it’s already a long game. With the balance to the bump track for lower player counts though, this game works gloriously as a two player game! And it plays much faster, although still rather lengthy.
By the end of our first four player game not a single player had completely brought to life all their monster parts and the game ended with the investigator reaching the last space on the event board. I think part of this has to do with the dice rolling mechanism for zapping the creature to life. You see on the regular gray dice, there is only ONE spot on the six sides that has a success. So your odds are not good to start out and probably you will actually damage the parts as there are two spots for damage, one of which that does TWO damage at once. SO, you will spend meeples on your turn removing damage instead of gathering more resources to flesh out parts. This extends the game quite a bit in its own right. Now there are cards you can pick up from the university that can help mitigate some of those bad rolls and good gravy you WILL see some bad rolls. On the very last round of the four player game, one player rolled the maximum amount of dice (six). I kid you not, rolled ALL damage with some of them being the double damage. Ended up taking EIGHT total damage with zero mitigation cards. This caused some parts to be downgraded of which two were already alive so that killed them, which dropped the amount of endgame points for that person considerably. It’s not fun to spend that much overall game time to know that a random roll at the very end of the game is what lost the game for you.
NOW, all that said I do know the designer is already working on a shorter game variant that will be made for free and put up on the publishers website to print out. This will fix a number of these issues as well as added mitigation for the dice rolls. I personally haven’t tried this out yet because I’m still waiting for the finished product but I am super excited to give it a whirl!
For the replay value side of things this game has a bunch of it! There are lots and lots of event cards that you will choose randomly to make the stack of 12 for each game AND they are double sided and shuffled. One side is used for certain rounds whereas the other side is the other rounds so depending on when you draw it you might see something you have never seen before. And since there are much more than you would use in a single game, heck I’m betting you could play 50 games before seeing the same one twice. Course I’m sure there is someone out there that can actually do that math……
ALSO the varying game bonus points you can get, there are 4 spots with 6 tokens so those add a teensy bit of replayability. And the characters that you can play as! There are six, each with an asymmetric ability, such as one is good at academy related stuffs and another is a complete psychopath and his humanity can never leave zero. So for that character specifically you can run on down to the dark alley and murder up a storm without the fear of losing points due to the loss of humanity, of course the fuzz will soon be upon him…….
Positive Final Thoughts
The theme is out of this world, my favorite theme based game by far. The gameplay for the most part is also excellent especially with the way the theme ties into it. The game board and the player boards look really awesome and I love the gauges on the player boards and how they give special bonuses (or take them away) . The way the different locations work with giving you resources based on WHERE you are getting the body from is so well done and , again, thematic.
Negative Final Thoughts
The game plays super long and although I do love the randomness that dice usually bring to a game, I think having the dice dictate THIS much of a score situation, ESPECIALLY with the length of this game, is a downer. The game sorely needs a good insert to make setup seem less daunting and a slightly bigger box to hold the fully assembled player boards would be nice as well. The resource cubes are the ONLY distraction of theme to an otherwise INSANLY thematic game and believe you me, I will be keeping an eye open for upgrades to them.
Does it beat Lords of Waterdeep as my all-time favorite worker placement game?
It’s close. Waterdeep plays much faster but also suffers from the cubes as resources issue. I prefer the theme of Abomination more and the way the locations tie into the actions SO WELL just blows Waterdeep out of the water in that regard. However Waterdeep plays MUCH faster and you can whip out a full 5-player game and finish before a 4-player game of Abomination.
I think overall I prefer Abomination JUST A HAIR more and mostly just for the incredible theme. The gameplay is excellent overall for both games however and I would never turn down a play of either.