ABOMINATION: THE HEIR OF FRANKENSTEIN / PUBLISHER: PLAID HAT GAMES / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Get out your tanners' knife; Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein is not for the squeamish. Mechanically, we'd classify it as a worker-placement and resource management game with a narrative element, but that's a lifeless description. Instead: thematically, you play scientists in Paris twenty years after the success(?) of Victor Frankenstein, racing to recreate his famous work.
You begin with a laboratory, two assistants, negligible knowledge, and a moderate grasp of your own humanity. Each turn you'll dispatch yourself and your assistants into Paris, acquiring the expertise and materials you need to build yourself a monster. Cutting out more of the euphemism: you'll dig up corpses at the cemetery, buy fresher corpses from the morgue, and you'll watch for imminent public executions. If your rivals get somewhere first, you can bribe them to go away, or hire a scoundrel to get what you need. Failing every alternative, at your wits end, the best way to get the freshest supply of muscle, organs, blood and bone might be to kill someone yourself. Then you get to work. A completed monster comprises a head, a torso, two arms and two legs, and you need to assemble the musculature of each part, then apply its skin, before you Throw the Switch, roll the dice, cackle maniacally (optional), and try to bring it to life.
Keeping materials from decomposing is key. You score victory points for each achieved stage of assembly, but you score fewer points for using more decayed bits, fewer still if you substituted animal matter. Anything you don't keep on ice or preserve to sell at the market will decompose or be disposed of at the end of your turn. While handling all of the above, you'll volunteer at the hospital, lecture at the Academy, and atone for your sins at Saint-Roch. Improving your reputation improves your laboratory team, broadening your choices, while you need to acquire prerequisite expertise to attempt the ever more complex experiments.
Humanity is the precipice statistic; you gain victory points and reputation as it increases, but lose these as it decreases, and if you reach -10 Humanity, it never recovers. And losing it is always a choice: you can dig in the graveyard, but you don't have to steal the corpses if you don't want to, not really…
Double-sided event cards (the sides correspond to early or late game state) round out the setting. After a couple of turns to get used to the rules - and inexperienced gamers will appreciate it, there's an overwhelming breadth of options available at each turn of the game - encounter cards add a more narrative flavour, offering the possibility that the Creature himself might visit the players and judge their efforts.
Thematically, Abomination never lets up. You know you're creating life, you know it's a grisly business, and you know how far you're prepared to go to be the first to scream 'It's Alive!' - even if it costs you your soul, and the game. After all, completing your monster only ends the game sooner; if you can keep your humanity, you might be the real winner.