Ben McJunkin – A Peek Behind the Curtain: The Gathering of Friends Prototypes (Part 2)

Welcome back, all! As promised, this is the second installment of my Gathering of Friends recap. This time, I will be touching upon a number of additional prototypes that I played and enjoyed, but which (for one reason or another) failed to make my best-of-show list.  In Opinionated Gamers parlance, Monday’s post contained the “love it!” prototypes – those that I would have purchased on the spot had they been available – while the games listed below are the “like it” or “neutral” offerings.  They are all good games, and I hope this post brings them a little deserving pre-release attention.


Credit: W. Eric Martin

Chimera is a three-player climbing game from (first-time?) designer Ralph Anderson and publisher Z-Man Games.  The game was billed to me as three-player Tichu, though I understand that many of the rules are actually drawn from the classic Chinese game Dou Dizhu. As a fan of Tichu, I am always intrigued by the possibility of replicating that experience without the need for teams. In that regard, Chimera does better than most (though the larger hand sizes and unusual card combinations take some getting used to). I heard many players comment that they like Chimera better than Haggis, which drew some attention as a Tichu alternative a few years back. I can’t see this game displacing Tichu in my heart, but I certainly liked what I saw in my two plays enough to consider it worth owning.  (For more detail, I recommend Eric’s more comprehensive overview.)


Akrotiri is another upcoming Z-Man release, this time from designers Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim. The game is adds to Z-Man’s small-box two-player-only line, which not only includes the two-player versions of its hit titles (e.g., Agricola All Creatures Big and Small or Le Havre: The Inland Port) but also domestic reprints of the Kosmos two-player series.  This game falls much more in line with the latter, providing an enjoyable mix of tile laying and spatial movement.  In Akrotiri, players sail boats around a cluster of islands in order to pick up goods, build houses, and (ultimately) score points by matching island tiles with particular formations contained on scoring cards. While the game is mechanically unique, the spatial reasoning it required, combined with its quick, fluid game play, evoked memories for me of solid light-middleweight games like
Marcel-André Casasola Merkle’s Attika. I liked it, but am unlikely to own it (I’ll leave that to two-player connoisseur Tom Rosen).

I don’t have pictures of the game, so how about a picture of the designers? Credit: Debbie Ohi

The Daedalus Sentence

The Daedalus Sentence was probably the most physically imposing prototype I encountered during The Gathering. The game features a cooperative escape from either an innovative WWII penitentiary or an extraterrestrial space station (Eagle Games has not quite pinned down the theme yet).  The prison itself – at least as a prototype – consists of a set of terraced concentric circular corridors, which expand to roughly the size of a Crokinole board, all told. The game is pretty nifty, as players attempt to find their way through increasingly large spaces (thus getting increasingly separated), all the while avoiding guards and dealing with the unpredictable – but manipulable – rotation of the circular corridors. That’s right, the corridors themselves rotate, cutting players off from one another and occasionally depositing them much closer to dangerous guards (patrolling at random, as prison guards are wont to do). I am told that the game turns are supposed to be timed, which I think will greatly add to the experience (since we were learning, we played without the timer and the game overstayed its welcome). The big question mark for me is how the game’s production will be handled. On the one hand, I don’t really have space on my shelf for a massive plastic board. On the other, attempting to recreate the experience with cardboard tiles on a flat table seems perilous (and generally much less engrossing). I had fun with it, and hope to check out the final version whenever it hits retailers.

Baseball Highlights: 2045

Blurry picture courtesy of Dale Yu. (I beat him, by the way.)

Baseball Highlights: 2045 is another game on offer from Eagle Games (and/or Gryphon; one of these days, I’m going to better understand that relationship), this time from designer Mike Fitzgerald and available for pre-order via Kickstarter. A deck-building card game about a futuristic cyborg baseball league, Baseball Highlights: 2045 cleverly dispenses with the simulation elements that tend to bog down baseball-themed board games. Instead, it purports to recreate America’s favorite passtime in exactly the way most Americans experience it – as a short collection of broadcast highlights (all you’re missing is some overpaid talking head shouting “Sweet Sassy Molassey!” with every home run). It’s a fast-playing game that should appeal to the hardcore baseball crowd while still being accessible to those of us who can’t tell Jedd Gyorko from Jared Leto. Some rough edges are still being smoothed out (in my one game, home field advantage seemed a little strong), but I trust this crowd to produce a reliably good product.

Black Fleet

Black Fleet pairs up-and-coming designer Sebastian Bleasdale with fledgling publisher Space Cowboys, makers of one of The Gathering’s most-played games, Splendor, and (soon?) Time Stories, which Dale won’t shut up about. In Black Fleet, the publisher’s production values were front and center, even in prototype form. At a high level of abstraction, the game’s arc feels eerily similar to Japon Brand’s recent hit Machi Koro, with players racing to purchase a small number of pre-set technologies that also provide special powers. However, Black Fleet replaces the die-rolling/building synergy bit with a card-driven spatial movement mechanic. (Also, boats!) In my one play, I was out of contention early, so I likely soured on the game more than most. Still, an interesting design. If this is indicative of what we can expect from Space Cowboys in the future, they might very well be a company to watch out for.

Prime Time

Last, but certainly not least, is Prime Time, an early prototype by Prolix designer Gil Hova (who, like me, was a first-time Gathering attendee this year). Not to be confused with Prime Time: The Ratings Game (currently on Kickstarter), Hova’s Prime Time is a game about cable television programming in the early 1980s. In what basically amounts to a number of simultaneous drafts, players purchase stars, scripts, and miscellaneous extras in order to boost their viewership and profits (before replacing nearly everything with better stars, better scripts, and better extras the very next season). You can tell the game is a labor of love for Gil, as half the fun of the game was nostalgically pairing B-list celebrities with spoofs of some of my favorite childhood shows (how can you go wrong with Delta Burke and Ricardo Montalban headlining “Howie Doogster: Child Podiatrist”?). Though the game is a little lighter than I generally prefer (as are about 80% of Eurogames), I had fun with it, and I would not be at all surprised if this was picked up by one of the many publishers who were in attendance.

Well, that’s it for this time.  I hope you enjoyed this quick look.  Come back next time for my impressions (for better or worse) of a number of recent Nuremberg releases that have yet to hit the shelves here in the States.

Oh yeah, dog!


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1 Response to Ben McJunkin – A Peek Behind the Curtain: The Gathering of Friends Prototypes (Part 2)

  1. jeffinberlin says:

    Dale posted food photos, Ben posted dog photos…
    …who’s gonna post dog food photos with their Gathering report? :-)

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