Influential Game Companies of the Past Part 6: TimJim/Prism Games

Transcript of the podcast published on September 30th, 2010.

TimJim/Prism Games – both names work – was always a small company and never a big player on the market, but in their short life – they closed down business 1998 – they managed to put out a small but extremely influential portfolio of pretty outstanding games. In fact they could be called one of the few game companies which never published a game that sucked.

TimJim Games came out of Prism Games, a small company started by James Hlavaty and Tom Lehmann. The first game published by this company was “Outpost”, a game that nowadays has a nearly legendary fame for being one of the first boardgames to translate computer game concepts of science fiction empire building games into a tight and simple design that is still appreciated today and which has even been updated as a fantasy game as “Das Zepter von Zavandor”. Next came “Mystic War”, a fantasy card game that probably would have been a big success had it had glossy cards and beautiful graphics. This was also the year that Tom Lehmann began his design career. Tom should be known to current gamers as the inventor of the widely appreciated “Race for the Galaxy” game, but he has designed games for much longer, having been active as a designer since 1992. Tom has played games all his life, role playing games and 18xx games being his specialty, and is also an avid dancer and choreographer of group dances in his spare time. Logically the company should have now been called TomJim Games, but I am glad they decided against it.

Next came “Fast Food Franchise” by Tom Lehmann, which has the honour of being the only Monopoly variant that I would ever sit down to play, by giving the player’s many more choices during their turn while keeping the fun of estate or rather burger franchise dealing alive.

“Suzerain” was Tom’s attempt at a card game, a game simulating medieval wars of succession to great effect.

The same year saw the release of their magnum opus in my opinion – the super excellent and totally underrated “Time Agent”, the best time travel wargame ever invented in my opinion, a fascinating and intelligent design in which several races try to manipulate time to their advantage. A Wargame with some connections to 1830, as the time web is simulated by hexagonal tiles interacting in complex ways. Actually playing a game of “Time Agent” is like looking at a picture by Dutch artist M.C. Escher, which makes sense, as time travel should make your head spin.

“Age of Exploration” came 2 years later, another solo Lehmann design – this being an interesting and super realistic simulation of the exploration of the two American continents, so realistic that one usually ended up being killed by natives or lost at sea. It’s similar to “Source of the Nile” in style, being more of an educational than a gamers’ game, but still very good.

1995 saw another mutual effort by Tom and Jim, “2038”, perhaps the most involved 18xx variant of them all where players try to mine asteroid fields instead of building a network of rails only. The game is considered one of the best 18xx variants out there and is a sought-after collector’s item.

After a two year delay the last game of TimJim Games was published: “Throneworld”; an ambitious Science Fiction Game design, which can be considered an update of classic games like “Stellar Conquest”. Again an outstanding and good design.

Prism games used the Avalon Hill established bookcase format for their games, which made them handy to store and relatively durable. The graphic design was usually perfunctory but professional, their rules tightly printed and sometimes difficult to work out, while never being illogical or confusing. Just think of your first game of “Race for the Galaxy” when you tried to work out the iconography and you will know what I mean.

Why did they go out of business? I couldn’t find any information of that, but from their line-up one can tell that they tried to cater for the specialist gamers’ market at a time where Boardgamegeek wasn’t yet the force it is now, and before models like GMT’s P500 made small-audience games with good production values feasible. Some of their games could have actually crossed to a bigger market had they had a bit of more glossy production values.

But still, for me the great value of TimJim Games is the high quality of each of their games – one can always tell that a lot of work went into each of their designs, and they strove hard to present them in the most professional way they could achieve at the time. Every game collector worth his salt is bound to have a few of their games in his possession, and they will be treasured for a long time to come.

Moritz over and out.