Seth Jaffee brought a prototype of his game Terra Prime to GameStorm. Seth's been a real supporter and contributor to my own designs, and it's high time I said a word about one of his.
Terra Prime is a fun blend of the European and American styles of game design. (Those distinctions are really starting to blur these days.) In the game, Terra Prime is a station on the edge of explored space. Players are explorers who load their ships at Terra Prime with weapons, shields, and colonists, then head out into the unknown to establish colonies, placate or defeat hostile aliens, and bring goods back from the colonies to Terra Prime.
On the European side, Terra Prime has a nicely-done economic engine, where goods brought back can be exchanged for money, ship improvements, and Victory Points (VPs). Decisions about how best to spend your goods are a key part of the game.
On the American side, the game's mechanics are faithful to the theme, and include some fun dice-rolling and direct conflict (although the battles are against aliens provided by the game, rather than against your opponents).
There is no board per se; instead individual hex tiles are laid out in a spreading fan from the large Terra Prime tile. The hexes are face-down so that players initially can't see the hazards and opportunities on the tile faces; but the backs are color-coded so that the more dangerous (and lucrative) tiles are the farthest away. To see a tile's face, you must either visit its vicinity with your ship, or view it from a distance (costing an action but granting you an exclusive, secret peek).
The tiles plus the economic engine give the game a solid development arc. Players start with basic capabilities, and at first only need to cope with the easier neighborhood near Terra Prime. While the near neighborhood is explored and its potential realized, players improve their ships and become ready to head out to the dangerous, distant edge of space, where the real profits are.
I first played this game two years ago, at KublaCon 2007. Seth has been working on it steadily since then, and the game has acquired a lot of polish. It plays quickly, offering good depth in just 90 minutes or so. Players are given plenty to think about, and their decisions are important (as shown by the masterful way Seth trashed his opponents, including me, at GameStorm!), but the dice allow for push-your-luck opportunities for adventurous (or desperate) players.
Seth posted recently that Terra Prime will be published, and I'm delighted to hear it. I've been wanting a copy for two years, and now I can look forward to actually getting one!