January 1997: I am watching the video of "Remember the Time" on TV. In this video, Michael Jackson, flamboyant magician at the court of Pharaoh, seduces the Queen — who is, of course, the Pharaoh's wife — with his incredible dance moves. Realizing this, the king orders his guards to eliminate Michael the magician. A chase then begins, and Michael tries to escape Pharaoh's guards by hiding behind the columns of the throne room.
At this moment something clicks in my head and I have the idea of creating a game in which two princesses must escape from a temple by hiding behind the columns. At first, I wanted to move a princess pawn column to column, but soon I realized that the solution was that the princesses should be drawn on the back of columns, and that it is these columns that we would move. Since I had already made several games using mirrors, the idea of mirror columns came quickly.Akhenaton was born!
The game could be played in just a few minutes and appeared to be a simple bluffing game for two players. My models of the game with the beautiful columns of the temple of Akhenaton in 3D were immediately a great success at all the festivals where I showed it. I was sure that I would find a publisher quickly — even though at that time I had not yet released any games!Besançon, capital of social gamesThrough Sunday, games take over the capital of Franche-Comté.In Granvelle Square, lovers of letter games are given their favorite spot,while the creators of new board games show their work at the Kursaal.In search of a hypothetical editor!
October 1997: At the SPIEL game convention in Essen, I presented "Akhenaton" to Hasbro. They are thrilled and think of giving the game a Star Wars theme because the game system corresponds very well to the Naboo palace escape scene in "The Phantom Menace".
The prototype is presented by Hasbro to Lucasfilm, who refuses the project on the pretext that the game is visually too close to the Stratego: Star Wars game to be released soon. I almost called my idol, Georges Lucas, to try to convince him...but I did not do it. I should have done so actually!
Do you think it was comparable?
This is the first big disappointment...
May 2000: "Akhenaton" wins the Gobelet d'or Junior (Golden Cup Junior) at the Jeux de Boulogne-Billancourt competition.
For the record, I won the Golden Cup in 1998 with "Gnama Gnama", which later became Mare Polare from Selecta Spielzeug, with that game being nominated for Germany's Kinderspiel award in 2004. In 1999 I won no prize, but Bruno Faidutti won two (Golden Cup and Silver Cup). This was the first time in the history of the award that an author had done this. I was present at the award ceremony, congratulated Bruno, and jokingly told him, "Now you've forced me to win three prizes next year!"
In 2000, I won three prizes. I won the Golden Cup for Dragon Delta, which will later become River Dragons from Matagot, the Golden Dice for "Moaï", a wonderful strategy game for two co-created with my friend Odet L'Homer that was later published by Twilight Creations, Inc. under the name Easter Island. Lastly, I won the Golden Cup Junior for "Akhenaton".
I was on Cloud Nine and could not imagine all the disappointments I had ahead of me trying to publish "Akhenaton".
The game continues to be played non-stop at game fairs, but gradually the people I see from one year to the next (and who would always ask me where to buy it) start to wonder why I am not able to find a publisher for this game. There is really a huge contrast between the success with the public and the awards won and the continued failures with publishers.
But I am stubborn and persevere like a good Hispanic Breton, and I continue to show the game to publishers year after year, like Ravensburger, Amigo, Gigamic, Asmodee, Djeco, Haba, Kosmos, etc.
The response from publishers again and again is, "For a two-player game, it is too expensive to produce with the 3D columns."
2004: I show the game to Jumbo, with a "Papyrus" theme inspired by the [url=https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papyrus_(bande_dessin%C3%A9e)]comic Papyrus[/url], but the publisher comments that the age range of the comics is not the same as that of the game...
2005: I present "Akhenaton" to Mattel with a Barbie theme, where Barbie must join Ken, who is waiting for her at the exit of the pink temple. Yes, I dared!
2006: I present the game to Mattel again, now themed to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, with Harry needing to cross the crypt in the basement of Hogwarts while avoiding the terrifying basilisk. A new failure!
2007: Trying to please publishers, I make a version for four players, but quickly realize the obvious. "Akhenaton" is a bluffing game for two players. It worked perfectly from the first minute of its creation, and that is a strong sign!
2008: I even try a version with only cards in a metal box to present to Cocktail Games. It was a disaster!
2009: During a layover at Vevey, the two "watchmakers" of Swiss game design, Sébastien Pauchon and Malcolm Braff, provide me with a serious stroke of genius: Develop advanced rules for "Akhenaton". The "Legendary Animal" rule in what would become Princess Jing was a great idea. A big thank you to them!
2009-2014: I continue to show the game at fairs in Nürnberg, Essen, New York, Hong Kong, and even the Toy Fair of São Paulo — all without success!
Several new publishers are interested, then change their minds: ThinkFun, Grow, Foxmind, Schmidt, etc. But I care not because I know that the game is good and that one day it will find its way.
2012: At the Cannes games festival, the late and very controversial Witty Games company offers to publish the game. I refuse...
2013: In Cannes, Timothée Leroy, then boss of Jactalea, proposes the idea of making a version with columns in printed wood and a leather tray. I hesitate...
October 2013: I'm signing for Pingo Pingo at the IELLO booth in Essen. On my left is an illustrator with breathtaking talent, and in front of him an endless line of fans waiting for their turn to get something signed or illustrated. I shyly admit that I would very much like to have a game illustrated by him one day. He smiles. This artist is Naïade.
Still in 2013: Mindtwister, a Scandinavian company that publishes Pentago in the Far North, is excited by "Akhenaton" and sends me a publishing contract quickly. Will I finally succeed?
Not yet because a few months later, they change their minds for reasons never communicated. Let's stay zen...
2014: Hicham at Matagot — which has recently published River Dragons in an edition beautifully illustrated by Pierô and who has begun to work on "Polaris" (the future Captain Sonar — shows interest in "Akhenaton" and suggests that I look into a less expensive version with screens set in the Forbidden City.
The first prototype of Princess Jing is born. Thank you, Mulan!
The response is very good to this new configuration and theme. Hicham makes the decision to publish Princess Jing/"Akhenaton" and a TRUE contract is finally signed.
But after so many failures, disillusionments, and turnarounds, I am still worried anxiously awaiting the moment when the game is finally produced and available in stores.
2015: The first studies for the structure of the screens begin.
We must think about the proportions, the spacing of the screens, the angles of view in the mirrors, the dimensions of each element, the assembly, etc.
2016: Hicham meets me at the Cannes games festival for a working meeting with the future illustrator of Princess Jing, and I find myself face to face with Naïade, the man who impressed me so strongly in Essen three years earlier.
I am so overwhelmed that I stammer, but I am happy. The game of a lifetime is finally published and illustrated by Naïade. It really was worth waiting twenty years!
After Cannes, Naïade proposes a design for the screens. I make tests to check the proportions, the angles of view in the mirrors, etc.
2016-2018: The development of the game takes time, but after the long haul of twenty years, I can wait another two years — especially since my new friend Naïade does such a sublime job!
We are finally in 2018, the end result is breathtaking and magical, beyond my expectations. It was worth the perseverance — twenty years!
Roberto FragaPhoto by Steph Hodge
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