Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Cheapass Games. No, really. That's the company name... and they're back.

So, I play a lot of games. That's been made pretty obvious. I know that there are a few people out there who share my passion for gaming (whether that means tabletop rpgs, video games or card and board games or “all of the above”,) and also share my limited financial capacity. In the card and board gaming arena, there are quite a few options for solidly designed games for only a few dollars. I am, of course, talking about Cheapass Games.

I purchased a LOT of these when I managed a hobby shop.

Cheapass Games was founded on a couple of important concepts, the first being that the most expensive part of producing any board game is the box, board, dice and other components like pieces. This is how you very quickly get to $30-$50 games, and a lot of the pieces are really interchangeable. Do you really need another set of play money with the same denominations once you own Monopoly? How many different sets of little plastic bits to represent “you” are really necessary? The minds behind CAG likened including all this expensive and redundant stuff with every game to shipping every can of soup with a spoon and can opener. The truly important stuff, the unique cards, the board if there is one, and the rules themselves can be produced and sold for a whole lot less.

Cheap-Ass Games founder James Ernest.

The other philosophy driving the game design is making them “thought optional”. James Ernest, the mastermind behind the company described most games as “thought off” or “thought on.” Games where rolling the higher dice totals, drawing the best cards and consistently having chance favor you independent of decisions you make (if there are any) are “thought off.” Having a plan doesn't really affect your ability to win. A “thought on” game is like chess, where the person who makes the best decisions always wins. CAG titles allow gamers to increase their chances to win by playing better, but being the best at a game doesn't make the outcome a foregone conclusion.

Originally named "Before I Kill You, Mr. Bond" until a cease and desist letter made for a reprint.

With a low price point and indie-game studio ideals, CAG was able to make a whole lot of inexpensive games with a VERY wide variety in theme. There were clever takes on classics, like “Kill Dr. Lucky”, which is the game played before a murder mystery game like Clue, everyone is trying to murder the victim, but fortune consistently favors him and he escapes his fate for another turn. Games where the concept was almost a gag, like “Exploding Cow” solving the Mad Cow and dangerous minefield problems simultaneously, or “Give me the Brain” at Friedley's, a fast food restaurant staffed by zombies who need to complete tasks to end their shifts, but only have a single brain to pass around.

Classic edition, this was later released in full-color as a "Special Edition". 

Some of my personal favorites from the company were:

  • GET OUT, a Monopoly like game where every player is a loser living at home without a job or social life, the goal being to be the first to get a job, a life and an apartment.
  • (James Ernest writes off another trip to) VEGAS, a casino game with lots of mini-games around a board themed on the City of Sin.
  • Witch Hunt, where players take the role of attorneys profiting from either prosecuting or defending women (an occasionally men) accused of Witchcraft by presenting evidence of purity (Goes to Church) or questionable habits (like Owns Many Cats.)
  • Deadwood, a game with many expansions about being a bit actor in terrible low-budget movies.
Button Men, a Cheapass dice/fighting game is now available as actual buttons from CafePress that you can pin to things, on line play via the website, or as an iPhone app.

Many of the titles are currently out of print, as the Cheapass games website initially stopped updating in 2007, with many designers moving on to other careers and companies. However, in February of this year, updates and promises of new and exciting things from the company began appearing on the previously defunct site. One of the coolest things is the release for free of some out of print titles for “print and play” here on the website, with a request for a donation or purchase of something currently available if you like the free game. James Ernest himself returned to the helm of the company on April 30, 2011 from his time working in the Computer Gaming industry, and we'll hopefully see new inexpensive titles and maybe even the occasional reprint in the months and years to come.

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Alpha said...

Smart man, that Ernest.

The Angry Lurker said...

Will check out the site, had never heard of them before.

Patti D. said...

cheap ass? well, they clearly haven't heard of torrents, lol!!

You can visit my blog here.

Conspyre said...

Brilliant, they'd been too long away. Just played Cube Farm the other night, in fact.

Button Men remains one the games I most admire from a design standpoint. The basic rules are incredibly simple, the playing pieces are striking, and the exceptions (special dice) make for interesting strategic decisions. Not too shabby for a "hey, let's do this as a con promo" game.

Dave said...

Ive not heard of them before but Ill defo check it out.

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