Monday, December 23, 2013

Three Cheapass card games

James Ernest started Cheapass Games in 1995 with the idea that most gamers already have all the dice, counters, and other playing pieces they need, so giving them more with each new game was a waste of resources. If he just gave the rules, boards and cards, they could scrounge the rest of the components they needed and  he could sell his games for a lot less.

It's a great idea, and it certainly let a lot of games see the light of day that probably wouldn't have otherwise. Most of the games published by Cheapass were based on gag ideas like a hapless millionaire wandering the halls of his mansion while his guests try to kill him, or zombies working at a fast food restaurant. Many were extremely clever, probably just as many fell short of the mark, but all of them were informed by Ernest's sharp wit, superb graphic design sense, and frequently ingenious use of public domain clip art.


In Before I Kill You Mr. Bond (later re-titled James Ernest's Totally Renamed Spy Game, and still later, Before I Kill You, Mister Spy, for what I can only assume were legal reasons), players are supervillains who use cards to build elaborate lairs and score points by luring spies there to taunt them. The more drawn out the taunt, the more points, but also the greater risk of the spy escaping and destroying your lair.

The game's core mechanic relies on whether or not one of your opponent has the counter card to the taunt you are using, so we found it to be rather abrupt with only two players. We tried it out with five players and it played a little better, but it was still more of a race to see who could build the biggest, most indestructible lair and score points from taunting spies. The mechanic of countering opponents' card plays and letting the spy escape never really seemed to get off the ground.

Rating: 2 (out of 5) Clever and humorous, but the game play never really seemed to get moving.



I have to imagine that The Big Cheese is a reflection of its designer's ongoing frustration with corporate culture. Each round a card is turned over, representing a meaningless corporate task. Players bid a number of their workers (each player has ten), and the high bid wins the project, which then takes a number of rounds to complete based on the number of workers on it (in true corporate fashion, the more workers on the project, the longer it takes to complete). When a project finishes it pays off a number of points based on a die roll, with some projects rolling smaller or larger sided dice, for a greater range of possible points. The first player to get to 40 points wins.

Rating: 1 (out of 5) Our group seemed to like this one the least. The bidding mechanic was interesting, but the theme (simple cartoons of rats, poking fun at corporate life) failed to grab us.



The Big Idea, a game about presenting absurd new product ideas to venture capitalists, was definitely our favorite of the three. Players play two-card combinations of objects and descriptions to create bizarre and unlikely new products such as Dangerous Drink, Frozen Tool, and the extremely questionable Laptop Lotion. There is then an elaborate bidding process to determine whether the products are successful or not. This is initially a popularity contest based on each player's sales pitch for their silly product, but in later rounds it becomes more strategic as players invest in products that look like they're going to pay off.

The player with the most money at the end wins (of course). This isn't necessarily the one who had the most successful products, but the one who invested the most wisely.

Rating: 3 (out of 5) With decent game play and a very amusing premise The Big Idea was easily the best of these three games.

  • FunForge published a deluxe, color edition of The Big Idea with somewhat altered rules, but it currently appears to be unavailable
  • The Big Idea on BoardGameGeek.com

Date played: December 2, 2013

No comments:

Post a Comment