Six Questions: James Ernest

I know a lot of interesting people. Some I’ve worked with, some I’ve met while traveling the world, some just owe me money. My name may be on the website, but it seems kind of boring if I’m the only person whose voice is heard here. So I’m bringing some of my friends to the site, as time permits. I’m not a podcasty kind of guy, so I’m just keeping things simple: one guest, six questions.

Today I’m talking to JAMES ERNEST. James is best known as the brain behind Cheapass Games, and has brought all kinds of fun to the world in the form of dozens of games, including Kill Doctor Lucky, Lord of the Fries, and the recently re-released Unexploded Cow. He’s a juggler, an author, a short film director, and he likes to beat people up. 

You wake up and find that a major Hollywood studio has made a movie out of your life— CHEAPASS: The James Ernest Story. What’s the gist of it, and who plays you?

A brave game designer survives against all odds to make a living sitting in his basement answering emails and buying photography equipment. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, both as me.

Speaking of movies, you’ve just started a Kickstarter campaign about making them. Tell me about Deadwood. Any hints about possible stretch goals?

Deadwood is a board game about making movies. Everyone plays a terrible actor on a Western movie backlot, and the goal is to get rich and famous enough to increase your status and get hired for better roles. Which will make you even richer and famouser.

My hope is to raise more money than I could possibly need and use the rest for (a) the betterment of all Mankind (b) to print some other Cheapass Games, and (c) for a weekend in Las Vegas that I am already looking forward to regretting. So far our only stretch goal is to make the game itself better by adding more scene cards (for more variety). But I can be creative if I have to.

This isn’t your first Kickstarter. What lessons have you learned from Unexploded Cow and the other projects you’ve been involved in?

What I’m trying this time is to “keep it simple.” The pledge awards are pretty straightforward, each contains all the goodies from the previous level, and there’s a reasonable upper limit on the higher level awards. I wouldn’t say that I’ve “learned” anything yet, but that’s what I’m trying this time around.

When it comes to game design, do you have a basic philosophy? What defines a James Ernest game?

I like to be entertained by games, and I’m not entertained by solving math problems better than my friends. So I like games where I can do a little roleplaying, tell a little story, be a little silly while I’m playing. Dry “Euro” games leave me cold, but overcomplicated “Ameritrash” games also don’t do it for me. I guess I like a game with a strong theme and simple rules. But doesn’t everyone? 🙂

You’re going to be trapped for eternity in a bar with a duck, a hammer, and three games. What three games do you take with you? Assume that the duck is actually a pretty good gamer.

Well, despite what I said about light games with good themes, if I only have three games to play forever, they are Poker, Button Men, and The Very Clever Pipe Game. Although I hear the duck loves Gloom… 🙂 Actually, if I get only one game, it would be Lou Zocchi’s amazing “Game-Sided Die,” which is a single gigantic die with one face for every tabletop game in the world.

What’s next after Deadwood?

Actually, I have no idea. We just released Unexploded Cow, and we are printing three games together before Deadwood actually ships: Veritas, Fish Cook, and Captain Treasure Boots. After Deadwood, I think I will spend the Fall promoting the games I have, and designing / testing the 2014 lineup.

There’s a good chance that Captain Park’s Imaginary Polar Expedition will get a deluxe upgrade, though I don’t know if it will be a true “Deluxe” requiring a Kickstarter, or just a game in the new Cheapass box. I’m also trying to get a remake of Girl Genius: The Works on the schedule, but that means a big art commitment from Studio Foglio.  And there are some other older games that I know I want to redo: Witch Trial, US Patent #1, and the Spy Game to name a few.

Did you notice we were on io9 this week? They listed US Patent #1 as the #10 top Science Fiction Board Game of all time. So we put up a free PDF of the thing, since it’s long out of print.