Industry Interviews – Cheapass Games, James Ernest interview!

Greetings All,
Today I get to bring you a great interview with Mr. James Ernest from Cheapass Games! My favorite game form Cheapass is Kill Doctor Lucky, although I am more partial to the card game version of the game. Kill Doctor Lucky is a great game and is best played with the maximum amount of players. Please check out the Cheapass Games site and their awesome free games section! Did you know that James Ernest wrote a book about juggling? Check it out! Enjoy!
1)Your gaming career started as a writer for Wizards of the Coast, during your time with them, when did you decide that you were meant for bigger things?
Honestly, nothing would have been bigger than a chance to work in Wizards R&D. Some very successful game designers have come out of that place. But my work for Wizards was mostly writing and graphic design, not game design. Wizards had a round of layoffs and a change of direction in 1995, and I took that opportunity to jump ship and (eventually) start my own game company. 
2)What was the inspiration for the name “Cheapass Games,” and your first game: “Kill Doctor Lucky?”
“Cheapass Games” was based on the idea that our games were cheap, our company was small, and we were proud of it! I saw a lot of smaller game companies pretending to be huge, but that just wasn’t my style. So we made a big deal out of how small we were, and the name “Cheapass” was part of that strategy.
The inspiration for Kill Doctor Lucky actually predated Cheapass by a few months. I had written a “mystery” story in College, where a detective grills a bunch of murderers in the front room of a mansion while their victim is still alive, and when the lights go out, they all murder him in a matter of seconds. In turn this was inspired by games and movies from the mystery genre, including “Clue” in both cases, as well as many others. 
One day while I was driving across town, the name “Kill Doctor Lucky” came into my head, and a nearly complete picture of the game wasn’t far behind. I had made a few board games already and this seemed like a perfect way to launch my own company, once I had failed to sell it to a few existing publishers. 
3)Kill Doctor Lucky was your flagship game, was it the first game you created?
I’ve been making games since I was very young. My first formal design project was in high school, when I wrote an abstract game (basically a chess variant) as a core element in a fantasy novel. I never finished the novel but my design partner and I thoroughly and enthusiastically finished the game. Before starting Cheapass I had also sold some games to Games Magazine, and had created several other board games and even a few trading card games.
4)How do you think the break in game production affected the company in the long run?
When we closed down (in about 2006) it was the right thing to do. I had too many employees, and too much inventory, and there wasn’t much for it but to spend a few years on hiatus. The break gave us a chance to reinvent the company, and for the world to invent crowdfunding. When we came back with a site full of free games in 2011, many of our customers hadn’t even noticed that we were missing. 
5)What did you do before your gaming career started?
I have part of an engineering degree, and I had a short career as a professional juggler. All of this leads naturally to a game publishing career. I guess. From 1984 to about 1993, my main business was promoting my own juggling act, and publishing an instructional book called Contact Juggling. I also did freelance graphic design and technical writing, as well as comic book writing and illustration. And the kind of odd jobs that jugglers have, like scooping ice cream.
6)What made you want to be involved in the gaming industry?
I saw the success of Richard Garfield and Wizards of the Coast and realized that game inventing could be a paying job. I’ve got a passion for entertainment and mathematics, and I’m not bad at publishing, so it took a while to make sense of it all but I think I was destined for this career for a long time. 
7)What is your favorite game in the Cheapass line and what is your favorite non-Cheapass game?
My favorite non-Cheapass game is poker, if you measure by hours spent playing. I learned a lot from Magic:the Gathering at a critical time in my career, but I also learned by watching that game’s imitators that I would rather create something new than make incremental changes to a thing I know. There’s less money in innovation, but it’s where I would rather be.
Of all the games I’ve invented, I am most fond of Tak, but that’s not technically in the “Cheapass” line… we put a “James Ernest” logo on that box. Other favorites are Lords of Vegas and Pirates of the Spanish Main, also not from Cheapass. My favorite CAG branded game might be Diceland, a quirky little game that never really got off the ground. 
8)Is your family also heavily involved with tabletop gaming?
My wife Carol is VP of Cheapass Games, so yeah. Our daughter Nora is fifteen, and she’s more of a console gamer than a tabletop gamer, but we will rope her into working the booth at Gen Con this year, and then she will either be hooked, or vow to escape at the earliest opportunity. Either way, we win.
9)Your company has some of the (in my opinion) best customer interaction out there, what would you say is the reasoning behind that?
Everyone will tell you that customer service is important, but I think our approach to it comes from a time when we didn’t have the budget for anything else. Our customers are our greatest advocates, and board games spread by word of mouth, so we figure that one happy customer can lead to many more.
10)For anyone out there that is hoping to be a part of the gaming industry, what would be your advice?
Nobody gets into this business for the money. Our industry is populated by people who have a deep passion for games and for gaming, and who create, promote, and sell games because they love it. If you feel like that describes you, then you can probably find a home here.
I hope all of you enjoyed this great, mini in-depth interview! I want to say thank you to Mr. James Ernest and Cheapass Games for this interview, it means the world to me that great companies like yourselves have time for us little guys. Until next time… Live by the Board.

Meet “The Husband”!

Hello Readers,

Well, every other contributor wrote a profile article, suppose I should crank out one. I am “The Husband,” here’s hoping you find the aimless prattling about my the more hobby-centric portions of my life interesting. Either way, let’s kick thing’s off, shall we?

Due in no small part to my (almost 6 years older than me) brother, I’ve had an interest in “geek culture” since even the most early of my memories. I grew up playing on an Nintendo Entertainment System, reading comics, and playing parlor games with my family. During every family gathering (of which there were A LOT), I was forced onto a folding chair to be slid into whichever side of a card table needed a warm body in order to “fill out numbers.” Odd evenings spent being inundated with long diatribes about how my generation were a mouth breathing herd of degenerates…and being viciously obliterated at games of Skip-Bo (Mattel) or Phase 10 (Mattel). My initial impression of table top gaming was being voraciously descended on by 30-70 year olds whom wanted to impart on me some manner of comeuppance.

…I assure you, it gets better.

When I was much younger, my brother would take me on excursions to our friendly local comic shop, upon occasion…whenever my Mother would proclaim that she was weary of looking at her “little mistakes.” I swear, that joke gets funnier with time…no? O-okay… Regardless, this particular shop was my initial gateway to multiple things that would heavily influence my life. My first comic, first manga, first anime, and my first table top game that was all my own!

See, this shop generally kept primarily to selling trading cards and (the gorgeous and all too confusing for my young brain) Magic the Gathering (Wizards of the Coast) as its gaming contingent. However, one day I stumbled into the corner of the store furthest away from my precious “DC Dollar Bin…” and there it was… a wall of composed entirely of baggie games! That’s to say, games that were packed into moderately sized baggies, in lieu of boxes. As I scanned the wall, one game in particular caught my eye: Ogre – Pocket Edition! (Steve Jackson Games) Featured on its cover was a large, futuristic, hovering tank volleying bombs every which way but loose! My young brain was enthralled with the prospect of bombing the ever lovin’ ass out of everything! What’s more…it only cost $2.95! My brother, seeing an opportunity to circumvent possible begging, purchased the game for me…under the agreement that I shut up. It only took 3 bucks to buy me off as a child…oh how little has changed.

As I went through my preteen and early adolescent years I found myself drifting towards athletics, video games…and girls. Sure, I tried the occasional game here and there, sampled Settlers of Catan (Mayfair Games), played the occassional nondescript RPG, and the occassional collectible card game. But, primarily my hobbies were left in the electronic realm. Fast forward to age 18…when I suddenly became a Father of three. Now, it’s a safe assumption that children like video games, but there’s some connection that’s simply lacking on a digital medium. And that’s when I decided to give parlor games a try…I never knew Skip-Bo wasn’t terrible! It also helps when I’m the person verbally assailing the other players: “I haven’t seen such a crappy move since the last time I had to change your diaper! HA!”

My return to the hobby didn’t occur in earnest until I met my Wife, the blog author with whom you readers are so well acquainted. See, she encouraged me to seek out my interests and enjoy all of the things in life there weren’t previously available to me, for any number of reasons. I got back into comics, anime, and table top gaming. Less than a year after we initially became a coupling, I was already sonically berating her during games of Skip-Bo! Loyal readers, it was true love. Due to lovely programs like Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop and Tom Vasel’s Dice Tower channel, I had an amazing insight into the hobby that once intrigued me so much as a kid…and now financially cripples me as an adult.

Now my days consist of violently pacing around my table during a game of Disc Duelers (Level 99 Games), accusingly pointing at the horrible person who totally obstructs Las Vegas (anarchistic jerkfaces!) during a game of Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder), or weepily staring bullet holes through the person who purchased the only large building that would allow me one final sliver of hope for victory in Puerto Rico (Rio Grande Games). Needless to say, I love it!

This hobby is a phenomenal one, filled with the highs of ravenously gathering up victory points one game, to the monumental lows of hearing the thunderous roar of your large Nordic friend (KYLE!) bellowing “Wu-Tang” as another player (SAM!) manages to Kill Doctor Lucky (Cheapass Games) with an overly tight hat. But, you know what’s even more phenomenal than this hobby? Having family and friends to share it with…and to verbally berate.

Thanks for reading.

– The Husband

Tabletop Day 2017

Greetings All,

So as you may have noticed, “The Husband” and “The Bartender” will be joining the blog once in a while and I am grateful to have them. Also new… my site is no longer, it’s just How cool is that?! I have also joined multiple accounts of mine: Facebook, Twitter, and Etsy. Please check us out and give us a like. 🙂

-Tabletop Day 2017-

This year for TTD we had several sponsors that helped provide games, party favors, and prizes. Literally everyone went home with something, which is a great way to keep the spirit alive because we hold a competition every year. If you’ve ever heard of a television series called The League (If you haven’t please check it out, it’s great.) then you will be aware that it is about a group of friends that play Fantasy Football. During the Superbowl the two people with the highest points go to the Shiva Bowl and the two with the lowest points go to the Sacko Bowl. Well we copied that for our TTDs, except it’s the top four and bottom four players. These players go to two separate games to decide the winner and loser. To get to that point, however, we play three mega games that get graded. The way we grade this is by using the Mario Kart point system.

This year our qualifying games were Mega Dixit, Disc Duelers, and Ticket to Ride. I have enough decks to where Mega Dixit was easy. We used post it notes to label the cards and to vote. Disc Duelers and Ticket to Ride can be utilized with multiple copies of the game if you have large numbers of players. Our Shiva Bowl game was Tokaido and our Sacko Bowl game was Takenoko. That said, just because we used Takenoko as the Sacko Bowl does not mean we dislike. Quite the opposite actually, it is a very easy game to grasp and has a fun subject matter which I feel lessons the blow of being in the Sacko Bowl. After the competition we played Kill Doctor Lucky.

We played for nearly ten hours. There was a potluck and a $10 charge at the door if you were drinking because The Bartender was our bartender – thus the name. Everyone got a gift bag with games and promos and there were door prizes. The winner (myself) and the loser both get plaques. I wood burn them so they are not ready on the day of, I’ll post pictures when my polyurethane dries.

One of my favorite things about TTD is watching newbies enjoy themselves and really see the new-found board game addiction blossom. There are several people who frequent our table, including myself, that are anxiety riddled or just really keep to themselves. TTD brings out the social, goofy person in those people and it’s a lovely sight. We have goofballs whom seem like they can’t take anything seriously, but the moment the competition starts… they are on the ball, it’s fantastic! We are all so incredibly different and to see the lot of all working towards one goal and having such a great time… well to be honest, it is weirdly breath-taking and yes I know that sounds odd. Let me explain. I am not social. Large crowds freak me out and I am slightly temperamental. This is the one time of year when I am not terrified of being smashed into a small place with tons of other people, and do you know why? Because it’s worth it. No matter who I am before I start playing a game, I can be someone else during the game. If I’m playing Castle Panic, for a little while I really feel like I am defending my castle. If I play Tokaido, I get to relax and believe I am on this wonderous journey. I love it and oddly enough I’m not a fan of RPGs.

Something that concerned me thins year is that I had my 15 month old son with me. We don’t have family that I trust or that are willing to watch him because of his age. We don’t have spare money to pay for a babysitter. What we do have is a great group of people whom do not mind his presence at all. Just like last year, these people were by our sides offering to hold him or distract him while I took my turn. I got to watch my friends feed him and play with him. I am very grateful for them and their reactions. Sadly festivities were cut short because my son caught a stomach virus from my ten year old. We took him to the ER. Luckily nothing seriously was wrong, but it did last eight days. He is doing much better now.

Anyhow, thanks for hanging in there with me through this extremely long post. Feel free to reach out with any questions, although I can not reveal my sponsors for TTD, so please don’t ask. Thanks again and until next time… Live by the board.


Exceed by Level 99 Games


Greetings All,

I was lucky enough to receive Exceed from Level 99 Games to review! This will be my first review requested by a game company so I am a bit nervous.

Let me start by requesting that my readers go check out a quick start tutorial video so that you are caught up on the rules, as the rules are extensive. Don’t worry, I’ll wait…

*Cue the Jeopardy music.*

…Alright, did you study up? Good.

I’ll be honest I am not a large fan of fighting card games or living card games, but this was actually really fun. I have a few Level 99 games and I will say that they just get how to do fighting games. Off hand I can think of two in particular that I’ve played in their fighting genre that are also pretty great and those are Sellswords (very similar to Triple Triad from Final Fantasy 8) and Disc Duelers (it’s like RPG Battle Pogs), which has sadly been discontinued. I am terrible at both of those games, but I held my own well in Exceed.

The artwork in Exceed is beautiful, however, it does have that typical big breasted women look which has always been a turn off in board/card games to me. It just gets old seeing it everywhere. I do like that this fighting systems art differed from the style of Pixel Tactics, Sellswords, and Disc Duelers. The character cards in Exceed are incredibly detailed and the normal attack cards have this great water-color look which is phenomenal.

The cards are good quality, but the box and rules bothered me. I don’t like the idea of a game box that opens at the end, but honestly I may just be spoiled by all these great board game boxes and clamshell card games. The rules fold out open, which wouldn’t be terrible if they weren’t so massive. I just wish the rules came in a booklet style. Other than that the rules are well written, however, I was confused on when to use Boosts. Boosts are actions listed on some of the cards and the rules explain how they play out, but didn’t clarify whether or not they could be played during a Strike. I later received clarification on this from Mr. Talton Jr from Level 99 Games, whom is a really nice guy by the way. I informed Mr. Talton that I hadn’t used Boosts during my first few playthroughs and his reply was great:

“Boosts generally start to come into play once you have the fundamentals down and understand the matchup against your opponent. They allow you to get around the normal “X beats Y” flow of play, but that requires a solid understanding of the Normals and their relationships. A lot of depth that experienced players will find in the game is through the use of these boosts to alter the ordinary attack relationships. :)” – D. Brad Talton Jr, Level 99 Games.

The characters in the game really bring heart to fight, they all have their own things they focus on. For example in box one of Red Horizon you have Reese, Heidi, Nehtali, and Vincent. Nehtali focuses on the use of Gauge, these are cards that are set aside after Striking. These cards are used to essentially pay for attacks. Nehtali had some of the most powerful natural attacks and widest range of any of the eight characters I got to play as. Vincent focused heavily on movement and close ranged attacks. Heidi focused on Boost abilities and Reese focused on gaining the Advantage.

Final thoughts

This is a great two player fighting game and I really enjoyed it, it will definitely be in rotation with my husband and I. It reminded me a great deal of Brawl by Cheapass Games and while Brawl is much easier and faster… Exceed has much more depth and with so many characters all focusing on different things it has way better replayability. I am hoping for a better box and rule set up, but at this point I’m just being picky. Looking at games that are strictly two player, it’s in my top five for sure.

I highly recommend checking out Exceed on Level 99’s site, there is print and play version so you can try before you buy, tutorial videos, and information on Seasons 1 and 2 of Exceed.

 Please remember to check the links I’ve inserted by clicking on the highlighted words. So how’d I do guys? Let me know! And until next time… Live by the Board.


Brawl and Get Lucky

Greetings All,

Today I will be quickly covering two of the games I have knocked off of my unplayed games list. I played a few others, but for ease I will be putting them in smaller groups. For those of you just tuning in you can refer to my last post titled Unplayed Games. I must also note that despite my urgency in playing all of these games before purchasing more… I may have slipped up. I encountered several games at a neat little store called Bargain Hunt. I got a load of games for a total of like $40. Feel free to judge me now.


Brawl by Cheapass Games

2+ Players, 1-2 Minutes

This game consists of six different characters that all have their own decks and you have a real-time “Brawl”. I’ll include the rules and a video for ease. Each deck has multiple card types ranging from attacks to blocks and even cards that clear the board so to speak. It’s a really fast paced and simple game. I have only played a two player game so the game may very well get more complicated with additional players. The art reminds me a great deal of Street Fighter and it was really cool playing a fighting game with cards. There have been three expansions, but I’ve looked and they are hard to find at a reasonable price, they are Brawl: Catfight, Brawl: Club Foglio, and Brawl: Ting Ting. There was also a recent Kickstarter for Brawl: Senior Year. The general Brawl page on Cheapass has information regarding all Brawl games and characters and even cool coloring pages for Brawl: Senior Year character. All and all I think it’s a great little game with the potential for growth. Different characters definitely make the replayability great.


Get Lucky by Cheapass Games.

2-6 Players, 15-25 Minutes

This is the card game version of Kill Doctor Lucky, which is a huge hit with my gaming groups. Each players gets to be a character that has been scorned by Doctor Lucky for some reason or another and it is hilarious. I’ll include rules and a video for ease. The art work is phenomenal and the writing is even better. Spite cards are what you use to stop other players from winning. The spite cards and character cards both have funny bits of writing on them that really make the game giggle worthy despite the fact that your entire purpose is to kill Doctor Lucky. I really preferred the card game to the board game, but literally everyone else I played with felt the board game was better. The board game definitely has a charming feel, but the card game takes up less space. The both have different rules and still feel very similar. This is a great game with great replayability and will be a part of our collection for years to come.

Both of these games were from Cheapass games, so I thought I’d mention that they have this great Free Games sections that you should check out. Also feel free to look at their contact page to subscribe to their newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

If you liked this review and want to be kept up to date please follow my page and like me on Facebook. Until next time… Live by the Board.