Cheap Ass Games


This is for the person who has everything, but loves games and always wants more. This person will try anything new, but all the expensive board games are really just the same game repackaged - expensively.

Hmmm - card or board games? Well, board games are expensive, so maybe a card game or 2. . .

This is for the person who has everything, but loves games and always wants more. This person will try anything new, but all the expensive board games are really just the same game repackaged - expensively.

So, Christmas (and Hanukkah and Yule and all the rest) came and went and your favorite gamer (might be yourself, might be someone else) didn't get any cool new games. . . Now it's January and you don't have the bucks to get one of those expensive games - besides, you don't really want one anyway. . .

So what can you justify getting that won't bend the pocket book and will still be a cool game at the same time?

Why a card game of course; and not just any card game, but one that's twisted and amusing. Even better if it's a card game that's a board game in disguise.

Here's the deal: most card or board games need, beyond their primary cards, some pieces to represent each person playing, some dice and maybe a timer. That's pretty much it. But most companies package that into something "unique" and "expensive" - the more *stuff* you get in the box, the better you'll feel about it, right? But spending $50 bucks on a game that really only has $10 worth of needed stuff is kind of irritating (at least to me), so one game designer came up with a way around this issue.

Get a small package of pieces and parts and some cool games you can use interchangeably, and you have a great gamer's present that not only didn't cost an arm and a leg, but is many games as well.

There's a company out there who does this especially well and you should definitely look at their site - but I'll look at a few of the games here to get you started. They're on the web at Cheap Ass Games.

First: you can buy their games either "ala carte" or "with bits" - if you want "unique" bits for each game. It sort of defies the purpose, having one all purpose set of bits, but some folks like it that way. It's a little more expensive, but still a good price. I tend to buy "ala carte". My last purchase was $40 for some 10 games; not bad, and 7 of them we really like. Pretty good odds for buying "blind" (no one recommended these particular games).

Second: you can buy a set of "bits" from these guys to go with all their games. It runs about $25 bucks and includes money, 8 dice, 8 little bags of 20 stones and 8 little pawns. This is about all you'll ever need for most games and it's a GREAT price.

Third: some games to launch your travel through the twisted mind of James Ernest, Games Designer. There are (at current listing), 17 board games (and 5 expansions) ranging in price from $1 to $7.50. Hey, they aren't called Cheap Ass Games for nothing. There are also 11 "full size" card games and 4 "Hip Pocket" games (aimed at the deck being all you need - so it's completely portable, unless you're wearing a bikini) ranging in price from $3 to $14.95 for the deluxe color games they've produced.

At this point, if you've read my other articles, you may note I've traditionally said card games are cheaper to produce than board games. This is true in a traditional board game, but Cheap Ass Games board games aren't made to "Parker Brothers Board Game Standards". So hold that thought before you yell at me.

My favorites so far have been Kill Dr. Lucky (now in the Director's Cut), Witch Trial, The Great Brain Robbery, Falling, Lord of the Fries (now in Special Edition) and The Very Clever Pipe Game. Each of these really takes about as long to play as they say it will, and you can use pennies as pieces, so it costs nothing beyond the basic game price.

Kill Dr. Lucky is a great game: the board is a "house" with multiple rooms and multiple doorways. Doorways are important because you can only kill Dr. Lucky if you're in a room that no one can look thru a doorway to see you while you do the evil act. It's great fun for the whole family.

Lord of the Fries almost defies explanation. The one on the web site right now is the new, deluxe, color edition, so it's the most expensive game they sell, at $14.95, but given how the original version played, it's well worth it. The basic play is that you and your Zombie friends are assembling food at Frieday's and whoever fills the best orders also gets the most points, and gets to be Lord of the Fries. It's odd - but as a follow up to Give me the Brain, it makes a great game (so did Give me the Brain - find it if you can (it's out of print - color version coming in early 2003) - it's well worth it!). Take a look at their web site, they ship cheaply and quickly (some big companies could learn from these guys) and you can get a good description of what each game is before buying it.

Whether you buy your Cheap Ass game online or at a local card/game shop, it's well worth looking at these gems before you spend money on the big, fancy box.

The Hip Pocket Games Cube Farm and Agora are also tremendous fun with the span of minutes. Nothing like hoarding the Fax Machine for yourself or raising a market empire just to have it all burn down.

I'm sorry, but I totally disagree with this article. Though I love Steve Jackson's games and ideas, I *HATE* the whole CheapAss thing. My friends (and myself) can't get into a game thats printed on flimsy paper with no color or graphics to speak of. Its not just inexpensive, it truly is CHEAP - and the games aren't that great anyway. There are plenty of great games with great strategy out there that DON'T cost an arm and a leg and still are fun and look great.

Erm... You do realize that Steve Jackson has nothing to do with Cheapass Games, right? Two completely different companies and designers.

That said, I'll not be surprised that some people don't like Cheapass games. Me, I like them much--my parents actually /asked/ for a set of them last Christmas, and we played Kill Dr. Lucky with relatives on Thanksgiving and with family friends again a few weeks later--but not everyone has the same sense of humor, after all.

Besides, not many games let you color in the products yourself! I sent my older sister in London a copy of Deadwood (she's an actress, she'd appreciate it), and it was not only much cheaper to ship than some huge box, but she wrote me back telling about how she played the game at a Christmas party with friends, and before that had fun coloring in the gameboard and cards. Kinda like getting unpainted minis; sure, they don't look as spiffy as professionally painted ones, but they're a lot cheaper and more flexible.

For what it's worth, Give Me The Brain is now as pricy and pretty and glossy and high-quality as one could hope for in a card game. My parents got that one for their anniversary.

My wife and I LOVE Cheapass games! They don't take all evening, they're simple (but with interesting mechanics), and they're a LOT of fun. Our favorites are the Very Clever Pipe Game (my wife is a lot better at it than I am), Before I Kill You Mr. Bond, and The Big Cheese. I think that all three are out of print now.

Generally not for me,

But do you guys remember OGRE and the various expansion packs. This was a game costing a few pounds with an annoying folding map, cardboard cutout units, but it was really fun to play.

It was about warfare in various futuristic terrains with units such as:

Grav units,
Heavy, med, and light armor
Mobile Infantry ( as Robert Heinleins starship troopers)

The OGRE was the top unit. A robot and often the enemy. It had rockets, multiple turrets, armored tracks, hundreds of antiprsonnel guns etc and it was very very hard to kill.

This game was really as good as any table top wargame. Less realistic maybe, but containing all the elements of strategy, tactics, unit diversity, terrain, but not morale. The big thing was, it was CHEAP.

In general I have come across 4 or 5 good cheap games, so its possible to produce them.

I used to enjoy Ogre as well.
And Car Wars.

I used to enjoy Ogre as well.
And Car Wars.

I was (and still am) a big fan of "microgames".
Ogre and Car wars were very cool. Cheap little games in little boxes that were great fun to play. And both with a SJG connection.

Steve Jackson designed OGRE when he was at Metagaming, which produced lots of similar "microgames" (their term) in little plastic bags, or later cardboard boxes. Things Like:
Invasion of the air eaters
Sticks and Stones
Warp War
(those last two growing into the combat and magic systems for the Fanasy Trip, also designed by SJ and released by Metagaming.)

Then SJ formed SJG and took Ogre and GEV with him, added the cool plastic boxes that you could jam in your back pocket, ot drop in a backpack without crushing the games. And in addition to carwars, SJG also released Illuminati in that format as well.

Even though I earn a little more now, I still sorta miss all those $4 games of my youth. And I love CheapAss games, especially Before I Kill You Mr Bond.

But IMHO the SJG indestructable plastic box versions of Car Wars, Ogre et al, were truly the high water mark for cheap little pocket size games.

Of course all the gaming experiences I had in High School seem to be viewed through rose colored glasses now, so I am not a very reliable source for objective commentary on old games.

Everyone finds different things about games that attract them - I've enjoyed CheapAss Games for many years and so do many folks I speak with. To each her own!