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A retrospective of 22 years of Cheapass Games, more than 100 titles in a handsome hardcover book.
A retrospective of 22 years of Cheapass Games, more than 100 titles in a handsome hardcover book.
1,867 backers pledged $89,253 to help bring this project to life.

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Cheapass Games in Black and White

$89,253

1,867

In the summer of 1996, James Ernest began his quest to bring happiness and joy to all the people of the world, by creating clever tabletop games and selling them really cheap. He named his company Cheapass Games, and we're still going today.

Since that first year, we have released more than 100 original games: card games, board games, dice games, free games, and more. 

Cheapass Games in Black and White is a collection of all of our black and white games, with the rules and histories of favorites like Kill Doctor Lucky, Lord of the Fries, Button Men, and many others. It also has many more obscure games, like Escape from Elba, Pennywise, Dogfight, and The Lost Pueblo of Doctor Green, and a few prototypes and unreleased games you've never heard of.

If you're a fan of Cheapass Games, an aspiring game designer, or just interested in the history of the company, read on.

This is the simplest campaign we have ever run. We have just one product: the book itself, in electronic and paper form. Our "Collector's Pack" includes the print and electronic versions of the book, as well as a limited edition book plate signed by James Ernest. 

Because this is just a book, it can't contain the actual boards and cards from many of these games. However, during this campaign we will also post 30 of the best-loved games in a free print-and-play format, one on each day of the campaign. Check back daily for updates, challenges, and surprises!

We will also be playing as many of these games as we can, in a week-long livestream, broadcast from the Greater Than Games headquarters in St. Louis. This marathon will take place April 8-12, the second week of the campaign, and will feature the whole Cheapass Games family, folks from Greater Than Games, and surprise special guests!

Cheapass Games in Black and White will cover more than 100 Cheapass Games in their original form, including the cover art, sample board and card art, and complete rulebooks. We've changed almost nothing in these games, except where we absolutely had to (like removing our old street address from the credits). Note: While games are not playable from the book, we're posting a free print-and-play game every day of the campaign to join our already-extensive library of free games at cheapass.com!

For a sample of what's to come, check out these preview sections of the book covering Huzzah! and Kill Doctor Lucky!

We don't have a final page count, but our current guess is roughly 600 pages! Along with the games, the book includes designer's commentary on each one, including company history, design challenges, and sometimes examples of the prototype games that led up to the final product. 

The dimensions will be roughly 10.5" x 7.5," hardback, with black and white pages throughout. (Even for the few games that were in color. Because hey, we're cheap!) 

This is one of Carol's accounting textbooks, cleverly wrapped to look like the real thing. The cover design is still not final.
This is one of Carol's accounting textbooks, cleverly wrapped to look like the real thing. The cover design is still not final.

Cheapass Games was founded in 1996 by game designer James Ernest and his wife Carol Monahan. Our early games were cheap black-and-white games in paper envelopes, sold without spare parts, so players had to scrounge their own pieces like pawns, dice, and tokens. Two of our earliest games, Kill Doctor Lucky and Give Me the Brain, won Origins Awards for the best games of 1997.

Over the next few years, Cheapass Games released dozens of titles, sometimes averaging a new title every month. We introduced the imprint "James Ernest Games" in 1998, with our first full-color game, FALLING. In 1999, we introduced the Button Men brand, which had more than 20 expansions and over 300 characters. (But for this book it still only counts as "one game.")

In 2001 we introduced the cheaper-than-cheap "Hip Pocket Games" line, which included several small card games priced at $4-$5. Nearly every single one of those games made it into the GAMES 100. And throughout this period, James Ernest continued to design games for Cheapass as well as other game publishers.

In 2006, Cheapass Games took some time off. After releasing more than 100 titles, we decided our current business model was unsustainable, and James Ernest took a break to work in the digital games industry, while still maintaining a website full of free games. 

Cheapass returned to printing in 2013 with the help of Kickstarter, starting with a deluxe reprint of Unexploded Cow. Since then, we have run eleven successful campaigns, including Pairs: A New Classic Pub Game and Tak: A Beautiful Game. Our latest entries in the "black and white" market, Veritas and Fish Cook, were great games, but met with lukewarm success. Thereafter, in this phase we have focused primarily on deluxe games for retail stores, and an ever-growing assortment of free games on our website.

Now Cheapass Games has partnered with Greater Than Games in St. Louis, entering another exciting phase of our history. This book project comes at a perfect time to collect all the legacy games in one place, and make room for amazing games still to come. 

James Ernest demonstrates how to use the product
James Ernest demonstrates how to use the product

 "Cheapass Games practically defined gaming for me early in the board game renaissance, much more than big crossover hits like Catan. James Ernest ran the game equivalent of a punk rock zine. Always worth more than you paid, always bold and creative, sometimes simply revelatory."

-Chris Floyd, Game Director, Deck Nine Games 

 "If you've ever wanted to get to know a designer and their games, James Ernest's conversational, familiar style makes you feel like you're in the room with him; chatting about life, games, and juggling. Cheapass Games in Black & White is a fantastic peek into the history of how the company got started and how each game was lovingly cobbled together."

-Jessica Fisher, Gameosity writer and Geek & Sundry contributor 

"James Ernest not only changed the games industry, he also changed the way the industry thought about itself. By proving that low-fi could be high art he gave it the biggest kick in the ass since Dungeons & Dragons, and earned a legion of devoted fans by doing it. If you want to know how, or you have aspirations to change the games industry yourself, then read this book to understand the importance of being Ernest."

-James Wallis, Designer, The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen

"Cheapass Games wasn't just a trailblazer for a kind of lo-fi gaming that put fun first and pricey gewgaws last -- it was a showcase for absolutely brilliant game design, a punk genius of the games world. Ernest's behind-the-scenes history of the company and its products reveal a business as humane, human-scale and idiosyncratic as its games."

-Cory Doctorow, New York Time bestselling author of Walkaway and Radicalized

"Quantity is a type of quality."

-Christopher Badell, Editor-in-Chief and Co-owner at Greater Than Games

Shipping is complicated. Here's what you need to know.

 We don't include the price of shipping in our level price, because it's different for different destinations. And if we bake it into the US pledge level price, people mistake the higher pledge level for the retail price of the product.  So, when you select a pledge level, there will be an additional shipping charge based on your location.   

Now, on to a more detailed explanation of the shipping charges for each of these regions:

For US backers, we are offering $6 shipping. Fortunately, this Kickstarter campaign is for a book! That means that we can use the USPS Media Mail Service to deliver your reward. It might take a few days longer, but it is cheap! All US orders will ship from our US warehouse in St. Louis, MO via USPS.

For Canadians, we are offering $12 shipping per item. This also covers import taxes and customs duties, which we will pay at the point when the books enter Canada. Of course, $12 is not quite the actual cost of shipping and import duties to Canada for every possible Canadian destination. However, it is close to our estimated average, and we really want to make this book as accessible as possible in Canada. $12 is a nice, low, flat rate that we can live with from a business perspective. All Canadian orders will ship from our US warehouse, but be delivered via FedEx Canada - we will cover all customs and import duties.

For Australians, we are offering $25 shipping per item. This also covers import taxes and customs duties, which we will pay at the point when the products enter Australia. Because Australia is such a large country, $25 is not the actual cost of shipping to everyone in the country, especially to the people who live outside of major cities. However, we really want to make this book as accessible as possible in Australia because we know how hard it can be to get US products in Australia. We have lowered this cost substantially by partnering with an Australian distributor and fulfillment house. All Australian orders will be shipped by VR Distribution.

For Russians and South Americans, shipping will cost $59 per item. This does NOT include any customs duties or import taxes. Unfortunately, this is incredibly high, and reflects the fact that it is incredibly expensive and incredibly difficult to successfully ship any items to these countries. In addition, we are only willing to make a single delivery attempt to you in any of these countries. If any shipments are lost or returned to us, we will unfortunately not be able to re-ship them. We will refund you your pledge minus a 20% fee to cover Kickstarter and other fees. We really do not want to do this, as it will cost us an incredibly large amount of money (the actual shipping charges, and then the return charges if the item is returned). However, it costs us even more money every campaign to ship multiple times to countries with very complex customs and import regimes. All Russian and South American orders will be shipped by Spiral Galaxy Games in the UK.

For Europeans (including EU countries as well as Norway and Switzerland, but unfortunately not Russia or other non-EU countries), we are offering $17 shipping + VAT. What does this mean? Well, it turns out that the EU has been really tightening the rules on VAT and import duties recently as a result of widespread VAT fraud on the part of foreign companies. You can read some of the details here, but the summary is that, according to EU law, almost all items imported into the EU are subject to VAT charges (generally 20%-25% in the case of board games) based on the actual sale price PLUS the actual shipping cost. That means that, for example, for a $59 game with $17 shipping, the 24% VAT will be assessed against the total $76 price, and will come out to approximately $18.24. Fortunately for this campaign, it turns out that most of the governments in Europe (though not all) have decided that books should be taxed at a substantially lower VAT rate! 

Note that this law applies no matter how we fulfill the campaign. If we ship from the US, each parcel is subject to a VAT charge once it enters the EU. On the other hand, if we ship a bunch of goods to a fulfillment center in the EU, the whole shipment is subject to VAT when it enters the EU and, even though the goods are arriving in bulk, the VAT is based on the actual sales price to consumers (in this case, on what they paid during the campaign), not on the lower wholesale or manufacturing cost, so this method doesn’t actually save any money on VAT charges (though there can be other benefits). In this case, all European orders will be shipped by Spiral Galaxy Games in the UK.

VAT rates for books and games vary wildly. If you want to look into it in more detail, this website has a good amount of information. For the rest of you, here is a handy chart!

European Shipping Questions

Q: Why are you charging VAT separately from shipping charges for Europeans?

A: As we mentioned above, the VAT charges are based on the sale price + shipping. If we include VAT as part of the “shipping” charge, EU customs is likely to consider that whole charge to be “shipping” and charge VAT based on the full amount, including what we already charged for VAT!

Q: How much am I going to pay to get this game in Europe?

A: There is a fixed $17 fee per item for shipping, which you will pay via Kickstarter. Then, before the campaign is fulfilled, we will correctly calculate each European backer’s VAT and charge you for it via the pledge manager before shipping out your parcel. We will wait to use the pledge manager, since your VAT rate will vary depending upon the final shipping address you give us within Europe.

Q: Will I have to pay any customs clearance fees or anything when I receive my shipment?

A: No, you will not! We will have Spiral Galaxy Games in the UK fulfill this campaign for European backers, which means that, after we charge you for VAT through our pledge manager, we’ll handle the payment processing for VAT and import duties on your reward. Then, Spiral Galaxy will ship all of your parcels out from within the EU and avoid any weird delays or further charges.

Q: Where are you getting all of this information? It seems stupid and wrong and I don’t like it.

A: We talked to a lot of shipping companies, attorneys, and other professionals about the implications of EU law and how, exactly, VAT works. For a decent summary, the government of Finland has a pretty helpful website (and the information is, for the most part, broadly applicable across the EU).

Q: Wait, but [insert other Kickstarter here] shipped stuff to Europe for way cheaper than this. Why can’t you just do what they did?

A: They either lost a ton of money on shipping, or they committed customs fraud, and we don’t want to do either of those things. 

Q: Why do Norway and Switzerland have to follow these rules? They aren’t in the EU!

A: That is true! However, the customs regimes in Norway and Switzerland are very similar to those of the EU, by design.

Q: What about Brexit?

A: Brexit could complicate a lot of things, but what exactly it might complicate about this depends on the final form it takes. We’ll cross that bridge if/when we come to it, and let you know about anything we wind up doing to work through it. Unfortunately, no one knows what will happen with Brexit, including Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. If you have any secret information, please let us know. :)

Q: I hate VAT; is there anything I can do about it?

A: Us, too! Honestly, the only thing you can do is vote and call your local politicians. We’ll do the same over here to see if we can avoid a long, stupid trade war.

Risks and challenges

This is a fairly low-risk project. We are not unfamiliar with how to print books. Our main concern is that the content could take longer to assemble, but we have more than half of it together as of the launch date. The games are already finished (some are twenty years old!) and James is cranking away at the history sections. Printing delays notwithstanding, there are not a lot of challenges in creating this book.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 15 or more About US$ 15

    E-Book

    Backers at this level will receive the electronic version of the book: Cheapass Games in Black and White, delivered by electrons to your virtual doorstep. Such ease, such simplicity.

    Includes:
    • Cheapass Games in Black and White (PDF)
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  2. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 60 or more About US$ 60

    The Book

    Backers at this level will receive the printed hardcover book: Cheapass Games in Black and White, a retrospective of the first 22 years of Cheapass Games. Includes the full rules to more than 100 games, as well as history and design notes.

    Includes:
    • Cheapass Games in Black and White (hardcover)
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  3. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 70 or more About US$ 70

    Collector's Pack

    Backers at this level will receive both the printed hardcover book and the e-book, as well as a limited-edition bookplate, signed by James Ernest!

    Includes:
    • Cheapass Games in Black and White (hardcover)
    • Cheapass Games in Black and White (PDF)
    • Limited Edition Bookplate, signed by James Ernest
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Funding period

- (29 days)