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Deadwood Studios USA's video poster

Deadwood is a deluxe board game about making cowboy movies. Designed by James Ernest, with art by Phil Foglio. Read more

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This project was successfully funded on April 2, 2013.

Deadwood is a deluxe board game about making cowboy movies. Designed by James Ernest, with art by Phil Foglio.

About this project

Deadwood Studios: Act Badly.

You're a hardworking bit actor in this board game about making cowboy movies. Say your lines right, fall off a few roofs, and you just might be a star!

Hooray! We reached our funding goal with plenty of time to spare, and now we're reminding the world that time is running out. Please tell your friends about Deadwood Studios, and check out our latest updates for more news and details about the campaign.

About the Game:

The Basics: The game takes place at Deadwood Studios, makers of terrible Western movies. Players wander across the backlot each day, looking for acting jobs. After you take a role, you can roll a die and try to "act," or you can "rehearse" to improve your odds. 

Your actor is a 6-sided die. and the number on top represents your status. (These dice never roll, they just show your status.) As you work, you'll earn money and fame, and you can trade those things at the casting office for higher status, which means the ability to take better-paying roles.

At the end of the game, you add up your money, fame, and status points, and the high score is the best actor at Deadwood Studios!

Here's a short video showing the basics of play:

Deadwood is simple, fast, and funny, a great board game for just about anyone who likes games! 

Shooting our Deadwood video at Rein Fire Ranch (with Toivo Rovainen)
Shooting our Deadwood video at Rein Fire Ranch (with Toivo Rovainen)

The History of Deadwood Studios:

In 1999, Cheapass Games was just three years old. We released a lot of popular games in a pretty short time, and one of our favorites was Deadwood. It was a simple black and white game about making movies, and it was nominated for an Origins Award for best board game of 1999.

In 2010, after a five-year hiatus, Cheapass decided to start printing games again. Because it was pretty popular, we chose Deadwood for an easy start. But it wasn't so easy. In the 11 years since it came out, Deadwood had begun to show its age. And James Ernest had become a much better game designer.

For the next two years, James took the game to every game convention, tested lots of variations, and applied the considerable design expertise he'd acquired in his many years in the game industry.

And thus, with patience, Deadwood become awesome.

Who Are the Creators?

Phil Foglio, artist, is best known as the co-creator of the Girl Genius webcomic (with Kaja Foglio). He's a Hugo Award-winning comic industry giant, and frequent artist for Cheapass Games. (for example, he's also the artist from the original 1999 Deadwood).

Note that the art you see in most of the game mockups on this page isn't by Phil Foglio... it's just clip art. We'll be doing a special update soon featuring Phil's art, for anyone who's not already familiar with it, but here's an example from the Girl Genius web comic:

The Girl Genius Web Comic
The Girl Genius Web Comic

James Ernest, designer, is best known as the president and lead designer of Cheapass Games, an Origins Award-winning powerhouse of low-budget game production. Cheapass Games has released more than 150 original games since 1996, including free games in magazines, black-and-white boxed games, and full-color games like Diceland, FALLING, and Unexploded Cow. Here's a little video about Cheapass Games:

Why Kickstarter?

We can print the cheaper games on our own, but Cheapass Games is not rich. Deadwood Studios is a complicated project: it has four boards that can be rearranged into multiple configurations. It has 40 full-color scene cards, eight large deluxe dice (the player pawns), six small dice (for rolling), some money, and a bunch of chips for fame, scene tracking, and rehearsal. All this stuff comes in a full-color 2-piece box. 

That's not cheap. To print the smallest reasonable quantity will cost us $35,000. So, we want to know, before we take that risk, if we should take this game to press. And if so, how nice we should make it.

Kickstarter helps us find that out, and also helps us raise the money for that minimum-sized press run. If we hit our funding goal, we can print a few thousand copies, and ship Deadwood to stores across the country. And we can give our backers copies of the game as thanks for helping us do that. If we raise more, we can print more games, and we can make each one a little better.

We've run one Kickstarter campaign already, for a card game called Unexploded Cow. That game is shipping as we speak, so we're ready to launch another one. If you've backed us before, thanks again!

Backer Rewards: 

Read the award column at right for details on all our backer rewards. If you want a copy of the game, just pledge $40 or more. If you want some of the higher-level rewards, be sure to pledge early! Some of them are quite limited, like the one where you get an original sketch from the board. There are only ten stages on the backlot, and the first backers get to choose first!

Note that every card that someone sponsors (the "Writer's Package" level or above) actually adds another card to the game. We're starting with 40 cards. Let's see how high we can get. Which brings us to our stretch goals...

Stretch Goals: 

Now that we've hit our funding threshold, how can we use extra money to make the game better? The basic fact is that every piece of a board game gets cheaper as you make more. That also means if we have more money to invest, we can spend a little on better components.

We've decided the best use of our budget is to add more scene cards to the deck. It's easy to do, and more cards will add more variety to the game. We are also looking at better options for the boards and other components, but our stretch goals revolve around adding more cards. 

At 40k, we grew the deck by 10 cards (from 40 scenes to 50). That's in addition to the new cards that will be created by our high-ticket backers. 

At 50k, we'll add another 10 cards, for a total of 60 cards in the deck. The same is true at 60k and 70k, so if we hit 70k, there will be a total of 80 cards in the deck, in addition to the bonus cards designed by our rockstar backers.

What's on the New Cards? We've heard a lot of feedback about the content of the new cards, and the prevailing attitude is "more of the same!" We'd like to do some full stand-alone expansion decks that feature themes like Space, Musicals, Horror Films, and so on. But it sounds like the best way to expand the core deck is with more Western movies. We might also be adding some events (cards that aren't scenes) like in the original Deadwood expansions. We'll be testing various options during the month of April.

And the Other Components? Our analysis is pointing to cardboard tokens for most of the fiddly bits in Deadwood, similar to the tokens we used in Unexploded Cow. These are comparable in price to paper money, and easier to handle. So the money, fame points, rehearsal counters, and scene tokens will all be high-quality cardboard counters. We are also looking at different options for the best possible boards.

The Bottom Line:

We are really excited about funding Deadwood Studios, USA, and we hope you are too. Please help us out, and tell your friends about our project. Let's make this game as good as it can be!


Deadwood Studios, USA is (c) 1999 and 2013 James Ernest and Cheapass Games. Art from the original game is by Phil Foglio; art in the color mockups is from Some music from All firearms used in this video are nonfunctional or non-firing replicas. Special thanks to Rich at Rein Fire Ranch for letting us film our cowboy movie on a cold, rainy day in December (in Seattle, there is no other kind).

Oh, and in case you are wondering, we have nothing to do with the popular HBO series, or anything else called Deadwood. We're older than the show, so we're pretty solid on our trademark. But we're calling the new game "Deadwood Studios, USA" anyway just to avoid confusion. Because, you know, we're the little guy.

Risks and challenges

Luckily, many of the hardest challenges are behind us. Deadwood is a complete game design, not just a good idea; as we mentioned above, you can try it for yourself right now!

Of course, there are always challenges in getting a game printed. We are printing in the USA, so there will be fewer mysteries and delays than if we went overseas. But the art is not finished, and the components are still being designed, so there's a small chance that our ship dates will slip. We don't want to miss Gen Con, and we have built plenty of time in the schedule, but you never know.

Cheapass Games is a tiny company and we're always doing the best we can. We'll let you know if anything slips, but don't worry. This is pretty far from our first rodeo.

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter


  • Kickstarter has given us a great new feature, allowing us to add a little extra to cover international shipping. Unfortunately, it doesn't distinguish North America from everywhere else. We're doing the best we can within the limits of the system, but if you're looking for the best price on shipping, you may have to wait and order the game after it is printed.

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  • Oh, yeah. The stuff that belongs on the box. Deadwood is best with 2-6 players, but has rules and components for up to 8. We rate all of our games "12+" just to be safe (small parts, some of the jokes, etc). It takes about 60 minutes and it's got a mix of luck and strategy. Fore more details you can check out the free version at

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  • Thanks to a famous TV show, a lot of people associate "Deadwood" with coarse language and inappropriate behavior. But we're not doing that. Deadwood Studios USA will be playable by all ages. Difficulty-wise it is probably a "12+" but content-wise, it's all-ages. If you can say "Cheapass Games" in your house, you're over the tallest hurdle.

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  • No, the artwork on the box in the video is placeholder artwork, from We are hoping to get a sketch (and maybe even a final cover) before this campaign ends, but Phil is a busy guy. Take a look at Update #2 for some examples and links to Phil's artwork. it's really nice.

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  • We think that the "retailer" level is best suited to campaigns that are printing to order, when there will be no other way to get the final product. Deadwood will be printed in a full distribution-sized quantity, and will be available to retailers through the usual channels. If you're a retail store, you should be able to order Deadwood Studios through your distributor.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $1 or more

    56 backers

    Fan: Thanks for supporting Deadwood. Backers at this level will get all of our updates, and the warm fuzzy feeling of helping a great game come into the world.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $15 or more

    8 backers

    Contributor: As our thanks for supporting Deadwood, we'll send you a "Deadwood Studios, USA" souvenir travel sticker, ideal for ruining your mom's luggage or decorating the bumper of your car.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $40 or more

    715 backers

    Sponsor: At this pledge level, you'll get everything described above, plus a copy of the board game. Deadwood will have a $40 retail price, so this is like getting a copy of the game for $40. Insane!

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $80 or more

    16 backers

    Friend of Deadwood: At this level, you will receive everything above, plus a second copy of the game, perhaps as a gift for your mom because you ruined her luggage with the travel sticker.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $120 or more

    108 backers Limited (42 left of 150)

    Preferred Contributor: Receive all the items above, including two copies of the game, plus a listing in the "We Love You Guys" section of the rules and website. You will also receive a deluxe limited set of sixteen Western-colored game dice, which are much cooler than the dice that will come in the normal game. Also, your games will be professionally unwrapped and autographed by designer James Ernest and artist Phil Foglio!

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $375 or more

    7 backers Limited (43 left of 50)

    Writer's Package: Receive everything described above, plus you get to create an entire card in the game. Write the movie title, scene synopsis, and all three character names (hint: put yourself in the movies!). Cheapass Games reserves the right to edit whatever you give us, of course.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $500 or more

    1 backer Limited (24 left of 25)

    Director's Package: Receive all the goodies above, and you'll be invited (plus one guest) to our exclusive release parties at Gen Con (Indianapolis, August 15-18) and Rein Fire Ranch (Seattle, shortly after Gen Con). And with parties come goodie bags. Just sayin'.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $1,500 or more

    1 backer Limited (9 left of 10)

    Producer's Package: Receive all the stuff above, plus one original sketch from the game board. The Deadwood Studios Backlot is built of ten stages: Main Street, the Saloon, and so on. Phil will be drawing them all separately (in pencil, probably) so we can give them to our favorite backers! There are only ten stages on the board, so this is a very limited level. First backers pick first!

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $6,000 or more

    0 backers Limited (5 left of 5)

    On Location Package: Receive nearly all the items above (we only have ten pieces of board art, but this one's better). Plus, Phil Foglio and James Ernest will arrange to come to your house anywhere in the continental USA, for an "Evening of Deadwood," with silly hats, bad jokes, and the playing of the game. While he's there, Phil will also draw a sketch of you as a character from the game!

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States

Funding period

- (32 days)