In the upcoming weeks, James Ernest will be on our podcast to discuss his experience running Cheapass Games. As an appetizer, I had the chance to ask James about his current Kickstarter, Stuff and Nonsense. Enjoy!
Happy Mitten Games (HMG): Congratulations on funding Stuff and Nonsense! For people who haven’t seen the Kickstarter yet, please tell us about the game.
James: Stuff and Nonsense is an adventure game with no real adventuring. Players take the roles of would-be Victorian adventurers who never leave London. You’ll spend the game sneaking around the outskirts of town, collecting evidence of your amazing journeys, and then return to the Club in the center of town to lie about where you’ve been.
Professor Elemental prowls the outskirts of town, and if he catches you in the act, you’ll pay a penalty. This is because the entire fake adventure thing was his idea, and he’s sick of everyone stealing his act!
Stuff and Nonsense is a simple tabletop game for 2 to 6 players. It plays a bit like a board game, but the board is made entirely of cards. It takes about 40-60 minutes, for ages 12 and up, and will ship in March 2015.
Professor Elemental is a real-life character, a chap-hop artist who hails from Brighton, UK. We’re thrilled that he lent us his likeness for this game, and we can’t wait to make the official Professor Elemental game!
HMG: Like much of the Cheapass line, Stuff and Nonsense is a uniquely themed game. What inspired the theme of this game?
James: Bad vision. I was at the movies watching a preview for “Shackleton’s Amazing Polar Expedition” or something similar, and I mis-read / imagined the second word as “Imaginary.” What if Shackleton just lied about the whole thing? That, and a bit of the old Blackadder episode where they plan never to leave England, but wind up accidentally sailing around the world.
We released a game in 2002 called Captain Park’s Imaginary Polar Expedition, with the same basic premise. Last fall I met Professor Elemental and we decided to make a game together. A remake of Captain Park seemed the best choice, and we got to work revising and updating the mechanics. This ultimately meant scrapping most of the rules and rebuilding a faster, cleaner game.
HMG: What type of gamer is Stuff and Nonsense made for?
James: I don’t know if there is a “type of gamer” that it’s right for… people are in different moods at different times. But I’d say it’s a good game if you’re in the mood for something easy, fast, and funny.
I have been striving to create simpler game mechanics over the years. I want to get as much gameplay as I can, out of the shortest set of rules. So Stuff and Nonsense is easy to pick up, and has interesting decisions for people who know what they are doing.
I’d call it a “gateway” level game: simple enough for non-gamers to enjoy.
HMG: If you could only choose one, what is your favorite aspect or feature of the game?
James: I’m very happy with the core mechanic, which is a big change from Captain Park: the cards are face-up on the board for everyone to take, rather than being distributed face-down and in secret. This makes the game much more about competing for the same resources, and less like several simultaneous games of solitaire.
But if I could pick two, I’d say I love the Professor Elemental-style flavor text. I was really tickled to read all the Captain Park cards again after ten years. By then I’d forgotten most of it. 🙂
HMG: I see one of your stretch goals is meeples from Meeple Source. Did they approach you or did you approach them?
James: Meeple Source approached us about a year ago, asking to include a Doctor Lucky meeple in one of their campaigns. We liked the way it came out, so we approached them this time, looking to make a full set of meeples for Stuff and Nonsense. I really like the quality of their pieces and they are great to work with. Their artist is talented and amazingly fast, and they have been very generous with new ideas and quick changes.
This is going to be a super cool meeple set and I can’t wait to find a reason to work with them again!
HMG: Another aspect of Cheapass Games I find unique is your approach to the videos. What is your reasoning behind doing a “full-production” style video (actors/actresses, wardrobe, location, etc.) for your Kickstarter video?
James: I think the purpose of the video is to get strangers to fall in love with your product, so I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen. We’ve done some videos without costumes (Unexploded Cow would have been hard) but when I can, I like to do a little storytelling in the video, because these games are really about their stories.
We had a great opportunity to shoot some of the Stuff and Nonsense video in the UK, so I wanted to take full advantage of that. We had about 4 hours in Brighton to get as much video as we could with Professor Elemental, and we supplemented it with a few other shots in London as well as other stuff back home in Seattle. Watch the video again to see if you can spot who is where.
HMG: Do you feel like it positively affects your campaign or is more for the Cheapass branding? Specifically, do you have higher play-through rates on your videos?
James: Is there a difference? Good branding is good for the campaign, so I don’t know if I’d be able to separate those two. But yes, I certainly try to build a strong brand identity outside an individual project. That goes back to the original concept of Cheapass Games: I can’t make a profit selling just one game, so I need a brand identity that people will come back to.
I think my videos do get a lot of plays and shares, but I don’t know how they compare to other people’s project videos. So they’re high, but I don’t know if they are higher than the average.
HMG: What about Kickstarter in general? It looks like you’ve published about 5 games with the help of Kickstarter. Why do you enjoy using it? Will there ever be a time you stop using it?
James: Kickstarter completely inverts the old process for producing games. I used to have to borrow (or at least, spend) a huge sum of money on a product, with a complete guess that it would be a success. Sometimes they hit, and sometimes they missed. And I had to satisfy several customers: the game distributor, the retail store, and the actual player.
Now I can talk directly to the player and say “would you like this game?” If they say yes, I have made my sale before I print the product. And I didn’t have to ask a retailer or a distributor what they thought about it.
But it’s not like those middlemen are cut out of the equation. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, publishers can expect to sell 5 or 10 times as much of their product through standard distribution, because people know about the game and share it with their friends.
This means that there are going to be a lot of new game products out there, and that changes the landscape. No reasonably-sized retail store can possibly carry all of them, but they get their choice from a broad range of product. The ongoing challenge for publishers, if they want to keep their games in print, is to rise above the noise level.
HMG: Any final thoughts or something you want our audience to know?
James: Backers of Stuff and Nonsense will also have a chance to add on a new edition of Give Me the Brain, the original Cheapass game about Zombies working in a fast food restaurant. The game comes in the same size box, so we’re printing them both together!
I am really enjoying running Cheapass Games, and I am looking forward to many great new projects in the future. Our next campaign, scheduled for early 2015, will be a revamp of the second Zombie fast food game, Lord of the Fries. We’re redoing the game as a 56-card deck, with sequel decks for different restaurants. Look for more details as that campaign gets closer.
HMG: Where can we find out more about your company and your Kickstarter, Stuff and Nonsense?
James: Hopefully this is going up before the close of the campaign: you only have a few hours left to get in on all the Kickstarter-exclusive goodies!
If you’d like to stay connected with Cheapass Games, visit us at www.cheapass.com. You can subscribe to our biweekly newsletter, follow us on Twitter, or try your luck with the black hole called Facebook.
HMG: Thanks for your time!
James: No probs. Thanks for giving me something to do while I wait for my flight to Vegas. 🙂