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[Review] The Big Idea

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Joined: 03/23/2011

I think I’m finally coming around on Cheapass games. At first, I was put off by their blatant lack of components and quality, as I am a sucker for cool bits and eye candy. On the other hand, I am a big fan of clever themes, and one cannot assert that James Ernest, head of Cheapass Games, has a lack of those. I never really got a chance to play The Big Idea when it was first published, but getting my hands on the Big Idea: Semideluxe Edition (Cheapass Games, 2004 - James Ernest), I decided to play it. I had heard from others that the game was a lot of fun, so my expectations going into the game were high. I was impressed by the amount of cards (192!), and after gathering the amount of components needed to play the game (necessary with Cheapass Games), we gave it a whirl.

I was very impressed with the game after playing it. Each time that I’ve played The Big Idea, it has basically come across to all who play it as a party game and a very fun one at that. The game mechanics, in my opinion, are quite interesting; but the theme, combined with creative minds, really adds a high “fun factor” to the game. I’m sure that with a group of people who played the game solely to win it, trying to optimally use the rules, would probably not enjoy the game quite as much. However, the decent mechanics, coupled with the party theme, really make this game one that shines.

Two decks of cards, a “Big” deck and an “Idea” deck are shuffled and placed near the board. Players must provide some form of money, dealing ten dollars to each player, with the remainder going to the bank. Each player receives five chips or tokens of a unique color, with thirty white chips being placed in the bank. Each player draws three cards from each deck, and one player is chosen to go first.

In each round, all players invent a new product, using the cards in their hands. They can use as many or few cards as they like, combining them together to form a useful, theoretically useful, or even not-remotely-useful-but-still-funny item. Examples in games I’ve played include: a waterproof computer; cute, cardboard vegetables; a magical flying cannon; and an obedient, Celtic, vintage hot dog government. Starting with the first player, each player reveals the cards they used and pitches their product to the other players, trying to get others to invest in it. As they describe their product, players may invest in the product (by placing a chip on it), or discard it altogether. Once all the players have placed their products in the market (table), each player secretly decides which product they want to invest in (from this round.) Simultaneously, all players place one of their chips on the product they picked (not their own). The player whose product is the most popular (as the most chips on it) gets $1 as a bonus from the bank.

Players then, in turn order, may invest in any product on the table. They can place one of their chips on any product but must pay $1 per chip to each person who already has a chip on that product. After all players have done this, the products are offered to the public. The first player rolls a die for each product and compares the result with the number of chips on the product. If the rolled number is equal or lower, each player who has a chip on the product receives $1 times the die roll for each chip. All chips are returned to their owners, and the cards are discarded. If the rolled number is greater, the cards stay on the table;and a foreign investor (a white chip) is placed on the product. After all the products are rolled for, the turn is over, and the player to the left of the first player becomes the new first player. After one round for each player (two rounds for three players), the game ends, and the player with the most money is the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: “Semi-Deluxe” for Cheapass is similar to saying that I have the “Rolls-Royce” of skateboards. Still, there are a LOT of cards included with the game; so many that I had to use a small plastic container to hold all of them. The cards are well designed, with nice clipart and interesting text on them. Of course, one has to provide the chips, money, and die; but you could just use paper and pencil for the money, and chips/tokens/cubes/coins are fairly simple to come by. They aren’t great components but are fairly decent for the price, and the game can be ordered with the bits included from the website. (

2.) Rules: The rules are on one page of paper and are fairly simplistic. In fact, the first time I taught the game; I misplaced the rules and still remembered how the game worked from my initial reading. There are also several paragraphs in the rules devoted to strategy in the game, with a little information on how to properly “pitch” your product, etc. I thought this was a nice touch, especially for a party game.

3.) Variety: I have a copy of the original game (although I haven’t played it), but never got around to it because of the lack of variety people complained about on the internet. Well, that problem is most certainly solved with the semideluxe edition. One hundred and ninety-two cards are a massive amount, and the combinations are incredible. Nobody I’ve gamed with has complained about variety; and even if this vast amount of cards is not enough, Cheapass is producing an expansion with 64 more cards, creatively titled “Big Idea: More Cards”.

4.) Creativity: The part that I (and everyone else that I talked to) enjoyed about the game was creating products and selling them to the other players. When you get a handful of cards that say “Modular”, “Handy”, “Sport-Utility”, “Secretary”, “Comic”, and “Slugger”, what do you say? I found it fascinating to see how some folks really got into their pitches - as if they were actually selling a product. Sometimes people would make absolutely wacky ideas, such as musical, networked penguins; but other ideas sounded rather interesting, such as chocolate shampoo. There were lines on the cards that are there to help the uncreative (such as the card “Hot Dog” says “It’s like a yummy snack...”, while Pine-Fresh states “...but without the smell!” These can get one started on an interesting idea. A good salesperson can do well at the game, because even if they play something that is preposterously stupid, they have the ability to make it sound enticing to those playing, thus earning more points. It is important to get others to invest in your products, because earning those $1 bonuses can seriously mean the game.

5.) Strategy: The game mechanics are interesting, although I will admit that the rolling of the die and the capriciousness of other players could conceivably make for some random games. But as with most party games, it’s all about the experience, not the victory - making and selling products is much more than half the fun! Still, the mechanics work well in this type of game, and deciding where to invest your chips can really affect one’s money. If you invest all of your chips in the same product, you can increase your money supply greatly but take a decent risk of tying up all of your chips. This allows players different strategic routes and raises the game just a little over “party” game status.

6.) Fun Factor: Some of the descriptions of products and the combinations of cards that I’ve seen in the game have really made me laugh - a quiet game of The Big Idea is unheard of. And if a game of The Big Idea is quiet, that’s a bad sign; it means that those involved are unimaginative; and therefore, the game is probably falling flat. Still, I haven’t run into too many people who have a problem with designing their own products, and the game cards really do inspire one. Sometimes players are surprised by the reactions to their cards; they think they’re pitching a stupid product, but everyone loves it!

For it’s price, you get an excellent party game with decent mechanics if you buy The Big Idea. Granted, you’ll have to provide some components, but they are simple and easily found, and this game is worth the small trouble it entails to get them together. While there are a few people who I wouldn’t recommend the game to (those who have a hard time dealing with a game that requires the players to make it work), everyone I’ve tried it with has been enthusiastic about it. There’s something about designing silly products that just works exceptionally well with people, keeping this gem of a game on my “must-play” list for some time to come.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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