Games by James

This page lists some of the many James Ernest games that are available from other game publishers, as well as other things by James Ernest that are not games. It includes some licensed Cheapass Games, some original games, and other fun stuff like books and films. Or rather, film. This is not a comprehensive list, unfortunately. For that you'll have to go to Wikipedia. Ha ha ha.

[This page is still being constructed. It's a long list.]

Original James Ernest Games:

CowPoker: A cute little card game about four rival families in the Old West. Players play cards for effects, usually only following those cards that belong to their own ranch, and try to build the best poker hands by the end of the game. Designed by James Ernest and Mike Selinker, published by Steve Jackson Games.

DungeonVille: You're an evil wizard, luring parties of adventurers into your dungeons of doom. Death is quick and victory is capricious in this quick-playing card game by James Ernest and Mike Selinker. Released in 2006 by Z-Man Games. German edition "Fiese Verliese" published by Pegasus Spiele. [out of print]

Gloria Mundi: Start with everything, end up with nothing. You're a Roman aristocrat during the fall of Rome. Get out with the goods before the Visigoth destroys everything you have. This Euro-style strategy game was designed by James Ernest and Mike Selinker and released by Rio Grande Games in 2006. It's out of print now and somewhat hard to find, but a little bird is telling you that a new version is on its way. Someday.

Link 26: Published by Mindware in 2008, Link 26 is a twist on the classic word game of Geography: choose a topic, pick a word, and continue with new words that use the end letter of the last word. The twist is that every letter can only be used once. It's a perennial favorite at national puzzlers conventions, and that should tell you something. Link 26 was designed by James Ernest and Mike Selinker.

Lords of Vegas: James Ernest and Mike Selinker designed Lords of Vegas in 2004, originally calling it "Dust and Sin." It's a strategy board game of building casinos in Las Vegas, and all the risk that entails. After a failed first attempt to bring the game to market, the design team re-worked the game in 2009. The improved version found a willing buyer in Mayfair Games, who released it in the summer of 2010. Lords of Vegas is currently available in your local game store, and it's a sleeper hit. Check out some of the great reviews at BoardGameGeek!

Michelangelo: You are a struggling artist, assisting Michelangelo in his workshop and trying to make a name for yourself among the families of Florence. This is a lightweight strategy game of politics, wealth, and fame. Designed by James Ernest and Mike Selinker, released by Bucephalus Games in 2009.

Pirates of the Spanish Main: Probably the best-known game that James Ernest's name is barely attached to, Pirates of the Spanish Main was invented by Wizkids' CEO Jordan Weisman, designed by James Ernest, and co-designed by Lone Shark Games' Mike Selinker. Pirates of the Spanish Main is a "constructible" strategy game, with adorable little plastic pirate ships that punch out of credit card-sized frames. It's a quick-playing tabletop miniatures game, and it had 15 expansions before going dormant with the demise of Weisman's Wizkids. You can still find remaindered Pirates cards at big box stores (no kidding!) for cheaper than retail. Worth it for the toy value alone!

Stonehenge: James Ernest and Mike Selinker created the format for this off-the-wall "anthology" board game, published by Paizo in 2007. Designers Ernest, Selinker, Richard Garfield, Richard Borg, and Bruno Faidutti contributed five different designs for the original game, and other designers have written new games and expansions for the pieces. The concept of the Anthology board game was intriguing, and if you like the idea of seeing what these five celebrated designers did with the same set of pieces, you should check it out.

Unspeakable Words: What do you get when you cross a word game with the threat of going insane? Among other things, you get GAMES Magazine's 2007 Word Game of the Year. Unspeakable Words is a game of word-building and risk-managing: make too long a word, and you'll lose sanity points (represented by cute plastic Cthulhus). Designed by Ernest and Selinker, published by Playroom Entertainment.

Once They Were Cheapass:

The Big Idea: The Big Idea was originally released as a small card game in a ziplock bag, and then re-released as the "Semideluxe" edition in the standard Cheapass box. In The Big Idea, you are entrepreneurs trying to invent the next big thing, by combining random nouns and adjectives in whatever order makes sense, like Chocolate Monkey or Disposable Cookie Blanket. Recently, The Big Idea was picked up by Funforge, who have released a beautiful new color edition very soon.

FALLING: James Ernest's first real-time card game, FALLING has a simple premise: You are all falling, and the goal is to hit the ground last. It's not much of a goal, but it's all you could think of on the way down. FALLING was the first full-color game from Cheapass Games, released in 1999. It was nominated for the Origins Award for Best Traditional Card Game. The original game has been out of print for some time, but Paizo has printed a Goblin edition, and there is also a Polish edition called "Spadamy" that features whimsical artwork of falling cows.

Give Me the Brain: Give Me the Brain was the first Friedey's game, originally released in 1997. It won the Origins Award that year for Best Traditional Card Game (as distinct from Trading Card Game). In Give Me the Brain, the players are zombies working in a fast food restaurant called Friedey's. They have only one brain to pass around. The goal is to complete your tasks (empty your hand) and you need to fight over the brain to get them done. After a full-color edition published by Cheapass, Give Me the Brain went out of print and was picked up by Steve Jackson Games, who publish it today.

Kill Doctor Lucky / Save Doctor Lucky: Cheapass Games' flagship title, Kill Doctor Lucky was released in late 1996 and won the Origins Award for Best Abstract Board Game of 1997. Players gather in a classic murder mystery setting, but the Victim (Doctor Lucky) is still alive. The object is to kill him without being seen, and he's not called "Doctor Lucky" for nothing. Kill Doctor Lucky was Cheapass Games' best-selling board game, going through several editions before finally being "promoted" to Paizo's full-color version in 2006. The sequel, Save Doctor Lucky, takes place years earlier, on a sinking ship where the goal is to be seen saving the old man, rather than to kill him undetected. Save Doctor Lucky is also now available in a full color edition from Paizo.

Lord of the Fries: Lord of the Fries was the sequel to Give Me The Brain. "Same Shift, Different Day." It has a different mechanic, but stars the same loveable Friedey's zombies. Lord of the Fries was released in 1998 and was nominated for the same Origins Award that its big brother won the year before. Unfortunately, it was no Give Me the Brain and its mother never loved it as much. Cheapass Games released an extremely limited color edition of Lord of the Fries in a Chinese take-out box, followed by a double-deck "de-luxe" color edition. The game was picked up by Steve Jackson Games and has recently gone out of print, but you can probably still find it.

Books and Movies:

Along with contributing 30 poker articles to Bluff Magazine in the mid-aughties, James Ernest and Mike Selinker teamed up to deliver two whole books on poker (one with help from Phil Foglio.) And it if seems like every collaboration on this page is between James Ernest and Mike Selinker, James also teamed up with game designer and industry veteran Anthony Gallela to make James' first and only short film, The Man Between.

The Art of Texas Hold 'Em: The world didn't need another poker book, and James and Mike already had plenty of money, but nevertheless they put together this primer on America's favorite card game. Published by Eagle Games, who promptly went out of business, you can figure how that story ends. But if you're lucky you can find a copy somewhere out there in the big, wide world. If you like it, you might consider donating to James Ernest's poker fund, either through this Website or by spending an hour at his table.

Brian and John: James Ernest writes a Web comic! In fact, he's been doing it for years! Brian and John is a thrice-weekly 4-panel strip about two game designers named Brian and John. The artist and co-writer is Brian Murphy, and the comic is online at You can also buy a collection of the first 18 months from

Contact Juggling: Yes, James Ernest is that James Ernest. Author of the original instructional manual on the art of Contact Juggling (and coiner of the term). Contact Juggling is now in its third edition, a 20th anniversary update that is available for direct purchase from

Dealer's Choice: Phil Foglio collected enough weird poker variants for the lifetime of a normal man, and then found two normal men to help him finish his book. Dealer's Choice (the Handbook of Saturday Night Poker) has more than 200 different poker variants, as well as basic rules and etiquette for your home poker game. Written by Ernest, Selinker, and Foglio, published by Overlook Press.

The Man Between: A 30-minute film about an international spy during his most personal and uninteresting moments. Imagine "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern" meets "James Bond" meets "James Ernest and Anthony Gallela have a movie camera and they're not afraid to use it." Seriously. Somehow this film is even in the IMDb.