The Big Idea

Published by Cheapass Games, designed by James Ernest.

I picked this game up for a mere 2.50 at a games show in Stockton. It is another of the "Hip Pocket" card games from the prolific James Ernest.

The players use their cards to create products, and then try to get other players to invest in those products. The players all control five "venture capital" assets, representing millions of other people's money, and they all try to back the most successful products, so that they can make the most cash for themselves.

The cards are very simple. They are printed on one side only, in black and white, but this harms the game not one bit. There are only two types: products, and product descriptions. They are cleverly designed with large words printed one way up at one end, for everyone else around the table to read, and small words the other way up the other end of the card, for the player of the cards to read. The best thing about the cards, is that they are very funny indeed, and I and my fellow players spent quite a while laughing at the various combinations of cards we came up with. Indeed, we liked them so much, that we played a game with them that didn't involve anything more than voting on the funniest product.

It would be a shame to spoil the fun by telling you what many of the cards say on them, but I must give a couple of examples. Two product cards are Game and Cat, neither of which is funny on its own, nor are the descriptive cards Frozen and Disposable. Put these together, however, and you have "Frozen Game ™ - It's like a family board-game, but frozen in a block of ice!" and "Disposable Cat ™ - It's like a cat that you never have to clean!" or if you prefer, "Frozen Cat ™ - It's like a cat, but frozen in a block of ice!", and "Disposable Game ™ - It's like a family board-game, that you never have to clean!" The players have a hand of five cards from which to select the two cards that will define their unique product, and these products are revealed to the other players and their virtues extolled. We had quite a laugh trying to persuade each other that our ridiculous products would appeal to various markets and prove long-term sellers.

Players then decide where to invest their clients' money. First they do this in secret, and then, after the secret round they can see which products seem to be attracting investment, and they have a second chance to invest, but this time openly.

Once the investing has been done, then each player rolls a six-sided die to see if his products do well, and can "go public" and be sold on the stock market for lots of profit. He must roll equal to or under the number of venture capital markers on his product cards. Investors get a profit equal to double the die roll, per venture capital market they have invested in the product. This means that a product with six million invested in it will certainly be able to go public, and could make a huge profit for all its investors, but if the die roll is a one, the reward for investment will not be great. If a product has little invested in it, then a low number must be rolled for it to go public, and so even if the roll succeeds, it will never generate much profit. This is a neat element of game balance.

At the start of the game, the fun of the products is great. I have corresponded with James Ernest, and he has a great sense of humour. Players can judge which are likely to be the most successful products on artistic grounds. Later, what the actual products are starts to become irrelevant, because the decision of whose products to invest in starts to become based more on who is in the lead.

One frustration is when a player has a hand of five cards all of the same type, and so cannot make up a product. This is no fault of theirs, and does lessen their involvement in the coming round. I'd prefer to see some mechanism to make it possible for every player to offer a product every turn.

At the end of the game, the player who has made the most personal profit wins. The rules contend that though in the real world people do not always make profits, it is more fun for everyone's score to be going up pretty much all of the time. I see this as a weakness in the game. There is not a great deal players can do to ruin each other, to harm each others' profits. At the end of the game, all the players end up rich, and so there is no feeling of having lost the game. I felt the same after I played Grand Union Pacific. The game had ended, and I was stinking rich. The fact that another player was even richer did not make me feel that I had lost. He hadn't harmed my ability to make money, it was just that he had made money a little bit faster. I prefer games where the actions of players affect other players a bit more deeply. I also like games where players can gang up on each other, and though this is not impossible in The Big Idea, it is not a major element of the game.

To play, you need five counters per player for the venture capital markers, and something to represent money, and one die.

I have never been enthralled by any game the object of which is to make money. This is a personal thing, I suppose, since I have never had interest in money at all, which goes a long way towards explaining my poverty. I love the cards and the way they go together to make hilarious products, but the rest of the game is a miserly exercise in penny-pinching. Overall, a decent game.

Frozen cat, anyone?


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