GTM #204 - Deadwood Studios, USA
by Cheapass Games

Lights. Camera. Fall off the roof. Welcome to Deadwood Studios, home of the million-movie month. You’re a bit actor with a simple dream: to get paid. You and your cohorts will spend the next four days dressing up as cowboys, working on terrible films, and pretending you can act.

In Deadwood, the players are lowly bit actors who spend their days roaming the Deadwood Studios backlot in search of roles like “falls off roof,” “crying woman,” and “dead man.” As you work these roles, you earn money and credit, which you can spend to earn a higher rank and take better-paying roles. If you manage your time and resources well, you’ll become the best actor at Deadwood Studios and win the game!

The First Edition of Deadwood was released in 1999 during the “golden age of Cheapass Games,” a period of about three years when game designer and Cheapass Games founder James Ernest released a new game almost every month. The game’s popularity earned it an Origins Award nomination for Best Board Game as well as a spot in the GAMES 100.

But that wasn’t good enough for Ernest. In 2010, he used his decade of new design experience to give the game a thorough tune-up, and released it as a free print-and-play at cheapass.com. In 2013 Deadwood was released as a thoroughly updated version called Deadwood Studios, USA, and helped to kick off an era of new “deluxe” games by Cheapass. In its latest incarnation, Deadwood Studios, USA received a major facelift with new art by comic artists Phil Foglio (Girl Genius) and Cheyenne Wright (ArcaneTimes, Unexploded Cow).

What changed in the new edition? A hundred little things that, taken as a whole, make the game work better by adding more relevant player decisions, fewer frustrating situations, and transforming Deadwood into a quicker, cleaner experience. One example is the new “rehearsal” rule, in which players working on difficult roles can practice their lines to make it easier to succeed.

 “When players have a high-risk option,” says Ernest, “they should also have a low-risk option that’s roughly as good. Being forced into either path isn’t fun. But too many games offer only the high-risk route, like playing poker but without the option to fold. We call this being stuck on the Crazy Train.”

Here’s how rehearsal works. Each role has a difficulty between two and six. To get your lines right and advance the scene, you have to roll one die, and get equal to or higher than this number. In the original game, there was no way to improve your roll, so getting a six was really difficult, and walking off the role was costly. In the new rules, you can’t walk off the role, but you can rehearse to give yourself a permanent +1 to your roll.

If a role is too hard, you can choose the low-risk path, and spend a few turns rehearsing to make it easier. When you have enough +1’s to improve your chances, you can decide to roll. This “non-Crazy-Train” option was missing from the First Edition, and it gives players a worthwhile strategic option aside from leaving a successful high roll up to chance.

Many other game mechanics have changed from the First Edition. Players can no longer drop in rank, upgrades are priced differently, the board has fewer spaces and can be rearranged to make different backlot layouts, and high-rank actors can now take any role “beneath them,” so a rank-6 actor can take any role on the board. These are just a few of the many adjustments Ernest made.

Overall, the new Deadwood Studios, USA “delivers on the promise,” to use Ernest’s term, offering various strategies for different player personalities, with no strategy being clearly the best.

Of course, Deadwood is also just plain funny, and now includes lines of dialogue for all the roles, as well as spectacular artwork and top-notch components. In its polished, full-color, “deluxified” edition, Deadwood Studios, USA has cemented its place in the library of beloved Cheapass Games classics. Look for it at your favorite local game store today!

What better month to celebrate Deadwood Studios than February, the month of the Oscars? Show us your best theatrical poses and melodramatic expressions in front of your friendly local game store’s Cheapass Games section, and you could win a signed copy of Deadwood Studios, USA along with some shiny Cheapass Games promo items. For more information, please visit: www.cheapass.com/act-badly