Kickstarter Interview: PAIRS by Patrick Rothfuss & James Ernest


taylor-bastGaming is not a huge part of my life.

I admit it. I’ve rarely D&Ded. And almost as rare, I don’t console. It’s strange to think that I am so enamored with this genre and everything that it features, yet I very seldom do one of the most geekiest aspects of it—gaming!

Well, I have been making a change in my thinking on that topic. In fact, I might even buy an Xbox One simply to buy Titanfall next week. While I am excited about that, such games steal time away from a busy schedule. I like to try and multitask my way through life, so when gaming matches up with something else I enjoy doing, it’s a better fit.

First, I like pubs. Second, I like pub games—trivia, darts, pool. You get the idea. If it can happen with a beer in hand, I’m usually doing it.

That’s why I can’t wait for Pairs by Patrick Rothfuss and Cheapass Games’s James Ernest!

Pairs is a new card game, set in the world of Patrick’s Kingkiller Chronicle. And here is an interview with James Ernest, creator of Pairs:


Shawn Speakman: You have been gaming for decades, James. Tell Unbound Worlds readers about your background, Cheapass Games, and why you do what you do?


James Ernest: I love games. I grew up playing popular games like Monopoly, Scrabble, and Yahtzee, as well as traditional games like poker and chess. My family played their own version of cutthroat pitch, which is not quite the Hoyle version.

In high school I wrote an outline for a fantasy novel that included a chess variant. I wanted the game to be believable, so I tested and refined the game for months. The book was never finished, but the game was. This was an early clue of my future career. And it gave me the first sense of what it meant to design a game.

I got started in the hobby game industry in 1993, when Magic: the Gathering was new. I volunteered to do some technical writing for my friends at Wizards of the Coast, and I even pitched them a trading card game. After freelancing and staffing at WotC for a couple years, I started Cheapass Games.

By this time I had a lot of game ideas cooking, and I wanted a way to bring them out quickly and cheaply. Cheapass Games got started on my laser printer, and the idea was simple: we left out all the generic spare parts, like pawns, dice, and poker decks. That way, we could sell just the new part of every new game, and do it really cheaply.

These days, thanks to Kickstarter, I have three kinds of products. Some classic black and white boxed games, some deluxe full-color games (funded on Kickstarter), and some totally free print-and-play games at

Shawn Speakman: You are working with Patrick Rothfuss for a game that he is tying into his Kingkiller Chronicle. How did you and Pat meet?

James Ernest: Pat and I have known each other for some time, but we got talking about a game project last summer at Origins. I put a picture of Pat in the Get Lucky card game, but we really wanted to do a whole game together, and Pairs was a good choice. The Name of the Wind series has a lot of references to pub-style games, and I thought Pairs would fit right in.

The real challenge will be creating some of the games from the books. Pat is careful not to mention too many of the rules, which is a great advantage, but there is still a mythology around games like Tak that will be hard to live up to. But we’re going to try!

Shawn Speakman: PAIRS sounds like a great pub game. I love pubs almost as much as I love games. How did it come into being?

James Ernest: Paul Peterson and I worked on a heads-up poker game that had a similar feel, about two years ago. We invented it at the GAMA trade show in Las Vegas and polished it over the next few months. We had a buyer in mind, but he ultimately passed on it, and the game sits on a shelf. It still needs work.

Last Fall I was sitting in an actual pub and looking at their collection of loaner games (Connect Four, Scrabble, etc). I thought I should make a game that I could customize with their logo, and place on their shelf, maybe even for sale, as an advertisement for Cheapass Games. From that seed, “I need a pub game,” I got to working with Paul again, starting from a similar premise to the poker game, and we came up with the bare bones of Pairs.

From there, it kind of exploded. As I was traveling to a lot of conventions in the Fall, I got to test it with many groups. Everyone from core gamer types, to casino math guys, to average humans. And it was a smash hit with nearly everyone, except hardcore strategy gamers (not a surprise). So I knew I had something good.

Shawn Speakman: The Kickstarter for PAIRS features different decks. What new deck are you most excited to see come to life? And which deck will you use for everyday PAIRS use?

James Ernest: I have wanted to work with Echo Chernik on a game project since forever. I can’t wait to see more of her work on the Barmaids deck, which we unlocked fairly early in the campaign. The same is true for Brett Bean and his Pirate deck. But really, all of the decks in this collection are stunning, and I’m especially excited about the variant rules we’ve created for the Name of the Wind decks.

My personal favorite deck for everyday use? I have no idea. I think I’ll reserve judgment until I see all the artwork, but I’d be happy just playing with the Fruit deck. That’s the deck I’ve used in all the playtests, so it’s got a certain nostalgic appeal.

If you want a kickass game that anyone can play and which features some beautiful artwork set in Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle world, you’d better help kickstart it HERE!

The Kickstarter for Pairs ends in seven days on March 14th.

Get to gaming!