An Evening with a Bunch of Looney's
Interview by Brutilus
While driving through a rather non-descript College Park neighborhood, I came across a blue house with purple trim and a 5-foot tall gumball machine on the front porch. I knew that I had arrived at my destination.
As I walked into the aptly named house, Wunderland, I was greeted by Kristin, Business Czar and manager of Looney Labs business operations. She gathered together the rest of the wonderfully bizarre Looney Labs staff: Marlene the sales baron and web queen, Alison the "resident artistic", and Andy the chief designer and Emperor of the entire universe (because he called it).
Getting to Know the Looney Crew
The first question I had to ask was, "Is Looney REALLY your last name?" Andy and Kristin replied with a very quick yes. It's a question that they get ask often. It is Andy's name by birth, Kristin's by marriage, and Alison's by association.
Andy considers himself lucky to have grown up with such a strange name. He didn't let it get to him. He embraced it and let it help develop his identity. As the chief designer, he's been playing some of these games for 15 years, he still likes playing with his fans at conventions.
Andy and Kristin met while they both worked at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Andy was a programmer that worked for the Hubbell project after they realized it was broken and Kristin worked in IT. If you'd like to know more about how they met, check out The Search for the Perfect Soulmate.
Alison, the resident artistic, met the Looney's through a gaming group. She eventually left the state for college in New England, but returned and renewed their friendship.
Marlene worked for Kristin during her stint with NASA and at the spin-off company TSI.
Looney Labs was a venture started by Kristin and Andy. They funded it initially and put their own financial records on the line. Andy worked some freelance programming jobs to help fund things while Kristin kept her job at TSI.
Eventually, Andy jumped off that cliff and started working Looney Labs full-time. A year or two later, Kristin joined him.
"There were some scary times," said Kristin, when the industry was getting lean, but they persevered and kept producing. Now, they are doing well, have increased their full-time staff to four members and have an intern program. As Andy said, "We are still struggling, but we are undeniably succeeding."
On Video Games
One of the biggest questions I had for Andy was, "What do you think of the current video game explosion and how it has affected the paper gaming industry?"
Andy believes that even though they are here to stay, that video games hold on the populace is waning again much as it did in the mid-80's. People are starting to desire the one-on-one contact. I agreed with him that the tactile satisfaction of board and card games is something that video games could never provide.
Economic hard times also help promote the gaming industry. When things are going well, an $8 movie ticket for 2 hours of entertainment is nothing. But during harder times, spending $10 or $20 on a game that will entertain 4 people for days makes a lot of sense.
Andy grew up playing games all the time. He loved hearts, Risk, and Cosmic Wimpout. Even today, when they are at conventions, Andy plays games as often as he can with his fans. Sometimes, he'll play 2 or 3 games at the same time with fans. On one table will be a game of Fluxx, another will have Chrononauts and a game of Icehouse on a third.
He doesn't like to be sitting around doing nothing. He'd rather be playing a game.
I asked Andy if he had any particular process that he follows while designing a game and he told me no. Some games come together in a flash, such as Fluxx, while others may take a year or more to develop the original idea, fine tune game mechanics, and research game materials.
He believes that games should be portable. "I don't like to sell our customers a lot of air," said Andy. And they don't, at that. All of their current titles are tightly packaged affairs with good production values. Looney Labs games don't have large clunky boards or excessive packaging.
Another point of their gaming philosophy is that their games are designed that you don't have to pay attention if it is not your turn. You can be carrying on a conversation, look up when it's your turn, find out what's in play, and make the best of your turn without taking too much time. I've even played Chrononauts while talking to my girlfriend and watching a movie.
Finally, Looney Labs games are quick to play. They can easily be gotten out and played while in a restaurant, "during the time between ordering your food and having it arrive," said Andy and Kristin.
Even with these being near the core of their game design philosophy, the key things they strive for are fun and re-playability. All of their games have variants packaged into the rules to enable even the most jaded, long-time player a chance to try something new.
Fluxx is their bread and butter. It is a widely popular game that is easy to play and has ever changing rules. Fluxx came to Andy rather quickly and went from concept to original production in about 38 hours. They figured out that they sell an average of 75 copies of Fluxx per day. Visit the official Fluxx page
Chrononauts (Winner of Origins' "Best Original Card Game" 2000)
This was my introduction to Looney Labs. It's a game about time travel. Andy thinks of it as his finest work. It took over a year to produce. He included elements of historical research, complex & subtle game mechanics, and even a Unified Field Theory of temporal mechanics. Don't worry though... it's still easy enough to teach someone how to play in 10 minutes. Visit the officialChrononauts page
Icehouse (Winner of Origins' "Best Abstract Board Game" 2000)
This system is what Andy hopes will be the new deck of playing cards.
Andy had the original idea for Icehouse when he was writing a short story called "The Empty City" where his characters would get out a bag of pyramids wherever they were and play while eating or working out a problem.
It is easily portable and incredibly versatile. It is now over 14 years old and has a mailing list that is over 10 years old. The mailing list provides new variants and ideas for the system. The book "Playing With Pyramids" has 12 of the best Icehouse games presented for your pleasure. There is also an Icehouse fan site with over 100 player-created Icehouse games. Visit the official Icehouse page.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for Looney Labs. Stop by Looney Labs' website and check out their awesome collection of games and toys for sale.
Come back and visit MillionairePlayboy.com to read the forthcoming reviews of Chrononauts, Icehouse, and Fluxx.
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Fluxx, Chrononauts, Icehouse and all related properties and imagery are copyright Looney Labs Games. Article is copyright 2003 MillionairePlayboy.com.