History of Looney Labs

The Icehouse Years: 1986-1996

The beginning of Looney Labs was the day in 1986 when Andy met his new NASA co-worker Kristin, and in the summer of 1987, when he wrote a short story featuring a fictional game played with imaginary pyramid-shaped game pieces. He made a prototype gameset using lead fishing weights, but struggled in his first attempts at game design. Fortunately, his friend John Cooper was inspired by Andy's vision, and in 1988 he unveiled working rules for Andy's pretend game. Icehouse was so fascinating that Kristin, one of the first to try playing it, immediately wanted to start a company to publish it.

Icehouse Games, Inc sold an initial print run of 100 hand-made game sets in late 1989. The spare-time company never had any paid employees, and only published a few hundred game sets of various formats in their 8 year history; even so, the experience was crucial towards giving Kristin & Andy the training they needed to start Looney Labs. Another effort during this time that helped hone their production skills was the tradition of producing short-runs of cool creations for the holidays under the imprint of Geronimo! Industries. This tradition lives on in Looney Labs’ efforts to provide some small gift back to our fans as a “Holiday Gift”.

The ICE Years: 1996-2000

Everything changed on July 26, 1996, when (at Kristin's request) Andy invented Fluxx. Instead of trying to publish a complicated game with pieces that were difficult & expensive to manufacture, they had an easy-to-learn easy-to-publish card game which, best of all, was endless fun to play. So they shut down Icehouse Games and Geronimo! Industries and started a new company for the purpose of publishing the card game Fluxx.

When they first started Looney Labs, Kristin had a full time job managing the IT department of an aerospace company and Andy was doing contract programming work. Their vision was to become a design studio, by publishing short runs of new games, selling and promoting them until a larger publisher showed interest, then licensing the rights to someone better suited to fully distribute the game.

Fluxx was such an immediate hit that they had several publishers interested within just a few months; they turned down two other offers to make a deal with Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE). Their edition was published in 1998 and sold through several printings until January 2000.

While ICE was the publisher of Fluxx, Looney Labs focused on developing new games, including Aquarius, Proton, and Q-Turn. Best of all, they were finally able to produce injection-molded Icehouse pyramids, which they sold in a new plastic box edition bundled with the rules to 4 of the earliest pyramid games. In late 1999 Kristin walked away from her lucrative career in the aerospace industry and the Looneys pushed their credit limits to the edge, to focus all their energy on building Looney Labs.  

Then ICE filed for bankruptcy, and the rights to publish Fluxx reverted to Looney Labs. The Looneys were no longer content with the vision of developing ideas and licensing them to others. They were ready to truly become publishers themselves. As Andy observed on his blog at the time, "after letting them drive for the past 2 years, we've come to realize that we'd rather be the ones behind the wheel, after all."

The Pop-Tart Cafe Years: 2000-2003

The next person to join the team was Alison Frane, who moved in with the Looneys in 1999 and soon became part of the company. Various other friends worked for Looney Labs during the early years, for shorter or longer phases, but no one else was as crucial in helping build the company in the early years as Alison.

In those days, the company was operating entirely out of their basement, with a unit in a nearby storage facility serving as their warehouse. But in the summer of 2001, they forged a partnership with a warehousing and distribution company called ACMS, later renamed Print Mail Communications (PMC). A large portion of the storage and fulfillment for Looney Labs continues to be handled by PMC.

Looney Labs republished Fluxx in 2000, making just a few changes to the ICE version and calling it version 2.1. Also that year they published Chrononauts, their first Time Travel card game. In 2001 they published Cosmic Coasters, Fluxx Blanxx, and Lost Identities. In 2002, they published Nanofictionary and Are You a Werewolf? and they made a bunch of changes to Fluxx, relaunching it as Fluxx version 3.0.

The Icehouse system continued to evolve. First they relaunched the pyramid game system as tubes of individual colors, along with a book featuring rules to 12 games, called Playing with Pyramids. The next year, they created a pair of single-game boxed editions, Zendo and IceTowers.

Lastly, during these years Looney Labs occasionally hosted hospitality suites called Pop-Tart Cafes at selected science-fiction conventions. Although they had a lot of fun doing these, it became something they decided they had to stop doing to focus on bigger issues of company growth.

The Experimental Years: 2003-2005

As the company struggled to grow, they looked for new ways to expand. Since Fluxx continued to be their biggest hit, they focused on that. The first themed edition of Fluxx was actually Stoner Fluxx, which was initially conceived of as a fund-raiser for the Drug Peace movement. The first edition was published in 2003.

Also in 2003 they made a licensing deal with a large German game company, Amigo Spiele, to publish a German edition. Later, in 2005, a Japanese version was published by HobbyJapan.  In 2004 they tried bundling a Fluxx deck with a set of six plush Happy Flowers for a product called Flowers & Fluxx. They also published Early American Chrononauts that year. In 2005 the company published EcoFluxx and Family Fluxx, followed later by their own foreign language edition, Fluxx Espanol, and the religious-themed expansion packets, Christian Fluxx & Jewish Fluxx.  In 2005, the company published a short run of an early beta-test version of a new card game called Just Desserts. (Andy spent the next six years rethinking the design of this game.)

During these years, the company struggled with space limitations, and contemplated moving to another city, or even a faraway land. In the end, they just expanded into other houses in the neighborhood.

The Janet's Attic Years: 2005-2008

In early 2005 the company moved into Janet's Attic, this being an attic apartment rented out by their friend Janet, in a house several blocks from the home office. The Looney Labs office operated there for over 3 years.

In early 2006, the company hired Robin Vinopal, and she became the Chief Operating Officer, Treasurer, and member of the Board of Directors. (Robin was also a friend of Kristin's before she met Andy; she was at that first playtest of Icehouse that left Kristin so inspired.) Robin's arrival had a profound impact on the company. She made a huge difference in helping Looney Labs mature into a successful, well-run, process-driven company.

In 2006, the pyramid system was revamped again, this time in a highly simplified version called Treehouse, which was available in two color schemes, Rainbow and Xeno. This completely changed the way players are introduced to the system. Later that year they also published Martian Coasters.

In 2007, Zombies changed everything yet again. After years of urging, Andy took up the challenge of creating a Zombie themed version of Fluxx. This required the invention of a new card type, the Creeper, which in turn revolutionized Fluxx game design. Zombie Fluxx also marked the first time Looney Labs worked with artist Derek Ring, who would go on to become one of the company's primary illustrators.

The Pepperland Years: 2008-Now

In 2008 Alison bought a house right nearby the Looney's house, which had long ago been given the whimsical nickname Wunderland (spelled with a "U" in honor of Kristin's maden name, Wunderlich, and also why Andy's blog is called Wunderland.com). In this grand tradition, Alison named her house Pepperland (after the psychedelic land the Beatles visit in Yellow Submarine). Pepperland featured a large basement apartment perfectly suited to becoming the new Looney Labs office. The company immediately moved over from Janet's Attic and began setting up shop.

Their first few years in the new office have been very productive. In 2008, they partnered with Toy Vault to publish Monty Python Fluxx, and also updated Fluxx again, this time adding color, more cards, a larger box, and other tweaks, and calling it Fluxx 4.0.

This was the beginning of a phase in which they re-worked everything in their product line to use a standard-sized, two part box, packed in another standard-size display, designed to hold 6 units. Prior to this, Looney Labs games each came in a tuckbox designed to be exactly the size needed for the number of cards in the game. This resulted in a series of differently-sized products which were difficult to store both on retail shelves and in consumer collections. The new uniform-style packaging gave all the products a consistent look.

In 2009, Looney Labs released a new card game called Are You the Traitor?, a new version of Fluxx called Martian Fluxx, new editions of Aquarius and Chrononauts in the new packaging style, and some small expansion products like the Castle pack for Monty Python Fluxx and the Gore Years for Chrononauts. This was also when they pioneered the promo card attached to a postcard as a marketing tool.

Also in 2009, after years of letting Stoner Fluxx stay out of print, the company created a special imprint called Fully Baked Ideas as a way to bring the game back while keeping it apart from main company offerings.

In 2010, Looney Labs reissued EcoFluxx and Family Fluxx in the new standard format, as well as publishing Back to the Future: The Card Game.  Just before the end of the year they launched a new fan club web site. 

In 2011, Looney Labs published Pirate Fluxx and Star Fluxx. They also finally relaunched the pyramid game system using standard-sized boxes for the basic pyramids and a pyramid-shaped zippered bag for the new headliner game, IceDice.