History of Looney Labs

Brief History

Looney Labs was started in November 1996 by Kristin Looney and her husband, Andy, with the goal of publishing a card game he’d invented, called Fluxx. By 1999, both Looneys were able to quit their day jobs (they met while working at NASA) to pursue their dreams together. They have now sold over 4 million copies of Fluxx!

Over the last 25 years, Looney Labs has published numerous innovative and award-winning games, most notably dozens of versions of their flagship game, Fluxx. They are also well known for the colorful pyramid-shaped gaming pieces called Looney Pyramids, an abstract board game system you can play hundreds of different games with. Their other hits include a time travel game called Chrononauts, a high-speed matching game called Loonacy, a party game based on Mad Libs, and for dessert, a card game about dessert called Just Desserts.

Looney Labs games are for sale in game stores everywhere, including all around the world — Fluxx is so popular that it’s been translated into eleven different languages!

Detailed History

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 24, 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. Watch the video: tour of the Looney Labs office in Janet’s Attic!

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: 2008-2013

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 maiden 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. Watch the video: a tour of the Looney Labs office in the Pepperland Basement

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.

In 2012, IceDice was joined by a re-release of Treehouse in a smaller, pyramid-shaped bag, along with the new game Hijinks, released in a still smaller, zippered, pyramid-shaped pink bag, with pink pyramids. Other new products in 2012 included Oz Fluxx, Cthulhu Fluxx, and Deluxe Werewolf.
 
Target picked up Fluxx in 2012, and they sold several versions of the game during the next several years. Looney Labs established a “mass market” series, packaged in hang-tab boxes, which included Monster Fluxx the following year.
 
Also in 2012, PlayDek released an official iOS version of Fluxx. Unfortunately, it became unsupported in 2017, and plans for an Android version never materialized.
 
Lastly, 2012 was the year when Wunderland.com underwent a massive overhaul, changing from a complex, once-weekly “webzine” into a simple, occasional blog, powered by Wordpress instead of being hardcoded as html pages.
 
The Sterling Building Years: 2013-2019
 
2013 was a year of big changes. Most notably, Looney Labs leveled up to actual office building status, moving into an 14-room suite on the top floor of the nearby Sterling Building. Watch the video: a tour of the Looney Labs offices in the Sterling Building
 
There were also some big personnel changes, including the departure after 9 years of COO/CFO Robin Vinopal. To help manage their finances, the company brought in Gary Guttman, who serves as a part-time CFO for several small businesses. Kristine Greer, who started as our Inventory manager, took over the IT Department and later became the Operations Manager.
 
Amber Cook worked for Looney Labs for about 3 years during this time. She encouraged Kristin & Andy to update the Looney Labs logo and make a number of other changes in the company’s direction. With Amber’s help, the company made several new licensing deals, leading to the publication of Batman Fluxx, Firefly Fluxx, and the Cartoon Network versions of Fluxx. Amber also championed numerous changes, such as the simplified card frames in Fluxx and the change from EcoFluxx to Nature Fluxx.
 
Amber also introduced us to Eileen Tjan and her company, Other Studio. Eileen’s team helped the company revise their branding and did the package design on many products released in the next few years, including Fluxx 5.0, Nanofictionary, and all the layouts, logos and look of Pyramid Arcade.
 
Several other wonderful people joined our team for awhile, then moved on. Jamila Hinds did great work for us in the graphics department for several years. Others who helped us during this time were Shelly Roache, Lucas Hanson, and Robel Berhe. Debbie Lee took over our Social Media efforts for awhile, and it was she who encouraged Andy to start The Download Podcast with Keith Baker, which began in 2015.
 
In 2014, Laurie Menke got involved and has become Kristin’s Personal Assistant. In 2015, Chris Mindel joined the team as our Sales & Communications Manager, a position he held for 3 years. After Jamila left, Meredith Shelton became our new Production and Marketing Facilitator.
 
The company has continued steadily releasing new products. In 2013, the introduced a new party game, Choose One, and a Board Game version of Fluxx. In 2014, the company published Holiday Fluxx and the first version of Loonacy. 2015 saw the release of Just Desserts, Fluxx Dice, and Retro Loonacy.
 
In 2015, Looney Labs transitioned their warehouse & fulfillment center to a company called Excel, in Sterling, VA.
 
In 2016, Looney Labs decided to start making more instructional and promotional videos, by hiring a full-time video guy and creating a small, in-office studio. They hired Eric Looney, freshly graduated with a degree in film-making, and launched a series of different sample games, tutorials, and Q&As, and other promotional videos. Eric stayed with the company for over 2 years and left behind a library of awesome videos.
 
2016 was the year of LooneyCon, a standalone convention for Looney Labs fans. You can watch a short film about this event.
 
In 2016, Looney Labs released Mad Libs: The Game, an Uglydoll version of Loonacy, and Pyramid Arcade, featuring 22 of the best games developed over the past 20 years for the pyramids which launched the whole company. The holiday gift that year was Sandships, a 23rd game for the set.
 
2017 was one of the company’s most productive years, with numerous new products being released. Math Fluxx, Chemistry Fluxx, and Doctor Who Fluxx, joined the Fluxx series, along with Drinking Fluxx, released on Fluxx’s 21st birthday through the company’s adult imprint, Fully-Baked-Ideas. Other Fully-Baked products released this year included Stoner Loonacy, Adult Mad Libs, and Andy’s coffee table book about Amsterdam Coffeeshops. In August of 2017, the company finally re-released their story-telling card game, Nanofictionary, and just in time for Christmas, the long-awaited update of Zendo.
 

In 2017, the company hired Sarah Wilber as a Project Assistant. She was with Looney Labs for over 2 years and helped with many things including event support and the launch of a merch store to sell Looney Labs T-shirts.

New products in 2018 included Get the MacGuffin, Anatomy Fluxx, the first 2 Star Trek Fluxxes, a bunch of expansion packs, and Fairy Tale Fluxx, featuring the artwork of Mary Engelbreit, whose art was also the star of a Mary Engelbreit version of Loonacy.

Also in 2018, Meredith moved on and Morgan Nakroshis became our in-house graphics person. We also hired Tom Ryan, who helped us in the sales department for about a year and a half, plus our money guy Gary Guttman handed over the reigns to Kelly Jennings for a couple of years, since he needed to give one of his other clients full-time attention for awhile. Kelly was a capable stand-in, but we were glad when Gary came back.
Late in 2018, Looney Labs partnered with Cardinal to jointly publish a series of Fluxx games featuring popular licenses. This led to the release of Marvel Fluxx and Jumanji Fluxx in 2019, and SpongeBob SquarePants Fluxx in 2020. Unfortunately, due to Reasons, the partnership was short-lived.

Other new releases in 2019 included Time Breaker, two more Star Trek games (DS9 Fluxx and ChronoTrek), Are You a Robot?, and more expansions including adding the 13th Doctor to Doctor Who Fluxx. Also this year, we started offering Custom Loonacy decks through our on-demand printing partners at the Game Crafter.

During this time, Playdek re-released Fluxx for smartphones, also adding an implementation of Zombie Fluxx to their offerings.

Near the end of 2019, Andy & Kristin got to visit Moscow as Guests of Honor at Igrokon, Russia’s biggest gaming convention. By this time, Fluxx had been translated into 11 other languages, with several versions published in Russian including the infamous Star Wars version (available only there). But although Fluxx does well for them, our biggest hit in Russia is actually Loonacy, and since it features that cartoon of A&K as one of the game icons, the Looneys have become instantly recognizable to many Russian gamers. It was one of the last trips we’d take for awhile…

The Pandemic Years: 2020-Now
 

Obviously, 2020 was a difficult year for everyone. When the lockdown began, we tightened our belts, applied for all the government assistance we qualified for, and stayed home for the following year plus.

Like everyone else, when the lockdown began, we all had to learn to work from home and to use video-conferencing software to stay connected. Then we all got used to working that way, so when our lease was up at the Sterling Building, we decided we didn’t need as much room and vacated half of our office space to save money on rent.

In late 2020, Rebecca Anderson started helping us part-time in the sales department. She has years of experience with SET Enterprises and telecommutes (like we all do now) from Michigan.

Not being on the road gave us more time to focus on internal work. By mid-2021, we finally finished the long process of building and moving into a new Shopify-based webstore, in addition to other internal streamlining, most notably moving our fulfillment & warehousing operations from Excel in Virginia to AIDC in Vermont.

To honor the challenges of 2020, we made a promo card called Emergency Toilet Paper. As for new games, in 2020 Looney Labs released Astronomy Fluxx, Star Trek: Voyager Fluxx, and the Pyramid Quartet series of games (Nomids, Ice Duo, Martian Chess, and Homeworlds).

Interest in tabletop gaming increased with everyone cooped up together during lockdowns. The pandemic also caused a surge of interest in digital implementation of tabletop games, with sites like Board Game Arena allowing friends to keep playing board games together even when they couldn’t do so in person. Therefore we were delighted to help their affiliated programmers create online versions of our games, so far including Just Desserts and Fluxx.

In 2021, Looney Labs released Fantasy Fluxx and re-published 3 out-of-print titles (Oz Fluxx, Martian Fluxx, and Seven Dragons). Planned releases for later in the year include Wonderland Fluxx and more new expansions for the Star Trek Fluxx series.

2021 marked the 25th anniversary of the start of Looney Labs, and the company is currently celebrating this milestone in several ways:
• Silver Jubilee Gifts: The Looneys created a greeting card for the occasion, with a copy of Tiny Fluxx inside, and have been giving copies away with all out-going orders from our webstore. Each card includes a copy for the recipient to give to a friend!
• Silver Jubilee Events: Since conventions couldn’t happen this year, the company created a digital convention! Using video conferencing software, we’ve been holding dozens of events, including gaming events, discussion groups, panels, workshops, and more. We’ve been able to play games with our fans from all over the world, using digital implementations or simply by pointing a web camera down at a tabletop.
* Rare Items Raffles: Each quarter, Looney Labs has been giving fans an assortment of interesting old items pulled from the Looney’s attic & basement. Winners of these vintage treasures are determined via a bucket-style raffle, with fans earning tickets for the raffle via various interactive activities.
* Contests & Giveaways: Check the welcome page to see what’s up next!