Andy Looney, a co-founder of local games maker Looney Labs (along with his wife Kristen), was roaming the board games floor in a white lab coat as soon as the Con opened, handing people a special promo card from his company’s new game in exchange for a fist bump. When I mentioned that we had talked about an interview at a previous Awesome Con, he immediately offered to sit down and talk. Looney Labs sells games that he has designed, with Fluxx being its best known game. Fluxx is a card game with two basic rules – draw a card and play a card – and then a host of other cards modify those rules. The game has many versions including licensed ones of animation shows such as Batman Adventures and Cartoon Network properties.
Mike Rhode: How long have you been in business?
Andy Looney: Twenty years. We started in the late 90s. I invented Fluxx on July 24th, 1996. We started a company to sell it a little after I invented it. We’ve been based in College Park, MD the whole time.
MR: When you decide to expand the Fluxx game into all the variants?
AL: After a few years. We ran with the basic game for a while, and oddly enough the very first themed version was Stoner Fluxx. That was the very first one that suggested itself. It’s very common thing to say, “Hey, what if you took this game and made it a drinking game?” or in this case, a marijuana toking game.Since I’m not much of a drinker, this is the one we made. But also, we were really starting to get active with the legalization movement in those days, and when we first conceived it we thought of it as a fundraising thing. We were calling it NORML Fluxx.We even pitched it to them. I remember an awkward meeting in their offices downtown where they essentially said, “What? No, we don’t want to do that. Sorry.” So we just made a generic Stoner Fluxx. That was the first one we printed, but things really took off with the themed versions with Zombie Fluxx in 2008.
MR: For the earlier years, you produced games that you didn’t have to license?
AL: Yeah. That was always the watchword: “No licenses.” Then Monty Python approached us, through a company named Toy Vault, that made Monty Python things. They wanted to do Monty Python Fluxx and contacted us about doing it and I said, “Sounds great, except I want to design and sell it, and we’ll kick you back [a commission] for making it happen. It’s a great idea.” It was great. They were so easy to work with and it sold well. It continues to be one of our hottest sellers, even though the license is just this vintage, old license. People still love Monty Python and it still does real well.
And then we thought, “This licensing thing isn’t so bad. Let’s try it with something else.” One of the things I really wanted to do was a themed version of Chrononauts, a time-travel game I invented in 2000. We made an early American version in 2004 and after Monty Python, I thought a license I would like to do would be to apply Back to the Future to the Chrononauts mechanism. We had it out for a few years, but then we had to let the license go because we couldn’t meet Universal’s guarantees because we’re not that big a company and it didn’t do that well for us. That also was an experience… whereas [licensing] Monty Python was a dream, this was much more challenging. There was a giant corporation that had a lot more pushback on various things, and there was a lot of back and forth to make them satisfied. I walked away from that one saying, “Oh my god, let’s not do any more licenses.” So for years, we didn’t do licenses. We focused on things like Cthulhu and Wizard of Oz and Pirates, but finally we started to do licenses again. We got Batman and the Cartoon Network ones then, but we’ve now lost the Cartoon Network licenses. It’s a shame because everybody loves Rick and Morty now. We’ve still got Batman, Dr. Who, and Firefly and all of these have been hugely popular for us. This year we’re going to make Star Trek and ST: The Next Generation games.
MR: About the art – it’s varied over the games, but you have a high-level of art for a small game company. How do you find your artists?
AL: A lot of our games were done by one guy, Derek Ring of Boston. He’s our go-to artist. He’s done more art for Fluxx than any other artist. When we did Zombie Fluxx, we started working with a packaging and marketing design company. We wanted our packaging to look better so we hired a local company called Tim Kenney Marketing and he helped us update our branding and packaging. He was the one who connected us to Derek Ring. Afterwards, we wanted to keep working with Derek for our other games because he’d been such a great illustrator. He’s great.
Sometimes we use a friend of a friend, such as on Stoner Fluxx, and some art is done in-house. The art for Get the MacGuffin, our brand new game, is a long-time friend named Alex Bradley.
AL: A totally new game. I’m real excited about it. There’s a thing called the MacGuffin that everyone is trying to get, because it’s a win-the-game card. If you have it, you’re likely to win, but the object of the game is to have the last card. If you’re out of cards, you’re out of the game. It’s an elimination game, but it’s always fast. You only have five cards or less depending on how many players are in the game. You have to make them last as long as you can. The MacGuffin is great because you can infinitely discard it and pick it up again instead of throwing away so it lasts forever. People try to steal it from you, or try to destroy it, but ultimately what matters is that you have the last card.
MR: Do you want to keep expanding the Fluxx line?
AL: I have so many other Fluxxes in my design library that I could make a Fluxx out of just about anything at this point. We’re doing more educational ones. I have a space one, not to be confused the science fiction Star Fluxx, that will be the solar system and space missions. I expect it next year or the year after.
MR: The educational games are successful?
AL: Yes, we’re bringing out Anatomy Fluxx this year because Math and Chemistry proved so popular. We made those because we had a little convention of our fans a couple of years ago, and I put out every different version of Fluxx prototypes I had. At the time, I had as many unpublished prototypes as we had print games. I put them all on the table and said, “Try these out all weekend and vote for the ones you want to have published,” and Math and Chemistry were the vote leaders, so I thought “I guess we need to make these,” and they’ve proven popular enough that Anatomy was next.
AL: I’ve thought about dinosaurs. I definitely think a dinosaur Fluxx is one I’d do at some point, but I’m having a hard time deciding how to pair the cards off. It seems on one hand perfect – put a T Rex on a card, and ‘boom’ but on the other hand, how I match them up for the goals is the hard part.
MR: I’ve noticed a certain fondness for puns in your goals…
MR: I’ve noticed a certain fondness for puns in your goals…
Star Fluxx has goal bloat because I had just invented the goal mill, and the goal mill is such a useful card. Anytime a great new card comes along, I’ll start putting it into all versions I design after that, but I don’t usually like to retro-change the cards. Now the game cards have a new design without boilerplate and with a wraparound border, but older Fluxx games like Star, Monty Python, Zombie … they still have the old design and probably never will be updated. There is a heritage there that I like to be able to see – how the patterns and designs have changed and evolved.
MR: How many people work in Looney Labs?
AL: Around 8. It’s only 7 at the moment due to a recent departure. We’re small compared to a lot of game companies.
We’ve got a couple more games coming out. Mary Engelbreit, a noted illustrator, is someone we’re making three products with – one that I can’t talk about, a version of Loonacy, and Fairy Tale Fluxx that she’ll be doing all the illustrations for. We’re taking art out of her story books for Fluxx, and doing new art if necessary.
MR: How did you end up working with her?
AL: We just reached out. Our new business person noted that Mary Engelbreit is very popular in markets we’re trying to reach such as more mainstream markets. We’re looking at ways of getting our products into markets where we aren’t usually seen like gift stores and greeting cards shops that already sell a lot of her products will hopefully pick these up based on her name. And that gets the foot in the door for selling Fluxx to a whole new group of people. I’m pretty excited about Space Fluxx which has black cards and NASA pictures.
MR: Speaking of new markets, for a while Target had an exclusive type of Fluxx…?
AL: We made a special edition of Fluxx for Target that was a little bit different, and was a little cheaper. When we working with Cartoon Network, we did a mashup for Target, and standalone Adventure Time and Regular Show versions for the hobby market. We also made Monster Fluxx that way. It was exclusive to Target for a while, but for us it’s been about trying to have a version of our product that is a little bit cheaper, a little bit different from the hobby store version, that we can sell in grocery stores, drug stores and places that have a little games area.
MR: Is that working for you?
AL: Yeah. It’s our secondary line. Monster Fluxx gives a sense of Zombie or Cthulhu, but in a lighter weight version with no Creepers. It’s the easy version of the game.
MR: Finally, will we see any more Chrononauts games?
AL: Everyone’s always asking about that. It’s hard. Timeline design is so challenging. It’s not like anything’s been happening in the news of note. [laughs] I’m always looking at the news, thinking, “Is this an event [that could change a timeline]?” Also there’s other areas of history that I think about, like a New World Chrononauts from pre-discovery America, or a future timeline imagining a bunch of big events… these are really challenging jobs. I’d like to update the basic game beyond The Gore Years expansion, but that’ll probably take a few years. I’m actively trying to work on a new game these days though.