Looney Labs and Travel with Fluxx: A Gen Con Interview- Turn Order

Looney Labs is a woman-owned business run by former NASA engineer Kristin Looney with the help of her husband Andy (also a former NASA engineer), who is the creative brain that publishes out all those zany Fluxx titles. The Looneys are known as well for Loonacy, Chrononauts, Are You a Werewolf?  and the little Pyramid Games like Martian Chess, Ice Dice, and Homeworlds. As a small business with only 7 full-time employees, if you have been to Gen Con or some of the shows and events around their home base of College Park, Maryland, you have probably met the Looney crew, and tend to stand out, as they’re known for their tie-dyed shirts and lab coats combo. Looney Labs’ games are travel friendly, environmentally responsible, efficiently packaged, and mostly printed in the USA. I was able to sit down with the team at Gen Con and talk about some of their latest and upcoming games.

A new, compact Fluxx Board Game, Across America Fluxx, and Around the World Fluxx all debuted this year, so Kristin Looney had a lot going on at her Gen Con booth! She had demos. She had sales. She had promo cards and cute plush flowers to draw in the curious. Conspicuously absent was Andy, who is usually the tallest guy in their corner. Where was he? Apparently, getting ready for an epic road trip!

In Fluxx, players need cards known as Keepers in order to help achieve objectives and eventually win the game. For these two new variants, Around the World Fluxx and Across America Fluxx,  the Looney Labs team are including maps that show the actual location of the physical locations for these Keepers. At the time I talked to Kristin, Andy was taking a 6-week road trip inspired by the map in Across America Fluxx, to show others where these Keepers can be found, taking photos in front of each one with his Keeper card art for comparison. You can follow along on this journey by reading his blog at Wunderland.com, or keep an eye on the Looney Labs accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates with the hashtag #TravelWithFluxx. Andy’s journey startedfrom their home in Maryland, heading to Washington state, and then progressing down the West coast to Hollywood and before heading East before completing the loop by heading North toward Washington, DC, with a small detour into Florida, because Florida has to always ruin something.

Kristin spread out the cards while I looked at the map. Andy and that Box Truck have a long way to go!  We looked at the Keepers and laughed over scenarios like “Luggage Mishap”, which many of us have gone through both to and from Gen Con. My blood pressure skipped upwards as she read the card and I pictured last year’s 8-hour Arizona delayed layover, which had our board game bag in a cart on the tarmac in 100+ degree heat while I prayed for the poor plastic models trapped within. I have to say, while Fluxx games are always fun, I don’t usually find them relaxing! But that’s part of it, isn’t it? The raucous laughter and the trash talk (“Draw 3, Play All? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Yooou TROGLODYTE!”) are part of almost every Looney Labs game I have tried. They are great for energizing a new group, and Across America is no exception:

“Road Music: If you sing a few bars of a song about a particular destination, or travel in general, that no one else has sung yet, draw an extra card. Draw a second card if the song directly relates to one of your Keepers.”

I mean I was already sold, but… CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!

Fluxx games are no stranger to cutthroat play, either. While it’s all in good fun, some of the cards are built to make folks hate you, just saying. In Across America, for instance:

“I’m Lost: Choose any player who has at least one Keeper. That player becomes LOST. The lost player must choose one of their Keepers and discard it. Then they will choose another player to help them find their way. The helper must choose one of the Keepers they have in play and transfer it to the Lost Player as a guide fee. The helper then must draw a card. If no one can help the lost player, no one gets the fee.”

Across America Fluxx Art Niagra Falls

The new travel Fluxx games have a beautiful, muted art style by Kate Melrose that reminds me of the National Parks Posters that I saw a few years back. A lot of the Keepers have little numbers on them that Kristin explained are timeline dates, which allows for people to test their historical knowledge for various places. Around the World Fluxx capitalizes on this knowledge:

“When Was That? Before you play a Keeper, you must announce it by name. If the next player correctly tells you the date at the bottom, draw an extra card.”

The dates usually show when the monument was created or built, dedicated or, in the case of natural phenomena like forests and canyons, made an officially protected park.

Around the World Fluxx Art

The Looneys are great supporters of fun yet educational games, not only with their obvious additions of Chemistry and Math Fluxx games to their product line, but also simply by the way games like Fluxx and Loonacy play, making them easy to learn and understand.

The flexible mindset and ever-changing conditions help people cope with analytic flexibility, working under pressure, and finding solutions in a confusing environment that can help people at school and work, as well as with complicated relationships with other folks in their lives. “One of the main things schools try to teach kids is how to follow instructions. When kids play a game like Around the World Fluxx, they are practicing all kinds of skills. They’re coping with change, coping with the fact that the world’s not fair sometimes…. The game actually has you practicing a lot of the life skills that you’re teaching in classrooms.” While handy in a life of academia when one is trying to pivot after a grant has been revoked, a game like Fluxx also can help people get through day-to-day chaos. “For Kids on the Spectrum, people who are REALLY not coping with change, Fluxx provides an opportunity to practice the skills you are trying to help them learn. But it doesn’t feel like work, or school. Fluxx is SUPER fun to play. A lot of adults should be practicing these skills, too! Life is weird and hard and has changes that can be hard for anybody to deal with.”

Looney Labs Gen Con Booth

Given the many different flavors of Fluxx on the rack beside me, I can’t resist asking Kristin, “Where does Andy get the ideas for all of these? Like, what makes him wake up and say ‘I want to make a Chemistry Fluxx’? What kind of process do you go through to settle on a new title? Does he have a really good handle on all these subjects already, or does he go on a deep dive into a rabbit hole to learn everything he can before deciding ‘THIS is the new project’?” Kristin laughed a little and said, “Sometimes they are things that he loves, so he makes a game to share that love. But sometimes it’s something that a partner of ours has the license to, asking if it can be made into Fluxx, and he says, ‘Uh, I guess I can spend the next six weeks watching all of Spongebob Squarepants…’” I cracked up. She continued, “I mean we were kind of aware of Spongebob, our nephew was a big fan, but he wasn’t immersed in the story. So for the next month and a half, two months, every tv was playing Spongebob Squarepants. And when he was working on Back to the Future Chrononauts, it was the same thing. Those three movies were literally on loops in my house. It gets kinda weird, but sometimes his job is just to watch cartoons.”

“Sometimes the fans push for an idea, and he has to figure out how to implement it. Like with Zombie Fluxx, he just couldn’t wrap his brain around how to do it for a long, long time, until finally, he does. That’s how he invented Creepers. Because nobody WANTS a zombie. A creeper completely changes how the game works.”

And it surely works well, given the thirty-odd versions beside me. I have a good half dozen Fluxx titles myself, so I perused the boxes as Kristin cleaned up Around the World Fluxx. We chatted about our celebration when they finally got the licensing to Doctor Who Fluxx (“that took me YEARS!” she told me). Then she handed me Star Trek Chrono-Trek. “If you like time travel games, and you’re a Trekkie, you have to try this one.”

I do enjoy some Trek, but my knowledge has some serious gaps. The Chrononauts original game has a timeline of events during the twentieth century. Star Trek Chrono-Trek is based on various Star Trek storylines, from The Original Series and the movies, up to about 2018-19. Released just before the new Picard series, she told me. The timeline of Trek history here has the crews of different shows visiting each other in this game. Made by a hardcore Trekkie, Kristin called it a love letter to the Trek universe. She said I don’t have to be a pro in knowledge to get it, but the consummate Trekkie will appreciate it on so many levels. So, I brought this game home to try with some Trekkie friends who have watched the older stuff much more recently than I have, and we will share our thoughts on that soon with you.

A huge thanks to Kristin for spending time to talk to me at Gen Con, and we’ll have some reviews of the games I received coming up as I get a chance to play through them and share my thoughts about them with you all soon; I’ve got a review of Fluxx: The Board Game coming soon, as well, so look forward to that as well!