# PuzzleNation Product Review: Math Fluxx

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

Fluxx has been one of Looney Labs‘s flagship products for over two decades now. It’s the card game with constantly changing rules, a game where the path to victory can vanish or appear at a moment’s notice.

But after Batman Fluxx, Firefly Fluxx, Holiday Fluxx, and many other versions, what more can they do with the concept to keep it fresh and interesting?

As it turns out, plenty. And with their latest release, Math Fluxx, the Looney Labs crew proves they still have plenty of tricks up their sleeves.

Now, anyone who has played Fluxx in the past is familiar with the basic gameplay: you collect keeper cards and put them into play. Different combinations of keeper cards complete different goals, and each player has the chance to put different keeper cards and goal cards into play in order to win.

Along the way, players affect how the game is played by utilizing action cards and new rule cards which alter what players can and can’t do. Suddenly, you’ll have to trade your hand with another player, or start drawing three cards each turn instead of one.

But instead of matching images like you do in most versions of Fluxx, in Math Fluxx players have to use keeper cards with numbers on them in order to complete different mathematical goals.

Some of the goals are simple, like having 4 and 2 as keepers to make 42 (the answer to life, the universe, and everything). But other goals are more complex, like forming two pairs of keeper cards like a poker hand, or having the highest score on the table in keeper cards.

For example, there’s a goal where you win if you’re displaying your own age with keeper cards. But since people playing will probably have different ages (and therefore, different keepers for that goal), you could lose by playing that goal too early.

Achieving these goals requires more strategy than your usual game of Fluxx — which is built more on seizing opportunities, since the gameplay is often quite chaotic — and the game’s creators doubled down on this by introducing new rule cards that let you achieve some of the goals in different ways.

For instance, instead of forming 42 with a 2 card and a 4 card, one new rule would allow you to complete that goal by playing keeper cards that, when multiplied, form 42.

These new wrinkles add a tremendous amount of depth to the gameplay (and I haven’t even mentioned the meta rule cards that alter gameplay for an entire session rather than a few turns, if players are feeling particularly ambitious).

Math Fluxx also cleverly sneaks in real-world mathematical concepts for younger players, in case you’re looking for a stealthy way to reinforce learning through playing games.

I was thoroughly impressed by the variety in new rules, goals, and gameplay tweaks introduced by Math Fluxx. It shows that there’s plenty of life in the Fluxx franchise, and that spirit of innovation and playfulness infuses each round of play, encouraging players to be just as clever and creative with their own gameplay.

Math Fluxx will be available March 9th, but you can preorder it by clicking here! And to check out all of our reviews of Looney Labs games and products, click here!

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Today’s review is going to be a little bit different, because I’m not reviewing a game… I’m reviewing 22 of them in one fell swoop.

That’s right, Pyramid Arcade represents the latest evolution in the Looney Pyramids series of puzzle games, combining and refining years of Looney Labs games and innovations into one sleek package. You see, when Andrew Looney started the Looney Pyramids series of games, his goal was to develop a puzzle game as infinitely adaptable as a deck of playing cards.

Pyramid Arcade is the next step in that process, amassing 22 games — some previously released, some new — in one massive rulebook. And everything you need to play is included, from game boards and dice to sets of pyramids in ten different colors.

[Two piece-placement games, Pharaoh and Petal Battle. Pharaoh is built around controlling the center square and the neighboring squares, while Petal Battle is about controlling five adjacent petals.]

Honestly, there’s a game in here for every type of puzzler. There are one-player games as well as games for 2-6 players, and even games for 10 players. There are combat games, collaborative games, wagering games, games of chance, balance games, and more. Some games require all 90 pyramids in the set!

And although some of the games are a little abstract — I’m still wrapping my head around Martian Chess — sitting down and actually playing through all the different options brings even the abstract concepts down to earth. You might be playing an insect in one game or a germ in another, but traditional puzzle skills and board-game styles rule the day here.

[Two strategy games, the Risk-inspired World War 5 and the miniature chess game Hijinks, which we previously reviewed as the standalone game Pink Hijinks.]

Stacking games like Hijinks are where the Looney Pyramids really shine as puzzle games. Being able to move beyond the two-dimensional play that defines so many board games adds a great deal of strategy and style to the gameplay. Whether you’re building rockets in Launchpad 23 or Jenga-like towers in Verticality, the pyramids become more than simple game pieces.

Although the price tag is higher than the usual board game or puzzle game fare, Pyramid Arcade is worth it. Not only do you get over twenty different games, but the rulebook includes a history of Looney Pyramids products, challenges for you to make your own Looney Pyramids games, and teasers for 22 additional games created by fans and submitted to Looney Labs online.

It’s impressive, all that you can accomplish with these curious little pyramids.

[Pyramid Arcade is available from Looney Labs and featured in our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!]

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# 5 Questions with Game Designer Andrew Looney

In honor of the 20th anniversary of Looney Labs this weekend, as well as the launch of the LooneyCon event today, we’re doing Follow-Up Friday a little differently today.

And so, welcome to another edition of 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And I’m excited to welcome Andrew Looney as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

[Image courtesy of BoardGameGeek.com.]

Andrew Looney is the chief game designer and co-founder of Looney Labs, a company specializing in games with serious replayability and dynamic rules that make every session a new experience. Founding the company in 1996 with his wife and partner-in-aerospace Kristin, he has gone on to launch such innovative games as Fluxx (and its many variations) and the Looney Pyramids series.

With two decades of experience in game design, he has presided over the growth of a major brand in games, one whose homegrown roots and values are still very much a part of the company’s fabric today.

Andrew was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us in the days before LooneyCon, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

5 Questions with Andrew Looney

1. You’re celebrating twenty years of Looney Labs innovation and game design this month, and you’ve really cemented a reputation for fun games with a high replay value. How do you know when a game is right for your brand? And what role do you play in bringing these games to market?

I design everything we make myself. So I play a pretty big role. But the decision about what we publish next is not up to me… Ultimately, Kristin makes that call (although she gets input from everyone in the company and beyond).

When I feel that a game design is working, I’ll declare it ready for consideration, at which point it goes into the pool of possibilities. And some of my designs spend a lot of time waiting around in the pool before the company decides to publish them. In other cases, such as when I’m asked to create a game on a specific subject or when I come up with something particularly exciting, I have more deadline pressure.

But the ultimate test of when a game is ready is when everyone who plays it says, “This is great! Let’s play again!”

[The heart and soul of Looney Labs, Andrew and Kristin Looney.
Image courtesy of WindyconBlog.]

2. In the last year, Looney Labs released more games than ever before, with new licensing deals for Fluxx variations like Batman Fluxx and Firefly Fluxx, a Mad Libs game, and a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign for Pyramid Arcade, a relaunch of sorts for your Looney Pyramids series. How is Year 20 of Looney Labs different from Year 1, and what lessons have you learned along the way?

Wow, the difference is so vast. Twenty years ago we were still working at our day jobs in the aerospace industry, and learning how to start a company in our spare time. We’re still living in the same house, but the similarities end there. For many years, we ran the business out of our house, but now it’s just our house again, since our company has an 11-room office suite up the road, where our 8 full-time employees work.

Twenty years ago I had an idea for a wacky new card game… now there are almost 20 different versions of that game on the market, that have sold almost 3 million copies, and our games are in about 20 different languages.

Twenty years ago, we were struggling to find a way to manufacture the little plastic pyramids needed for our first game idea. Now we’re about to release an incredible boxed set featuring twenty different games I’ve invented since then for the pyramids.

Plus we have a bunch of other cool games I’ve invented along the way! It’s amazing, I never would have believed it. Where will we be in another twenty years?

[Sample cards from Firefly Fluxx, one of many games
released under the Looney Labs banner.]

3. You’ve created games of your own and helped others bring their games to life. What puzzles and board games, either in game-play style or in the experience of producing them for sale, have most influenced you?

I grew up on the old-school classics, so they were my obvious first influences. Sorry was an early favorite. Another was a sixties board game about the Civil War called Battle Cry. I think my first real game design effort was a small-scale, simplified version of Battle Cry I made as a kid, small and fast enough to be played at a restaurant during a meal. (Sadly, I lost that prototype long ago.)

Another early effort was combining the missile and warhead cards from Nuclear War with the board game Risk. Another of my earliest efforts was coding my own text adventure games, like Colossal Cave, a game so inspirational to me that it also first motivated my desire to program computers.

Kristin and I were independently inspired, during our high school days, by the dice game Cosmic Wimpout. Indie game companies like them are everywhere now, but at the time it was a revelation that such companies could exist. We were particularly inspired by their occasional newsletter and their grassroots approach to marketing.

My favorite card game from way back is Hearts, and certain elements of that game still inspire me, most notably the way it has two paths to victory (avoid taking points vs. take all the points).

Lastly, Fluxx was inspired by a conceptual game engine called Nomic, in which the game rules are created by the players as the game is played. I found Nomic to be an interesting idea, but felt I could do better…

I think a lot of game designers, and indeed inventors of every stripe, are driven by this sort of inspiration, the desire to improve on what someone else did, to go even further with the idea.

4. What’s next for Andrew Looney and Looney Labs?

Well, the very next thing is LooneyCon, a micro-convention for fans of our games which we’re running this weekend! And as mentioned, this fall we’ll be releasing Pyramid Arcade, the culmination of everything we’ve been doing with the pyramid system these past 20 years.

Well, almost — it doesn’t include Zendo, which is too big to fit in Pyramid Arcade. But a new standalone edition of that game is something we’re planning separately, and we have some pretty neat ideas for that, too.

And I’ve got other exciting stuff planned for the future, including 3 completely new board games I’ve been developing for the past few years. Sorry, I can’t even tell you their names yet, let alone when they will be released, but I’m pretty satisfied by each one.

5. If you could give the readers, writers, aspiring game designers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

“Don’t get left behind when the car goes into town.”

This is something my mom used to say (which I actually only learned at her funeral). It was a lesson she’d learned as a kid in rural Kansas, and it literally just refers to the limited availability of opportunities to catch a ride from the farm into town.

But I love it as a mantra for every fleeting chance we get at doing something fun. Pay attention to everything, because doors sometimes open and close quickly, and always say yes to travel and excitement!

Life is one big game, and whoever has the most fun wins!

A huge thank you to Andy for his time. Be sure to check out the Looney Labs site for updates on all things Looney, and check out their Facebook to keep up on all the activities for this weekend’s LooneyCon event, which starts today and runs through Sunday July 24, the actual 20th anniversary! I cannot wait to see what he has in store for us next!

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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

# It’s Follow-Up Friday: LooneyCon edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And for today’s blog post, we’re returning to one of my favorite subjects: puzzly events!

We’re closing in on a very special anniversary for a company PuzzleNationers know well. From Loonacy, Just Desserts, and Fluxx to Chrononauts, Mad Libs: The Game, and Pink Hijinks, many of their games have passed beneath the PuzzleNation Blog microscope!

That’s right, we’re one week away from the 20th anniversary of Looney Labs!

More specifically, it’s the 20th birthday of Fluxx, the very first Looney Labs game!

And how are the folks at Looney Labs celebrating this joyous occasion? Why, with their very own convention: LooneyCon!

LooneyCon is a weekend long convention focused entirely on Looney Labs and our fans! What will we do at LooneyCon, you ask? We’ve got tournaments, giant game pieces, tie dying and craft projects, unpublished prototypes, and foreign language versions to try… We’re going to bring Andy’s Ice Breaker video game full console machine! Rare items will be given out… Grab your tickets before we sell out!

From July 22 to July 24, all things Looney Labs will be celebrated! They’ve got gaming tables, an auction where you can spend Looney Bucks earned during the event, rare versions of their most popular games, and the intriguing “Andy vs. Everybody” event pitting creator and game designer Andrew Looney against all comers!

So, if you’re near Chevy Chase, Maryland — or within traveling distance — reach out to them on Facebook and join in the fun!

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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

# Kickstarter Round-up!

International TableTop Day is this Saturday, a day where we celebrate getting together with family and friends to play games! Board games, card games, role-playing games, puzzles…anything that involves gathering in person and having fun around a table fits the bill!

But we simply can’t wait until Saturday — plus the office is closed that day — so we’re hosting our PuzzleNation’s TableTop Day event in-house TODAY! And I figured what better day could there be for a round-up of puzzly crowdfunding campaigns marking some of the newest and most intriguing projects in the puzzle-game industry today!

I’ve covered various campaigns for board games, card games, and puzzle projects across the Kickstarter and Indiegogo crowdfunding platforms over the years, and today I’d like to share three more that could use your attention.

The first is the strategy game Tak.

Tak is a collaboration between game designer James Ernest, head honcho of Cheapass Games and Hip Pocket Games, and author Patrick Rothfuss, creator of the Kingkiller Chronicle series, to bring to life a game featured in Rothfuss’s novel The Wise Man’s Fear.

The premise sounds simple: build a road of pieces connecting opposite sides of the board. By using some pieces as parts of your road and others as walls to block your opponent, this mix of chess, Stratego, and Go is all about strategy. Plus, the game is adaptable, playable on square boards as small as 3×3 and as large as 8×8.

This is a new pub game that feels like a timeless classic, and it looks perfect for puzzlers of all ages.

Now let’s move from the pub to outer space with another Kickstarter campaign, Avoid the Void.

This is a different sort of strategy game, since it’s all about outlasting your opponents, not completing a task first. In Avoid the Void, whole sectors of space are being replaced with black holes, and everyone is scrambling to gather resources and elude these hungry death traps.

You’ve got an ever-changing gameboard, intriguing alien races (including one resembling a piece of cake), and all the reason in the world to deceive, outmaneuver, and betray your fellow players, just so you can stay in the universe a little while longer.

This is a game designed for replayability, allowing you to indulge in all of the diabolical selfishness of games like Monopoly, but without the huge time commitment. After all, the universe is collapsing and there’s no time to waste!

And speaking of replayability, the makers of this last Kickstarter campaign are known for puzzle games with high replay factor. Let’s talk about Pyramid Arcade from Looney Labs.

We normally talk about Looney Labs card games like Fluxx or Loonacy, but their original product line revolved around the Looney Pyramids system: various games you can play with their signature colored pyramids.

Now, they’re launching Pyramid Arcade, covering TWENTY-TWO different games and encompassing 90 pyramids of various colors. It’s their largest release ever, and with all the variants and mini-games they’ve created for these game pieces over the years, this promises to be a game set with endless possibilities.

Pattern-matching games, chess- and Tic-Tac-Toe-inspired games, bluffing games, strategy games, and even a tower-building game…Pyramid Arcade literally has something for everyone.

These are three intriguing and very worthy projects, and I hope you contribute to one or more of them. As someone who has become a regular donor to various Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns, I am proud to have funded some marvelous new ideas and watched them take shape over the months that followed.

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# PuzzleNation Product Review: Firefly Fluxx

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

Looney Labs is celebrating 20 years of puzzle-game goodness this year. From Pink Hijinks and Just Desserts to Retro Loonacy and Chrononauts, they have built a reputation for games that endlessly reinvent themselves every time you play, maximizing both fun and replayability.

And their newest edition to their flagship Fluxx series typifies the spirit of Looney Labs: it’s bright, chaotic, stylish, and entertaining as all get out.

Firefly Fluxx makes the most of the much-beloved fan favorite one-season wonder, utilizing the characters, tropes, and best lines from the show to place their particular spin on the shifting rules, goals, and actions of earlier editions of Fluxx. (And you won’t even need to brush up on your Chinese expletives!)

Now, anyone who has played Fluxx in the past is familiar with action cards, goal cards, keeper cards, new rule cards, and surprise cards. For those unfamiliar with the game, the basic idea is to collect keeper cards in the hopes of completing a goal and winning the game. But since every player can change rules (like how many cards you draw during your turn, how many you drop, etc.) as well as what the current goal is that will allow you to win the game, you have to be on your toes.

Firefly Fluxx capitalizes on the outlaw spirit of the show to encourage players to swap out goals, play diabolical creeper cards, and spring devastating surprises on their opponents, all while sharing in the collective fandom with references like “Shiny!,” “I’ll be in my bunk,” and my personal favorite, “Curse Your Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal!”

[The crew of the Serenity reunites to elude the Reavers,
gather some loot, and escape unscathed, Fluxx-style.]

The art is delightful in a cartoony way, visually bringing home their larger-than-life adventures. Even the backgrounds of each card get a washed-out, Old West-style color palette to compliment the game and its fictional universe.

Although they’re not reinventing the wheel here with this newest edition of Fluxx, they are providing another terrific example of what they do best: marrying fun pop culture properties with great puzzly gameplay. It’s a winning combination.

You can pick up Firefly Fluxx here, and to check out all of our reviews of Looney Labs games and products, click here!

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