As aerospace engineers at NASA, Kristin and Andy Looney spent years working on VLSI computer chips, telemetry processing systems, and other high-tech tasks. But if you’re more into hobby shops than you are the Hubble telescope, you might know the couple for a different contribution: the card game Fluxx, which has sold more than 3 million copies since they debuted it in 1997.
Analog gaming had initially just been a fun pastime for the pair, who met at NASA in 1986. After they went from playing games to creating them, however, things started to get more serious. Andy invented a tabletop game called Icehouse, but it was hard to find a manufacturer, so they came up with a card game. The hook was that its rules constantly changed—in other words, were in flux. Fluxx quickly found an avid audience. “Our first fans were geeks, scientists, code monkeys,” Kristin says. There was something addictive about it, a quality the Looneys simply refer to as “magic.”
In 1998, they quit their well-paying aerospace jobs to devote their time to the company they had named Looney Labs. Today, working out of a mildly cluttered, colorful office in College Park, the Looneys offer 32 different editions of Fluxx, including tie-ins to Monty Python and Batman. The company also makes other games of the screen-free variety, including Mad Libs card games and Looney Pyramids, an updated version of Icehouse. Still, nothing beats the core product. “We like to say that all of Andy’s other game designs hate Fluxx,” Kristin says. “They’re very jealous.”
When I met up with them at their office, the Looneys had just returned from Origins Game Fair in Ohio—the same convention where they introduced Fluxx back in the ’90s. They were there to show off the latest editions of the card game, which they think will be the biggest sellers yet—tie-ins with Marvel and the upcoming new Jumanji movie that will be carried at Walmart and Target.
As successful as Looney Labs has grown, the couple is still just as excited to play their games. While I was there, they insisted I compete at Fluxx—then blatantly let me win, even though it was my first time and skill is definitely a factor. Apparently, ditching their glamorous aerospace gigs was the right move. While we were playing, I asked Kristin if people thought they were crazy when they left to make a card game. It’s a question she’s clearly gotten before, and she had an answer ready: “Looney, you mean?”
This article appears in the August 2019 issue of Washingtonian.