Scrapbook from the Looney Labs Big Experiment at Origins 2K

(This page is a supplement to the Origins report, from July 20, 2000.)

Here you see our booth in a rare quiet moment, one morning just before the Exhibit Hall opened. This new booth layout worked really well; now that the bulk of our demo gaming was going on elsewhere, we were free to make our booth more like a store, with a showroom area and a little sales counter at the end (where I spent most of my time).

Out in our little showroom, we had a pair of round standing-height tables just perfect for playing IceTowers, which our lab-coat wearing staff was demoing practically non-stop during booth hours.

As always, Gina was very enthusiastic!

And here's our secondary location. The Union Room is one of those big event halls they have at convention centers, and one fifth of this giant space was reserved for use by us. When we arrived, the entire hall was filled with long straight rows of tables, but toK immediately introduced chaos into our area by wonderfully turning and twisting all the gaming tables in our fifth of the room.

This room was open almost non-stop throughout the weekend, closing down only for the middle of the night, otherwise always being the scene of some combination of Toasters/Rabbits playing some combination of LooneyLabs/ContagiousDreams games. Often new games still-in-development were being played, including Zendo, the radical revision of Zarcana, totally new Icehouse games called Rat Patrol, Cannon Fodder, and Invaders of Mars, and even something that was being tinkered up by the team on the spot, apparently inspired by a dream sequence I wrote once, entitled Dante's Bakery. I'm sure we'll be hearing more about these things as time rolls along.

The event going on whenever no other official event was going on was called The Den of Contagious Dreams, and we used one of Alison's CD logo signs from last year to identify and mark our territory. Opened copies of everything in the Contagious Dreams line were available for trial games in the Den, but as you might expect, the gaming was rather dominated by the various Looney Labs games. The notable exceptions were Equate and One World Dominion, since fellow dreamers Mary Kay Beavers and Greg Turner were also at Origins, running their own demos and events in the Den of Contagious Dreams. This system worked out splendidly... they had a ready space for their events and a place in the exhibit hall to send potential customers, and we wound up selling out of the stock we'd brought of their games (luckily they had more with them to sell us).

The tournaments were a huge success. They were well attended (the last of the Fluxx Preliminaries attracted over 60 players) and the competition was (in some cases at least) absolutely intense. Here's a scene from the finals of the IceTowers tournament. From left to right we see John (who won), Renee (in the background), Alison, and Liam. Be sure to check out the Gallery of Big Experiment Medallions to see the names of all the winners and the artwork featured on the medallions they won (which were in fact often worn by their victors throughout the rest of the weekend).

As for the Icehouse tournament, I'd venture to say it was the best one yet. It's truly become a master's event... we had 12 players this year and they were all really really good, so good that even some of the most dedicated Icehouse fans now choose not to compete, since they just don't feel qualified anymore. As the returning champ, I of course had no choice but to compete, but I wouldn't have traded my participation in the tournament for any of the other great things that happened this weekend. I lost every game I played and even got put into the Icehouse once, but I had a great time nonetheless. While all the tournaments we ran were fun, this one was particularly special... this is, after all, the game that started it all, and the more we de-emphasize this more complicated older game in favor of easier new games, the more this event becomes oriented towards the Secret Masters of Icehouse.

The SMOI were there in style this year, with Eeyore providing the proper ambient music (as usual) and with each table using a different assortment of special pyramid stashes, ranging from vintage solid plastic to the classic wood and even a heavily shellacked set of gravel filled paper pieces. The mystique running through this event was so thick you could taste it, and when Eric Zuckerman won the coveted Cooler Than Ice award, everybody cheered. I was particularly pleased to see 2 new faces in the finals (it was great having so many new competitors!) and not the least bit surprised that Eeyore took home the scepter again.

The most well attended of the tournaments was the last of the Fluxx preliminaries, held on Saturday afternoon, with over 60 people showing up to play. Tucker did a really outstanding job running all these Fluxx events for us, with Jake (assisted by John and Kory and others) managing all the rest, and they are to be congratulated and thanked for all their great work.

But it wasn't just the thrill of competing in a highly-luck based tournament that packed 'em in for the Fluxx events: we were also bribing them, with free, never-before-seen Fluxx goals. A side benefit of the nearly-punched, nine-to-a-page card sheet format Kristin devised for the Beta edition of Chrononauts (inspired by Greg Turner's packaging for One World Dominion (Thanks Greg!)) is that we can now easily get short runs of Fluxx-compatible playing cards made, hence the set of 5 new promotional Goal cards we made for Origins this year. We released one of these new Goals at each of the 5 Fluxx events (making them available at the booth thereafter) and this worked just as we'd hoped it would... the tourneys got increasingly crowded, and people kept coming back to the booth throughout the weekend to get the next in the series! Most of these new goals were suggested by Ryan McGuire, who was surprised and excited to see them when he arrived at the con on Saturday. They are: Nuclear War (Rocket + War), The Bakery (Bread + Donuts), Coffee Break (Coffee + Time), The Desert (The Sun + The Pyramid), plus the final goal shown full on this page, Icehouse, the 100,000 Year Old Game From Mars (The Pyramid + Time). Only 500 of each of these new goals were made, but we didn't quite give them all away... if you'd like a set, be sure to say so in the comments field of your next order, and we'll toss them in while supplies last. And if you don't manage to get a set of these, don't worry, I'm sure we'll be doing more soon. (In fact, Gen-Con is coming up... are any of you Rabbits going?)

Various people brought various neat things to show off or even give to us, and thanks to everyone for all those special moments... but nothing was as cool as the set of pieces Mike Sugarbaker brought along: yes, that's right, giant foam Icehouse pieces. This actually is not a new idea... the games the Bates Discordians used to play with Keith Baker pillow-style set are the stuff of legends. But never has it been done as well as it has just now by Mike Sugarbaker. He's found a way of getting foam pieces made that are simply perfect! They're nice and solid and have great hand appeal, with clean edges and wonderful tips... everything you could want in a giant foam icehouse piece. (Well, except that newfangled stacking feature...)

Here we see Mike as he triumphantly reveals his secret project to the eager Icehouse community, and Erskin as he inspects one of the new pieces. Surf over to FuzzFace's Origins 2000 Photo Vault for scenes of Gargantuan Icehouse actually being played, in the outer hallways, or check out Erskin's mirror of just the relevant photos if you're not interested in FuzzFace's other pics, which are mostly of Cheapass Games events. (Plus Erskin's page has a photo of the two broccoli sprouts who attended along with their owners, Emily and Marsella, messing about in one of the new purple Looney Games bags that we started selling at the show but haven't gotten around to making available here on the website yet).

Since we were calling this the Big Experiment and since we also wanted to be able to keep track of our players with a unique code that would work for however many of our events they participated in, we made up a big pile of "Test Subject" buttons, each bearing a unique player number. To get one, you had to first fill out one of our little survey forms, which were on pads attached to clipboards that we had scattered about in our two locations. These survey forms allowed us to extract name and address and basic info like that while also including fun questions like color preference, new Fluxx Keeper suggestions, and the essay question, "What would you do with a Time Machine?" We got many interesting responses to these survey questions but haven't had time yet to compile the data, let alone subject it to critical analysis. We'll let you know what we learn when we do.

The Test Subject survey was also what we used to collect people's guesses in our version of the "guess how many jelly beans are in the jar" contest, which we called the Pyramid Quantity Prediction Test. The actual number of pyramids in the jar turned out to be 523, and the winner missed it by just one. (Gabrielle Sempf was so excited when she saw she'd won that she shrieked!)

As if all that weren't enough, we had two other things going that really helped get us noticed this year. First, we bought the outside back cover and filled it with this beautiful close-up photo of the Icehouse set. I was incredibly pleased with the final product: the colors on those back covers came out so wonderfully rich and bright that I was just amazed. I can't tell you how much time I've wasted just gazing contentedly at this image.

The other thing was the Tirade wooden nickel, which also worked out just incredibly well, neatly solving several different problems at once. As you can see if you can read the fine print on the accompanying scan, these tokens are worth "$5 off the in-person purchase of a deluxe Icehouse set direct from Looney Labs (Limit one)." We all carried a supply of these in the pockets of our lab coats and gave them away freely to whoever wanted one, always explaining that it was worth five bucks off the cost of a set of the beautiful pyramids they'd seen on the back of the program books (which of course just about everyone had seen). The nickels were appealing enough that people actually wanted to keep them, but at the same time, they burned a hole in the pocket of anyone already thinking about the purchase of these mysterious new pyramids. Finally, since the nickels were basically just advertising our show special, we gave the discount to everyone whether they knew about the deal or not, but always had fun in the latter case slipping them a nickel while telling them that what they needed was to find one of the discount nickels that our team is giving away in the Union Room. In short, the Tirade nickel is one of our most successful promotions and you can be sure we'll be using it again.... and if you took one home from Origins, hang on to it, you can use it the next time you find an officially Looney Labs booth at an event.

To end what is already a late and overly long report, here's a photo of Renee showing off Chrononauts in the booth. Several other people become utterly fascinated with my new game at Origins, and spent quite a lot of time teaching it to others... Adam in particular kept a game going in the Union Room pretty much non-stop. But myself aside, Renee seemed to enjoy showing off Chrononauts the most, perhaps because I immortalized her obsession with the Titanic by naming the character featuring the 4/15/1912 nanofic after her...

Thanks again to everyone, helpers and players alike, who made the Looney Labs Big Experiment such a smashing success! Let's do it again next year!

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