For generations, games have brought people together, whether for a quiet game of chess, an immersive videogame or a round of Gin-Rummy. Often, it’s fun to just gather friends around a table to play and laugh.
Actor and author Wil Wheaton – best known for his roles as Wesley Crusher on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Gordie in “Stand By Me,” and himself in “The Big Bang Theory” – created the “TableTop” web series on friend and fellow actor Felicia Day’s “Geek and Sundry” YouTube channel.
The series, described as “’Celebrity Poker’ meets ‘Dinner for Five,’” pits celebrities and geeks alike together and against each other to play games. In two seasons, 40 episodes have been released featuring different card and board games.
Last year, Wheaton and Day asked fans of the show to get together at stores, coffee shops, libraries, community centers or wherever they could to spend the day playing different games and having fun. That turned into the International TableTop Day, which had more than 3,000 events worldwide last year.
This year, Andy and Kristin Looney, the husband-and-wife founders of Looney Labs in College Park, will be celebrating International TableTop Day on April 5 at Davis Hall at the Department of Public Works.
Looney Labs has created dozens of games – from its extremely popular Fluxx card game to its newly-released Loonacy game.
The Looneys created Looney Labs back in 1997. Before then, they worked for NASA. The decision to leave was very difficult, according to Andy.
“We had the opportunity to chase the dream of publishing games,” he said. “That trumped the coolness of working for the space program. … We both have a lot of pride in our NASA days. I wouldn’t go back because what I’m doing now is so awesome.”
Sales of games are on the rise. Online sales tend to spike for games featured on the “TableTop” web series, according to publishers. It’s become so common, it’s been dubbed the “Wheaton Effect.”
Kristin said she fully believes that sales are increasing as a result of Wheaton and events such as TableTop Day.
“It’s become more acceptable,” Kristin said. “Geeks in general are more acceptable.”
“It’s not like board games are back, because they never really went away,” Andy added. “It’s that people weren’t aware of the new things being brought out until recently. Geek culture in general has become a lot more popular and people have a lot more awareness.”
Looney Labs is responsible for such games as Fluxx, Looney Pyramids, Seven Dragons, and Loonacy, which was released on March 28. According to Andy, Looney Labs is split down the middle when it comes to the work. He creates the games, Kristin does everything else.
“That was true in the early days of the company,” Kristin said. “But we’ve grown it from there.”
Loonacy is a very simple card game, Andy said. That’s also what makes it so fun — and frustrating.
“[Loonacy] is a very fast maniacal matching card game,” Andy said. “It has a bunch of cards that each have a symbol on them and you play a card onto a discard pile that has one of the matching symbols. So you try to get rid of all the cards in your hand by matching up cards and symbols. The trick to it – the maniacal part of it – is that there are no turns. So everyone is trying to frantically play when they realize ‘Oh! I’ve got a card!’”
For International TableTop Day, Looney Labs will bring their games, even those Andy is still tinkering with, for everyone to play. The Looneys really do enjoy playing games and will play with everyone who comes to the free event, which is open to all ages.
“We rent out a room and set up a whole bunch of tables and we spend the day there playing games with whoever shows up and wants to play games with us,” Kristin said. “We have treats and snacks … the refreshments seem to get better over time.”
With that comes tie dyed cupcakes. Tie dye is a very important thing for the Looneys. Most days, Andy will wear a tie dyed shirt while Kristin has tie dyed bandanas.
“We are practically hippies,” Andy said. “I’m a child of the ’60s.”
In fact, those wearing tie dye to Looney Labs’ TableTop Day event will receive a special, limited edition bonus card to use in Fluxx.
It’s a style choice, Andy explained. Today, games are dark and bleak with zombies and other things that go bump in the night. Looney Labs likes to stay on the fun, happy side of life.
“We’re doing our own thing over here,” Andy said. “We like the bright colors and we like the simple games and we like peace and love. One of the ways we can set ourselves apart from the other companies at the big trade shows. They’re there with their dark black covered dragons and blood and we have tie dyed banners and we give out plush flowers.”