History of Icehouse Games, 1987-1998

Icehouse, even when it was originally created, was a game set, rather than a game. Andrew Looney first described Icehouse in his 1987 short story, "Icehouse," which became the basis for his short novel, The Empty City. In it, he described in meticulous detail a set of unusual game pieces and the way they were used in social situations, though with an annoying vagueness on the details of how the game itself was actually played.

John Cooper, a close friend of Andy's, took those basic concepts, added some breakthrough ideas of his own, and created a cool and interesting game that really seemed to have the feel of what Andy had been describing in his stories. Unfortunately, though, as soon as Andy and John started showing people the game, they realized they had a problem: there was no way for people to buy a set of the game pieces.

Discouraged by stories of how difficult it is for an independent game designer to sell a game idea to a large game company, they decided to form a company of their own in order to make and sell Icehouse game sets. They were joined by Charles Dickson (who had ideas on how to make pieces) and Kristin Wunderlich (she and Andy were merely dating back then) who immediately took charge of the business end of running the business, eventually becoming known as the Icehouse Business Czar.

Icehouse Games, inc. never had more than a shoe-string budget and some part-time volunteer employees, and as a result, never produced a major run of game sets. But they did manufacture short runs of icehouse sets in a variety of formats, including wood, plastic, and cardboard, and they ran an annual tournament every year for 8 years. But in the end, it was clear that the icehouse set was too expensive and esoteric a product to start a company around, and so the corporation was dissolved.

But as it often is with things like this, that wasn't the end for Icehouse. Having spent so much time and energy (and money) getting pyramid shaped playing pieces made, it seemed logical to start inventing other games you could play with an Icehouse set. Andy cooked up several strange little games, and John created a masterpiece of game design called Zarcana, which uses icehouse pieces on a dynamic game board composed of tarot cards. Icehouse tourney champions Keith Baker, Dan Russett, and Jake Davenport also created new games for icehouse pieces. And with all these other games to play with an Icehouse set, it seemed clear there'd be interest in them again some day.

After Icehouse Games was dissolved, Andy & Kristin decided to form a new company, called Looney Laboratories, in order to publish the card game Fluxx. Armed with the lessons learned from Icehouse, and a game that was much easier to learn and vastly cheaper to produce, they finally began acheiving some success in the board game industry. And with that success came the opportunity to breathe new life into the set of Icehouse games.

A lot has happened since the text above was written, in 1998. Check out the current top level pages for the latest versions available, and see the Out Of Print page for a more complete history of the system.

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