Icehouse, a Call to Arms!

Ever since Andy Looney announced last week that production costs were forcing the boxed set of Zendo to go out of print, long discussions were sparked about the future of Icehouse for Looney Labs. Looney drew a lot of criticism for his business practices; he was accused of destroying jobs rather than let them go to China. With Asian labor, the production cost per pyramid could be slashed down to a pittance. Newbies balk at the $40 cost of Zendo. Many fans realize that the current retail prices are cost-prohibitive, and that the long-term health of the game system would be better if more people were drawn into it (a move that lower prices would go hand-in-hand with). However, Looney Labs is proud that their products are made in the USA, with money staying within our borders supporting the local economy. This position is not likely to change in the near future, given LL’s mission statement.

I for one appluad Looney’s position. It takes fortitude to refuse to compromise his ideals in the sake of his business and livelihood. Though it seems stubborn to put his favorite and oldest game design at risk for such ideological beliefs, he’s believes that the system will survive by its merits alone, despite higher costs than competing products. Andy takes the blame for his products’ high costs, but he feels that the ethical values behind his decision are worth it. He holds his convictions strongly, but even devoted Icehouse fans aren’t entirely sold on the idea.

Regardless, Looney Labs is looking for ways to lower the costs of pyramid production. I think the best way to do this is to get molds that can produce more pieces per run, and use a hot runner to eliminate the manual labor costs of clipping. But these new molds will cost a large sum of cash on hand. and it’s more than LL can muster. Eventually, the reduced cost of making pyramids might pay for the mold over time, that is if Icehouse stashes pick up. I think the mold is worth the investment. The plastic pyramids have already outperformed their predecessors, and I think they ar slowly but steadily making headway. I support the Icehouse fan community in any effort to raise capital for a mold fund.

So, what is to be done with these pesky pyramids? I read through the Hypothermia archives, which chronicles the history of Icehouse from 1990 to 1996. Having read this, I learned that Icehouse has always been plagued by a combination of high production costs and lackluster sales. Yet, a small and dedicated fanbase has helped the game survive and evolve.

On Monday, Mike Sugarbaker launched IcehouseGames.org, a new site for Icehouse fans. If Icehouse is to grow and thrive, it needs to get its name out there. I think the biggest hurdle Icehouse has to overcome is that people, even gamers, look at the pyramids and wonder, "what the heck are those things for"? Most people aren’t aware of the games these pyramids are used for, or the variety of those games, from Zendo to Homeworlds to CrackeD Ice. Also, the Icehouse community needed a better community portal, a place where new designs can be perfected, and established games can be referenced. The IcehouseGames.org wiki does just that. However, the site is only as strong as the community that supports it, so I urge all Icehouse fans to go and contribute! It has really grown in only four days, and it is an impressive establishment already.

I even submitted my own Icehouse game design, Traction! Please give it a try. I think it combines the fast pace of games like Icetowers with the maneuvering tactics of Icehouse. If it goes well, I hope to enter it in the next Icehouse Games Design Contest. Soon I will add another game to the site, a partial design I have dubbed Juxtapose.

So, go and try out some games, new and old! And remember to have fun!

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