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Play Your Heart Out: Looney Pyramids Board Game

by Jonathan Ross

Photos by Jonathan Ross.

I’ve been a board game freak since middle school, and one of the biggest challenges I face is finding new people to play with. A deck of cards was always my go-to for playing with new people, but they’re a little too common. Play with cards long enough, and people will start to find them boring.

When I reached high school, I found a solution: Looney Pyramids. Like a deck of cards, these abstract playing pieces can be used to play hundreds of games.

Looney Pyramids are plastic pieces that come in three sizes—small, medium, and large—and ten colors, but you’ll often find them in sets of red, green, yellow, and blue. They are the brainchild of author and game designer Andrew Looney, owner of Looney Labs. 

Much like how playing cards have terms like “hand” and “deck,” Looney Pyramids come in “trios” of one small, one medium, and one large pyramid of the same color. 

Stack a trio up from largest to smallest to turn it into a “tree,” or from smallest to largest to create a “nest.” The best part is that there’s no right or wrong way to arrange them.

Two trios, with one organized as a “tree” and one as a “nest.”

My personal set has 60 pyramids, but a set of 36 will do nicely for a group of four.

Three trios of red, green, yellow, and blue is a good place to start.

In addition to pyramids, many games make use of other conventional game pieces, such as a deck of cards. Some of the best games make use of these things.

I like to bring along some gaming dice and playing cards.

There’s hundreds of pyramid games out there, ranging from simple 5-minute contests to complex hour-long strategy games. Your choice always depends on your players and the time you have, but here’s a few of the best games I’ve tried out myself. 

Click on each game’s title to find the rules on Looney Labs’s website.

Treehouse

Players: 2 to 4
Time: Fast (about 5-10 minutes)
Difficulty: Easy

One of my favorite things about pyramid games is that many of them have cute names, and Treehouse’s cute name is fitting. To play this game, you’ll need your pyramids and one six-sided die. Treehouse makes use of a special die that has words printed on it instead of numbers, but you can easily substitute any die for a special one with a pencil and notepad.

Make a key for your six-sided die like so, and make sure everyone can see it.

The six sides of the Treehouse die have the words TIP, AIM, HOP, DIG, SWAP, and WILD. Each player has a trio and takes turns rolling the die, rearranging their trio and attempting to match it to a central one called the house. The word you roll on the die determines how you can rearrange your trio on your turn. If you can’t rearrange it, you get to rearrange the house instead, changing the goal for everyone.

I like to picture Treehouse as the UNO of pyramid games because each turn can drastically influence the outcome of the game.

Martian Chess

Players: 2
Time: Moderate (about 20-30 minutes)
Difficulty: Moderate

Martian Chess is a mind-bending spinoff of regular chess that uses pyramids as chess pieces. To play, you’ll need a standard chessboard, but you’ll use only half of it.

In Martian Chess, the color of a piece is meaningless, so the pieces can be any color you want. Instead, position determines ownership. The pieces on your side of the board are yours, and the pieces on your opponent’s side are theirs. 

When you move a piece from one side of the board to the other, it becomes the other player’s.

Picture an invisible line dividing this board in half. Martian Chess likes to call this “the canal.”

The goal is to capture as many pieces as you can and score the most points. It’s much more appealing if you’re the kind of chess player that just likes to take away your opponent’s pieces whenever you can. 

Be careful, though. Go too far in this game and you’ll soon find your own pieces used against you. I like this game because it makes you rethink everything you knew about a classic game.

Ice Towers

Players: 3 to 4
Time: Fast (about 10-15 minutes)
Difficulty: Moderate

Ice Towers is a unique game without any turns. Players plan and take actions in real time, making this game fast-paced and thrilling. Best of all, it requires no additional equipment, so you can set up and play right away.

Ice Towers is a bit more complex than the first two games. The goal is to stack your color of pyramids atop the tallest towers, which score the most points, and later in the game, you can rearrange your pieces to take points away from other players. 

Ice Towers under construction.

Because this game doesn’t have turns, the first couple of rounds you play will be a little hectic. Don’t worry if you don’t remember everything right off the bat.

I like this game because there’s no board, no dice, no turns, and nothing that gives a clear impression of a game. That’s what makes it interesting and attracts new players. 

If you don’t believe me, play this in a coffee shop and there’s no doubt someone will ask you what you’re doing. That’s when I like to offer them a seat.

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