Reading Time: 6 minutes
Overview: In the late 1980s, Andrew Looney was writing a sci-fi story that included an ancient Martian game called Icehouse. The game in the story became more and more detailed, and eventually Icehouse — and the little plastic pyramids to play it — became a reality. The pyramids can be used to play a long list of different games. The packaging has evolved over the years, and the latest incarnation (marketed as Looney Pyramids) is a great way to jump into the genre.
Players: 2 and up (depends on game)
Ages: 14 and up (see below)
Playing Time: varies according to game
Retail: $10 to $20 depending on collection
Rating: 5 points! (Plus 8 edges, 4 solid faces, and one open face.) But seriously: Looney Pyramids are great.
Who Will Like It? Think of Looney Pyramids like a deck of cards: it’s not so much a game as it is a game system. If you like versatility with a small set of pieces, you’ll love these. They’re also great for game designers as extra pieces for prototypes, plus they make great stacking toys … with supervision.
This isn’t a typical board game review, because Looney Pyramids are an entire collection of games. Icehouse is one of the first games I’d seen with simultaneous play, where everyone is taking actions at the same time instead of taking turns. There are several games (e.g., Martian Chess) that can be played using the pyramids and a chessboard. There’s a programming game similar to RoboRally, a logic/puzzle game called Zendo, and even an abstract space exploration/battle game called Homeworlds. The Icehouse Games Wiki has over 400 game listings.
Looney Pyramids are sold in various combinations, but in all cases you’ll get three sizes of pyramids — one set of three is called a “trio,” and a set of five trios is called a “stash.” The pyramids are made of plastic and have an open base so they nest into each other. There are small pips near the base (1, 2, and 3). Most of them are translucent but there are some opaque black and white pyramids as well.
One note is that the tips of the pyramids are pretty sharp. The old packaging used to have a warning note to use them irresponsibly, but more recent safety testing doesn’t allow them to be sold in Europe, and in the U.S. they now come with an “Ages 14+” label, even though many of the games can be enjoyed by much younger kids. You can read the full story here. My older daughter has been playing with pyramids as young as four, though I always made sure that she wasn’t attempting to swallow them and that they were all accounted for and put away so nobody stepped on them. Use your common sense to decide whether your kids can handle them or not.
For examples of the various sets available, the IceDice set ($20 retail) comes with 2 rainbow stashes (black, red, yellow, blue, green), two custom dice, and a blue pyramid-shaped zippered pouch. The Treehouse set above ($16 retail) has one rainbow stash, a standard six-sided die and a custom Treehouse die, plus a little fabric board for playing Pharaoh. The whole thing comes in a (slightly smaller) green pouch. Treehouse is a sort of logic game: each player gets one trio and tries to make it match the “house” trio by using actions on the die. And then there’s the newest addition to the Looney Pyramids family, Pink Hijinks ($12 retail), which I first saw at PAX Prime in the fall. It has three pink trios (not a full stash) with a little 3×3 grid and a custom die, in a small pink pouch.
Pink Hijinks is a pretty simple game: you start with all of the pyramids in the center row, stacked with the small sizes on top so they make three trees. On each turn you roll the die, which shows one or two sizes of pyramids, and then you can move one of those pyramids (along with any stacked on top of it). Your goal is to get all three pyramids of one size (and no others) into the three spaces of your home row, or get all of the pyramids into your opponent’s home row. It’s a clever little game that has some luck in the roll of the die, but still requires some strategy and maneuvering to get the right combination of pyramids where you want them to go.
The Looney Pyramids also come in “Stash Boxes” ($10 retail) each containing one stash (15 pyramids). You can get Rainbow (red, yellow, blue, green, opaque black) or Xeno (orange, clear, cyan, purple, opaque white).
Finally, although you can find a lot of rules for games online for free, it can be handy having a rulebook at game night. I own a copy of the old Playing With Pyramids; it’s no longer in print but you can still find used copies. There’s also a newer book out now called Pyramid Primer #1 ($6) which includes rules for 13 games.
When you buy one of the themed sets, they include rules for one or two games each. The IceDice and TreeHouse sets have enough pyramids to play a couple types of games, but the Pink Hijinks is more of a one-game set because you don’t get a full stash and they’re all the same color.
It used to be that you could buy monochrome stashes, which came in clear rectangular tubes. I managed to buy a bunch of these several years ago when a site was discontinuing them. They’re particularly handy for some of the games in which each player needs one full stash of a color. Shortly after, they switched to the sets where you get a mix of colors. In order to get a full stash of a single color now, you’ll need to buy five of the Stash Boxes (or some combination of the other sets).
My kids love playing with them, and although I haven’t gotten them out as often recently as I did when I first started collecting them, there are some terrific games that use the pyramids and they’re a good attention-grabber. If you break out a bunch of these pyramids at a game night (or a restaurant), you’re sure to get people stopping to ask what you’re doing. Add to that the variety of games you can play, and it’s a pretty good deal. My recommendation is to start with something like the IceDice or Treehouse sets, which give you more versatility in the number of games you can play.
Wired: Colorful, stackable pyramids used in a variety of games. Great for game designers.
Tired: Sharp and pointy; didn’t pass toy safety testing in Europe.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of IceDice, Treehouse, and Pink Hijinks.