Icehouse FAQ

Q: What is the Icehouse mailing list?
A: maintains a public e-mail list for discussion of all things pertaining to Icehouse pieces.

Q: How do I subscribe or unsubscribe from the list?
A: Visit to subscribe or unsubscribe, or for other list administration issues. Please do not post to the list asking to be unsubscribed. There are robots to do that.

Q: Should I introduce myself when I first post to the list?
A: Please. A little about how you found Icehouse and what sort of games you like to play also helps.

Q: Are there any conventions concerning the message subject lines?
A: If the message is about a specific game, you should put the game in brackets in the subject so that people who aren’t interested can safely ignore it, and people who are interested can perk up.

A few examples:
“[Zendo] Paying to break down koans” is a good subject line.
“new game: [Ice Booty]” is a pretty good subject line.
“rules question” is a bad subject line.

Q: Do any other players live near me?
A: Possibly. Feel free to ask on the list.

Q: What is the accepted procedure for introducing a new game that uses Icehouse pyramids?
A: Post a message to this list, with a subject line like “new game: [Ice Booty]” or “new game I just made up, Ice Booty!” or something. The message should include an easy way for the reader to find the most current draft of the game’s written rules. The preferred easy way is to put the rules online, and list the URL in the introductory message. You will probably want to date or number your drafts, for everyone’s convenience.

Please don’t post images to the list. Use a URL or do without images.

Q: Do I need to have the rules to a new Icehouse game on a web page somewhere?
A: It is best for everyone if you can. That way you can easily make changes and the rules will be accessible to everyone at their convenience. Post them at the Icehouse Wiki:

Q: How polished and playtested should new Icehouse games be before I post it?
A: It is generally considered polite to do at least rudimentary playtesting on your own — first by yourself, then with a few local friends. You will want to make sure the game is not trivially unworkable before posting it here, if only to avoid embarrassing yourself. Also, people will not pay much attention to a game that has not been playtested at all yet.

Once you are pretty sure your game is really a game at all, you can probably find people here who are willing to help you figure out if it is a good game.

Q: Can I ask mailing list readers to help with the initial playtesting?
A: Generally not. Coming up with new ideas for games is a fun activity, and so people suggest them often. People on the mailing list have historically only playtested games that have already been tested a number of times. Untested games are usually not played.

Q: What exactly does the word “Icehouse” mean on this list?
A: The word Icehouse has many different meanings on this list. Sorry about that.

“Icehouse”, which this FAQ will call Icehouse (the Original Game) henceforth, is a real-time, turnless strategy board game played with pyramids. It was invented many years ago by Andrew Looney and John Cooper; its method of play was patented and it is pretty cool.

“Icehouse pieces” or “Icehouse pyramids” refer to game pieces which are typically tall square-base pyramids in three sizes. Some are hollow with open bases so as to stack and nest; others are not.

“Icehouse games” are any of a growing collection of games which can be played with Icehouse pieces.

“Icehouse Games” was the original company formed to sell Icehouse (the Original Game). After years of failing to make any money, they dissolved. Shortly afterwards, Looney Labs was created and eventually started selling Icehouse sets again.

An “Icehouse set” is a collection of Icehouse pieces, typically 60 pieces in four colors.

“Icehouse: The Martian Chess Set” is a commercially available set of Icehouse pieces. It is sold by Looney Labs, Inc.

The phrase “in the Icehouse” refers to a player in Icehouse (the Original Game) who has been caught with an insufficiently defensive position.

“Icehouse!” is what a player says loudly when trying to put another player “in the Icehouse”. It is generally considered rude for spectators to say this word loudly or triumphantly while a game of Icehouse (the Original Game) is in progress.

This list is about any of these meanings. In particular, it’s about Icehouse games — any and all games played with these little pyramids.

Q: What are these “Icehouse pyramids” of which you speak?
A: Icehouse pieces are sold in sets of 15 attractive transparent plastic pyramids, invented and sold by Looney Labs, Inc. These pyramids (five each of three sizes) are a versatile set of gaming equipment which, like a deck of cards, can support many different games.

Q: Where can I get some Icehouse pyramids?
A: First, ask at your local game store. If they don’t carry any of the Icehous games, they can order it. It’s carried by many major distributors. We encourage that because we all want to see local game stores thrive. Not only do they make it easy to look at, test, and play games, they also provide places to play games.

Failing that, you can buy one on the Looney Labs website. They are sold individually, or you can also get a full set of pieces from Zendo or Ice Towers, both of which are excellent games on their own. There used to be a set of pieces called the Martian Chess Set, but that product is no longer available. The same pieces can be found in Zendo.

Q: Hey, this FAQ isn’t really just an ad for Icehouse pieces, is it?
A: Nope. The people who wrote this FAQ make no money from sales of Icehouse.

However, you do need some pyramids to play the games that this list is about. If you don’t want to buy the standard set for some reason, there are cheaper alternatives.

Q: What are the cheaper alternatives?
A: If you feel like it, you could make your own picees, as described below.

Looney Labs also sells a cardboard tab-and-slot set that’s actually pretty nice. They are sold under the name Paper Icehouse. For orgami purists, Denis M Moskowitz created a real origami Icehouse piece pattern.

Q: What was “Black Ice?”
A: It was a set of black and clear stashes that came with a chessboard bandana and a sturdy hemp bag. Looney Labs sold all they made, and now sells each piece ala carte, except for the bag. The bag was great. Here is more information on Black Ice.

Q: What are these pieces made of?
A: Crystal Polystyrene DOW 666D

Q: How do you play Icehouse (the Original Game)?
A: For rules and more, see the official page

Q: What exactly is the walls variation of Icehouse?
A: Nobody plays that any more. Under the Walls rule any line you could draw between two corners of two different icehouse pieces counted as a “wall” — you couldn’t attack through it, but had to place any attacking points past the wall. So two parallel defenders produced an impenetrable wall for anything past them if they were close enough, since you couldn’t position an attacker such that it’s point went past their farthest end.

It’s pretty fiddly. In fact, the “between two corners” part represents the revised walls rule; the original rule was even more fiddly! When Icehouse (the Original Game) was new, the walls stretched between the pieces at their closest points, whether corners or otherwise.

Q: Is “defenestrate” a technical term?
A: Defenestration was originally a term from 3-D Icehouse, a game variant played on a multi-level board (such as a table plus a variety of books). In that game, the term Defenestration described a piece falling from the edge of a level onto a lower part of the playing field. (If it hits any pieces, it’s a crash; otherwise you must play it where it comes to rest.)

Few people ever played 3-D Icehouse, but the term Defenestration soon proved useful in plain Icehouse. In Icehouse, it generally does not refer to the part about a piece falling off an edge of the playing field, which is rare. Instead, it refers to a piece falling onto the playing field — a more likely scenario, and conveniently the rule is just the same as in 3-D Icehouse: if it didn’t crash, let it lie.

In typical usage the word has a dual connotation: First, your piece slips from your grasp and falls onto the game like a suicide jumping from a high window into a crowd of people. Then the other players, aghast at the mess you’ve made of the game, chuck you out the window.

Q: Which is the very best of the Icehouse games?
A: Naturally everyone has a different opinion about which they like best. Zendo won the Origins 2003 award for Best Abstract Board Game. Ice Towers is very popular, as is Gnostica. Icehouse (the Original Game) has a small and loyal following. These games, and several other good ones, were published in Playing With Pyramids

Please try many different games and see which ones you like best.

Q: Which is a good Icehouse game to learn first?
A: Icehouse (the Original Game) is pretty hard to learn, so it’s not recommended as a first Icehouse game for new players. Generally we teach Ice Towers first since it has very few rules, people enjoy playing a couple games, and most importantly because it is wildly different from other games people have played. Then we teach Zendo. The two games both are very quick to pick up, and they give the players the idea that Icehouse pieces are flexible game tokens that can be used in startlingly different games.

Q: How can I make my own Icehouse pieces?
A: See these specifications. Mark Fitzsimmons has a page about the bandsaw jig he made for making wooden pieces.

Q: Well, that’s too much work for me. Can I just paint some pieces?
A: Sure. For tips, see Zarf’s gallery

Q: It seems like a lot of people have made their own pieces. Why?
A: Mainly because it is fun and creative. As John Cooper wrote:
The idea that an Icehouse enthusiast would have a special set of custom-made Icehouse pieces (much the way a pool shark might have a one-of-a-kind pool cue) is very much in tune with the Mystique of Icehouse.

Q: What’s a “First 100” set?
A: It is one of the first 100 Icehouse sets “manufactured” for sale by Icehouse Games. They were cast out of plastic resin by hand. They were a bit lumpy and you could leave your finger print on one if it was out in the sun too long. But when they were first made, they were the only ones, and were pretty darn cool. They cannot be purchased for love or money.

Q: What are hot glue-filled pieces?
A: Some people have taken their modern plastic pieces and filled them with the rubbery glue from a hot glue gun. They are no longer stackable, but they have more heft and are less liable to slide when standing upright because of the glue on the bottom. Some people like those features for playing Icehouse (the Original Game). Some people find them harder to hold on to when playing in a tight spot and dislike the added difficulty sliding a defender smoothly into position. Others swear by them.

Information about this process can be found here

Q: What is the Skeleton Crew?
A: Pieces with the center of each side cut out, so only the eight edges remain. You can find pictures of them and instructions on making them here

Q: What is MinimIce?
A: It’s a stash of Icehouse pieces having just two solid faces, made by bending an appropriately cut piece sheet metal. Elliott C. Evans invented them, and writes:
MinimIce pieces are the nearly minimal solution. They’re nothing but a triangle and a square joined at the correct angle. Skeleton MinimIce would be more minimal, of course.

Pictures of them are available here

Q: When I make a cool set, should I announce it on the list?
A: Sure. Also, if you make a cool new kind of piece, and if it’s not too much trouble, you should make an extra piece for the Looney Labs custom-Icehouse-piece museum.

Q: What the heck does “Xyloid” mean?
A: “Of or pertaining to wood.” Those running Icehouse Games decided that calling them “Wooden Icehouse Pieces” was too pedestrian, and wanted something snazzier. Most of us call them “wooden.”