Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar Review

Fireball Island Box Art
Fireball Island Box Art
Released 2018
Designer Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt, Justin D. Jacobson, Chuck Kennedy, Bruce Lund
Publisher Restoration Games (Website)
Players 2 – 4 (5th player expansion available)
Playing Time 60 minutes
Category Hand Management
Set Collection
Light Dexterity (Interactive Board)
Take That
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

No one is going to call this The Curse of Vul-Kar – it’s Fireball Island all the way!

There is a category of game known as Roll and Move.  Examples of this are Snakes and Ladders or Monopoly.  When you talk about ‘old’ games, these are usually the type of game that people remember and compare new games too.

1986’s Fireball Island was a game like this – roll the die, move your piece.  But there was a twist – your playing pieces could be knocked over by a fireball!

Fireball Island was a game aimed at families with younger players (7 and up), so the game mechanics were going to be simple even for the day.

But this didn’t stop the popularity of Fireball Island.  As you can see in the US commercial, selling the adventure of exploring an unknown island and collecting the treasure was key.

A big part of the draw though was the vacumould playing board.  This was a huge draw, where you didn’t just have a folded board but a three-dimensional island to move around!

YouTube source https://www.youtube.com/user/wheezebucket

And atop the island sits the imposing figure of Vul-Kar, who would throw marble fireballs down the moulded paths to mess with your opponents.

It was different, and it was loved.  In today’s language, we would call a game like Fireball Island a Gateway Game – a great game to introduce new players to the hobby.  Except it’s been 30 years, and board games have gotten a lot better.

Restoration Games to the Rescue

As you may have seen on this site on a few occasions, I am a fan of Restoration Games.  They have a simple motto – ‘Every game deserves another chance’.  And they deliver on this time and time again.

Thanks to Fireball Island being a nostalgic favourite, kind of like the Nintendo Classic consoles, this was one Kickstarter basically guaranteed to be a hit.

And now it has all been delivered, and I have been able to play the new and improved Fireball Island.  And it’s great 😀

Fireball Island - All Arrived
I have some sleeves and other bits and bobs, but all of the game is here!

Some things change, some things stay the same

Bottom line – Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar is a bigger and better version of the 80’s classic.

The vacumould board remains, but is now larger and built up in three distinct parts.  The detail on the island itself has also been much improved as well, with a lot of great and humorous areas of the island.

This has allowed for more paths on the island as well from the looks of it.  I don’t have the original island myself to compare, but there seems to be more room and paths to follow.

The marbles naturally follow these paths, but there is a new twist of trees added to the island, meaning you can steer likely paths of fireballs as well.

Fireball Island - Don't you want to play it?
Fireball Island's biggest draw even today - the board itself

There is also the change to Vul-Kar itself.  Where in the original game there was one opening in the mouth, now you drop your marble in the top of the statue and there are three possible exits.  This helps add a bit of randomness and unpredictability to the game, making it more exciting.

Not only the components got a makeover – the dice for movement mechanic has been completely replaced with card drafting!  You will always have two movement cards in your hand, making strategy and planning more important than the original.  Of course, you still need luck to draw the right cards, but unlucky draws can be somewhat mitigated now.

Fireball Island Cards
Two decks - Souvenirs (Powers) and Movement. Still simple, but so many possibilities

So what do you actually do?

At the end of the day, Fireball Island is a set collection point scoring game.  As you explore the island, you can pick up treasure and try to make a set of five of most of the items lying around.

You also take holiday snaps of the island.  Once you have collected three holiday snaps, you are able to try and make it back to the ‘Hello-copter’ to escape the island.  First player back to the chopper gets a nice little bonus score as well!

I know it sounds like I am glossing over most of the gameplay, and I am to an extent.  There are some little rules I am not even touching on, because honestly it’s not really important.

Fireball Island is a fun entry-level game, but for players my age and experience that’s not what makes it a good game.  What makes Fireball Island a great game is the experience of playing, both the game itself and the friends you play it with.

Players that have played Ticket to Ride will have a good idea what I mean.  The idea of Ticket to Ride is simple – collect coloured cards to switch for trains to make routes and score points.  Anyone that plays the game will tell you that maybe the mechanic, but it’s not the game.  Same for Fireball Island.

Fireball Island - Summary
You just need to get off the island with the most points to win - and most things give you points

Should everyone rush out and buy Fireball Island?  No.  It’s a great bit of fun and a trip down memory lane for some, but for others I would rather start them off with Downforce or Stop Thief!.

If you play with younger players a lot, then I would say Fireball Island is more likely a better buy for you. The simple rules and fun of dropping marbles into Vul-Kar make for a great time for everyone.

On the flip side, if you remember the original fondly and really want it in your collection again, you would have already bought it. Nothing I can say now would influence you.

If you’re on the fence, play it first would be my advice.  You will know after the first game if you are likely to pull it out again or not, and that should be the clincher.

Even if buying isn’t really your concern, play it if you get the chance.  Sure there are ‘better’ games out there, there always are.  But get a few friends together and enjoy a silly hour – you are unlikely to regret it 🙂

Fireball Island - What could go wrong?
The player on the bridge is safe, but Vul-Kar has turned towards the player stuck on a ladder

Longterm – the expansions

I backed the pledge level that gave me basically the lot.  I think there is only a Secret Cabal promo card that I am missing.  And by the lot, I mainly mean expansions.

Everything I have discussed so far has been the retail base game with no additions, and to date I haven’t played with any expansions.

I will be, and they will be getting their own reviews soon, but if you need a game for 5 players I would suggest buying ‘The Last Adventurer‘.  On the surface, you can then just have an Indiana Jones-inspired 5th player, but there are some rules additions and extra cards to increase the gameplay options as well.

The other two main expansions are ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Bees‘ and ‘Wreck of the Crimson Cutlass‘.  Both add new rules and twists, and like most expansions should probably be added once you have gotten the most out of the base game.

Fireball Island - Expansions
The ideas sound great, but I need to play them all to find out what they add

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Bees adds more marbles to pour through Vul-Kar as well as a true dexterity challenge in the tiger.

Bee stings can be collected by players, and essentially they halve movement.  The tiger can net you three treasures from your opponent – if you can hit them!

Wreck of the Crimson Cutlass adds a new play area in the form of a pirate ship.  There is a push your luck aspect of marbles in a collapsable crows nest, and the ability to fire a cannonball – always a bit of fun!

Fireball Island - Packing is tight
The other small issue with the expansions - there isn't much room left in the main box!

While in theory these all sound like worthy additions, I think only the potential 5th player has an immediate benefit.  Extra powers and mechanics can be a lot of fun, but they can also be situational which I think these may be.

And they weren’t exactly cheap add-ons either.  For the cost of the Crimson Cutlass, I can buy another game – always something to make you stop and think.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar

Final Thoughts

I really like Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar – but there is a major caveat to this.  Personally, I have fond memories of the original Fireball Island.  Coupled with ‘Nostalgia Hype’™, this makes me biased towards the new game.

That said, while I don’t think every gamer must have a copy of Fireball Island in their collection, a great fun time will be had by almost everyone that plays it – even if it’s only once.

Great to play with younger players or to catch up with friends while playing, Fireball Island is a great experience for a wide audience.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  •  Quick to teach, game moves at a good pace
  •  A game that attracts an audience
  •  Beautiful component quality
  •  Nostalgia in full swing!

Cons

  •  Basic gameplay can put off some players
  •  Large play area even for ‘just’ the base game

Last Week’s Gaming – December 10th, 2018

Fireball Island 20181210

Welcome to Fireball Island, where there are no Men at Work

I can’t believe there are only 2 more Mondays until Christmas, and the second one is Christmas Eve!  Aaaargh!  So much running around to do, and that’s just for work!

But even with a Games Night down to see Iliza Shlesinger’s Elder Millennial (it’s on Netflix as well if you can’t get to go!), some great games still made it to the table.

Welcome To…

Played it before, and will play it again.  Welcome To is a fun Roll and Write, and in a few more games I will get to writing a full blown review.

A nice thing about games like Welcome To is that while the game is fairly simple in rules, you just get to concentrate on your own suburb during the game.  It doesn’t mean you play on your own though – you still get all the benefits of playing and socialising!

This was my second or third game (I have been slack updating BG Stats) and we were all around the same in terms of the number of games played, but we came out within five points of each other in the end.  Alpal even smashed her personal best score winning this round!

Welcome To 20181210
Our naming strategy seemed to follow a theme... Maybe that's why we were all so close? 101,102 and 106 - close game!

Men at Work

How to completely flip Jenga on its head!

Men at Work is the latest game from Pretzel Games, a company with a great mission.  Every game they make has to be playable while holding a Pretzel!

Building a skyscraper with supports, girders and workers with beams and bricks, nothing can go wrong with such expert engineers on the case!

Cause an ‘Accident’ (knock it over) and you lose a safety certificate.  Build it higher than anyone else, and become Worker of the Month!

It was fun, it was ridiculous, and it was everything you want a party dexterity game to be.  Again a review will be coming, but if you see it before the holidays nab a copy if you enjoy building things.

Men At Work 20181210
Salesman - "Stable as anything. This building will reach the moon!" Client - "But one of the workers is holding up the" Salesman "THE MOON!"

Fireball Island

It has arrived – Fireball Island.  The game Restoration Games said couldn’t be done, then said “Surprise!”

We only played the ‘base’ game – I went all in on the Kickstarter, and there are expansions to play around with, but later.

For the moment, Fireball Island was everything I expected it to be – essentially a silly Roll and Move game that is just fun to play.

It may be seen as childish, but knocking those marbles around the island and from Vul-Kar is just fun, and the game plays so quickly I can see many groups including families enjoying Fireball Island.

Fireball Island 20181210
See the sights, take happy snaps, and don't forget to explore! Oh, did you get hit by a lava ball? Have a free souvenir!

Pokemon Let’s Go – Eevee

So I had a pretty long week, and Saturday I basically flomped on the couch with my Switch and Pokemon Let’s Go.

I now have three gym badges under my belt, 28 Pokemon in my Pokedex, and the Poke Ball Plus has grown on me.  I still wish the Pro controller would connect to Pokemon Let’s Go, but the Poke Ball Plus has shown me some more moves, plus let me get three Pokemon to Level 30+ without playing – my Magikarp even evolved into Gyarados with 0 game time!

As such, tomorrow’s review will also be a little different – a review on the Poke Ball Plus controller – check it out tomorrow.

Pokemon Lets Go 20181210
$500 Pokemon Dollars for a Magikarp, a couple of days walking around with the Poke Ball Plus and bam - instant Gyarados!

What about you?  What have you been up to?  Have you had time to play, or are you flat out in the Holiday lead up as well?  Shout out on Facebook or @JohnHQLD me on Twitter!

Until tomorrow,

JohnHQLD

How reading the rules can help me pick new games

Rule books

How do you know if a game is worth buying if no one has played it yet?

So I have posted in that I think rules up front for Kickstarters is an essential part of a successful campaign. Having a feel for a game goes a long way to deciding if I want to back a game. It also gives a good indication of how developed and playtested it is as well.

Of course, especially with the Kickstarter example, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. When part of the campaign is raising funds to allow the people time to develop the game, I look more at the designers take on feedback and the magical ‘gut feel’. Games like Samhain and Sunset Over Water (which I got in the mail last night!) are good examples of leap of faith pledges.

Then there are campaigns like Fireball Island from Restoration Games where the rules are complete. With all of the revisions and knowing the fan reaction to this game, you know the Restoration Games is up to the challenge. I am already a massive fan of Restoration Games, with only one of their games not in my collection. Nothing against Indulgence, I just wasn’t a fan of Dragonmaster, and I don’t know anyone with a copy to try it.

Fireball Island New Box Cover

Fireball Island is one of those games where I think it’s probably better in memory than the game deserves. Looking through the rules though it seems like enough ‘game’ has been added to make it fun for all. Fireball Island still won’t be a heavy gaming experience, but even just the change of turning Vul-Kar into a mini dice tower with multiple paths for the fireballs adds a sense of player agency to the game.

The Kickstarter page gives you a feel for the modular construction of the new island, but the rules also give you a better feel for just how big this will be. There are going to be a lot of parts to setting up the island – more so if you include all the expansions. It doesn’t look Mousetrap level crazy – everything has a spot to sit. But taking seven trees in and out each game will probably get annoying, especially as these trees alter the paths of fireballs and I am worried about them breaking.

Fireball Island New Board

So that’s an example of what I look for in a rulebook before purchase, now we can compare this to another game that has piqued my interest. Plaid Hat Games has been slowly teasing Starship Samurai, and a couple of days ago made it available for preorder and included the rules on the product page.

Now I already didn’t know anything about the game except for some very pretty miniatures as playing pieces. Looking at the product page, the first thing I thought of with the ‘board’ was Dead of Winter. Isaac Vega designed Starship Samurai and co-designed Dead of Winter, so this made sense after a second. The modular board design works, it was just an initial layout impression from an image. So I shake it off and start reading the rules.

Starship Samurai Game Setup
Starship Samurai Game Setup

And honestly, I probably shouldn’t have read the rules pretty much straight after reading the rules for Fireball Island. It’s a chalk and cheese comparison, and I am not trying to make Starship Samurai sound bad, but after reading a more complex game manual where I don’t feel I know what the actual game is still isn’t a great first impression.

The art is outstanding, and no rule seems to contradict or confuse. The manual is well laid out and overall concise. There aren’t any issues over and above a ‘manual’ that I can point to other than I don’t know why I want to play Starship Samurai. Again, this isn’t something that that by itself is a negative – it’s the same for many mid-weight and above games. The purpose of the manual is to teach you how to play the game, and Starship Samurai does this.

Dead of Winter teaches you how to play the game (more or less, Starship Samurai’s manual I would say is better without putting it to a playtest) but the manual doesn’t get you excited about playing the game. The possible betrayal and crossroads mechanics are what got people excited, even before they knew the rules. And this is what Starship Samurai lacks – the different ‘something’ that you can point to marketing wise and build a buzz around.

Starship Samurai Rules Capture

Starship Samurai looks to be a solid game, and honestly, I would be tempted to back it if it were a Kickstarter. I would probably have already pledged it if it was a newer designer or company. But this is a full retail game from a known designer and publisher, and after the massive information push that was Stuffed Fables (that I still want to play!), I would like to see more information before thinking of preordering. A single whole game run-through video would do it – I don’t need spoon feeding, I just want to see it in action.

It’s a grey area, but as I said I want to see videos of Starship Samurai because Plaid Hat has done them before and recently. Fireball Island has been under wraps, but it’s simple enough that I can all but see a game from the rules reading so I don’t need to watch a game to picture the gameplay. This is the ‘gut feel’ factor. Don’t treat Kickstarter and retail purchases as different either. If you would cut a new publisher a break on Kickstarter, do the same for a new publisher at your local games store.

So hopefully with those examples, this gives you a bit of an insight on what I look for when assessing new games. Kickstarter is an amazing platform for creators, and for gamers has evolved into almost a retail machine. Hopefully looking at your purchases this way, you can spend more time playing the games you want. And spending your money on such titles will encourage publishers to lift their game even more in the future.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

A new month, and the April Kickstarter queue is already forming

Lifeform Badge

Well, my credit card is starting to tap me on the shoulder. “Weren’t you going to take it easy?” A little voice asks. “CHECK THIS OUT!” another voice shouts excitedly.

And here we are – another month, and already a queue of things I want to buy or are on the horizon.

Lifeform by Hall or Nothing Productions

Straight up – Lifeform is Alien: The Board Game but without the license. It’s a survival horror game for up to four players, and you can play solo with the Dragon’s Domain expansion.

Lifeform is a dungeon crawler type gameplay with one player taking the role of the hostile alien lifeform, with other players frantically trying to gather resources and escape.

Just trying to sum up the game, this looks on the surface like a harsher cooperative game than one of my most anticipated games for 2018, Who Goes There?.  This is only on the surface though. Looking deeper into Lifeform there are some unique mechanics that I think will make it stand out on its own. Plus I could play this by myself with the expansion.

Lifeform The Crew
Lifeform The Ship

Check out the playthrough video with co-designer Mark Chaplin below, or jump straight to the Kickstarter page here.

Graphic Novel Adventures by Van Ryder Games

Choose your own adventure, Pick a Path, and Fighting Fantasy. As I was growing up, these series were my solo adventuring fun.

The order is important because while I could follow a story with the first two series, Fighting Fantasy books allowed me to roll dice and participate in the adventure. The pinnacle of these books to me is still the Sorcery! series, four books where you could carry your character and decisions from book to book.

Well, Van Ryder Games seems to remember these experiences and is bringing them back in the form of graphic novels. This is interesting to me because these books start to feel like a mix of old school pick your route adventures and games like Unlock! where details can be hidden in the image.

Graphic Adventure Novels Book 1
Graphic Adventure Novels Choices

There are five very different story types on offer, so you can pick the ones you want or grab the entire series.

Check out the Kickstarter page for more information.

Fireball Island by Restoration Games

This Kickstarter doesn’t officially start for another 24 hours, but if you are on Restoration Games email list the preview is up, and what I am seeing looks like a lot of fun.

I’m not going to go into it here, I will leave that for maybe Thursday’s post. I will say the following bits though:

  1. There is a spot for the full rules, so I will be reading those straight away
  2. The amazing Rodney Smith of Watch it Played will be doing a rules video. Check out Watch it Played here.
  3. You will need to put aside USD$130 + shipping for an all in pledge. What does that include? That would be telling 😀

I will put down some thoughts later in the week, but check out the Kickstarter page tomorrow 🙂

Fireball Island New Box Cover

Restoration Games Fireball Island is launching on Kickstarter April

Fireball Island New Box Cover

Can you escape the Curse of Vul-Kar?

Way back in 1986, Fireball Island was a Milton Bradley monstrosity of a game.  Lots of plastic and a marble you would send flying down the various paths to knock over pieces, it was great fun.  For about 10 minutes.  Then you kind of used it like the backdrop of an adventure set, making up your own stories as the playing pieces became more like action toys in your story.

Fireball Island Original Box Cover

Come 2016, and Restoration Games as a company is announced.  Their mission – to reinvigorate these old classics and bring them up to today’s gaming standards.  Stop Thief and Downforce have been great additions to my library, and I am thoroughly enjoying both of these classic games.

When the library was being looked at, a vote went out for the next game for Restoration Games to tackle, and a lot of very valid reasons were given as to why they couldn’t do it.  Well, as far as I remember, I can’t seem to find the original voting page where I remember seeing all this, so it could be an old man’s memory playing up.

But in 2017, Restoration Games announced with a flourish that they would indeed be tackling Fireball Island.

Well, information has been scarce with little pieces being teased out little by little.  But the wait is all but over! Come April 3rd (4th most likely QLD time) the Kickstarter for the new Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar will be live!

What does this mean?  More plastic.  More bits.  Rob Daviau promises more actual game!

Fireball Island Comparison

I will be looking for this project with interest.  My memories and feelings are mixed to say the least on the original game, mainly due to the amazing amount of fun people have poked at it over the years.  But Restoration Games has so far come through, so I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

As I said at the moment information is a bit scarce, but you can check out the active Board Game Geek page here for more information.

Oh and that people making fun of the original?  Check out my favourite Board with Life Halloween video starring Fireball Island below!

Until next time,

JohnHQLD