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

Downforce: Danger Circuit Review

Downforce Danger Circuit Feature
Downforce Danger Circuit Feature
Released 2018
Designer Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt, Justin D. Jacobson
Publisher Restoration Games (Website)
Players 2 – 6
Playing Time 30 – 40 minutes
Category Hand Management
Player Powers
Light Auction and Betting
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Danger Circuit shows you don’t need to add much to add to a great time

After my first ever game of Downforce, I knew that the system was ripe for expansions.  New player powers, new maps, that’s all you really need.

And that is exactly what we have been given in Downforce: Danger Circuit.  A new double-sided board, and six new team powers.  A small rule clarification sheet for the new powers and conditions, and you are all set.

Setting up as per standard Downforce, we were into our first race on the Danger Circuit in about 5 minutes.  Without a lot of new mechanics or areas to be on the watch for, we could pretty much just jump straight in.

And that is one of Danger Circuit’s biggest drawcards for me.  No lengthy rereading of the rules. No trying to switch your thinking between the base game and the expansion.  Just more Downforce, pure and simple.

There were some new terms to clarify like ‘Tight Spaces’, but the instructions took only a couple of minutes to read in its entirety and I read it while Alpal setup.  I can’t remember the last expansion I was able to do that with.

Downforce Danger Circuit Components
Not a lot of components in Danger Circuit - but enough for more Downforce is always just the right amount

Now I have seen a few people argue that only six new cards is a bit on the light side.  Different people will always have different opinions, but I appreciate the simplicity of the expansion.  More scoresheets are also something I hear being asked for, or dry erase boards like Captain Sonar.  A couple of dollars at a stationary store will get your current sheets laminated, or the Restoration Games app is also easy to use and free on your phone.

Yes, we could have been given more powers, but I think that letting new powers come with new tracks is great – as long as they continue to come in pairs.  The coupling of tracks and powers so far has been good, and I think can continue for quite some time to come.

Another suggestion I have seen is more players, and this is an expansion I don’t think is a good idea.  The movement cards are already well balanced and work well, and adding new players means you have to start juggling decks depending on the number of players involved.  It’s not an insurmountable issue, but why add complexity for complexities sake?

So the new powers are nice and straightforward, and from the games I have played feel better balanced to me.  Not that Downforce was terribly unbalanced – I only try to quietly retire ‘Determined’ when experienced players get it over newer players, but if someone really wanted to play it I wouldn’t stop them either.

The only power that caused some discussion in Danger Circuit was ‘Tough’.  As per the card wording, if on any players turn you end your turn next to a rumble strip, you may move 2 additional spaces.  I have heard people calling this overpowered, but I don’t think so overall.

The chances of Tough hitting multiple times is limited, usually because another player has to intentionally make it happen by putting the car adjacent to a rumble strip.  That was it discussion sorted, and fun was had by all.

Downforce Danger Tough
In this example, the Green owner has Tough, but the Red player is moving the cars. The only reason Tough triggers is because of where Red put the Green car.

And again that shows what I really love about Downforce.  Forget the rules lawyering and semantic umpires.  Downforce is simple and fun, and lets everyone enjoy themselves.

Prefer not having all the cards dealt at the start of the game?  Done.  Don’t like the betting aspect?  Lose it.  Are auctions confusing you?  Just deal out the cars randomly.

All of this is intact in Danger Circuit.  Unlike some expansions that almost fix a broken base game (or worse, expansions that break a great game), Danger Circuit just lets Downforce continue to do what it does best.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD