The Cardboard Hoard: Initial Thoughts on Fireball Island
Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar is the latest game getting the Restoration Games reimplementation treatment. The original Fireball Island, designed by Chuck Kennedy and Bruce Lund, was released in 1986. This updated version, which is currently on Kickstarter, has been further redesigned and developed by the Restoration team -- Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt, and Justin Jacobson. Of course, with the Kickstarter campaign having over 11,000 backers and sitting at over $1.4M in pledges, you've probably already heard about it by now.
Due to the prototype of the game costing over $3,000, there is only one copy available to play, which JR Honeycutt has taken on tour. I was fortunate enough to be able to play it when JR stopped at The Uncommons in Manhattan earlier this week. Here are my initial thoughts from playing it, with some initial commentary about the the prototype copy itself.
While the mold of the island -- which was made by Game Trayz -- is finished, the prototype copy is a glossier plastic than the finished copy will be, and the prototype has hand-painted art with less detail than the finished copy will have. That said, the prototype still looks quite impressive, and is larger than it looks from the pictures I’ve seen on social media and on the Kickstarter page. The molds of the characters and the palm trees are also finalized, although they were 3D printed for the prototype, so the detail and quality were not of finished quality. The Vul-Kar piece, which functions as the launching point for the marbles, worked flawlessly. It was easy to turn, and the marbles came out of all three ramps as intended. In short, while this prototype is nice, the finished game should be even nicer and more impressive. The demo game I played in featured The Last Adventurer expansion, which allowed us to play with five players, gave all the players a unique player power, added a plastic boulder, and added cards that allowed for boulder attacks from the island’s many caves.
Unlike the original game, in which players rolled-and-moved around the island, players use a hand of two action cards in the redesigned version. Each card will allow a player to move a certain number of spaces -- I saw cards ranging from 4 spaces to 12 spaces -- and then set off an effect. Some cards with lower movement amounts allowed players to take extra treasure, others with higher movement values restricted players from taking treasure, other action cards allowed free movement over bridges, Vul-Kar and/or the palm trees to be rotated, or marbles to be dropped through Vul-Kar. There are also souvenir cards that players can play on their turns, which allow for bonus movement and other perks -- including, in the expansion, rolling a boulder at other adventurers. Another difference with the updated game is the board’s open range of movement, where players are free to explore the island in any manner they choose, instead of the channeled path of the original version.
The goal of the game is simple -- score the most points and escape the island. Points are scored by taking snapshots, collecting treasures, and being the first off the island. While most treasure values are determined by the size of the set collected -- 1 point for one treasure, 3 points for two, 6 points for three, etc. -- having the Heart of Vul-Kar at the end of the game is worth 7 points by itself. Of course, if any player traverses past you while you are holding it, they steal it from you. An additional impediment are the ember marbles, which players will be able to flick or roll at other players when card text dictates. If a player gets knocked over, either from Vul-Kar, an ember marble, or a boulder, they must give up treasure to the player that caused them to fall over. However, they will then get a souvenir card they can play in the future, softening the blow of losing treasure. While there is a minor dexterity element to the game with the marble flicking, it is by no means the central mechanism, and the game is enjoyable even for players that are not particularly dexterous.
I admit, I was simultaneously excited about the hype surrounding this game, and wary the gameplay itself wouldn’t live up to the high expectations the hype built. After playing one game, my reservations are gone. We played a five-player learning game using expansion content in just under an hour, and had very few rules questions after the initial five minute teach -- most of which should be addressed with clearer board iconography in the finished product.
The game lent itself to many stand up moments, where one player would be flicking a marble at a nearby adventurer in an attempt to steal their valuable treasure. However, once a player's adventurer was knocked down, they couldn’t be attacked again until after their next turn, so there was no hurt feelings about anyone feeling they were picked on excessively by the other players.
I have no doubt my kids will enjoy this game -- likely without the expansion content, at least at first -- as Fireball Island has a high toy factor and colorful, cartoonish look to it. But I was equally impressed with how well the game drew in five adults, all of which were employing different strategies against each other and the dangers of the island.
If, after looking at the Kickstarter campaign and seeing how Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar plays, it doesn’t look interesting to you, it probably won’t be. This is not a game for those that exclusively play brain-burning Euros or war games. And that is okay. However, if after looking at the Kickstarter, you were curious about the game and wondering if the gameplay lived up to phenomenal marketing and promotion of the campaign, you’ll probably love this game. I know I did.
The Fireball Island Kickstarter campaign can be found here, and is running until May 3.