During my childhood, the original Fireball Island board game made quite the impression on me. Unlike many games of its time, this one was played on a 3D board, complete with pathways, hills, rickety bridges, and an ominous fireball-shooting mountain at the top. You could steal treasure from other players by passing them on the board. Of course, there was also the fireballs. Strategically positioned on the map, you could send one crashing into your rivals, knocking them down while causing them to drop their treasure. This level of adventure and treachery was beyond cool at the time.
Though the original has been long out of print, the game returns as a modern remaster from Restoration Games. Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar certainly looks the part when you set it all up, but does it maintain the essence of the original while making the game play well for modern times?
As you would expect from a game with the Fireball Island name attached to it, The Curse of Vul-Kar is played on a 3D plastic board. This time, Restoration Games has gone to great lengths to add to the immersion while adding new wrinkles to the game. The new board is actually three pieces interlocked together to create one massive board in terms of width and height. Plastic trees are inserted in key spots on the board, but they’re not just decorations. They also act as bumpers that can alter the trajectory of incoming fireballs.
The most dramatic change to the game is that Fireball Island is now an open world. You are free to explore the island across its many paths, while picking up treasure and souvenirs of all sorts along the way. While the winning condition of the original game was solely to leave the island with the big gem, the victor in Curse of Vul-Kar is the player with the most total points based on the cumulative value of all your treasures and snapshots.
This is a fundamental shift in the way that the game is played. No longer racing down a set path, you’re free to explore the island and go for the win in a number of ways. Want that big jewel at the top still? Go for it! It’s worth the most points! Think you can scrounge up enough of the smaller treasures to compensate? You can do that too! Maybe you want to hunt down the person with the gem and steal it from them. That’s still an option! Having options makes it feel more like an expedition versus the all-out bloodbath of the original.
That said, fireballs are still a huge part of the game. A number of movement cards allow you to launch fireballs around the map. Getting knocked over by one will knock you over, possibly change your location on the map, and force you to drop a treasure. With the world being more open, a lot of wacky stuff can happen when you launch one. For one, with so many branching paths, the ball may not go where you want it to. Also, if any characters fall while the fireball is in motion, they’re also considered to have been knocked down by the rumbling of the earth. Finally, shooting fireballs off the mountain at the top is no longer a guarantee. Its mouth is split into three chutes, meaning that there’s a chance of the fireballs heading in directions you don’t want them to go. It adds a lot of randomness to the game, but smacking someone with a fireball never gets old.
To offset some of the randomness, you can pick up Souvenir cards along the way. These give you rule-defying powers, such as being able to warp around the map or prevent yourself from being knocked down by a fireball. Having these Souvenirs handy gives the game even more variety.
The one aspect of the game that I found problematic was the Snapshot mechanic. In order to get the helicopter to return and end the game, one player must collect one snapshot of each colour. They’re worth a lot of points and they encourage players to explore the whole map, but it’s really hard to land on these spaces due to the way that movement works in the game. Each player can only have two movement cards on hand at a time, and it’s rare that you’re at the exact distance needed to land on a Snapshot space. As such, I felt like our games took longer than they should have, as we fumbled our way towards the back half of the game just trying to get the Snapshots.
Playing Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar reminds me a lot of the original game without carrying over most of the limitations of the original. You still get to smack opponents with fireballs, while adding a bit more strategy and exploration. Collecting Snapshots is annoying, but I don’t think they’re enough of a deal-breaker if your nostalgia for the original runs strong. Players looking for a nostalgia trip should book a return flight to Fireball Island right away. For potential first time visitors, it’s a neat and silly game to play with more casual players that looks amazing on the table.