Reaping the Rewards: ‘Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar’

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Fireball Island cover

Welcome to Fireball Island, a lovely tropical getaway where you’ll find valuable treasures, breathtaking photo spots, and, uh, flaming balls of lava. Enjoy your stay!

In “Reaping the Rewards,” I take a look at the finished product from a crowdfunding campaign. In May of this year, Restoration Games raised $2.8 million for this reboot of Fireball Island. It’s been shipping to backers this month, and the base game and the Last Adventurer expansion hit stores this week, with additional expansions to be released in early 2019. (Backers will be getting the additional expansions earlier.) In today’s post, I’ll take a look at the base game and the Last Adventurer expansion.

What Is Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar?

Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar is a game for 2 to 4 players (up to 5 with the Last Adventurer expansion), ages 7 and up, and takes about 30–60 minutes to play. The retail price is $75, and it’s available directly from Restoration Games, in stores, or from online retailers like Amazon. The game is definitely kid-friendly and you could play with younger than 7, as long as they’re not going to swallow the marbles.

Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar Components

Fireball Island components
Fireball Island components (Top: as packaged; bottom: punched and assembled). Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Here’s what comes in the base game box:

  • 3-part Island game board
  • 2 scrims
  • Vul-Kar figure
  • Cataclysm tracker
  • 2 Bridges
  • Ladder
  • 5 Fireball marbles
  • 7 Ember marbles
  • Heart of Vul-Kar crystal
  • 6-sided die
  • 7 Trees
  • Maw token holder
  • Lucky Penny token
  • Hello-Copter
  • 2 2-player tokens
  • 36 Treasure tokens (12 each in 3 types)
  • 4 player figures
  • 4 Reference cards
  • 30 Action cards
  • 12 Snapshot cards
  • 12 Souvenir cards
Fireball Island scrims
Two scrims cover up the openings below the center section of the island. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The island itself comes in three parts: the middle section makes a bridge between the two side pieces, and the two optional scrims hide the gap below that section. The island itself was designed by Noah Adelman of GameTrayz, and I was pretty impressed with it. The sections are hollow shells, and they have various steps and paths to hold all the treasures, marbles, trees, and Vul-Kar itself. The three-part island means that the box size is a good deal smaller than the original. I was half hoping, based on my experience with previous GameTrayz, that when you flipped the island sections over, they would double as storage trays for the components. (No such luck: but if you need help getting everything back into the box, this Kickstarter update has some great tips.)

The plastic trees fit into sockets on the board and have “roots” that look a bit like pinball paddles—these can be rotated to redirect marbles. The bridges and ladder also have special places where they fit. I didn’t have any trouble with the indentations for the orange ember marbles, but the indentations for the small green snake marbles (in the expansion) are really tiny, and we had one where we just couldn’t get a marble to stay put at all, so we just use one less snake.

Vul-Kar itself is an imposing hunk of plastic, with a hole in the top that feeds into three outlets at the bottom. These line up with the various channels surrounding Vul-Kar’s perch, and Vul-Kar can be rotated to face one of five different orientations.

Fireball Island figurines
Plastic miniatures running from trouble. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The plastic miniatures are pretty tiny but still manage to be expressive. There’s an adventurer, a beach bum, and two tourist types, all fleeing from their impending doom. (Well, except the beach bum, who has paused to stare in horror.) Note: You’ll see some of my photos include painted miniatures, which were a Kickstarter reward. There aren’t currently plans to sell those at mass retail, though you may be able to find them at conventions or through retailers who backed the Kickstarter campaign.

The marbles are glass, though the opaque coloring might fool you into thinking they’re plastic at first, and they have a nice weight to them. One nice touch is that there’s an extra of each marble type included: you only use 4 fireballs and 6 ember marbles for the game, so you’ll have spares in case one rolls away.

Fireball Island Maw and Hello-copter
The Maw and the Hello-copter, assembled. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

There are a couple of cardboard constructs: the Maw, where lost treasures are stored, and the Hello-copter, which drops you all off at the island before retreating to a safe distance.

Fireball Island torn cardboard
I had a little bit of trouble while punching out and assembling the Maw. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Most of the cardboard punched out just fine, but I did have a little bit of splitting with the constructs, as you can see in the photo above. Some of the notches were a bit tighter than others, and tended to peel a bit of the printed surface off while assembling. Once assembled, though, they look fine.

Fireball Island player reference cards
Reference cards show your player color and turn order on the front, and scoring chart on the back. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The cards themselves have some great artwork on them: both the backs and fronts have lovely little details, and there’s some fun humor in the illustrations, too (which you’ll see later on in this post). The cards have a gloss finish and are a little stiff, but seem okay otherwise.

Fireball Island box
The box has some nice UV gloss, and a somewhat ironic warning. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The box itself is just a large empty box—no dividers or anything, though Broken Token is working on a licensed storage solution. The box cover has some nice UV gloss that helps the title and characters pop out from the background, but there has been some disappointment about the box material. It’s corrugated cardboard, and both the lid and base have some diagonal folds (the sort that would let you flatten the box), and the inside is unprinted, so it doesn’t feel like your typical game box. Restoration Games explained that it is sturdy cardboard, the same sort that’s used in shipping, so it should last just fine, but it’ll look different from what you may be used to.

Fireball Island: The Last Adventurer Components

Fireball Island The Last Adventurer components
The Last Adventurer components. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Last Adventurer is the first expansion to Fireball Island and comes in a small square box, though I set aside the box and stored everything with the base game. Here’s what it comes with:

  • 3 Snapshot cards
  • 4 Souvenir cards
  • 10 Action cards
  • 10 Player Power cards
  • 2 Reference cards
  • Last Adventurer player figure
  • Golden Idol
  • Boulder
  • 6 Poison tokens
  • 9 Snake marbles

This expansion adds the fifth player figure and reference card, along with some components inspired by Indiana Jones (though, of course, this is clearly not Indiana Jones). There’s a small golden idol, a large foam boulder, and small green snake marbles. (Why’d it have to be snakes?)

GeekDad Approved Tabletop Game 2018

Fireball Island is GeekDad Approved!

How to Play Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar

You can download a copy of the base game rulebook here, and the Last Adventurer rulesheet here.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to score the most points by collecting treasures and snapshots.

Fireball Island setup
The base game set up and ready to play! Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Setup

Assemble the island, and turn all the trees so the roots are pointing toward Vul-Kar, who should be facing the center of the island. 6 ember marbles are placed on their starting locations (on the center board), and 1 fireball marble should be placed in the Scar, the groove on the left side of the board. 3 more fireball marbles are placed on the cataclysm tracker, set nearby.

Shuffle the treasure tokens, and place them on all of the treasure locations all over the board, face-up. Place the two bridges and ladder in the designated spaces, and the heart of Vul-Kar in the spot right next to Vul-Kar. Put the lucky penny in the Maw.

Give each player a player reference card, two action cards, and one souvenir card. Place the player figures in the Hello-copter near the helipad.

Fireball Island river
The last adventurer ended up taking a swim, thanks to a fireball charging down the river. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Gameplay

On your turn, you stand back up (if you’ve been knocked over), play an action card, refill your hand, and then reset the board. At the start of the game, your first step is onto the helipad from the copter.

There are some rules about standing up, but they’re fairly straightforward: you stand up in the nearest space to where you’re knocked down, unless you’re in a river or lava chute, in which case you slide to the bottom and stand up.

Fireball Island action cards
Moving slowly has its advantages. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

When you play an action card, you must move the full movement, and you cannot backtrack. The only exception is if you encounter an unstable place (the bridges and ladder), in which case your movement ends. Along the way, you may pass through treasure spaces and snapshot spaces. A treasure space allows you to take one of the adjacent treasure tokens, and a snapshot space allows you to take the corresponding snapshot card. (Stealing the heart of Vul-Kar also adds a fireball marble to the Scar.) You skip over occupied spaces, ignoring them both for counting and their effects.

Fireball Island movement cards
Action cards may let you launch an ember marble or rotate things. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

After movement, you may optionally use the “after moving” effect on your card. Launching an ember marble lets you push (not flick) one of the orange marbles with your finger, as hard as you’d like—but don’t go overboard, because if the marble leaves the island board you’ll suffer a penalty. Some cards let you rotate things—you may rotate Vul-Kar one notch, or you may rotate a tree to any orientation.

There are also some caves, numbered spaces that are around the island. If you step on a cave, you roll the die and then come out of one of the caves with the same number (unless they’re all occupied). Then if you still have movement, you may continue moving.

Fireball Island cataclysm cards
Cataclysm cards launch the fireballs. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

There are several cataclysm cards in the deck—after moving, you get to take all of the marbles in the Scar and drop them, one at a time, into Vul-Kar, which will send them down one of three pathways. After using a cataclysm card (even if you opted not to launch the fireballs), the card is discarded to the cataclysm tracker. When the third card is added, you add a fireball marble to the Scar.

If you knock down a player during your turn, they have to give you a treasure of their choice. If you knock yourself down during your turn, you lose a treasure of your choice to the maw. Anyone who gets knocked down also gets a souvenir card as a consolation prize.

You can steal the heart of Vul-Kar if you pass somebody who is carrying it.

After resolving your action, you draw back up to 2 action cards.

Fireball Island souvenir cards
Souvenir cards have various effects. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Souvenir cards say when they can be played, and you can play as many as you want when applicable, discarding them after use.

At the end of your turn, you reset the marbles, bridges, ladders, etc., but you do not stand up any players that are knocked down. (That way, you can only get knocked down once between turns.)

Fireball Island snapshot cards
Snapshot cards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

There are six snapshot locations on the island, two per section, though you’re only allowed to take one of each color. If you get to a snapshot space, you may take the corresponding card, and place it in front of you. The cards show a map of the island on one side (with the snapshot location marked), and a lovely “photo” of flying fireballs on the other. Each of the cards also has an icon that matches the specific location on the board.

Game End

There are two conditions that can trigger the end of the game: the last fireball is added to the Scar, or the Hello-copter has been summoned. The Hello-copter is summoned when a player steps on the helipad while carrying all three color snapshots—they may enter the copter if they have any movement remaining. Once the Hello-copter has been summoned, it remains near the helipad and any player (even if they don’t have all three snapshots) may enter. When you enter the copter, you may take one token from the Maw, if there are any present.

Fireball Island miniature in helicopter
“Get to da choppa!” Safely on board the Hello-copter. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

When you’re on the copter, you no longer move and aren’t affected by any cards played by other players. However, on your turn you still get to play an action card, just using the action part instead of the movement part—so you can still steal treasures from other players if you knock them down!

After the game end is triggered, the game ends after everyone is on board the Hello-copter, or when everyone has had two more turns, whichever comes first.

The heart of Vul-Kar is worth 7 points, and the lucky penny is worth 6 points. Each snapshot is worth 5 points, but only if you are on board the copter. The treasures are worth points based on how many you’ve collected of each one, with a maximum of 15 points for 5 or more of the same type. The highest score wins, with ties going to the player who got back to the helipad first (or is nearest to the helipad).

How to Play Fireball Island: The Last Adventurer

If you want to play with 5 players, simply add in the snapshot cards, the new figurine, and the new reference card, and play as before.

Fireball Island snake marbles
Snake marbles populate this side of the island. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

At setup, you add the 8 snake marbles to the small snake spaces on one side of the island (marked with a little snake spiral icon). As I mentioned before, my board had one space that wouldn’t hold the snake marble still, so we just used 7 of them. You also place the golden idol on the treasure space near Viper Pass. (It’s where the Last Adventurer is currently standing in the photo above.) The extra treasure token is added to the Maw.

Fireball Island Last Adventure new cards
New action cards and souvenir cards for The Last Adventurer. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Shuffle the new action cards and souvenir cards into their decks. Some of the new cards let you roll the boulder or launch snakes. Launching snakes is the same as launching ember marbles, and you still get to steal treasures if you knock somebody down.

Fireball Island snake bite
Ouch! This adventurer didn’t lose a treasure because she wasn’t knocked down, but she did get a snake bite. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

In addition to stealing treasures, if anyone has a snake marble touching them at the end of a turn, they also take a poison token (maximum of one per player). If you’re poisoned, at the beginning of your turn, you discard your token and then play the top card of the action deck instead of one from your hand.

Fireball Island boulder
Look out: here comes the boulder. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

If you roll the boulder, you get to place it in any unoccupied cave, and then push it like an ember marble. If you knock anyone down, you get to steal two treasures instead of one.

Finally, the golden idol is worth 7 points at the end of the game, but if you ever lose a treasure for any reason, the idol has to be the first treasure you lose.

Fireball Island player power cards
Player powers are represented by T-shirts. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

You can optionally play with player powers. Deal two to each player, and let them choose one to keep, placing it face-up. Each power (shown on T-shirts) gives you a special ability, like rotating items, picking which cave you exit, or getting extra souvenirs.

Why You Should Play Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar

What’s the word for nostalgia for something you’ve never actually experienced yourself? That’s what I felt when Restoration Games announced last summer that they were remaking Fireball Island: it’s a game that I remember from my childhood because I saw it in stores and on TV, but I never actually got to play it. I didn’t own it, and neither did anyone I knew. I suspect that many people from my generation had a similar feeling, and that this vicarious nostalgia played a strong role in the success of the Fireball Island Kickstarter campaign. 

Now, nostalgia alone isn’t enough to warrant a GeekDad seal of approval, but I want to acknowledge that, for many, the sheer delight in just setting up this massive plastic island and finally getting to knock people over with marbles is going to be worth the price. That, plus the opportunity to share it with your kids, both contribute to the fun factor right out of the box.

The game is no longer a roll-and-move, but instead gives you a small amount of choice between two movement cards in your hand, plus you may have the ability to modify things using a souvenir card. (Of course, there are situations where both of your movement cards are the same, but it won’t happen all of the time.) The additional actions on the cards are optional as well, and you’ll have some more decisions about which treasures to pursue because of the set-collection scoring.

Fireball Island dropping in marbles
Time for a cataclysm! My daughter feeds a fireball into Vul-Kar. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The marbles are where more of the randomness comes in: you have a pretty good idea of where the marbles should go, but there are no guarantees. Vul-Kar spits out fireballs in three different directions, so sometimes the best you can do is make sure it’s facing away from the path you’re on, to keep yourself safe, but you might not be able to knock down that player who’s sitting right there on the bridge. The tree roots can do a lot to stop or redirect marbles, but if enough marbles come pouring down (in a cataclysm, or in a chain reaction with ember marbles and snakes), the island might shake enough to knock you down anyway.

The souvenir cards serve as a small catch-up mechanism: when you get knocked down, you get to draw a souvenir card, which may help balance out the fact that you just lost a treasure. Picking the right time to use a souvenir can really give you an advantage. For instance, using the VIP Pass can get you over a bridge quickly without having to stop on it, in case you’re after the heart of Vul-Kar, and even better if another player is stuck on the bridge so you can leapfrog them. Another aspect that prevents any player from getting picked on too much is the fact that you stay knocked down until your turn—no kicking people while they’re down.

There’s also some room for different approaches because of the various ways you can score points. Completing a set of 5 of a treasure type gives you 15 points, and so does collecting all three snapshots—but with the snapshots, you have to make sure you get back to the copter. Depending on where the treasures end up, one may be easier to do than the other, but you have to pay attention. The set collection also affects what treasure you give up when you get knocked down because the victim is the one who gets to choose. Do you break up your own set so that the thief doesn’t get as many points? Or do you keep your set together, but potentially give the other player a lot of points? (I like to play with the treasures face-down, so that there’s a little more uncertainty in how many points everyone has.)

Fireball Island close-up
Don’t spend too much time on the bridges! Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

We’ve had a lot of fun with Fireball Island so far. I’ve played several times with and without the expansions, and have also run the game for both kids and adults. I did have a friend who had some complaints, having played the original recently, because some of the rules have changed a bit (like needing to knock down a player instead of just making contact with a marble), but I think if you haven’t played the original you won’t have those preconceptions, either. While the new game does add a bit more choice over the roll-and-move of the original, ultimately it’s still mostly a game about running around on an island and trying to knock people over with marbles. If that’s the experience you’re after, then Fireball Island really delivers. My kids and I will definitely be making many trips to Fireball Island in the future!


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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