Some games are about the gimmick, with actual gameplay a secondary aspect of its success. Some games are simply fun to play, regardless of any gimmickry involved. Such a game is Milton Bradley’s 1986 classic, Fireball Island.
Fireball Island was created by Bruce Lund, a prolific toy maker who has had a hand in some of the most famous toys in North American history. His company, Lund and Company Invention, L.L.C., has been the guiding force behind toys such as: TMX Elmo (yes, that Elmo), Honey My Baby Pony (Dr. Toy Best Pick 2009 award winner), and Hydrogen Fuel Rocket (a NASA award winner), among many others. Mr. Lund conceived gravity as Fireball Island’s chief game mechanic, and this was the impetus for the three-dimensional game board. As an interesting aside, Mr. Lund once worked for Marvin Glass Studios, the toy maker that produced Mouse Trap, another gravity-related, three-dimensional game. Mr. Lund approached Milton Bradley with the pitch for a new game called Fireball Island, and after a few adjustments (including the resizing of the game board to its gargantuan proportions), a classic was born.
This was a BIG game. The box measures 48cm x 66cm x 9cm (that’s 19”x26”x3.5” for my American friends), and contains a massive 3-D sculpted game board depicting an entire volcanic island. There are treacherous gorges to be crossed on rickety bridges; winding trails with wicked names like Blister Run and Thunder Alley that can lead to certain doom; dark caves that might provide a shortcut, but then again might not – all overseen by the gigantic Idol Vul-Kar, built over an active volcano and capable of releasing deadly fireballs on trespassers. Why would anyone dare such dangers? For the thrill of adventure? Perhaps. But the more likely explanation is the highly-coveted, immense, incalculably valuable jewel guarded by the Idol Vul-Kar.
Play begins with players choosing an adventurer token and being dealt a Fireball Island card. These cards add an element of strategy to the game. Players might have a card that sends their opponents forward or backward a few spaces, cards that influence the die roll (even to the point of re-rolling it), cards that cancel other cards, and even cards that either launch a fireball or prevent it. You gain more cards from special spaces on the game board called Dark Trail spaces, but you can only have four cards in your hand at any time. You can play them whenever you want, and in any amount, on any turn, as long as you obey the four card limit.
The object is to capture that jewel the Idol Vul-Kar is guarding, and bring it back to the dock and escape the island. As the player rolls the die, his or her adventurer token moves along the game board. If they are lucky enough to grab the jewel and begin the trip back, they have more than just the angry Idol to contend with, as their fellow players will stop at nothing to steal the jewel for themselves. Beware the fireballs as they begin to flow, as any player with the jewel won’t be able to keep it if they’re “fireballed” and sent to a smolder pit to cool off for a bit. Meanwhile, their opponents will be making a beeline straight for the treasure!
This is simply a fun game to play. I’ve played it with my family both using the original rules and ones modified for playing with the very young. (The game calls for 2-4 players, ages 8 and up.) There is just something special about the setup, and the kids love shooting down fireballs onto each other (and especially on Dad). In fact, they’ve been known to just set up the board and start sending down a rain of fireballs to see how many adventurers they can wipe out at once.
As much as it was a hit back in the 1980s, Fireball Island is a much-sought game these days, too. Unfortunately, with retailers unwilling to allot shelf space to a game box that large, a re-release seems very unlikely. With a strong demand and dwindling supply, the game commands significant dollars on any venue it appears in, and even individual game pieces fetch a decent return. If you have the space to store it, and the budget to buy it, Fireball Island is an integral part of any retro gamer’s collection!
Some great Fireball Island links:
- Missing the game rules? Get them from magisterrex.com
- Interview with Bruce Lund
- Lots of photos and alternate rules at boardgamegeek