Wild Fire – Fireball Island Design Diary 1

In Posts by Justin Jacobson38 Comments

When we finally acquired the license to bring back Fireball Island – after a round of cheering – the full measure of the task before us finally sunk in. This was, by far, the most requested game for us to bring back. People have such fond memories of the game. But nostalgia is a hell of a drug. People remember the game as larger than life. Vul-Kar towering in the air. Marbles careening down the chutes at the speed of sound. Pawns slipping the surly bonds of earth and reaching low-altitude orbit. As Rob put it: We can’t just make Fireball Island better than it was. We need to make it better than people remember it.

But if you’ve ever heard an 80’s kid when they talk about Fireball Island, it’s all:


When we looked at the game in the cold light of day to start the restoration process, we realized the magnitude of the work in front of us. The marbles didn’t move quite as fast as we remembered. And that box? You could pack it as a suitcase for a two-week cruise. Game stores would need to lease additional space just to carry the thing. But the biggest thing was the flow of play. The game played great for kids. Roll a die; move your guy. Roll a one; have some fun. But, in reality, you had little control over your pawn. There weren’t many choices to make. And the marbles were too predictable. When you let one go, you knew exactly where it was going to end up. Those kids are now adults, and games have gotten a lot better too in the meantime. What to do?

Rob immediately seized on our design restoration approach: Give people more control over their pawns and less control over the marbles. In this Design Diary, I want to show you the design process behind the island and show off some images of what you can expect. (Keep in mind, these are 3D renderings of the design work in progress and not the final images.)

To meet these goals, we knew we would need to rebuild the island from the ground up. It would not be enough to simply redesign the pathways. For starters, you wouldn’t have enough room on the existing layout to carve new paths. We also knew we needed to get the marbles moving faster, and simple physics gave us our answer there. So, how do we make the island bigger, taller, and more chaotic? And, oh yeah, fit it in a smaller box?

Credit for the idea that led to the solution goes to our Restoration Guru, Mike Gray. At an early design session, he scribbled a little sketch of three separate trays. By splitting the island up into three pieces, we can stack them pyramid-style for play and nest them like Russian dolls for putting away. This gives us the best of both worlds. It increases the overall footprint of the island and greatly raises the height, which, in turn, gives us more marble velocity, all while fitting in a box roughly the size of Twilight Imperium.

Enjoy your stay!

Once we had the basic structure of the island down, we had to look at the pathways. We wanted to provide more paths for both the players and the marbles to increase variety. We also wanted to vary the types of paths. Now there are split paths. So you can play the percentages, but you’re never certain which particular path a marble will take. Some areas aren’t paths at all, but rough terrain that sends the marbles down Plinko-style. And some areas include other marbles, precariously balanced, ready to cascade if bumped just so.

That was a nice start, but we wanted even more variation. So we came up with this idea for trees. These pieces slot into the island and have a little flipper that juts out into the path. By rotating the trees, players can have some control over which way a marble will roll, trying to guide it away from themselves or, better yet, toward one of their opponents. All while adding a great 3D look to the surface of the island.

A happy little tree.

Great. But we still weren’t satisfied. We kept looking for ways to add uncertainty. Then, we came up with an idea that just blew everyone away: What if Vul-Kar himself were devilishly sly about where he sent those fireballs flying? The team devised a design for Vul-Kar’s interior piece that splits the chute into three directions as it leaves his mouth. His imposing lower canines provide perfect dividers. Now there are three potential exit points for each marble that Vul-Kar spits out. There are five different paths that begin at the top of the island. You can turn Vul-Kar so he faces any particular set of three paths. When you drop a marble in, it will go down one of these three possibilities. But we didn’t want to leave the marbles to pure chance. The team spent weeks tweaking this interior design so the marbles most often exit the center path, while occasionally spitting out one of the side paths. While players can never be certain which path a marble will take, they can certainly “play the percentages”.

Is it just us, or does he look angrier than usual?

All of these variables add up to an exciting experience, with players at the edge of their seats, watching the marble pick its path. Will it be a narrow escape or certain doom? With all of that chaos engineered into the game, we knew we had to give players an equally potent arsenal to affect the outcome. So we ditched the pure roll-and-move and added some action cards. But you’ll have to wait to see how that all works for the next installment.

The Kickstarter for Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar launches on April 3rd. Please follow us on Kickstarter and sign up for our mailing list on the front page of our site. The second part of this design diary will post next week.



  1. Fantastic! I really love that you’ve gone back to revitalizing the game, not just a straight restoration. Can’t wait to see the full scope in April!

  2. I’m speechless. You guys are really bringing this game back to life spectacularly, and these diaries are a great way to let us in on the fun (and challenges) you had with the re-design. April really can’t come soon enough!

    1. The island looks fantastic. I really like the idea of the plinko style areas and trees to add some measure of control. Should add a ton of excitement to the game!!

  3. This looks incredible. Definitely better than the original. Good write-up of your process also!

  4. I am so glad to hear of your focus to “Give people more control over their pawns and less control over the marbles.” This is what I was hoping for!

  5. This looks great! After the incredible upgrade you made to Stop Thief! (one of my favorites growing up), I’m really looking forward to seeing how this shapes up.

    1. Author

      I assume you’re referring to the island. It’s not a traditional sculpt because it’s not injection-molded plastic. (It would way about 50 pounds if it were.) It is a vacuum-formed tray. We are able to print on the plastic before it gets formed. So, yes, the island will be in full color.

  6. This is blowing my mind. As soon as I saw the “Fireball Island remake” headline I immediately thought of adding Plinko and pinball style flippers — and lo and behold look what you’ve got here! But THEN you dialed it up to 11 and went all dice tower with Vul-Kar. Brilliant. Until today I’ve never even considered dishing cash at any Kickstarter but I’m all over this.

    Two other random ideas, more in relation to gameplay. (1) it would really ramp up the risk/reward path choosing and “playing the percentages” tensions if the game randomzied the placement and value of various treasures or quest objectives. Then the player would have to really take a gamble on points vs risk, and it would randomize every game to keep things fresh. (2) It would be cool if the game had a couple of different play modes. A couple that occur to me would be the classic “every man for himself” treasure hunt, a team-based “expedition” model (more points for safely working together), maybe a capture the flag / control the Vul-Kar mode, and a race against the timer mode (how much can you grab before the island “blows up” kind of thing).

  7. I saw a Youtube video where the designer of the original had some ideas for expansions to add to the fun. I hope you are thinking about these. Any hints?

  8. I am very excited. My favorite game when growing up. Want to share with my kids. Can’t wait to see the details on 4/3/2018!! Thank you

  9. Oh boy, this looks just like the improvements to lure back players and nostalgia nuts! The original was great fun even playing as an adult, with your favorite beverage of course.

    Love what I am seeing and hearing in this first dev blog.

    And I dare say I see what could be a slot for further island expansions… HMMMMMMMmmm.

  10. I want to be able to play this with my kids. But Vul-Kar seems pretty scary. I really hope the theme will be ok for younger children.

    1. Author

      Our design diary on Tuesday addresses the theme of the game. We wanted Vul-Kar to be imposing, but the rest of the design mitigates that. We don’t think he’s any scarier than, say, Maleficent. (I believe they even shop at the same horn purveyor.) We’ve definitely designed it with families in mind.

  11. Please please please make a co-op mode so we get a mix between Forbidden Island and Fireball Island, my favorite two games ever. (I mean my favorite games with “Island” in their title)

  12. The trees for the 3D look were a stroke of genius, flippers or no flippers, as is the extended island height. On the sculpt I see bridges–am I to assume these are “removable” or trip-able as fireball fodder the way the originals were? They are facing to the rear to it’s hard to tell if they are in the path of a fireball or not….

  13. I remember this game as my family had it when I was a child of 8. The marbles were fun but even back then I thought the rest of the game was tedious as all hell. 30 years on I think “Give people more control over their pawns“ is key. But also improving in any way the mission of walking along a road and getting a ruby from A to B (which was just lame).

    From what we know so far the effort shows and it looks promising. And it‘s going to be an improvement either way.

  14. I’d love to see pictures or an animation of how the trays nest together.

  15. Don’t worry about making it too big, we will all make room on our game shelves for this, the more epic the better!! The design sounds amazing!

  16. We played the game hard as kids. There were definite areas that were made to be safe, but we’d flick the marble to try and nail our opponent, usually with hilarious results. Not sure how I feel about the random chutes the marble can go down from Vulkar, as I liked that there was some predictability involved there, but with the plinko style of fireball runs, I get it. The biggest issue we found when playing was when we’d constantly roll ones over and over and the play became less mischievous fun and more slogging game play.
    Anyway, the board looks awesome and I look forward to seeing more of what you guys are doing!

  17. Yeah second that. I hope is is bigger than the original. More caves, more rivers, more ruins.

  18. You already have some beautiful tiki’ish art. I really hope you will take that with you in your kickstarter. Always like to buy some nice artwork as an extra. ‘travel agency advertisement’ posters, postcards, …. Will back this one for sure.

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  20. This looks A-Maz-Ing!!!!! I accidentally stepped on mine when I was a kid and the board never worked right again. You can finally fix my broken heart, and maybe my friends will want to speak to me again.

  21. I’ve just found the link to this design diary, via Pip’s article on the Shut Up and Sit Down site. The design diary is both fascinating and exciting and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the articles and watching and backing Kickstarter campaign (there were a lot of ands in that sentence). I had seen various info about Fireball Island before, but now I am really excited about the game. The design for Vul-Kar’s Head was particularly interesting to read about. Thank you. Restoration games sounds like a great project/company.

  22. Will there be more then 4 players possible (like 6 or 8 or even more)?

    We still play the original at our annual holiday parties and its a race to see who can play first round, etc.. we already have an office pool ready to purchase a copy specifically for the office.

    Making the board even bigger with an optionally expansion pack. Split the two sides in half, so that they can move out and became corners. Then with an expansion pack add in four outside center board pieces for a 66% increase in overall size compared to the basic game board (making it possible to have at least 8 players if not more–more the merrier, like 12 or 16).

    Because the expanded board might fill up the whole 4’x4′ card table not leaving room for the players cards and tokens, adding indents (to make a little shelf) or cutouts on the sides to expose the table beneath would solve that problem (add a removable “cave” insert to keep things from going to far under the board). Also if the table was 6′ round or square then the 4’x4′ board would be perfect for that game owner any way.

    Or another option would be to optionally expand the board making it more rectangular (to be used comfortably on a 4’x8′ or 4’x6′ folding table), there could also be a piece in the expansion to raise the center island piece just enough adding more speed to the extended board.

    Actually splitting the sides and the two expansion pieces (back into four as described in the square expansion) so that the board could be a large square or a long rectangle. making it more dynamic and giving the owner the option to customize it to meet their needs/table preference.

    Also, making the expansion pieces universal but different so they could be placed anywhere adding variety to the game so the board is not always the same (mixing up strategies).

    Finally, at least please add more players to the basic game (like 6 or 8 in total) would be awesome (“like totally rad”) for larger game night parties.

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