Restoration Games appeared on the scene last year with an exciting premise: they seek out games that are at least 15 years old to update, revamp, and release to the modern audience. Their appearance on the scene was met with excitement and a Kickstarter campaign for Stop Thief! that raised 4 times more than their goal. I’m sure many of us can think of games from our childhood that we remember fondly, and a browse on eBay will show that people are willing to pay top dollar for a little slice of nostalgia. For one game, that will soon no longer be necessary. Restoration Games will be bringing Fireball Island back to shelves, and I got to speak with Chief Restoration Office Rob Daviau and Tinker-in-Chief J.R. Honeycutt about it – yes, those are their real titles.
Restoration Games put out a simple question a few months ago: what game do you want us to restore next? According to Rob, there was an overwhelming favorite. Fireball Island is the game people want to see most. This shouldn’t surprise anyone as copies can go for as much as $300 on the secondary market and may not even be complete. The original is massive, and features branching paths where adventurers can seek the treasure of Vul-Kar, an idol that has no qualms with launching fireballs (marbles) at players or knocking them into pits in an attempt to stop them. Rob and the team are excited to have been able to track down the rights to work out, though there are some, er, pitfalls.
The hardest part about updating old games is “[making] the modern game as fun as we remember it being” said Rob. It isn’t enough to remake the game as it was, as we often look back on the artifacts of our youth with nostalgia-tinted glasses and forget the parts that may not be as fun as the “crazy marble awesomeness” that J.R. described. There’s a lot to love about the old game, but some parts deserve a second look. I wanted to know how the team goes about capturing the essence of an old game and how they go about deciding what to keep and what to change.
Rob said that the first step was to get a copy of the old game and simply play through it. All games have a core to them, something that can’t be changed or eliminated without changing the game. Marbles rolling along paths and knocking player pieces into the river is an obvious one, but there’s a little more to it. Rob also identified a sense of “Indiana Jones style adventure” and a certain element of the unknown. Marbles may not behave the same every time, and players had a hand of action cards they could play to inject a little chaos. Not everything was amazing however. The path up and down the volcano was pretty linear, and those same action cards that provided fun chaos also had a strong element of take-that.
The process of restoring Fireball Island thus is one of isolating and elevating the fun parts. Rob described part of this as “increasing the kinetic violence” of the game; I take this to mean that the joy of watching marbles careen down a volcano and smash into your friends will still be there. Inspired by things like Warner Brothers cartoons and miniature golf, they’re hoping to elevate the “toyetic experience” – a phrase from Rob’s Hasbro days – beyond a simple marble track into something that is both more exciting and more engaging. Fireball Island was originally a game marketed towards children but Rob wants the new version to be exciting to both children and those adults who used to play but now may expect more strategy and control.
While the game will still be playable and accessible to the kids and people who see a massive 3D volcano with fireballs rolling down it, they do want it to be a game you can play skillfully. Part of restoring it is ensuring there are “good move/bad move” situations so that players can have “the choice to plan”. If you just want to run around an island dodging fireballs and Rob’s cryptic promise of “other things” you can, but those who want a more strategic jaunt should have something there.
The modern restoration is still under design, but Rob and JR were willing to spoil a few things. They’ve been working with Noah Edelman of GameTrayz to solve the physics related issues that normally do not plague designers while using two-dimensional prototypes to plan the layout. Nothing is off the table, with consideration being given to modular board tiles and more The setting is being tweaked to a tongue-in-cheek one of tour guides and vacations on the island to offset the increased danger and violence. Right now the game will play 2-4 but JR “reserves the right to expand that range in both directions”.
One thing is for sure though. No longer will we have to scour eBay and secondary markets to track down Fireball Island. Restoration Games is bringing back the masterpiece intersection of “game” and “toy”, updated and improved for a modern audience. I’m looking forward to exploring the tweaks and seeing how Rob creates something that lives up to the expectations of our memories. It’s going to be a game for “gamers who played it and want to play for their family” or, in the words of JR: “anybody and everybody who thinks marbles rolling down a mountain is [bleep]ing rad”. Fireball Island will hit Kickstarter soon and we’ll be sure to let you know when you can return to this island of danger and adventure.
What game would you want to see restored next?
Featured Image Credits: Restoration Games
Image Credits: Milton Bradley, Restoration Games