Okay, most toys are junk. There are still a few classics you can count on to always be there, in one form or another, such as Legos or dinosaurs. But for the most part, the good stuff gets made by accident, and disappears. Oh, the strange ideas for playtime that have floated past my peepers and through my flippers when I was a mere pouchling. Sigh, if only I had one of the three elven Rings of Power so that I might preserve unstained and untainted the glory of childhoods in the Elder Days. Sea Diver, I have failed you!

Well, okay, maybe I didn’t need a Ring of Power because I had some of that whacky, Tom Bombadil magic. A few artifacts survived and managed to make it to the current age of mankind, so to speak. I’m talking about that radical board game known as Fireball Island. Talk about high production values! Early to mid eighties engineering, with a concept that could only have existed in the seventies. Clever design, colorful artwork, and fabulous three-dimensional rendering make this game an instant classic.

You are one of four archaeologists who have just landed on the forbidden island known as “fireball island”. Your goal is to get to the volcano in the center of the board, steal the magic jewel, and then reach the docks to escape. Presumably riches and glory follow. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

First off, the island is volcanic, and the capricious island tiki idol in the center of the board dispenses his displeasure in the form of giant fireballs of molten lava. Whenever the rules call for it (for example, when someone rolls a “1” on a six sided die for movement), a fireball is launched and someone chooses which of the six red marbles is pushed down a slope where it nails any number of helpless archaeologist tokens! If you get hit, you have to go to a “smoulder pit”, which acts as a penalty box where you “smoulder” and lose a turn. Its hilarious fun blasting people, even yourself – because if you have to shoot a fireball, and you are the only available target, blam!

Second, you and your three rivals each start with four action cards that can be used to push the odds in your favor, and you all draw a new card when you land on a dark space. The cards can make you move extra spaces forward instead of rolling, push back someone else several spaces, give you an extra turn, protect you from a fireball, give you a chance to shoot a fireball, protect someone from stealing the jewel if you are carrying it, etc. It means things can get pretty cutthroat between players, which makes sense. You’re all essentially tomb robbers ripping off somebody else’s sacred artifact for your own gain!

There are some nice extra touches to the game. They give it that special twist of the knob to eleven. There are six caves scattered around the board. If one is nearby on your turn, and you have the spaces to reach it, you can go inside. On your next turn you roll a die to see which cave you appear in. There’s an element of chance, because you could end up in a bad spot and waste a lot of time getting to a good cave again. Or you could zoom ahead to a strategically important place – right next to the jewel, in front of someone with the jewel and proceed to rip them off, or just way ahead of everyone else.

Another nice touch is the talismans. If you pass the ruined fortress you can pick up one of four talismans. The talisman is a neat little amulet that the jewel token fits into. At any time you can cash in the amulet for a full hand of four cards, or you can keep it and to use as a fake jewel when someone tries to steal from you.

But the best touches, I think, are the two bridges. Now, I don’t think I’ve conveyed how the game board is set up, exactly. It’s three dimensional, with valleys, hills, steps and paths. The entire board is painted with all sorts of nice little details, like bones on one of the beaches, or snakes in the jungle. The board is set up so the fireballs can roll down various “territories”, such as the aptly named “dead man’s alley”. On the way to the docks, you have to pass through a treacherous series of cliffs, crossing a rickety wooden bridge over a crevasse at one section, and another bridge over a raging river out to sea.

Yup, you got it. If you have the jewel, everybody is going to shoot any fireballs they get at you while you’re crossing a bridge! It’s the highlight of the game, to launch a fireball at your buddy’s token while he stands on the bridge, gawking. Bahahahah, there goes your token! If you have the jewel when you get blasted, it gets left on the bridge for someone else to snatch up. Things can get kind of funny as everyone keeps getting the jewel, gets blasted, smoulders at the pit on the beach, and runs back up the cliff to try again. All in a line! Eventually someone gets through and it’s a mad dash for the boat, hoping you’ll be the last one to steal the jewel if someone else has it.

It takes about 35-45 minutes to finish a game, but its high stakes action all the way! It plays equally well with kids and grownups, though I think kids have a better time as a rule. I like Chutes and Ladders or Candyland as much as the next person, but you’ve got to hand it to a game that relies on cheap gimmicks and flashy packaging to sell a solid gameplay. Just remember; always keep a fake jewel handy when you’re booking to the getaway boat. A good piece of real life advice, my friends!