Fireball Island Artist Series – Interview with Kwanchai Moriya

Fireball Island Poster_Kwanchai

Purchase through the BGG Store!

Whew, that’s quite a poster. Just kinda wanted to open with that, because it looks so incredible. If you’re anything like me, feel free to take a minute or two to pick your jaw up off the floor, and then we can get right to the content.

Today, we’re gonna try something new — an interview! I’ve literally never done one of these before, and it shows, but that’s okay. We’ve got Kwanchai Moriya of … well, this poster (and other board game art) fame, and we’re gonna talk about the motivations for this poster, art in general, and whatever else comes to mind.

  • Just to clear my brain and get the dumb questions out of the way, your subject seems to be in a pretty bad bind with the snakes, but what’s she looking at?

She’s gazing, steely-eyed, for a way off the island! Or how about an artsy vague answer: I wanted to promote impassioned engagement with the art, leaving blanks that the viewer can fill. But more practically, when I had my friend model for reference photos, I told her to look at the lamp in the far corner of the room, so I guess that’s the true answer. Lamp. 

  • So I’m very much not in the know, but tell me more about your reference photos. How do you get your friends to model? Are there any fun stories or particularly memorable incidents?

I have folders upon folders of myself, my friends and family in the most ridiculous outfits or looking crazy. Holding spatulas as laser guns, or wearing a pot as a helmet. I usually organize a shoot once I’ve gathered all the necessary art direction from the publisher. I’ve got a low-budget setup with lights, reflectors, and the like. They’re always fun and always hilarious because it’s very physical and interactive trying to get the shot just right. I do pay my models, but it’s double nice when they happen to be my friends. It’s a lot more fun and allows me to paint towards an emotion because there’s a connection there. 

  • So, you know that I have to ask you to share a ridiculous reference photo of yourself. You know, for the readers.

TMG-DawnofMankind-box-lidHere’s one of me from a recent cover, Dawn of Mankind from Tasty Minstrel Games. 

  • The mood in this poster is almost apocalyptic; what informed this direction?

The games is all about rolling fireballs and hazards, so I wanted to take the concept for the poster to it’s most over-the-top end point. And I knew I wanted to make it feel monolithic, more like a Roman frieze or action movie poster, than a tangible action scene like the box cover. I just tried to fit everything I could in from the base game and expansions: tigers, snakes, the treasure, and there’s even little bees hidden in there. 

  • Should we expect a poster-expansion that includes spiders? 🙂

The Spider Springs expansion came out a few months after I finished the poster, sadly. Or my heroine would’ve had a spider or two to contend with!

  • Let’s say Restoration hires you to introduce a new challenge for your heroine. What does Kwanchai Moriya’s Fireball Island Expansion throw at her?

Maybe dinosaurs come out of a rift deep in the earth? Actually, how about the neon dinos from Dinosaur Island spill out onto Fireball Island. AAAAH, THE COLORS!! Fireball Island: the Dinosaur Island expansion. Also it’s a rondel legacy dice game expansion with seven thousand miniatures. 

  • I mean, I’ve always wanted more inter-publisher crossovers. Is that your dream mashup game? Or would you prefer to mash up two other titles, if you could?

Hmm, maybe Blood Bowl and Suburbia? That’d be hilarious, some kind of city-builder/civ game with Warhammer races. Like a Rat Ogre running a grocery store, and Dark Elf cruel landlords. I think Blood Bowl, and the Warhammer universe in general, is so rich and fun. 

  • Hopefully someone out there is listening. I know Bezier is up for crossovers. 🙂

  • I’m assuming you’ve played (and I’ll likely drop the question if you haven’t), but can you tell me more about your experience with the game? Any highlights? Lowlights?

When I was really young, my neighbor had the original game and we would haul it out of the garage and play it on the driveway. The box was so big that they had to keep it in the garage. I haven’t played the old game since then, but the fond memory of it runs deep. It swirls together with memories of Duck Hunt, Ninja Turtles and riding our bikes into the concrete wall at the end of our dead-end street. I credit the game with instilling a sense of wonder and play about board games, along with Splat! and a few other zany games we had at home. For that reason alone, I was very excited to be invited to be part of this poster series. 

Gameplay 2I have played the game and, like everything Restoration Games does, it carefully carries the spirit of a game forward, and boldly reinvents where needed. I enjoy it especially at higher player counts where it’s just wild and hilarious. 


  • I’d imagine! That’s super cool that you have the end-to-end experience of loving the original game and getting to do this poster for the update. Out of curiosity, if you had the time and there was interest, what other games would you want to make these types of posters for?

To be frank, I get asked to do a poster-style re-imagining for board game covers a lot. Ever since I did the Galaxy Trucker travel poster for BoardGameGeek, I regularly get asked by folks to do one for their game or upcoming product. It’s very cool and flattering, but I can only take on a certain amount of heavily painted projects like this, at a time. They’re very time-consuming. Side note, one of the very first board game related things I did was a redesigned box cover for Carcassonne featuring a landscape painting I had done. It was just for fun, and this was years before I went to art school or even imagined I’d be an illustrator. I was still in the middle of my History degree on my way to being a teacher. But yea, if I could do more of these, I guess I’d probably be jazzed to illustrate posters of any of my favorite games of all time: Blood Bowl: Team Manager, Suburbia, Wiz-War, Above and Below (or Near and Far), Evolution, Homesteaders, Space Hulk, Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, Root, or Thunderstone. 

  • That’s not terribly surprising, haha. There used to be an ongoing April Fool’s Day prank where cartoonists would do each others’ comics for a week; makes you wonder what the same game would look like with a bunch of different artists on it. Though I suppose that’s what these posters are for? Anyways, what draws you to those games in particular? Is there a particular genre you prefer?

I play everything and anything. I love board games and roleplaying games. Those games just happen to be my current top 10 games of all time. There’s a fuller top 50 list. 

  • Hahaha, probably a solid subject for a later interview. 🙂

  • I also love the heavy diagonals throughout the poster; what inspired you to try that?

At first, I had a composition where the fireballs were raining vertically downward. I wanted a composition that conveyed a lot of energy and boldness, so I knew I wanted these ridiculous broad strokes. And diagonal lines just looked better, and I just put them everywhere. 

  • It really carries that apocalyptic action-movie feel. So, level with me. Naturally, when the Fireball Island movie gets made and they use your poster for the theatrical release, who’s in your main cast?

Ohh this is a good question. Well, I would play the fiery red-headed female lead, that’s an easy one. Then maybe a ragtag team of: Bryan Cranston as a teacher on vacation, Charlize Theron as a one-armed resort manager looking to escape the island, and Chris Hemsworth as the fireball?

  • So who’s the villain, here? Vul-Kar? Or man’s hubris?

Maybe Vul-Kar is actually a physical manifestation of man’s hubris. Maybe Fireball Island is, in fact, a deep commentary about our tragic modern culture. And its gameplay is all about our personal quest to seize humility and truth from the flaming jaws of ostentatious pride, in the limited time we have. 

  • I’d love to know more about the color choices for this poster, also — generally, when I think of Fireball Island I think pretty heavily of green and red (likely due to the game board). Your choice to focus on blue is an interesting one; can you expand on it?

Actually, the one thing I really wanted to focus on was red. Lots and lots of red, red fireballs, red lines, etc. And blue just really framed and offset the red I wanted in there. So blue!

  • I mean, it looks super cool, so excellent work. Do you tend to have a color preference for your art? Any favorite pieces? I know I’ve loved your use of color for the Capital Lux and Overlight series.

CL CardsMy colors always tend to shift towards a kaleidoscopic melange of magentas and cyans. I don’t know why, and I’m sorry everyone. It’s just, if I’m not careful, that’s where I always end up. Haha. Sometimes that’s perfect for a project, and sometimes it’s not…ideal. I had a client recently tell me, very gingerly, that they’d prefer if there’s not a lot of pink and magenta if possible. I said of course. 

  • Haha, I doubt anyone would want you to apologize for that; they’re wonderful! So if you weren’t doing illustrations, you’d be a history teacher? What was your focus?

My focus was post-Civil War US History. I also had a minor focus in East Asian History, but that’s because those classes started at 1PM. 

  • That’s a big mood, and half of the reason I studied CS. They never made the engineers wake up early. What got you into illustrating?

I had always been pretty good at art and drawing. My mom enrolled me in a few classes at the local park district, and the like. I continued painting and drawing in high school and college, taking whatever art classes I could sign up for. But it wasn’t a career focus until after I had finished my history degree and realized how much I really wanted to give illustration a go. I applied to art colleges, with the help of a good friend and working artist, and I got into Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. The path from then til today is a bit winding. But my love of board games and the rapid growth of the tabletop industry are the main reasons why I’ve been able to sustain a freelance career thus far. I love it!

  • It definitely shows in your work, and I think this poster is an excellent display of all the effort you’ve put into becoming a phenomenal illustrator. Thanks so much for talking to me about it! I’m sure people are going to love it.

This poster is currently available from Restoration Games (and the BGG Store), and Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar is currently on sale at a variety of game stores, both local and online. The Spider Springs expansion launches at Gen Con. For my thoughts on Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar, check out my review.