Thunderbirds are GO!

Posted: January 25, 2016 in Fantasy & Sci-Fi, Gaming, Uncategorized

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I’ve been a fan of Gerry Anderson generally, and Thunderbirds specifically, my whole life, ever since I used to read my Dad’s old TV Century 21 annuals when visiting my Grandparents, and obsessively re-watched my VHS copies of the original Thunderbirds are Go and Thunderbird 6 movies. Something about the alchemical combination of future heroism, totally OTT miniature pyrotechnics and freakish, shambling puppets really spoke to me (not forgetting the endless extreme close-ups of real hands). To this day, any remotely exciting or tense event in my life is given a Barry Grey soundtrack by my brain (most often the excellent Sun Probe Collision Theme).

So naturally I was delighted at the emergence of this new cooperative board game from Modiphus Entertainment, themed around the classic 60’s TV show. In fact my inner eight year old may still be doing cartwheels of delight.

In this game players each take the role of one of the members of International Rescue and work together to thwart the schemes of the dastardly Hood, as well as their day job, performing daring and time-critical rescues around the world. All of the Tracy brothers are available as player characters, along with their titular craft, as well as Lady Penelope in FAB1.

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Unboxing this game is something of a treat first time around, as in the same vein as the much-loved 60’s TV show, this board game is as camp as fifty rows of tents, with bright primary colours and retro-futurism practically dripping from every card and component, mainly thanks to the gorgeous game pieces. Of particular delight to me is that Thunderbird 2 has a pod that really opens up, enabling players to actually load the ship with The Mole or The Firefly or any of the other pod vehicles! I got similar levels of excitement from discovering that the numbers on the dice are lifted from the Thunderbirds themselves (naturally the dice only go up to five, the sixth face is the hood, and rolling that is not good), and most of all, from my own International Rescue ID card. The attention to detail in these design flourishes betrays a real affection for, and knowledge of the source material, which thankfully kept me on side when I discovered my Thunderbird 3 was really rather bent.

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The board itself is a world map. with elements along the top and bottom to represent outer space, Tracy Island, Brain’s Notebook (where players build their specialised pod vehicles and rescue craft) and the progress of the Hood’s Schemes.

In gameplay terms this should be relatively straightforward for serious gamers, mainly being an exercise in what I like to think of as ‘plate-spinning’, i.e. working towards an overall goal randomly determined by the Hood’s scheme cards, while also performing rescues around the world, which when solved, provide you with bonus counters which give you re-rolls, extra dice and so on, or can be saved up and spent in order to defeat schemes. Successfully performing a rescue requires the player get to the correct location, and win a dice roll, while also coordinating with other players to get certain characters or machines into certain locations to gain bonuses against said roll. The emphasis is on cooperation and coordination of the whole team, which can actually be quite rowdy compared to a more adversarial game, or a co-op where one player is a mole or traitor, as players shout instructions at each other across the board.

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The disasters stack up, with a new one being added with every player’s next turn, and with each turn that passes, the existing disasters march relentless along their track. If one goes unrescued for eight turns, you lose, so it’s important to plan your turn in connection with your fellow players, as having the right additional character on Thunderbird on site can provide a bonus to your dice rolls.

I found my first playthrough of this game to be a lot of fun, but very easy. Years of playing Mansions of Madness, Eldritch Horror and similar with my fellow Suppressing Fire writers has conditioned me to expect co-op games to be utterly merciless to the player, but Thunderbirds come with multiple difficulty set ups, enabling you to ramp up the challenge through five levels if you wish. So after my first go round, which I had inadvertently played on intro level, I had another go, cranking right up to the hardest level. The result of this was the schemes were much harder to foil, and I was filled with dread every time I rolled dice or drew cards, in case I revealed a The Hood Advances result, giving me a little less time to get the umpteen tokens I needed.

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Thunderbirds is overall a fun game, with lots of affectionate touches in the art and design that will really please fans of the series, particularly the game pieces, cards and artefacts. The actual gameplay is fun, with adjustable difficulty for more skilled players or those seeking a lot of replay value. The game can in theory be played two player or solitaire but I recommend at least three players for a real good crack at it, especially as playing solo one can easily get deeply confused while spinning all those plates, as I can attest.

On the flipside, it might have been good to throw in a smidge more combative action into the mix, perhaps giving one of players the option to play as The Hood, rather than confining him to being an NPC. Furthermore, I think I will always be somewhat distraught about my wonky Thunderbird 3.

Good stuff. Would save imperilled marionettes again.


Review by Spike Direction.  Thunderbirds is available now from Mophidian Entertainment; and you can follow Spike on Twitter.

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