Review: Thunderbirds

Thunderbirds review

If the words “Thunderbirds are GO!” conjure up images of a movie from 2004 then I need to apologise. If, on the other hand, they remind you of a TV show with puppets then you may just be on the right side of 35…

Thunderbirds, the board game, is a special release to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the TV show. If you were a fan then it won’t disappoint. It’s a co-op game designed by Matt Leacock, the man who brought us Pandemic. The players take the role of the Tracy family trying to save people from disasters all around world (and in space) while attempting to foil the schemes of the evil Hood. Sounds cheesy, but it was the 60’s

For the TL;Dr version click here.

Opening the box

Specs on the box:

  • Ages 10+ (the game is easy to learn and appeals to kids, so it’s easily playable with younger kids.)
  • 1-4 Players
  • 45-60min

Inside the box we find a board with a map of the earth and some arears in our solar system. There are various decks of cards for different schemes that the Hood can put into play as well as disasters that will occur on the board. We also have cards that represent the player characters with their special abilities listed on them and F.A.B cards which can give you some much needed help in a pinch.

Thunderbirds review
The printing on the insert is a nice touch.

There are 2 custom dice, and a set of 6 plastic vehicles representing Thunderbirds 1 through 5 plus the FAB1. A set of stickers to spruce up the models a bit is a nice touch. The stickers are in a single sheet so you will need to cut them out yourself and then figure out where to stick them. Needless to say stickers that small can be a little finicky to get just right. There are also 6 plastic pegs with the character busts on them. These pegs can be pegged into holes in the different vehicles as the character move between them. The last plastic piece is a model of the Hood himself.

The rule book is rather thick, but it’s very easy to read with nice examples to help you learn. There’s also a fair amount of tokens, to represent rewards for averting disasters and also to mark locations of the disasters. There is also a set of double sided tokens representing the Pod Vehicles that Brains can develop for the Tracy’s to use. On one side is the blueprint of the Pod, when it is developed it is flipped over to a side that has a picture of the Pod from the TV series.

Theme

The Thunderbirds theme is everywhere. The art style, the font, everything is reminiscent of the era. The disaster cards are a real treat; they have a still image from the particular show and a small description on it of what that disaster is all about.

There’s even an insert in the box with alternate box cover art. Everything about it just makes me think “groovy”.

Gameplay

The game itself is easy to get the grips with. Place the thunderbirds in their starting locations, with the matching coloured peg in them. The Hood is placed on the starting position on his track which he will try to run before his schemes are foiled. Decide on a difficulty level and then build the events and schemes on the Hood track.

Next build the Disaster deck and place 3 random disasters on the disaster track. The players then draw a random character to play with and all of the tokens are placed in their piles.

In order for you to win you must foil all 3 schemes on the Hood track. If the Hood reaches a scheme before it’s foiled, he gets to enact it and steal all of the Tracy’s technology and you lose! If any of the disasters reach the end of the disaster track before you can avert that disaster then the disaster occurs and you lose! If the Disaster deck runs out before you win, you lose!

Thunderbirds review
The hood is about to trigger an Event and has almost reached his Scheme.

That’s a lot of lose conditions, but a lot of co-operative games tend to work in this manner. The lower difficulty levels do a good job of teaching you the game with a slow learning curve and don’t overwhelm you unless you are doing really badly. Increase the difficulty and the pressure can ramp up much faster, as the schemes can take longer to be resolved.

During your turn you can perform 3 actions. There are a choice of 4 normal actions and each character will have 1 unique action, which is usually conditional e.g. Lady Penelope can collect intelligence from her network if she is in Europe.

  • Move – Move the vehicle that you are in up to its movement distance.
  • Rescue – You can attempt to avert a disaster in your current location.

To perform a rescue you will need to roll a specific number on 2 dice. The number 6 on the dice are replaced with a Hood symbol. For every Hood symbol that you roll he gets to move on his track! The difficulties of the disasters vary from 7 to 11, but the Tracy’s are specialists. Depending on the environment, they each get bonuses to their rolls. Having the right Pod vehicles or family members in other supporting locations will give you further bonuses. If you plan correctly you really swing the odds of success into your favour. Successfully averting disasters will reward you with Bonus Tokens.

  • Plan – You get to draw a F.A.B card but the Hood gets a free move on his track.
  • Scan – If you are in orbit in the space station, Thunderbird 5, then you can perform a scan on a disaster. If there’s a free space on the disaster track directly behind the disaster then you get to move it 1 space backwards.
Thunderbirds review
I like the images drawn from the series but that alligator…

You can perform actions more than once, and obviously you may not be able to perform all 5 of your actions every turn. In addition to the actions you can also perform multiple ‘free actions’.

  • Transfer characters – If you’re in a space with multiple characters and vehicles you can move them around. To swop vehicles, or put them into your vehicle so you can move them with you.
  • Foil Scheme – Every scheme has requirements that need to be fulfilled in order to foil them. If everything is in the right place then you can foil the current scheme and then reveal the next one.
  • Load and unload Thunderbird2 – Thunderbird 2 is a transport vehicle, it can hold Thunderbird 4, FAB 1 or up to 2 Pod vehicles. So it is a great tool to move things around the board.
  • Use bonus tokens – These do various things like allowing you to draw F.A.B cards, take extra actions or develop new Pod vehicles. Some of them are meant to be used during rescues, to add to your die rolls and allow re-rolls. You don’t want to spend all of them. The Hood will trigger events that will require you to use the tokens to rectify them; additionally you will need quite a few of them to foil the Hood’s evil schemes!

At the end of your turn you will draw a card from the disaster deck. If it is a new disaster then the current ones all move one space to the right and the new one is added on the left. Otherwise the card will give the Hood a free move on his track but the disasters stay put, a bit of a double edged sword.

The game continues until either you win or you lose. It’s as simple as that.

Thunderbirds review
Only Thunderbird 3 can go the space and back.

Conclusion

I was initially excited for this game because of the theme. I remember that I used to love Thunderbirds as a kid so I was nostalgic to see it again. Despite how much I enjoyed playing Pandemic I was not really that excited about the game itself. Now I’m glad that I’ve played it.

It’s hugely accessible as is the theme and it’s not complicated, so the whole family can play. The randomness of the disasters means that you may need to scramble to resolve them. It starts off slow and then can get very engaging. You will find yourself leaving the ship that you get special actions with so that you can travel faster or to locations that it cannot access.

Thunderbirds does feel a bit easier than most co-op games. It lacks that feeling of urgency or impending doom that they usually have. This makes it a good introductory game for people new to board games.

It does have the usual problem of alpha gaming, but that’s normal in these types of games and it comes down to the group that you play with to make it work.

The single player version of the game can also be a nice challenge if you sometimes find yourself without a gaming group.

Can I play this at a braai?

I’d recommend it.  You don’t really miss much if you’re away for a few minutes and can assess the board at a glance.The braai master can be John in Thunderbird 5, providing recon and tactical support 😉

Thanks to Boardgames.co.za for the review copy of Thunderbirds.

Thunderbirds review
Thunderbird 2 is a transporter, the model actually opens up to carry it’s cargo.
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