Thunderbirds: First Impressions

Hey everybody!
Time for another game day blog, and today it’s time for a first impressions of a game I picked up a few weeks ago. 5-4-3-2-1 – Thunderbirds are go!

Thunderbirds board game

It’s the new co-operative game from Matt Leacock, funded via kickstarter earlier this year. I actually had no idea this game was happening, but walked into my local store last month and it was there for sale. The manager’s enthusiasm for the game was infectious, and within a day or two I’d bought it. However, I wasn’t really in any rush to play it until this weekend, despite the numerous jokes from him about buying games but not even taking the cellophane off. At any rate, I’ve had a proper chance to try this game now, so thought I’d come along with some first impressions for you all! This is part of something I’d like to do with this blog, anyway, in providing more structure to the game day blogs I keep churning out: during the month, I’d like to get at least one first impressions (though I guess that depends on whether I’ve tried any new games that month) and at least one really in-depth review, with the other blogs falling somewhere in between. Well, we’ll see how that goes.

Anyway!

So Thunderbirds, for those of you who don’t know, is a British TV series from the 1960s, using marionettes to tell espionage-style rescue stories set in the 2060s. I remember the show from the repeats during the early 1990s, where my dad’s enthusiasm for the show prompted little 8-year-old me to take an interest. Ah, the memories!

Thunderbirds board game

The game takes this idea of rescue missions as its basis, and features a Pandemic-style game-play as you have to both stop the evil machinations of the Hood while also performing rescue missions across the globe. Other mechanics from Leacock’s previous games, notably Forbidden Island, also make an appearance.

Thunderbirds board game

Players take the role of one of the five Tracy brothers, or Lady Penelope, and move around the board in the Thunderbird machines performing said rescues and foiling the Hood’s schemes. On your turn, you have four actions, and can also perform however many “operations” that you like. So you can move, rescue, take special actions, draw cards, and so on, but to facilitate certain actions, you have these operations, such as moving between vehicles on the same space, or defeating the sinister schemes. If you defeat all three Schemes before the Hood figure gets to the end of his track, then you win! If you fail to do this, or if you allow too many disasters to break out, then you lose.

Something that, I have to admit, I found a little difficult at first was the fact that anyone can pilot any of the Thunderbird machines. I know it happened in the show, of course, but it still felt kinda wrong to have Virgil in Thunderbird 3 and John in Thunderbird 4, but it was something that I soon got over. I was also surprised at the level of planning needed to get this game moving. In order to perform rescues and avert the disasters, you need to be in a specific location and roll higher than the disaster’s number on two six-sided dice.

Thunderbirds board game

It’s theoretically possible for any player to avert any disaster, as 9 seems to be the highest number to beat, while rolls of 10 are possible. In the above example, John is piloting Thunderbird 1 in Asia, so he can use the +2 bonus listed on the card to lower the difficulty. Of course, if we’d been playing more efficiently, we’d have used Scott in Thunderbird 1 as well, as he has a +2 bonus to any air mission, as well as getting at least one of the pod vehicles on the scene. However, with a roll of 8, John alone was enough to avert this one!

Thunderbirds board game

When you avert the disaster, you gain the bonuses shown on the lower-left corner of the card. These bonus tokens have a variety of uses, from allowing you to draw FAB cards (which provide useful, one-time bonuses and other events) to giving you extra actions or allowing you to construct pod vehicles to help in future disasters. They’re also required to stop the Hood’s schemes.

Thunderbirds board game

The Hood track features a mixture of events and schemes, and when the Hood figure reaches a set point along the track, either the event will trigger – usually crippling player actions until something is done, such as discarding a bonus token – or the scheme will be completed. The Hood moves along the track whenever a player uses an action to draw a FAB card, or if the Hood is rolled on the dice. As it happened, in my first game the Hood barely moved at all, as John’s ability while in Thunderbird 5 prevents the latter from happening, and you can draw FAB cards through spending bonus tokens without any drawback.

The schemes are numbered 1-4, and get progressively worse as you move through – from having to spend tokens in one place, to having to do two separate actions at progressively wider locations. It’s a great scaling mechanism, anyway!

Thunderbirds board game

The game is a lot of fun, and requires a great deal of strategic thinking in terms of where you’re moving to all the time. A lot of the appeal of this game will come from the theme, so if you remember enjoying the TV series during any of its runs, you’ll likely get a lot more out of this than someone who is playing it as a rescue-style board game as-is. For me, it brought back a lot of memories (“Rick – ping! – O’Shea!”), and I had a real blast moving around the board trying to avert all these disasters. I also really like co-op games, so it has that going for it as well. If you liked Pandemic, or Forbidden Island, then you’ll probably like this one as well. Definitely worth picking up!

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