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!

Journey: Wrath of Demons

Hey everybody!
Time for another game day here at spalanz.com! I’ve been wondering if I should try to have some kind of structure to these things, so that each month sees at least one first look, one in-depth look, or whatever, but that might be too complicated for my easily-distracted mind to cope with, I’ll be honest. However, today we are indeed seeing a first look, as I delve under the lid of the newly-arrived kickstarter game, Journey: Wrath of Demons!

This was originally a kickstarter game from late 2013, which my friend Tony put me onto (as is normal for kickstarter games, if I’m honest!) but, as I was already heavily-invested in Shadows of Brimstone at the time, I was a little sceptical. I actually went in when an early bird pledge came available – still $170, but it was the sort of all-in deal that I usually go for with these types of games. As the campaign drew to a close, I was somewhat more invested with SoB, but still decided to go for a few of the add-ons, including scenery bits and some expansion stuff.

The campaign was actually pretty exciting, with a lot of additional stuff that really fired my imagination. Tony is really big into Oriental myth and legend, and while I have more than just a passing interest also, I wouldn’t say I know a lot of what I could expect in this game.

Journey Wrath of Demons

My goodness, there is a lot of amazing stuff in this game, though! It’s a co-operative adventure for 1-4 players, which is perhaps the principal reason I was attracted to it. A quest-based game is always to be enjoyed of course, and with all these minis, well it was kind of a no-brainer!

The campaign ended in November 2013, and it seemed to just languish in the ether until it finally started shipping a month or so ago. To some extent, I’d actually forgotten about it – definitely, my enthusiasm for the game had cooled. Of course, I had Shadows of Brimstone last Christmas, and while that was something of a let-down in quality, it still overtook pretty much anything else!

Until last Wednesday…

Journey Wrath of Demons

I took delivery of the game and, if I’m honest, right from opening the box I was really impressed with the production value. This is a miniatures-heavy game – in physical terms as well as game mechanics! – and the storage solution is perhaps the most elegant I’ve yet seen for a game. Three boxes, in which the miniatures are stored in plastic trays. It sounds so damn straightforward, but it just looks great in the box. There are cards and tokens, but the miniatures are really where the game shines, and are what add so much to the game.

So how does the game play?

Journey Wrath of Demons

As I said earlier, this is a quest-based game, with each quest having a different set-up. There are four pilgrims, characters controlled by the players, who are used in every game – if there are less than four players, someone is controlling more than one. I don’t really know enough about Chinese legend to comment on these, but the “main” pilgrim is a chap called Tripitaka, and if he dies the game ends. The pilgrims are doing something – in the above photo, I’m playing the introductory quest where the goal is to save the villagers being terrorized by the bull demons – and are opposed by the monsters, predominantly bulls of some sort in the base game, though expansions for undead and for spiders were part of the campaign, along with other random bits and pieces. Anyway!

Each pilgrim has skill cards and a weapon which upgrades as you gain experience throughout your games. On your turn, you can do the usual sorts of things like move and attack, rest to recover health, and “meditate” which causes you to spin the Fortune dial and potentially gain some useful Fortune cards – the dial is a ying-yang design, and should you flick to black, you must draw a Misfortune card, which can be damaging to you.

Journey Wrath of Demons

When attacking, you roll the custom dice – red dice are attack, and blue are defense. Each pilgrim rolls the same dice, but the skill cards give each something of a unique feel. In addition, you roll one, white pilgrim die, which determines how effective your weapon is. (There’s also a black die that some of the greater demons use). As you may know, I love custom dice, but these in particular feel really great. Combat is fairly exciting as you only have one chance to defeat each demon – if you don’t defeat it in one roll, then it’s staying around for later.

Something that’s really interesting about this game is how the combat works. If you roll enough attack power to defeat the monster, you now have an interesting decision to make – do you merely kill the demon, or attempt to cleanse its soul? Merely killing it will give you bad kharma points, while cleansing the soul will reward you with good kharma, but it isn’t a foregone conclusion it will work. You roll the white die in an attempt to equal or exceed the demon’s soul value – if you succeed, then all is well and the demon is removed from the board; if you fail, the demon is fully healed and you’ll have to go up against him once again.

I feel I need to mention the production quality of the game. The miniatures are superb, and the map tiles are really good, thick cardboard that feel really sturdy. The custom dice are also excellent. The cards, however, are much thinner than, say, CCG-style cards. The most worrying thing, to me, is the quality of the hero character sheets. They have three wheels – much like a FFG game – but the card for the sheet itself feels too thin to support them. Furthermore, there’s a movable plastic thing that tracks your health, but it isn’t really all that secure, and overall, the hero sheet is a real disappointment. Hm.

I only played the intro game last week, and it’s actually a whole lot of fun. I mean, it’s really easy, once you get the rules down, so I’m definitely looking forward to playing this a lot more and seeing more of the nuances of the game. I’ll hopefully get round to another blog, once I’ve managed to really get my teeth into this bad boy!

Journey Wrath of Demons