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!

Indiana Jones!

You love it!

Indiana Jones, for me, is one of the all-time awesome movie series. The adventure! Just awesome. I’m not about to launch into some hefty critique of these films, as there are plenty of such things knocking about online. Instead, I’m just going to put some random thoughts together for your general amusement on why I love these films – it’s my blog’s birthday, dammit!

I can’t remember how old I was when I first saw these films, though I do recall a dark period of only having Last Crusade on vhs (for you young kids, that’s physical tape in a plastic cassette, none of this dvd shiny!). Raiders of the Lost Ark was always the more serious film, I seem to remember – you couldn’t just watch it, it seemed to demand your attention, though obviously rewarded you for doing so. As a child, I didn’t really care all that much for Raiders. There was too much going on, plot-wise, and while I did enjoy the truck chase sequence, it didn’t really do it for me. I was also heavily interested in Mesoamerican/Pre-Columbian history, and felt cheated by the film’s opening not delivering on a jungle adventure, but that’s beside the point.

Harrison Ford Raiders of the Lost Ark

As an adult, I can now appreciate Raiders for the masterwork it is. It’s not just a great film, it’s a great experience. There’s a deep sense of history for these characters, and whenever I watch it, I find myself wanting to know more about them – let’s see how Indy and Sallah met! Let’s see more of Marcus!

The character of Marcus Brody is something of a disappointment for me, incidentally. Don’t get me wrong, I think Denholm Elliot is superb. It’s the character that disappoints me. In Raiders, he’s something of a father-figure for Indy, there at the beginning and the end of the adventure. He comes across as a really important figure in Indy’s life. Then in Last Crusade, when we get Indy’s actual father, he’s kinda sidelined into a buffoon. But there has to be more to him than this! What is he good at? We never see him shine the way we do the other characters, except those all-too-brief glimmers here and there in Raiders. I feel Marcus is a lot more than we see in these films, and could be a real force to be reckoned with when you’re on his turf.

René Belloq is another of these characters that I’d love to get to know more about. The darker side of Indy, I’d like to see him on his own escapades, rather than just stealing stuff from Indy, or acting just as a Nazi toady. Let’s see why he thinks he’s as good as Indy.

I’m one of these people who is secretly fascinated by Nazi occultism, and I’m a big fan of alternative histories such as that of Tannhauser or Hellboy (no doubt, future blogs will explore these!). As such, I really enjoyed the business of the Nazis searching for the Ark, and the historian in me has never seen anything wrong with Nazis in film. This period of history happened, after all, so I don’t see why we should shy away from it. But anyway!

Temple of Doom is my all-time favourite Indiana Jones movie, though it has taken this spot only very recently. I’m not sure how I can really get my thoughts across without sitting you down in front of the movie and pointing out everything that is just awesome about it, but let’s try.

The scope of this movie is truly epic. The Temple set is just frighteningly awesome in the very truest sense of the word – it inspires awe. The story has a genuine arc for the character of Indy, going from an almost-mercenary, contract treasure-hunter to someone who can see what happens when relics are blithely taken away from people. Willie Scott may be an annoying character, but she too deepens as the story moves along.

The story is also really quite dark for its genre, which helps to make it much more grown-up than the others. It’s still a great adventure film, but there is a very clear message coming through in this one of archaeological morality, which is a debate that rages to this day.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

The cinematography of this film is absolutely incredible. Douglas Slocombe has been rightly praised for his work, but he really pulls off a tour de force with this one. The scene in the temple, where Indy is forced to drink the black blood and goes through that transformation, is quite possibly my favourite in the whole of cinema, just for the cinematography.

That sense of history from Raiders pervades this film, also. Just what adventures did Indy share with Wu Han? What happened in British Honduras? Inquiring minds need to know!

Of course, the film is not without its faults, not least of which is the blatant racist portrayal of the Indian subcontinent. The banquet scene takes the monkey-brains-metaphor to its extreme in what I assume was meant to be a joke, but instead just falls offensive. Depictions of the Thuggee, and incorrect portrayals of Kali all mount up to a fairly embarrassing film in this respect, and you can’t really brush it under the carpet in the same way you can with the Nazis.

For me, however, it doesn’t detract from what is still a fantastic film.

Last Crusade was, for many years, my favourite of the three. I can vaguely remember it being released, and it was a big deal in my childhood. Something that I particularly liked about the film was just how stylish the Nazis were in this one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expressing admiration! But there is definitely more of the 1930s chic about this film than in the others. It was also interesting, for me, to have a more European flavour to the film, and seeing more of the history that I’m familiar with.

I do enjoy the early history of Christianity, and a film about the holy grail obviously allows us to explore this more. Heading off to the Middle East was both inspired and problematic, for me though. The sense of location has always been a strong point to these films, but long periods in the desert just made it feel like Raiders all over again. Also, that is NOT the Grail Temple, because it’s the Treasury at Petra. That was a big detractor for me, and irritates me whenever I watch the film nowadays.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

It’s not all irritating, of course. Sean Connery as Indy’s father is an inspired move. Lucas famously pitched the Indy story to Spielburg as “something better than James Bond”, so having the original Bond show up is nicely poetic. Connery is also a superb actor, and the chemistry between the two is formidable. Elsa is also a fantastic femme fatale, and it’s great to see Sallah and Marcus once more, even if they are reduced somewhat to comic relief. Even though this is still undoubtedly an Indy movie, there is much more of an ensemble feel to it because of having this strong cast around the lead.

When all’s said and done, however, it just feels too much like a Raiders rehash to me, and falls flat as a result. It’s still head-and-shoulders above a lot of other action movies, but not quite to the level of the first two films.

I suppose there’s also something perhaps a bit more personal to my love for the franchise. As a child, I was always very studious and bookish, and the character of Dr Jones showed, to me, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it actively encouraged me to be more academic at least twice in my early years. Of course, I’m not a globe-trotting professor-cum-treasure-hunter, but a mild-mannered civil servant. But Indiana Jones has made history cool and exciting, regardless of whether that history was accurate, or his methods strictly correct…

This post has so far ignored the fact that there is that turkey, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, also in existence. I’m not about to launch into any kind of critique on that, as I haven’t for the previous films, but I’d just like to say that the film is perhaps the victim of its older siblings’ successes. If you were to remove any reference to the character, and have this as one of the many adventurer-type films that Indy spawned, it’s not actually all that bad. There, I said it!

The internets seem to be awash with rumours lately of a Disney reboot, and I have to say, having had a fair few weeks now to digest this possibility, I don’t actually feel all that bad about this. So long as it’s an actual reboot that brings a completely new experience. I mean, I don’t want to see Chris Pratt (or whoever ends up in the role) rehashing Raiders, because that movie has been done, is awesome, and needs little-to-no work (just an expanded Marcus part, really). It would really need to be a brand new story, though I’m sure it’ll be good to have Nazis back for the ride as well. But I’m not going to speculate this far out, as it isn’t even confirmed this is happening yet…

Let’s just stick with the fact the Indiana Jones trilogy is awesome, with the fourth having the odd moment of goodness. If imitation is the best form of flattery, this franchise is very rich indeed.

Go watch them all today!

Masters of the Universe

Oh my goodness me, Masters of the Universe, people! My second-favourite film as a child (the first was Return of the Jedi), I absolutely love this film, 28 years after its initial release… Such fond memories!

The film follows He-Man and his friends Teela and Man-at-Arms as they battle the evil Skeletor for control of Eternia, opening somewhat in media res, with the forces of evil having secured a victory and occupying Castle Grayskull. The heroes discover that Skeletor’s forces were able to sneak into the castle with the help of a cosmic key, created by the inventor Gwildor. He-Man and his friends try to liberate the Sorceress, and the castle, but are forced to flee through a portal created by Gwildor’s prototype key, and are transported to Earth. There, they lose the key and must search to recover it, while Skeletor, obsessed with control, dispatches forces after them.

On Earth, the key is found by high-school musician Kevin, who is in the process of ending a relationship with his girlfriend Julie following the deaths of her parents. These two become embroiled in Skeletor’s search for the key, and after some heated battles, Skeletor himself comes to Earth to claim his prize – the key, and He-Man himself.

Gwildor, with Kevin’s help, manages to open a portal back to Eternia to rescue He-Man, just as Skeletor begins to merge his power with that of the Sorceress to become lord of all the land. The climactic battle between the two ends with Skeletor’s defeat, and Gwildor is able to send Kevin and Julie home to Earth, shortly before Julie’s parents were killed, leading to a happy end for all.

Masters of the Universe Skeletor

The film is often maligned – unfairly, in my view – for its production problems, where budget cuts led to placing the film on Earth for significant periods and the like, and also for its poor performance from Dolph Lundgren, whose He-Man was his first leading role. Personally, I don’t have a problem with him, whether that’s from nostalgia or not, I can’t really say. A contentious point, perhaps, but the film feels more of an ensemble effort, anyway, so doesn’t need to be carried by one person. Anyway.

Something that strikes me as I watch this film as an adult is just how subtle and brilliant the performances of Frank Langella (Skeletor) and Meg Foster (Evil Lyn) come across. Skeletor is of course something of a pantomime villain, though Langella’s performance transcends that through sheer commitment to the part. Meg Foster’s Evil Lyn is, quite possibly, the greatest role in the film, however – the subtext of lovelorn acolyte to Skeletor, to ruthlessly saving her own skin, works tremendously well, and serves to add depth to the villains. Plus… those eyes!

Masters of the Universe

Of course, it’s not a perfect movie, no matter how impressive that throne room set is (the largest in Hollywood since Cleopatra, I believe). There are some very wonky bits, and some of the effects (air centurions spring to mind) don’t really hold up anymore. Not to mention, we have to wait a full hour and a half before He-Man even says the iconic line:

But sit back, let the 80s awesome take you, and enjoy the adventure! It might well be camp, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still fun!

Buy it on amazon here!

Ring Raiders!

Hey everybody!

Following my blog post for D&D week on the cartoon series, I’ve been feeling very much in a nostalgic mood – so much so, in fact, that I’ve made a new category! Just how often this will get posted in will remain to be seen, obviously, but anyway!

In the vein of early-Saturday-morning cartoons, then, I hope you all enjoy this little bit of nostalgia!

Ring Raider

Ring Raiders were a toy line from the 1980s, that were expounded upon with five cartoon episodes that never managed to make it into a full series. I had the first episode, Ring of Fire, on VHS as a child, along with some of the toys and – I seem to remember – an annual, which was released following the cartoon series in 1990.

Looking back, Ring Raiders was quite probably my first geekdom. I mean, I knew the script for that episode like the back of my hand; my six-year-old self lived and breathed this stuff!

So sit back, and enjoy some cartoons…when 1998 seemed like so far away…

The command is in your hand!