Mar 6, 2018

[Games] Thunderbirds Review

I can't quite pinpoint how I originally got into the Thunderbirds as a franchise. The show came out before I was even born and yet local re-runs through syndication eventually helped me find this brilliant little show. And the more recent reboot of the series has certainly helped bring the franchise back into awareness for a new generation.

The Thunderbirds is a clever board game based on this franchise and one that was released to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original show as well. There's a lot about the game that is actually quite familiar but the way things come together helps increase the nostalgia feels of the game and how it does feel in tune with the original series.

I oddly love this game but it's hard to find people to play it who appreciate the franchise as much as I do. But beyond the Thunderbirds trappings that give the game its distinct feel, it's still pretty solid.

Thunderbirds is a co-operative board game that was released in 2015 in time for the 50th anniversary of the original show. The game was designed by Matt Leacock, who also created the Pandemic games, along with other cooperative games and supports 1-4 players.

In the game, players play the various members of the Tracy Family who run the organization International Rescue. To fulfill their mission of helping people in dangerous situations around the world with the help of advanced vehicles. Players will have access to all of the vehicles of the team even if the corresponding pilots are not in play as there's a lot of juggling around that will inevitably go on.

Every turn a new Disaster card will be added to the threats facing International Rescue. These cards are ultimately resolved by a dice roll, but the presence of members of the team or their vehicles may add modifiers to the roll, increasing the chances of success. Resolving a Disaster rewards the player with special tokens that provide additional bonus, but these same tokens are needed to thwart the bigger schemes of the Hood. The main goal is to stop his schemes, but can this be managed with the Disasters building up?

What I Liked: The flavor of the game is amazing and it totally feels like the show. Thus you get a game mechanic that reinforces why one or another Tracy sibling was not in his vehicle at the time of an adventure if only to get the modifiers to boost the Rescue roll. And with adventures all over the world and even up in space, good management of player figures and vehicles is pretty essential to winning the game.

The vehicles may seem simple but they're a great touch to really selling the game. Needing to physically manipulat both vehicles and silly little player pegs (which remind me of the Game of Life for obvious reasons) makes for a lot of quirky fun as you race against the clock to stop the Hood. So even if you don't know the characters all that well, it can make for crazy fun.

What Could Have Been Different: Having things boil down to a die roll felt like a somewhat unexpected direction for the game given it was created by Matt Leacock as all of his other games have been highly strategic games where every moves matters. I get the vibe he wanted to achieve here and it does add a nice degree of uncertainty to things but it just feels a little weird.

At times this can feel a little like a weird reskin of Pandemic in the way way that Forbidden Desert uses a more or less similar system and that  can be good or bad for you, depending on how you feel about these games. Take it as you will but everyone has to work together and not get too attached to your vehicles. At the same time the Hood remains an independent figure without the special expansion dedicated to our villain.

TL;DR: Thunderbirds is a very fun game, especially for fans of the show, and I think it does the franchise justice using an already familiar game mechanic. The changes are sufficient to make it feel different but I'm sure some people will feel like their running around the world too much trying to do very little. But the game still deserves a good 4 surprise twists due to the Hood out of a possible 5.


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