Review: Thunderbirds

Released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the TV show, Thunderbirds is a cooperative game from Pandemic designer Matt Leacock. You will take control of one of the Tracy brothers and Lady Penelope (no Brains until an expansion, unfortunately) and pilot the Thunderbirds and FAB1 in order to solve disasters and stop the Hood from taking over the world.

However, while stopping the Hood is the main objective, there are lots of other disasters to solve along the way. You start the game with three objectives and draw a new one at the end of every turn, with all current disasters moving along the track – if one reaches slot 8, it’s game over and the Hood is free to do his bidding without interference from the Thunderbirds. So, naturally, a lot of the game revolves around sorting these out.

To solve a disaster, you have to go to its location on the map and roll the dice. Get the number required and you clear it. The difficult part comes in how they require high numbers, and some require more than the maximum of 10 you can roll on the dice (the 6 is replaced by a Hood symbol, which speeds up your defeat). Luckily, there are a number of things that increase your roll. The most important of which is the locations of specific characters and vehicles. For example, the card “Target: Tiger One” gets +2 if Alan is in the North Pacific and a further +3 if FAB 1 is in Asia, fulfilling these will make it much easier to roll the required 9. The character you control will also add a bonus for a specific type of mission. As the aforementioned Target: Tiger One” is an Air mission, so if Scott is making the roll, he’ll gain an additional +2 to his roll.

This makes movement the main point of the game. On your turn, you can only control your character, however you can change your vehicle, and can take others with you (as long as there’s space for them on the ship). Thunderbird 2 can also carry Thunderbird, FAB 1 or two support vehicles. You’ll spend a lot of time planning what goes where and, unfortunately, like a lot of co-op games, this can lead to what is known as “alpha player syndrome” where one person tells everyone else what to do. It’s only a problem for certain groups, and planning ahead with other people is a lot of fun. So much fun that you can get caught up in solving the disasters and forgetting about The Hood’s schemes.

The schemes are shown in the cards above the board, these revolve around bonus tokens, which are rewards for solving disasters. Some characters can also draw them under the right circumstances, such as Gordan using an action to draw a Determination token if he is in Thunderbird 4. These bonus tokens all have useful abilities, such as letting you build support vehicles from Brains’ Notebook (which are used for both disasters and schemes), giving you an extra action, and rerolling a die. Another lets you draw a FAB card, which grants you a one-use power – you can also draw one of these as an action, but it will advance the Hood along the Hood track. These can be incredibly useful, so it can be a difficult choice, like using the token that adds +2 to your roll when you need it for the next scheme.

As the Hood progresses along his track, he will trigger events which make bad things happen, such as limiting the speed of Thunderbird 1 or advancing two cards along the disaster track. Bonus tokens can be used to fix permanent effects if they prove to be too much of a hindrance for you. If the Hood reaches a scheme before you solve it, he wins and it’s game over. To solve a scheme, you have to maneuver characters who have the correct bonus tokens to the correct locations and all discard the necessary tokens at the same time. This doesn’t feel quite as satisfying as solving a disaster, which can lead to a bit of an underwhelming end to the game – the journey is still highly enjoyable, though.

There are three schemes to solve in each game, which are randomly drawn from stacks of varying difficulty, this lets you adjust the difficulty of the game when you start, which adds a lot of replayability to the game, and is great for playing with different kinds of gamers: you can make if difficult when playing with your gaming group, or make it a bit easier when playing with family. Due to the nature of the movement, Thunderbirds can be pretty difficult with 2 players, as you have to be really careful about dropping non-player-characters in areas which are out of the way, as well as having fewer characters with bonuses for specific types of disasters. The game is a joy to play with three or four players. There are also solo rules, but it just has you controlling three characters – it does have a chit so you can keep track of which character you’re currently controlling, though.

As you can tell from the photos, the quality of the components are extremely nice. The vehicles are extremely nicely made, with a cover for Thunderbird 2 which will spend most of its time off (as it will be transporting other vehicles for the whole game). The faces for the pegs of each character are also incredibly detailed, especially with their small size. The box also contains a tiny sticker sheet with logos for people who want to paint their models. Even so, the single-colour models look fantastic.

You get 5 characters with the game. Scott, Virgil, Alan and Gordon are all similar: they give a bonus to a Disaster of a certain type and can draw a certain bonus token while in their vehicle. John and Penelope have fairly unique abilities. John can’t draw bonus tokens, but if he’s in Thunderbird 5 (the space station, which can’t move) he can negate a Hood die result per disaster roll, which is a very useful ability, but does mean you can’t move him much if you want to utilise it. Lady Penelope doesn’t have any bonuses to disasters, but she can exchange a bonus token for another each turn, which can be very handy for schemes – she may seem underpowered at first (especially as she stars in a slow vehicle away from everyone else), but you just need to know how to use her well.

Thunderbirds is a very fun co-op game. While it has clear similarities to Pandemic, it is definitely different enough to be its own thing. It’s visually pleasing and the dice rolls can either ruin well-thought out plans while also allowing you to take risks, which is pleasing if it pays off. Every decision you make is important to achieving the goal of defeating the Hood.

5/5

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