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Game Preview: Thunderbirds, or It's Another Matt Leacock Cooperative Game Go!

W. Eric Martin
United States
Apex
North Carolina
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It's hard to think about co-operative games without designer Matt Leacock coming to mind. His game Pandemic ran through multiple print runs in 2007 as quickly as Z-Man Games could get copies from the manufacturer. Later he released the simplified (but far from easy) Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert with Gamewright. Now 2015 will see the release of his co-op games Pandemic Legacy, co-designed with Rob Daviau and previewed on BGG News, and Thunderbirds, the first board game from UK publisher Modiphius Entertainment.

I'll confess to never having watched Thunderbirds, so I have no nostalgic connection to the show and can consider this design only from the gameplay elements. I did get a preview of the Thunderbirds prototype at Spiel 2014, though, and the UK gamers who played then were practically giddy as each newly revealed disaster card allowed them to relive yet another episode.

Gameplay in Thunderbirds recalls that of Pandemic and the Forbidden games in that one of the players takes a number of actions associated with their character, then bad stuff happens. Where the game differs from those designs is in two ways: First, as with Leacock's Pandemic: The Cure, Thunderbirds forces players to roll dice to see whether they resolve a situation during the game, and as in Pandemic: The Cure, the dice rolls in Thunderbirds can allow the game — that is, the players' AI opponent — to take a step closer to victory, which means that the more players roll, the more likely they are to take themselves down the path to loserville. Sure, in Thunderbirds you can use bonus tokens to mitigate bad rolls, adding two to the sum you rolled or rerolling one die to try to keep the enemy from advancing, but you often need those tokens to actually win the game, so you don't want to throw them away foolishly.

The other main difference in Thunderbirds compared to other Leacock designs is the amount of fiddly detail hidden in the larger parts, all in the service of thematic fidelity. Each character has a special power or two unique to themselves, which is in line with Pandemic and the Forbidden series, but in addition to that the bonus tokens that you collect to take out the enemy's schemes can also be spent for small special actions. On top of that, each disaster card has one or more modifiers on it, with those modifiers (1) aiding your chance of avoiding the disaster and (2) recalling details of a particular Thunderbirds episode. As you see more and more disasters laid out on the board, your head starts spinning with the possibilities on everyone's turn. How can you best move each character, each vehicle, and each pod? What percentage for success do you want to give yourself on each die roll? Do you really need to move FAB 1 again?!

As with almost any other game, the more you play, the better you'll do as you learn how to string together moves and plan ahead. (I've heard near mythical tales of Pandemic players who can string together multiple turns and plan ahead for nearly any turn of the cards.) In my two games of Thunderbirds, though, I found myself behind the curve again and again, trying to play catch up and only finding more disasters crashing on top of us. You hate to let the world burn, but sometimes things just get out of hand...

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