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Subject: Has something finally replaced Speed Circuit? rss

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Michael Debije
Netherlands
Eindhoven
The Netherlands
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Thunder Alley was designed by Jeff and Carla Horger and produced by GMT games in 2014. It is playable by 1-7 players in a couple hours or less.

What You Get

The GMT boxes have gotten pretty nuts: this one is heavy and tough enough to use as a step to reach that highest shelf in the game room. Seriously, you could damage someone by whacking them with the box. A very striking image of racing cars on the front and bright coloration catch the eye. Inside there are two double sided mounted boards depicting various race tracks. The boards are huge and well-illustrated. My only wish is that they had been paper, so I can store more in the box and keep the weight down. There are two quality decks of cards in full color and countersheets with informational markers and chits for all 42 possible automobiles, as well as playmats for up to seven participants to store the info chits. All-in-all, an excellent package and excellent presentation. The rules are pretty clear as well.

What You Do

Thunder Alley is a race game, depicting NASCAR style racing. Each player gets a team of cars to manage, the number of cars depending on the number of players (for example, with seven players everyone will run three cars). The cars are arranged on the track, and each player is dealt one more action card than the number of cars they run. Starting with the car in first place, each player chooses one of their cars not yet activated this turn and plays a card on that automobile. The cards give instructions as to what type of move it will perform. Some examples: a draft movement, which moves all cars in front and behind it forward a number of spaces. A solo movement moves only the activated car. Lead movement moves the activated car and all cars immediately behind it. And so on.

Many card have symbols that require the player to place a reminder marker on the particular car: some cards use up a lot of fuel, cause tire wear or worse, permanent transmission damage. Collect too many damage markers (3 or more) and your car starts to slow. Collect enough (6) and you breakdown totally and are out of the race.

After all the cars have been activated, a random event card is selected. The effects can vary a lot: a car may slam into the wall, it may start to rain, or the car with the most tire wear spins out. Some cars call out the infamous yellow flag which reforms the car pack and restarts the race. Cars may also decide to pit, to remove all temporary damage at the cost of dropping them back on the track. Finally, players can decide to discard any remaining cards and draw back to their maximum for the next round.

The race is run a predetermined number of laps, and each car is marked for when it crosses the finish line, or its final position at the end of the turn the first car completes the race. Players add up the scores for their race positions, as well as a few bonus points for accumulating ‘turn leader’ markers, and the high score wins.

What I Think

I will start by saying I really hate watching NASCAR races on television. I find motorsports to be among the most boring sporting activities to watch: around and around and around. Even all the modern graphics and interior cockpit views and tapping into crew chief conversations cannot save it. But this game is awesome.

A key feature of this game is not normally found in other racing games: keeping clusters of cars together to take communal advantage of movement cards. This is not a solo effort: you have a fleet of cars you need to run, and focusing on just the frontrunner will not win you the game. You need to work with other players to a point, and you want to force your car into situations the other players cannot help but assist you. You have to manage sometimes pretty dire hands to keep your fleet competitive and available for the final free-for-all which is the dash for the endline. But there are plenty of nasty maneuvers to wreck everyone’s plans. A well timed slipping out of line or pushing another car out of the draftline can cause howls of anguish.

There is a lot of chaos in the game which bothers some people. You really can only vaguely plan your moves, as the situation can drastically change before your next turn. Because of this, it helps to have swift thinking players: a slow player will drag the game to a crawl as they must reassess the situation each and every move, which is much less fun.

Some people hate the yellow flags, as the cars that finally have been able to break away get pulled back and the whole field is re-set. However, for what I know this mirrors actual NASCAR, and so is fully in line with the real sport.

I used to be a total fan of Speed Circuit by Avalon Hill as my go-to racing game. It still is excellent, keeping chance to a minimum and really testing the nerve of the drivers like no other. Formula De and Ralleyman could not compete. Legend: History of 1000 Miglia was close to Speed Circuit, but it ran on a time-trial type race system, so you miss the head to head fight for the inside of the next corner. Some of the drafting elements are reminiscent of Um Reifenbreite, but the game is a bit more serious, although not much so. Thunder Alley is fun, and plays very well over a wide player count: I have enjoyed two, four and seven player. My Geekbuddy insists it is also great solo, but I have yet to try it this way, but be assured I will! Naturally, I have ordered the track expansion and also await the new Formula 1 race game from the same author and GMT games. Gentlemen, start your engines!
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Roger Reisinger
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Nice review.

I bought this game about a month ago with mixed emotion. When researching reviews there was an equal amounts of people who liked/ disliked the game.

Ive played 4 games now and I love it. I think it is a great mix of strategy/ luck and suggest playing it at each of my game meetups. If I have 1 complaint it is the event cards, some are worse than others and who it affects is completely random. You can really prepare other than not using cards that give damage, but that is almost impossible to do.

Ive thought about taking the worst cards out, or not using events at all, but havent attempted it as of yet. With thst said, I still really enjoy the game RAW and I hope to have a Thunder Alley Season in the near future!
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Wendell
United States
Yellow Springs
Ohio
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mi_de wrote:


I will start by saying I really hate watching NASCAR races on television. I find motorsports to be among the most boring sporting activities to watch: around and around and around. Even all the modern graphics and interior cockpit views and tapping into crew chief conversations cannot save it. But this game is awesome.


Exactly the same for me. This was NOT on my radar. Then when it came out, I played a friend's copy. Then I walked over to the shelf (we were at our FLGS) and bought a copy right there.
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Chris Drake
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Missouri
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Lowecore wrote:
Nice review.

I bought this game about a month ago with mixed emotion. When researching reviews there was an equal amounts of people who liked/ disliked the game.

Ive played 4 games now and I love it. I think it is a great mix of strategy/ luck and suggest playing it at each of my game meetups. If I have 1 complaint it is the event cards, some are worse than others and who it affects is completely random. You can really prepare other than not using cards that give damage, but that is almost impossible to do.

Ive thought about taking the worst cards out, or not using events at all, but havent attempted it as of yet. With thst said, I still really enjoy the game RAW and I hope to have a Thunder Alley Season in the near future!
Just my 2 cents but the event cards are essential to give it a little more flavor, especially when you have a red flag restart which gives folks lagging behind a chance to get back in the race and possibly reels in any runaway leaders. I have only logged four plays but every time there has been someone hoping for a restart which tightens things up in my opinion. I think if one was going to run a season the event cards also bring out things that might actually happening in a race which would be part of the fun of managing a team instead of just a couple cars.
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David Janik-Jones
Canada
Waterloo
Ontario
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Up Front fan | In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this | Combat Commander series fan | The Raven King (game publisher) ... that's me! | Fields of Fire fan
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wifwendell wrote:
mi_de wrote:


I will start by saying I really hate watching NASCAR races on television. I find motorsports to be among the most boring sporting activities to watch: around and around and around. Even all the modern graphics and interior cockpit views and tapping into crew chief conversations cannot save it. But this game is awesome.


Exactly the same for me. This was NOT on my radar. Then when it came out, I played a friend's copy. Then I walked over to the shelf (we were at our FLGS) and bought a copy right there.
Yikes. That is high praise indeed.

And ... now bought.

And after two games ... delighted!
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