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Subject: Gamer's Dozen: Thunderbirds rss

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Robert Bracey
United Kingdom
London
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So I have now played about 12 games of Thunderbirds, from solo to five players, mostly at the introductory level and solo up to Legendary. So now I feel able to review it:

Introduction
Thunderbirds is a pure co-op, all of the players work together with to achieve a victory condition set by the game. It is by the designer, Matt Leacock, who made that genre popular with his now classic Pandemic. And the theme is based on the Thunderbirds television series, a now 50 year old children's show featuring puppets and models about a disaster rescue organisations, widely considered to be pinnacle of the career of Gerry Anderson.

Basic Gameplay
Each player takes on one of six roles (each has special abilities). They must defeat three schemes in order, each of which requires them to deliver particular tokens to particular parts of the map. However, in addition to the schemes there is a deck of disaster cards. A new disaster card is drawn every turn, and if a disaster remains unresolved long enough (about nine to ten turns) the players lose.
To resolve a disaster a player must move to the location it is in and roll two dice equal or higher than its difficulty. They can get bonuses to the dice roll by arranging the right combinations of characters, equipment, and tokens. When a player succeeds in resolving a disaster they get bonus token - which are what you need to solve the schemes.
On a player's turn they get three actions. These mostly consist of moving a vehicle around or attempting rescues, which sounds simply but most of the game is logistical, about ensuring the right things end up in the right places.

Components
The components are awesome! Some of this will be lost on you if you are not a fan of the show but the whole game does an amazing job of capturing its theme. Miniatures ships are provided for the Thunderbirds vehicles and small peg characters to go in them. Cards have stills from the show and the color pallete is brilliantly chosen to reflect the annuals and promotional material. Everything is well made, you get about a hundred cards, six plastic models + characters, a board, and various tokens, as well as two bespoke six-sided dice.

Theme
As suggested the game really scores in the theme. Given that the show went off air decades before Reiner Knizia invented this genre there is a remarkable fit between the co-operative style and the games theme of disaster rescue. Yes, there are short-cuts, such as a minor recurring villain being promoted from petty thief to world conquering mastermind but they are understandable in the context of making a game.

Complexity
The game is fairly straight-forward, but I would say more complex than Leacocks other games with some subtle rule interactions, for example the distinction between an action of which you can only do three and an operation of which you can do any number, that can be tricky to learn. Its 10+ age seems right but I would not recommend it as a gateway game for people unfamiliar with boardgames.

Difficulty and Depth
One of the questions that needs to be addressed in co-operative is the quesion of difficulty. Is the game challenging while still playable. I am not a fan of dice in co-operative games, though here they are well used. The random element can be mitigated by good play while still allowing the drama and tension of a hail Mary throw.
Though it is a well-balanced and challenging there is a minor issue. Unlike his other games the main timer (the Hood and his schemes) are essentially independent of the problem you are dealing with (the disasters). So the disasters do not get any easier or more difficult as the difficulty level changes. So you are always managing a problem of about the same difficulty. I know this has led to more casual players finding even the introductory level very difficulty, while more serious players will find even the higher levels do not add significantly to the challenge.
The biggest concern is depth. You can either see something or not. In Pandemic there is a really interesting mechanic that means you know (if you have tracked the cards) what is coming but not in what order, up to a certain point in the future. That keeps the challenge really fresh. Here you just have to deal with what you see and that is it, and as that is more calculable and less judgement call as you master the tactical skills the game will become a lot less challenging.

Strategy and Tactics
The basic strategy is fairly straightforward. You learn to manage the disasters and you focus on those throughout only solving schemes when you are passing through or they become an imminent issue. Tactically you focus on certain bonus tokens (noteably the +2 teamwork counters) and always plan both your move and the next players to ensure you can both use all of your actions. The easiest way to do this is for players to travel on the same vehicle simply taking the controls on their turn.

The best
I have already mentioned the components and the theme. Those are undoubtedly the biggest draws, and if you are a fan you will love this game. The central mechanic around the disaster track is also quite fresh and interesting, and the logistical problem that goes with it is fun (if you enjoy logistical problems).

The worst
There are no really bad elements, this is a pretty good game. Its most serious issue is a problem for most pure co-ops, the alpha player. Unless you play on a high level with players of similar ability someone at the table is going to be better at the game than the other players. It is usually hard for that person to resist taking other people's turns for them.

The niggles
I have a few 'ooh I wish they hadn't done that' moments. The game is very similar to Leacock's three previous co-operative games, though there is more new here, and it has some of the same issues. Amongst the six characters Alan is by far the strongest - the 'medic' problem, and John the weakest. If you end up with John and Gordon that pushes the difficulty up far more than actually changing the difficulty level.
A lot of the problems seem to have the same root cause. Now I do not know anything about what happened in the design process but it feels like this happened. It feels like Leacock wanted to randomly assign a Thunderbird and character to each player and then you only played with those (this is how it works in all his other games). Then ITV (who own the rights) said 'absolutely no way, all the characters and vehicles have to be in the same game'. And to make a really good game one of those two positions had to win out. And neither of them did. So you have a slightly weird hybrid in which each player controls one of the six characters but all of the six are sort-of in the game. And a lot of minor niggles - dragging the NPCs around, the wrong person flying a vehicle, weaker and stronger characters, John being boring to play, some slightly weird (thematically) mission bonuses, and so on - all of those feel like they come from that problem.
And because its really a core thing you cannot house-rule it back out. The results are all niggles and do not make it a bad game, but cumulatively they stop it from being a great game.

Conclusion
How does this game compare with Matt Leacock's other pure co-ops? Well, it is the most original since Pandemic. It blows the weakest, Forbidden Island, out of the water and I think is probably stronger over-all than Forbidden Desert, but it is not as elegant or challenging as Pandemic.

How does it compare with co-ops? Of those games that use dice this is the best one I have played (definitely stronger than Ghost Stories or Arkham which are both quite clumsy in their use of randomness). It is more accessible than the deck-building types (like Sentinels) but it doesn't even attempt to solve the alpha-player problem (unlike Death Angel, Hannabi, and Space Alert). Its main problem is basically that it is not quite as elegant as the really good examples of pure co-ops like Hannabi and Pandemic.

So how does it fare overall. Its pretty good, but not an all time classic. Your mileage is going to depend a lot in how invested you are in the theme. I love Thunderbirds and so I will be very happy with this on my shelf. If you have no interested in Thunderbirds and are not a big co-operative player this is definitely a game you can skip. On the other hand if you find Pandemic and Hannabi dry but really want to like a co-op this might be your cup of tea. And if you like co-ops and Thunderbirds you need this in the collection - though if you like those two things I pesume you backed the kick-starter and it is in your collection.
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Pete Belli
United States
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Excellent review.
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Roger's Reviews: check out my reviews page, right here on BGG!
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I backed it with the extras and opted for the combined shipment so it'll be a while before I get it to the table. Thanks for the preview review!
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Clive Jones

Cambridgeshire, UK
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A good, solid review - thanks.

One minor thing I'd mention: I feel it has significant potential as a gateway game for people unfamiliar with Eurogames and co-ops. I've seen people drawn in by nostalgia for the theme, ending up playing and enjoying a "heavier" game than they were expecting.
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Robert Bracey
United Kingdom
London
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clivej wrote:
One minor thing I'd mention: I feel it has significant potential as a gateway game for people unfamiliar with Eurogames and co-ops. I've seen people drawn in by nostalgia for the theme, ending up playing and enjoying a "heavier" game than they were expecting.


Perhaps we mean something slightly different. By gateway I mean a game which introduces an adult to boardgaming who does not play boardgames, and who if they ever have played only very occasional Monopoly, Game of Life, Draughts, etc. I would strongly discourage it in that context.
However, if you mean people who do play boardgames but whose previous experience is abstracts (Chess, Go, etc), card games (Gin, Bridge), or wargames, then sure the complexity is not a hurdle and the theme might well engage them in a way that something like Pandemic might not.
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Gregory Jennings
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Superb review and sums up the good stuff as well as some of the down very accurately.
 
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Peter Olson
United States
Edina
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Great review. I like it when there are balanced pros and cons in the same review.

And I think you're right that the level of enjoyment of this game may be based on how much you like the theme.

I've played Pandemic and I thought it was just okay. But I'm not so much into eradicating diseases.

But I really like this game because I loved watching the Thunderbirds as a kid. The vehicles were the coolest thing ever! And I really like having the Thunderbirds vehicles as miniatures. There aren't that many games out there where I actually perform the sound affects. And I've been known to yell out "Thunderbirds are go" and F - A - B!

Had it not been for that, I'm not sure I would've liked this any better than Pandemic. Amongst other things, with the addition of die rolling it's much more luck based.

By the way, I bought and watched the Thunderbirds DVD set. As an old jaded adult, it all seems a bit silly now. But watching the shows and playing the game is still a fun nostalgic trip down memory lane.
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Clive Jones

Cambridgeshire, UK
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RobertBr wrote:
By gateway I mean a game which introduces an adult to boardgaming who does not play boardgames, and who if they ever have played only very occasional Monopoly, Game of Life, Draughts, etc. I would strongly discourage it in that context.

Ah. I did mean that, and do think Thunderbirds could be a good gateway game.

Partly, it's not that complicated, rules-wise. Partly, it's highly thematic, so a lot of what goes on would make intuitive sense to a non-gamer Thunderbirds fan.

Also, co-ops can make very good gateway games, because you're on the same side as the more experienced players and needn't feel inhibited from discussing strategy, tactics or rules with them. Provided the more experienced players are encouraging without being alpha-ish, that can work very well.

Indeed, since making that comment a friend whose comfort zone is things at the Munchkin/Exploding Kittens depth joined us for a game and absolutely loved it. (-8
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Steve Baker
United States
Ohio
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Thank you for this review. I was very much undecided on whether or not I should purchase the game, but after reading this I took the plunge. I am sure glad that I did; my wife and I are enjoying it a lot.
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Jerome Chan
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I'd add a difficulty modifier based on how far along the track the hood is.
 
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