Matt Leacock's co-operation game of THUNDERBIRDS has been designed to represent the TV programme production of Gerry Anderson from 50 years ago, one of the finest of the TV puppet shows I grew up with. Forget the abysmal movie that limped onto the silver screen a few years ago or the fairly recent attempt at reviving the show using modern CGI and other techniques, the 60's THUNDERBIRDS is the real deal and now through the brilliance of Matt Leacock, his somewhat remodelling of Pandemic, and the foresight of Chris Birch and all at MODIPHIUS, we can now sit around a family table and once again shout F.A.B. THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO!
On this page we are looking at the basic game only. Later pages will detail some of the available expansions, such as Tracy Island; Above & Beyond; and the Hood .
The first thing most regular board-games players will note is the orientation of the playing board map. We are so used to seeing South and North America appear on the leftmost side of the board that it was pleasantly disarming to see that the elliptical world has been rotated a third so that Europe and Africa now occupy the left side, being coasted by the North and South Atlantic which wraps around to the far right side before eventually coming to shore on the Americas. Tracy Island is a small volcanic looking isle between South America and Australia (well actually it's closer to New Zealand but NZ isn't marked on the map) leaving a Pacific (South and North) channel straight up the board. Coloured basically in yellows and greens the board is designed to be practical and not take anything away from the beautifully sculpted plastic characters and Thunderbird machines. A dotted line leads direct from Tracy Island up to Geo-Stationary Orbit (Space) in one rocket propelled move with additional movement dots spreading left and right to Venus, Mercury and the Sun (left) and the Moon, Mars and an Asteroid Belt (right) because THUNDERBIRD adventures often take place in Outer-Space.
The playing pieces are superb reconstructions of the Thunderbirds 1, 2,3,4,5 and FAB 1 (Lady Penelope's pink Rolls Royce), each with a number of peg holes into which the character pieces, Scott (blue), Virgil (green), Alan (orange), Gordon (yellow), John (white) and Lady Penelope (pink - there's a surprise ) which are heads on sticks (actually they are heads and torsos designed as pegs; but heads on sticks sounds more in line when you consider that the original characters were heads, and bodies, on strings) can slot into. The Hood is also represented as an all-in-one base and figure piece used as a marker on the Hood's track.
The Tracys and Lady Penelope are the same colour as their preferred mode of transport, examples being Virgil who pilots Thunderbird 2 (which by the way is brilliant because it actually opens to allow pieces to be transported across the world in) and John is stuck up in the static (but slowly rotating) Space Platform known as Thunderbird 5. Thunderbird 5 looks like it also opens but it doesn't so make sure you (or younger fingers) do not break it by trying to force-pop it open. The remainder of the components are 2 special Hood and number dice, decks of colourful, wonderfully illustrated cards and numerous tokens, the best of which are the Pod Vehicles which show the blueprint for making them on one side and the actual vehicle on the other. Designer and publisher have definitely gone all out to ensure the flavour and atmosphere of THUNDERBIRDS abounds.
So let's talk cards. There are 47 Disaster cards, identifiable by their yellow backs and the word "Disaster". These are one of the ways that can lose the game for the players; actually from experience playing regularly with 3 or 4 players, this is almost always the way the players lose the game. They appear each player turn and are placed in a row under the board (adjacent to the provided spaces). These are mainly rescue missions that the Tracys have to perform whilst also attempting to stop the Hood from succeeding with his dastardly plan. The game begins with a number of Disasters already in place as well as a number of Schemes pertaining to the Hood.
The Rescue missions each have a Target number which needs to be rolled on the two dice, remembering that where there would normally be a 6 on the die there is instead the shadow of the Hood - rolling this advances the Hood piece along its specific track towards victory, as in "not good". The Rescues take place in one area, Africa, Asia, Europe etc and quite often there are also one or more symbols on the card showing who or what will give positive modifiers to the dice roll if they (the noted pieces) are in the area of the Rescue. For example, the Pit of Peril occurs on Land in Africa and has a target (or success) number of 11. The player whose turn it currently is must have their chosen character at the Rescue site. However, continuing to use the same Rescue example; if The Recovery Vehicle is in Africa there is a +3 bonus, if the Mole (+2) and Scott (+2) are also there the roll target is significantly reduced 3+2+2 =7 so only a roll of 4 or more on the dice is needed. Note having your character only gives an additional bonus if it is their special ability as printed on their character card otherwise they are just there in a supervisory position.Success brings some aid by way of tokens that can be useful later on for other Rescues of Schemes. Failure isn't that bad as you can try again but the Disaster card will have moved along the Disaster track and once any Disaster reaches the 8th space on the track the players have lost the game.
The Hood's Scheme's also require the player-at-turn's character to be in the correct area as well as all other requirements being in place - any cards used are discarded. Schemes also generally require certain members of the Thunderbirds team, possibly along with one or more Thunderbirds vehicles and perhaps one or more pieces of heavy equipment, to be at particular places on the map. You have to succeed at preventing all three of the Hood's Schemes and depending on the level at which you are playing these are moderately difficult through to nigh-on impossible; to give you an idea of difficulty, with three players our percentage of failure to success is about 50-50 on the easiest of Schemes.
The rules are very well presented with coloured headers and plenty of game examples, in fact the examples are often a clearer description of the rules, so ensure you read every word the first time you play. After that first game you will probably have little need for the rules, except for refresher courses when you introduce new players or you haven't played in a while, otherwise you should be able to set up and play reasonably quickly. Although the game is driven by the Schemes and Rescues it is not entirely a linear process. The Schemes do not come into play until the Hood has reached their activation space on the track. However there are spaces prior to the Scheme activation where the Hood triggers Events, another disruption and diversion for the Thunderbirds. The game's mechanics are both fun and well thought out, taking into account many of the old tv show's content as their base premise.
Players do need to cooperate and discuss tactics and strategies to be successful. Weirdly, characters in the same space or even the same vehicle cannot pass tokens between them though they can use these tokens to assist with a Rescue or Scheme conclusion. The rules appear to say that the on their turn the players can attempt to defeat one of the problems facing the Thunderbirds and it is only by reading the examples explicitly that you gain the understanding that the characters can work together if they are in the correct places. The characters control the vehicle they are currently in, so when the rules mention, for example, Thunderbird 2 as being required for the mission, the player whose turn it is needs to have their character in Thunderbird 2 to be able to fly it, even if they are not playing Virgil who is the recognised pilot for TB2.
In fact picking up characters and dropping them off using the TB vehicles is a good part of the planning. You must remember though that only TB3 can travel into space (TB5 is already there and doesn't move) and that it (TB3) has only one path up and down, it cannot fly across the Earth and land or drop characters off. TB2 is used to carry either FAB 1, TB4 or Pod vehicles (and the model has been specifically designed and made to reflect this).
The characters are the five Tracy brothers, Alan, Gordon, John, Scott and Virgil plus Lady Penelope; players wanting Parker, Brains or Jeff Tracy have to wait for the correct expansions. Each character is assigned to a Thunderbird vehicle by colour, Adam's character card and playing piece is Orange and the Thunderbird 3 model is also Orange, for example. For this game, Lady Penelope drives FAB 1 in the absence of Parker, plus she can also pilot any of the Thunderbirds if she is a player character. Players cannot move the Thunderbird vehicles unless their character is on board when the movement is required.
The aforementioned Tokens have various effects that can be used on a player's turn. The Orange token gives +2 for Teamwork; the Red Suitcase allows for an Intelligent re-roll of a die; the Yellow lightning strike gives the Determined player an extra action; If you need help from the F.A.B. cards then use Blue Logistics tokens and finally, remember the blueprints of the pod vehicles ? well the Green Technology tokens allow you to develop and build these pod vehicles at Tracy Island.These token symbols are often found on cards as rewards and should your reward be a Grey icon then you have the choice of which colour Token to receive; again discussion between players can be most necessary when deciding which Token to select. Everything has been cleverly worked so that the game flows swiftly and clearly like the waters of the South Pacific around Thunderbird 3's take off isle. For game purposes TB3 on its launch pad is considered to be on Tracy Island.
If the Hood activates a Scheme card before the players can defeat it, the players lose. If the Hood gets to the end of his track the players lose. If the Rescue Missions reach the 8th place, the players lose. Defeat all three Schemes before they are activated then International Rescue has saved the day.
There was a fair amount of excitement generated by press and Modiphius themselves when THUNDERBIRDS the board game was announced and even more of a buzz when it was revealed Matt Leacock was to be the designer, Matt being on a high roll after his previous successful game, Pandemic, and thus being the then current go-to designer. Somehow I missed out on it then but now I can report that this is a slightly more complicated but less complex game than it's apparent predecessor, so for anyone looking for a game similar but not a duplicate of Pandemic it is well worth giving Thunderbirds a good look. The Thunderbird theme, and no I don't mean the TV show's musical theme (which was of course extremely stirring) may not mean much to many players because THUNDERBIRDS was originally on television between 1964 and 1966 and, as previosuly mentioned, the later day excursions to bring it back in favour have been particularly awful. Anyone who has fond memories of the original TV show will love the way Matt and Modiphius have recreated the tense drama and dry humour oft associated with it even though it was supposedly simply a childrens puppet show.
Excellent in production, clear in rules, fun to play, it is a cooperative game where the players, like modern Musketeers, win or lose together. There are several variations for play within the box just by following the suggestions, the randomness of the Rescue Missions (Disaster cards) and the numerous (and also random drawing) of the Schemes; or you can vary the difficulty simply by changing the order and level number of the Hood's Schemes. Later you can begin to include the expansion packs. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ...... THUNDERBIRDS are 50 !!!!!