Cooperative Board Game Review: Thunderbirds

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For shorter cooperative game reviews with a specific focus on how well they play with 2-players, visit my BGG Geeklist. And if you like painted minis check out Stu’s Painted Games BGG Geeklist.

Thunderbirds

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Credit: Modiphius Entertainment
Designer: Matt Leacock

Publisher: Modiphius Entertainment

# Players: 1-4 players

Playtime: 45 mins

About (from BGG):

Set in the year 2065, Thunderbirds follows the exploits of International Rescue, a secret organization committed to saving human life, secretly founded and funded by the millionaire Tracy family, with the motto: ‘Never give in, at any cost!’ International Rescue has a host of technologically advanced land-, sea-, air-, and space-rescue vehicles and equipment ready to launch at a moment’s notice.

Racing to the rescue from a secret island base beneath the luxurious home of the Tracy family somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean, International Rescue defies government spies and criminals who want the secrets of their incredible machines for their own. To combat this threat, Lady Penelope, the Thunderbirds’ aristocratic English secret agent, and her chauffeur Parker lead a network of agents to uncover those behind the disasters caused by deliberate sabotage.

Thunderbirds is a cult 1960s British science-fiction television series, created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. It was produced using a combination of marionette puppetry and scale-model special effects, which was dubbed “Supermarionation”. Two series, totaling thirty-two 50-minute episodes, were produced, along with two films using the same techniques.

Players will work together using Thunderbirds characters and vehicles to complete rescue missions and save the day.

Thoughts:

I’m going to be upfront and say that I’m not a Thunderbirds fan – my hubby, Stu is but I never liked it as a child and having recently watched it I still don’t enjoy it. In fact Stu is such a fan he went ‘all in’ on the Kickstarter, including the RPG even though we don’t (yet) play RPGs. He even sourced a companion magazine to go with the game, just in case we wanted to look up the backstory behind the Disaster cards!

That said, you don’t have to be a Thunderbirds fan to like the game, you just may be more forgiving if you are.

When we first played Thunderbirds after receiving it as a Kickstarter backer, we played just the base game. And it was an okay game but overall it was a real disappointment – we were hoping for so much more; we love Pandemic, Forbidden Island and other Matt Leacock games and my hubby really wanted to like it because of Thunderbirds but it wasn’t an instant hit. Something was missing. The game felt flat (particularly for me), feeling like we weren’t really achieving anything. And the metal tokens? As lovely and tactile as they are, they are a bit hard to differentiate at a glance.

Kickstarter Metal Tokens

We also felt that it didn’t work very well with just 2-players (assuming you play with 1 character each), which is our normal player count. Basically, 1 person needs to cover space (and the space ones are hard so you really need to be John or Alan every game as you’re not going to get much ground support), and the other person tries, as best they can, to cover rescues on planet Earth. Being totally honest, I don’t find the space missions much fun. You either spend your whole turn attempting (and usually failing) a rescue or moving to another one and getting one attempt at a rescue. The movement is very linear and there’s limited strategy to it. Plus, once you’re up there it feels like a waste of actions coming back down to Earth to collect more help or swap so basically 1-player is stuck up in space for a whole game.

Thunderbirds

So after just a few plays it just sat on our game shelf – my hubby refusing to get rid of it as he loves Thunderbirds and me unwilling to play it as we have so many other, better games. And then, 2 months ago, we tried playing again with a friend and incorporated all of the expansion materials from the ‘Tracy Island’ and the ‘Above & Beyond’ expansions (except the timer). And the game was fun. Really fun. With 3 players, the burden of space is shared. Rescues on Earth become more strategic and more importantly cooperative rather than us each playing our own game. The other players even have a chance to help out on the Earth-parts of the space mission! But more importantly than all of this, the expansion modifications brought a sense of achievement – you could level up your character. It became important to distribute the rescues between players to aid in the characters levelling up. All of a sudden it felt like we were improving our characters by doing rescues rather than it just being a chore-like game mechanism. The game was no longer okay, it was fun. Great fun! It’s actually now our go-to game for 3 players when we’re short on time. Stu’s even started painting the POD vehicles!

Stu's Painted Minis

In terms of difficulty, we have been finding the game a little easy so we played on Legendary difficulty last week and had a close win. This week we catastrophically lost (due to those pesky space rescues) but had we played differently it might have been a different story so the fact it has scaling difficulty levels is good – you can tune it to the ability of your group.

As for the ‘iconic disaster vehicles’ from the Above & Beyond expansion,  I really don’t see the point or the need for them (even though Stu loves them and is looking forward to getting them painted). You always seem to need the token reward to complete the challenges so it’s rarely worth going for the vehicle reward – they just aren’t good enough. But I do love the little pod vehicle minis, especially now that they are  getting painted by my wonderful hubby!

Finally, as we didn’t want the little purple minis that came with The Hood expansion to feel left out (we have no intention of ever playing the game competitively), we use them to mark the locations of the Scheme requirements: they stand out nicely against the standard red tokens.

Summary:

The base game of Thunderbirds leaves a lot to be desired but with the addition of the ‘Tracy Island’ expansion it’s a very good game. It doesn’t work so well with 2-players and the space missions are the weakest part of the game, but overall its a fun, short not too complex game thats perfect for a fun filled games evening when incorporating the ‘Above & Beyond’ (must have) and ‘Tracy Island’ (good to have) expansions.

My Rating:

  • 6/10 (base game).
  • 8/10 (with the ‘Above & Beyond’ and ‘Tracy Island’ expansions incorporated and 3+ players)

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One thought on “Cooperative Board Game Review: Thunderbirds

    Scott D Randel said:
    18/04/2018 at 12:32 am

    For my money, this is one of the best co-ops available. I grew op watching Thunderbirds in the 60s, and this game does a remarkable job of capturing the feel of the show. I really feel like I’m International Rescue when I’m playing.

    The gameplay perfectly suits the theme, too. Having to respond to disasters all around the world while the Hood is plotting against you makes for a very tense game. More than once, I had decided that there was no way to win when another player saw a combination of actions that let us squeak out a win. Most games seem to be nail-biters; losing is always a very real possibility.

    The components are excellent (especially with the expansions), although my Thunderbird 1 has a bent body that I haven’t been able to fix. I also wish that the decals came with a sheet showing which go where on the different vehicles.

    This is one of my favorite games, and my younger friends, who have never seen Thunderbirds, enjoy it as well. F.A.B. Matt Leacock!

    Liked by 1 person

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