Thunderbirds, the Board Game

Last night a bunch of reprobates – Cavan Scott, Jonathan L Howard, Stark Holborn and myself, descended upon the Chance and Counters board game cafe in Bristol. For our entertainment for the evening we chose the Thunderbirds game, mainly because Jonathan has been playing it a lot and therefore we had someone who knew the rules well. I was pleased about this because I had backed the Kickstarter and thus own the game, but haven’t had a chance to play it yet.

Thunderbirds was designed by Matt Leacock, who is best known for Pandemic. Like Pandemic, and Forbidden Island which Kevin and I got a lot of enjoyment out of on the train to Barcelona, it is a collaborative game. That means that the players work together to defeat the game scenario. Either everyone wins, or everyone loses.

Obviously these things have to be fairly difficult so that you don’t win all of the time. We played on the lowest difficulty setting, and we lost all four games we played. A lot of that seemed to be down to luck. It’s not like any of us are novices at board games, and Jonathan has a lot of experience with this one, though we did consume a pint or two each in the course of the evening which might have hindered us. (The cafe has an interesting selection of craft beers – I tried Wiper & True’s Plum Pudding Porter, which is rather nice.)

The game proceeds with a succession of disasters unfolding around the world. The players, as members of International Rescue, have to mount rescue operations. Successful rescues mean that you acquire abilities that help with future rescues and also allow you to defeat the machinations of the evil Hood. The most obvious ways to lose are to be overwhelmed by disasters that you can’t fix, or you fail to foil one of the Hood’s plans in time.

Luck comes into the game in three main ways. The mix of disasters you are faced with is random, and you may not have the right characters and equipment in the right places to mount rescues in time. A successful rescue requires a dice roll, and while you can weight the odds in your favor you can still fail. The Hood’s plans also proceed at random, based both on card draws and dice rolls.

Each player takes the part of one of the characters from the TV series, though there is no requirement that they must use use the correct iconic vehicle. Obviously each character is different, and some are more fun to play than others. John has some very useful special powers, but to use them he has to stay stuck in space on Thunderbird 5 most of the time. Cav spent a lot of time playing Lady Penelope, and sadly Penny seems fairly useless as character. The basic game does not allow you to play Brains, Tin-Tin or Parker, but there is an expansion set which adds them to the mix.

Fans of the TV series will be interested to know that most of the disasters are based on actual TV episodes. Jonathan tells me that the designers had to add a bunch of space-based disasters in order to give Alan and John more to do.

We very much enjoyed playing the game, though based on Cav’s experience you may want to not have anyone playing Penny. I want to beat the damn game at some point, but for our next trip Stark and I want to introduce the boys to the delights of Arabian Nights. What better game for a bunch of authors to play?