Tuesday 13 October 2015

Cardboard - Thunderbirds Co-operative Board Game review (Matt Leacock/Modiphius Entertainment)

Thunderbirds Are Go! (Thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign!)

It's time to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds with a new co-operative board game, designed by Matt Leacock of Pandemic fame.

Thunderbirds Co-operative Board Game by Matt Leacock - review | Random Nerdery

Kickstarted in February 2015, the new Thunderbirds Co-operative Board Game lets 1-4 players take on the role of International Rescue as they fight to foil the evil schemes of arch enemy The Hood.

This would be tough enough on its own, but at the same time the team has to deal with other disasters popping up all over the world, which is going to need some serious multitasking. Good thing the Tracy boys have Lady Penelope!

The game is straightforward to set up thanks to the well designed board and helpful instructions - here's an introductory game ready to go:

Thunderbirds Co-operative Board Game - gameplay setup

The game uses adorable models for Thunderbirds 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and FAB1, each of which comes with a little character peg to indicate what each character is driving. Thunderbird 2 opens up, allowing you to load it up with Thunderbird 4, FAB1 or pod machines.

Thunderbirds Co-operative Board Game - Thunderbirds 1, 2 and 4

Small gripe time! Stickers are provided to add identifying marks to each of the models, but I didn't have much luck with them as they're not pre-cut and are made of plastic that's slightly too thick.  I found them incredibly fiddly and frustrating, so only a few are stuck on in the pictures! Maybe I'm doing something wrong, but they don't look great so I might peel them off again.

[N.B. It's since been pointed out to me that these are included in case you want to paint up the models properly, so I was doing something wrong. Although they still feel too thick to use like normal Warhammer decals as they don't bend - maybe I'll try painting them and see.]

Oh, and my Thunderbird 3 is wonky, rendering it potentially un-spaceworthy!

Thunderbirds Co-operative Board Game - Thunderbirds 3 and 5

Set up and ready to go, it's time to save the world!

The Hood's dastardly progress is marked along the top of the board, where he moves along the track revealing event cards as he goes.  His three schemes are spaced out along the track and all three need to be defeated to win the game.  If he reaches a scheme on the track (marked by a skull and crossbones) before International Rescue have foiled it, the players lose the game.

Thunderbirds Co-operative Board Game - The Hood track

Each scheme gets progressively tougher, and like all good co-operative board games, the difficulty can be varied as you get better at strategy.

Scheme cards go up to level 4 in the base game, although I did get a level 5 card as part of the Kickstarter set that allows you to trial epic level play; more will come in the planned expansions. For starters I think I'm better off at beginner difficulty - level 5 scheme cards look terrifying!

Thunderbirds Co-operative board game - making things tougher with scheme cards

To defeat a scheme, players must meet the conditions shown on the card.  This could mean moving vehicles or pod machines to the right area of the world or discarding bonus tokens in particular locations.

Along the bottom of the board is the disaster track - this is where you can keep track of all the other horrible things happening around the world to distract you from the main scheme.  After each player's turn, all unsolved disasters move along the track by one space and a new disaster is drawn. If a disaster reaches the end of the track, the players lose.

In the disaster deck there are also a number of 'The Hood advances' cards which move him further along the track.

Thunderbirds Co-operative Board Game - the disaster track

Each turn players choose a combination of actions and 'operations' to avert disasters or foil schemes. There are a number of possible actions to choose from, and each player can have up to three per turn.

The move action allows a player to travel the world in their vehicle - each has a different speed allowing them to move a certain number of spaces.

The rescue action lets players attempt to fix a disaster happening in their area on the map.  Disaster cards have a difficulty number in the corner which you need to roll equal to or above on the two dice provided for a success.  The disaster card will show a number of possible bonuses that can be added to the dice role to help, for instance having the right pod machine in the area might give a +2 bonus. Character cards may also give bonuses for certain types of rescues, for instance Scott Tracy on Thunderbird 1 gets a +2 bonus on air rescues.

Some disasters don't have a target number for dice rolls, instead requiring you to fulfill other conditions specified on the card to clear them.

International Rescue averting disaster in Australia:

Thunderbirds Co-operative Board Game - mounting a rescue with the recovery vehicles

Dice rolls can also throw a spanner in the works, as one face of each is marked with a Hood symbol. Every time this is rolled, The Hood moves a space along his track and closer to winning the game.

The plan action allows you to take one of the handy F.A.B. cards, which allow you to do all sorts of helpful things:

Thunderbirds Co-operative Board Game - F.A.B. cards

They come at a price, however - each time you take one, The Hood moves yet another space along his track. I'm starting to really hate that guy...

The final action only works if you're on Thunderbird 5; scan allows you to move one disaster one space back on the track (if there's an empty gap).

As well as three actions, players can use as many operations as they need.  Operations include transferring characters from one vehicle to another, loading or unloading Thunderbird 2, defeating schemes and using bonus tokens.

Here's Lady Penelope hitching a ride in Thunderbird 2 after being loaded up in South America:

Thunderbirds Co-operative Board Game - FAB1 on Thunderbird 2

Bonus tokens come as rewards for averting disasters.  They let you construct new pod vehicles, take extra actions, re-roll dice, add bonuses to dice rolls or gain an F.A.B. card without moving The Hood forward on his track.  They are also often requirements for dealing with scheme cards, so you need to judge carefully whether it's better to spend or save your tokens.

Bonus tokens and board game box art

[Randomly, I included some of the box insert art in the picture above - even the inside of the box looks cool!]

Pod machines sit in Brains' notebook as blueprints until they're built using green technology tokens:

Recovery vehicle blueprints and Mole on Tracey Island

Once constructed, these can be loaded into Thunderbird 2 for use in operations. They give you useful bonuses on rescues and can be required for dealing with schemes.

Loading up Thunderbird 2 with recovery vehicles on Tracey Island

If you can avoid the loss conditions and firefight disasters long enough to successfully foil all three of The Hood's schemes, you win the game! Sadly my attempts so far have ended a little like this, with a disaster hitting the end of the track:

Thunderbirds Co-operative board game - scheme card

Despite my distinct lack of winning, the game is great fun.  The theme is beautifully implemented, the components are great quality and the models add so much to everyone's enjoyment (despite my sticker moan!)

Thunderbirds has a familiar Pandemic vibe (I think a lot of that feeling comes from having a big world map as a board), but with lots of extra elements thrown in that you need to think about balancing.

The luck element is more obvious in this than in other co-op board games that I've played because Thunderbirds involves dice, but lining up the right bonuses when dealing with a disaster helps to mitigate the impact of a disastrous roll.  I like the risk of leaving a roll to chance in order to save actions you'd have otherwise used to position vehicles for bonuses.

Then there are the decisions on where to focus your efforts.  It's easy to forget about dealing with the next approaching scheme card whilst trying to sort out the latest batch of disasters as they creep their way to the end of the track. So much to do, so little time!

Thunderbirds Co-operative board game review - mid-game picture

More expansions are in the works, with new models for Tin-Tin (with Ladybird Jet), Brains (with Tracy Island) and Parker (with FAB2) incoming, as well as upgraded plastic models for the pod machines and more cards. I get all the expansions as part of my Kickstarter pledge, so I can't wait to see what arrives over the next few months!

If you joined in on the Kickstarter campaign too, I hope you're enjoying your copy and would love to know what you think.

Signing off for now - F.A.B.!