Kickstarter Review: ‘Thunderbirds Co-operative Board Game’

Thunderbirds-Box-Cover
Image courtesy Modiphius Entertainment.

Thunderbirds are go! The wonderfully campy 1965-1966 Gerry Anderson British TV show Thunderbirds turns 50 this year. While most of the press is focusing on the upcoming reboot of the TV show, British game studio Modiphius is also joining the franchise with a cooperative board game designed by none other than the master of the genre himself, Matt Leacock. The game, currently on Kickstarter, has already made its funding goal on and is blasting through stretch goals.

For those unfortunate enough to be unaware of the show, it focused on International Rescue, an organization run by Jeff Tracy and mostly made up of his adult children who run around the world in cool ships saving people from improbable disasters, mostly caused by the evil Hood. While that alone would have made for an entertaining show, the hook–and what cemented its place as a cult classic–was that the whole thing was done with marionettes.

At a glance: The game is for 2-4 players, although solitaire rules are reportedly in the works. It’s recommended for ages 10 and up. There’s nothing particularly in the game that would cause problems for younger kids. Violence is implied–Hood’s goal is world destruction–but there’s none in the game itself. My 9-year-old had no problem grasping the game’s concepts, but there are lots of small pieces. Each game takes between 45-60 minutes to play.

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Components:

  • 1 game board
  • 105 cards
    • 4 quick reference cards
    • 6 character cards
    • 18 F.A.B. cards
    • 20 scheme cards
    • 10 event cards
    • 47 disaster cards
  • 4 quick reference cards
  • 6 character cards
  • 18 F.A.B. cards
  • 20 scheme cards
  • 10 event cards
  • 47 disaster cards
  • 30 bonus tokens (6 of each, representing determination, teamwork, intelligence, operations, and technology)
  • 6 vehicle miniatures (Thunderbirds 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and FAB 1)
  • 10 pod vehicles
  • 6 character pegs: Scott (blue), Virgil (green), Alan (orange), Gordon (yellow), John (grey), Lady Penelope (pink)
  • 1 Hood figure
  • 2 dice

I received a prototype of the game to test out, so my components were simply cut from plastic and the cards were printed and sleeved. The Kickstarter page, though, shows plans for much nicer pieces, including molded plastic ships and pod vehicles, shaped character pegs, and nice cards. An early, already-funded stretch goal included hiring an illustrator to redesign the board, which is a map of the world.

Thunderbird 2 and pods prototype
Close-up of a prototype of Thunderbird 2 and the pods. Image courtesy Modiphius Entertainment.

How to Play

Matt Leacock has posted a draft of the rules for the game on his website, so you can go read them if you wish. There’s no print-and-play of the game itself, though.

The goal of the game is to work together to avert the villainous Hood’s plans for disaster before they occur. In order to do this, you’ll need to amass a specific set of bonus tokens and pod vehicles that need to be delivered to particular parts of the world. You get tokens and the ability to build the pod vehicles by completing smaller missions, which become the bulk of the gameplay.

Setup is fairly easy. You start by shuffling the 20 Scheme cards, which represent the disasters the nefarious Hood has planned. A set number of these are laid out across the top of the board, with the rest being put back in the box. The game comes with several sets of these to represent different difficulty levels, so as you get better at the game you can make it harder to win. Next, you set up the Disasters deck by dividing it into four smaller decks and inserting special “Hood Advances” cards into each portion, then recombine them into a single deck. You then draw the first three missions and place them below the board. The third deck of F.A.B. cards are simply shuffled and placed in their designated area on the board. You then place the ships in their locations–mostly in the South Pacific, home of Tracy Island–and load them up with the character pegs. You also place the Hood token on the Hood track. Shuffle and deal four of the character cards to the players, decide who goes first, and set out to save the world.

Each turn, the player has three actions they can perform. Almost every turn will involve moving the ship the player is on to some other spot in the world. The various ships have different movement speeds, but that is conveniently printed on the board so you don’t have to keep digging through the rules to find it. You can spend as many of your three actions moving as you wish, so even slower vehicles that only have a movement of one space could move three spaces on a turn.

Once you’re in the right location, you can attempt a rescue to overcome one of the disasters on the board. Each disaster has a difficulty level. Players can increase their odds of success through roll bonuses, which usually involve having a set of specific characters and/or vehicles at the location for the rescue. The player rolls 2D6, and if the sum of the roll is equal to or greater than the number required, the rescue is a success and the player receives a bonus in the form of one or more bonus tokens. The dice are custom, with the 6 replaced by an image of the Hood. If this is rolled, it counts as a zero (so the highest possible non-bonus roll is 10, not 12) and causes the Hood to progress along his track, bringing you closer to doom (and losing the game).

Your third choice for an action is to draw a “F.A.B.” card, which gives you additional bonuses or other helpful items. However, each time you draw a card, the Hood moves forward on his track, so you need to carefully weigh the potential benefit of the card against bringing yourself closer to losing the game.

Finally, if your character is on Thunderbird 5 and thus in space, you can shift the disasters backwards on their track. If any disaster reaches the end of the track, the players lose, so using this action can be helpful at times.

Players can also choose, pretty much whenever they want, to perform one or more of three free actions: transferring characters between ships in the same locations, loading or unloading vehicles from Thunderbird 2, the team’s big transport, or foiling the Hood’s schemes.

At the end of each player’s turn, all of the remaining disasters are shifted along the disaster track and a new one is drawn.

Game prototype
A prototype of the game showing the components. Image courtesy Modiphius Entertainment.

Winning and Losing

Like with all good cooperative games, there are more ways to lose than to win. Players win if they can foil all three of the Hood’s schemes before he is able to enact any of them. They lose if any of the schemes are enacted, which happens if the Hood figure advances to any of the spaces with a scheme before it is averted; by having a disaster reach the end of the disaster track, or–and the rules state that this is unlikely–drawing the last disaster card from the deck.

One last note on game play: earlier this week, the Kickstarter campaign unlocked an RPG stretch goal. Details are a bit sparse right now on exactly how it’ll work, but from what I can gather it essentially provides a set of rules that will allow you to have RPG adventures in the Thunderbirds world using the game’s pieces.

The Verdict

I should probably mention that I’ve been a fan of the Thunderbirds since I first encountered the show as a kid. The big, cool vehicles were what hooked me, and I was always a bit bummed that Thunderbirds toys didn’t exist at the time that would let me play with them alongside my Star Wars toys. So when I first heard that a Thunderbirds game was in the works, I was very excited, and got even more excited when I found it that it would be a cooperative game, which are very popular in my house. That Matt Leacock was designing it was the cherry on top of that wonderful sundae.

The game, fortunately, does not disappoint. It’s exciting and tense, as any good co-op should be. Players really need to work together–while you can freely move characters between ships, you cannot trade bonus tokens, so completing a rescue or averting a scheme often requires that players take several turns to move everyone needed to the right space. But you have to be careful: moving ships to Africa on one set of turns might make it impossible to get everything to South America in time to complete another rescue.

The key difference between the game and the show: in the show, International Rescue always prevailed and the Hood was always defeated. I have yet to play a game of Thunderbirds where we win, but that’s a big part of the fun of cooperative games. Like other Leacock titles, you have to carefully weigh each and every choice, because a wrong decision on one player’s turn can mean that everyone loses later that round.

Bonus: playing the game has gotten my nine-year-old son interested in the franchise, so at long last I have someone to watch my box set of the original series with.

For more information or to pledge on the game, check out the Kickstarter page, which has about two weeks left to hit a few final stretch goals.

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Rob is a geek with a 15-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. He teaches web and graphic design at the college level, watches a ridiculous number of movies, plays as many board games as he can, and loves the history of the technological age almost as much as he loves Firefly.