Wednesday 25 February 2015

Review - Thunderbirds: The Board Game

Thunderbirds: The Board Game

Thunderbirds: The Board Game
Designed by Susan Prescott
Published by Susan Prescott Games
For 2 - 6 players, aged 8 to adult

Thunderbirds: The Board Game
Looks exciting!

You've all heard the news, right?

Thunderbirds Are Go!

Really. That's the name of the new show. With the exclamation mark and everything, if Wikipedia is to be believed.

(Which it isn't.)

Yes, after years of waiting, Thunderbirds is finally coming back on the air, and it intends to arrive in style. It's a blend of live-action and CGI, with music by Ben and Nick Foster (Doctor Who), miniatures by WETA Workshop (never heard of 'em), and a cast including Rosamund Pike, Angel Coulby, and Thomas Sangster.

That's pretty exciting, right?

Well, unless of course you're reading this article after the 2015 launch of the show, in which case you're probably over it by now.

But right now, as I'm typing this, it's pretty exciting.

A little bit less exciting is Thunderbirds: The Board Game, a game with a title that explicitly states it is game lest people mistake it for some kind of demonic entity and kill it with fire.


Where to start with this one?

Well, let's get the obvious thing out of the way: It looks like shite.

It looks like a game from the '70s, but it actually came out in 1999. It has bland box art, bland card art (or no card art at all in most cases), and a hex-based board that looks more like something you would use for a war game rather than the uninspiring roll and move piece of pap this game actually is.

Thunderbirds: The Board Game board
Everything is so far away.

So now, having set the bar suitably low, let's take a quick limbo through the rules.

Brace yourself.

The rules are printed in large font on four sides of A5 paper, and look like something you would knock up for a prototype. They are badly worded, inconsistent, incomplete, and contradictory. I have read them a dozen times or more, and I still don't think I know exactly how the game is supposed to work. But if I concentrate really hard, and furrow my eyebrows in my very best "thinky" expression, a rough outline of the game seems to emerge, like an image from one of those Magic Eye paintings that I could never get to work.

Players start on Tracy Island, which is in the middle of a board comprising a series of hexagons, some of which are numbered. The aim of the game is to fly out to the numbered locations to avert disasters. Unfortunately, players are not allowed to leave Tracy Island until someone rolls a 5, because... Thunderbirds!

(Note: This does not mean that each player must roll a 5 to leave the island. It just means nobody is allowed to leave until someone rolls a 5, after which time everyone is allowed to leave freely, making the whole process entirely pointless.)

So, all the playing pieces are crammed together on Tracy Island, and players start to roll the D6, waiting for the number 5 to show up, accurately recreating the exciting world of Thunderbirds we all love so much.

When a 5 does turn up, it is time to reveal a mission from Thunderbird 5. This mission designates an area on the board where a disaster has occurred (maybe space, maybe underwater, maybe on a train, maybe at the office of Susan Prescott Games).

Each area of the board has its own deck of mission cards, and these cards give you a list of equipment and crew you need, plus a specific Thunderbird craft. To set off on the mission, you need to assemble a set of cards matching the list.

If you are thinking that collecting the cards is going to be an exciting element of gameplay, think again.

Starting with the player who rolled the highest number... Wait, what?

[Re-reads rules...]

Oh right, at the start of the game everyone rolled the dice. This is before the pointless bit where everyone was rolling the dice to get a 5. That first roll determines the order in which players choose whether or not to go on a mission. But wait... Hold on... That means the person who rolled the highest value at the start of the game always gets first option when a new mission card is revealed. That's a permanent, game-long advantage, based on a single dumb-luck dice roll. That can't be... But... You just... Ah, whatever.

So, a player who chooses to go on a mission takes the relevant equipment cards from a communal stack of equipment, thus preventing anyone else from going on the mission. This is one of my favourite bits of the rules as written, because it says, "If another player is already using the equipment you need then you will have to change your plans."

What plans would those be? Rolling the dice until you get another 5 to start another mission that the bastard who rolled a 6 at the start of the game is just going to nick off you before you get a chance to go on it?

Anyway, you grab the equipment.

Thunderbirds: The Board Game equipment
The cards really capture the essence of the show.

Each player also has an identical set of cards containing crew and ships, and you sift through those to find the other cards you need for your mission. Why these aren't communal like the equipment cards is beyond me, especially as there is nothing in the rules to suggest two players are forbidden from using the same ship or crew member at the same time, resulting in the situation where there are multiple Thunderbird 2s zipping around the board.

Anyway, you have your crew, your ship, and your equipment.

Thunderbirds: The Board Game crew
The gang's all here... trying to roll a 5.

What next?

Well, on your turn, you roll the dice and you... move. And you keep doing this until you reach the numbered space on the board where the mission is happening.

And then you instantly solve the mission.

And then you head all the way back to Tracy Island.

And this continues until all 25 missions on the board have been resolved.


The winner, of course, is the player who doesn't put his head in the gas oven.

This is just an agonising slog of a game. A tedious, mind and butt-numbing horror show from beginning to end.

The rules are a mess, only vaguely describing the way the game should play, and the mechanisms are fundamentally flawed. There is no card play or set collection aspect. You just roll the dice, rummage through the available cards, and then move toward a mission if you can.

Thunderbirds: The Board Game rules
These are the rules. Seriously.

I think it would actually be pretty easy to rewrite the rules to make the game halfway decent, but that is just a testament to how shoddy the game is out of the box.

Frankly, someone needs to call International Rescue, because this game is a disaster. Let's hope the inevitable games released in conjunction with the new Thunderbirds Are Go! series offer something a little more entertaining.

I won't hold my breath.

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