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Friday 19 April 2024

Friday Filler: Thunderbirds Danger Zone: The Game

First broadcast six decades ago, Thunderbirds is a classic of British children’s television, combining the advanced puppetry of ‘Supermarionation’ with superb scale models and special effects. The result still stands up today as exciting television with great music and amazing opening credits. The series told of the daring missions to save life and limb conducted by International Rescue, a secret non-government organisation dedicated to rescuing those that governments cannot. It is equipped with a fleet of advanced vehicles, each with Thunderbird call sign, enabling its operatives to conduct air, land, sea, and space missions from its secret base on an island in the Pacific Ocean. Ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy leads International Rescue, but it is his sons that conduct the missions, supported by Brains, who develops and builds new vehicles, and Lady Penelope, the organisation’s London ‘secret’ agent. Opposing International Rescue is the criminal and terrorist, The Hood, who uses disguises and constantly plots to steal International Rescue’s technological secrets and make a fortune by selling them to the criminal underworld.

The Gerry Anderson television series has been the subject of previous board games, most notably, Thunderbirds, designed by Matt Leacock and published by Modiphius Entertainment in 2015. The latest game based on the series is the card game, Thunderbirds Danger Zone: The Game, published by YAY Games. Designed to be played by two to six players, aged ten and up, it is a co-operative game in which the players attempt to complete seven missions. Each of the seven is based on a classic episode—‘End of the Road’, ‘Pit of Peril’, ‘30 Minutes After Noon’, ‘Trapped in the Sky’’, Vault of Death’, ‘Terror in New York City’, and ‘The Impostors’—and the game can be played through in between twenty and forty minutes, depending upon the difficulty and length of a mission. In the game, each player takes turns playing the role of Jeff Tracy, leader of International Resource, who will marshal four types of resource—‘Team Spirit’, ‘Fuel’, Tech’, and ‘Knowledge’—that will get the members of International Rescue on a Journey to the Danger Zone where they can conduct the rescue. If the players get both the right members of International Rescue and the right resources to the right places, they can complete a mission and win the game!

Thunderbirds Danger Zone: The Game consists of several sets of cards. The first are the Danger Zone cards. There are three of these per mission and each shows which resources and character is needed to complete that part of the mission. The Journey cards represents the steps needed to get to the mission, represented by the Danger Zone cards and have their own requirements in terms of resources. The Resource cards show a mix of Resource types, either three or all four, and their number. The Tracy Island cards have countdowns on them of various lengths, from ten to four turns, and are used to set the game’s difficulty, ten being the easiest, , four being the hardest. There are also reference cards for the various Actions that the characters can take, Tokens to represent each character, Journey Tokens to increase the difficulty a bit more, a Countdown Marker to use on the Tracy Island cards, and Tokens used to indicate that a resource has been successfully supplied.

To set up a mission, its three Mission cards are placed in a row and three Journey cards, either those for the mission or three random, are laid out in a row below the Mission cards. A Journey Token is placed on each Journey card, either a resource or The Hood. The Journey Token increases the number of Resources needed to complete the Journey card, whilst the presence of The Hood reduces the number of Resources the players can play. Each of the three Mission cards has an associated character on it, and the Token for each is placed below the corresponding Mission card and Journey card, along with another Journey Token.

Each round, the players each has a hand of three Resource cards. One player is designated to take the role of Jeff Tracy and he will ask the other players to supply him with resources to fulfil one of the Resource requirements, first on the Journey cards, and then on the Mission cards. Each player selects a card from his hand and places it face down. The Jeff Tracy player selects two of these face down Resource cards. If the total number of the resources on the Resource cards selected match the number on the designated Journey card or Mission card—adjusted for the Journey Token or The Hood on the Journey card—then the action succeeds and the Jeff Tracy player can place a Success Token on that Resource. If the players have been unable to supply enough Resources, the Jeff Tracy player can swap one of the Resource cards he choose, with a Resource card of his own. If the Jeff Tracy player cannot match the number of Resources indicated on the Journey card or Resource card, the action fails, the Countdown Marker is moved down one space on the Tracy Island card.

The round ends and all cards played are discarded. Players draw back up to three Resource cards, except the Jeff Tracy player if he swapped one of his Resource cards. In this case, he starts the next round with two Resource cards. The Jeff Tracy token is passed to the next player and the new round begins.

The aim is move all three Character Tokens for a mission through the Journey card and onto the Mission Card. This is done by fulfilling all of the Resource requirements for the Journey card. Once all three Character Tokens have been moved from their respective Journey cards to the Mission cards, play continues in the same fashion until either all of the Resource requirements for each Mission card has been fulfilled and the Mission completed with a successful rescue, or the Countdown Marker runs out of space on the Tracy Island card, in which case, International Rescue has failed to complete the mission and the players have lost the game.

Initially, the Jeff Tracy player will have no real idea as to what Resources to ask for, so the players do not know which of the Resource cards in their hands to play with any certainty. However, once a particular Resource on a Journey card or a Mission card, the choices will begin to tighten and a player can husband his Resource cards and perhaps save particular cards for later rounds. Should the Jeff Tracy player swap a card to fulfil a Resource requirement, then the Jeff Tracy player on the next round will know one of the cards that player has a holdover from the previous round. In general, though, because Resource cards are kept hidden in each player’s hand, there is an element of uncertainty to play, which will of course, grow and grow as the players get closer to completing a Mission and the Countdown Marker slides down Tracy Island. On side effect of keeping the Resource cards hidden, is that there is no ‘Alpha’ player, no one player ‘suggesting’ the best course of action for everyone. The revolving role of Jeff Tracy enforces that too because it puts a different person in charge from round to round.

Beyond the core game, Thunderbirds Danger Zone: The Game adds options that increase both theme and complexity. These primarily give more options for the Jeff Tracy player. If the players manage to supply sufficient Resources on a turn, he has an extra pair of options. One is to ‘Prepare Pod and Equipment’, the other is to provide ‘Mission Support’. The ‘Prepare Pod and Equipment’ action is necessary because all of the six missions beyond the beginning mission, ‘End of the Road’, have Pods and Equipment. The Pods hold the special vehicles built by Brains and are transported by Thunderbird 2 piloted by Virgil Tracy. For example, the ‘Pit of Peril’ mission requires ‘The Mole’ and ‘Recovery Vehicles’, and the Equipment includes ‘Explosives’. What it means is the players have layers of cards each with their own Resource requirements, adding to demands of play and lengthening game play, but at the same time adding theme too.

‘Mission Support’ is carried out by bringing another character and his token into play, which is done by playing Resource card showing that character. These cannot be the characters actually on the mission, and provide the players with an advantageous action. For example, Lady Penelope has ‘Inside Information’ that lets the Jeff Tracy player reveal a third Resource card in play and use that instead of the one he has already selected, whilst Scott Tracy, as ‘Team Leader’, can use the Team Spirit Resource on one Resource card as the Knowledge Resource on another, and vice versa. The ‘Mission Support’ from any one character can only be used twice before he needs to be reactivated again. The Jeff Tracy player can conduct multiple ‘Mission Support’ actions.

Physically, Thunderbirds Danger Zone: The Game is well presented. The cards are of good stock and the tokens of sturdy cardboard. The rules leaflet is clearly laid out and easy to read. All three—especially the cards—are illustrated with photographs from the television series, and the particular episodes depicted in the seven Mission cards.

Thunderbirds Danger Zone: The Game is a serviceable card game that as a co-operative game interestingly introduces mechanics that avoid the ‘alpha player’ problem found in many co-operative games. As a game itself, it is perfectly playable, but ultimately, Thunderbirds Danger Zone: The Game really is a game for Thunderbirds fans and they are really going to get the most out of it.

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