Teaching Time: 5 mins
Playing Time: 30 mins
Setup Time: 5 mins
Value For Money: Depends
Recommended: As a historical artifact, sure
In a recent delving into boardgames of futures past I dug out my copy of Thunderbirds, not the excellent 2015 version, but the 1966 Waddingtons version which was re-printed in 2016. I recently heard the creator of Arkham Horror in an interview suggesting that Arkham was the first co-op game, while I can’t swear that Thunderbirds is the first co-op (the only other early game of the type my own collection includes is the co-op playable Sorcerer’s Cave from ’78), I can tell you that it is 100% co-op and predates Arkham Horror by a good few decades, making it well worth looking at if you’re interested in boardgame history. Its also entirely solo playable and an ok little game, making it worth pulling out in these socially limited times.
Gameplay is simple, ‘The Hood’ is shooting down airplanes all over the world for his own nefarious purposes, while International Rescue zoom about the map, rescuing the people on said aircraft. Each turn you randomly determine a spot on the map for the latest plane to crash land on, then move the various rescue vehicles. The Hood hangs about at each of his terrible acts until the next one is generated, if the players manage to rescue a plane while he’s still at the site they take a picture of him. Take 8 pictures to win, have 9 un-rescued aircraft on the map to lose.
The main question then would be, is it a good co-op/solo game? I’d say on balance, yes actually. Movement of the heroes is roll and move, its still an old game so we can’t expect too much, but since it is made across a free grid it still allows enough planning to tip the scales in the player’s favor. By careful placement its possible to push the odds of a useful roll your way, particularly if you’ve accumulated a few crash sites. Frustration is certainly still possible, especially when a crash sight demands multiple vehicles and when the water restricted Thunderbird 4 is required for a rescue. Certainly, if released today other than as a re-print there would be more in the way of strategies to control and shift the chances in a player’s favor and the game is far from complex, but you can see the seeds of many modern co-op games in it. In many ways if it had more control over movement and the ability to plan ahead for disasters it would be very close to Pandemic, and the 2015 Thunderbirds from its designer Matt Leacock. I don’t know that there’s any connection between Matt’s designs and this game, but I wouldn’t be shocked to hear that it was an early influence on him.
If you’re interested in boardgame history I think this game has to be an interesting step in the development of co-op and solo gaming, its also one that you might get a handful of solo plays out of. I would imagine that actually played co-op the simplicity of the choices would undermine the experience, though personally I’ve only played it solo. The quality of an individual game can be dependent on the dice, though I found it possible to achieve a reasonable win rate pretty quickly with games often coming in to the last few rolls. If you see this cheaply second hand, pick it up for its place in history, but unless you’re a hardcore collector I wouldn’t pay a premium price for it.