House Of Games: Thunderbirds International Rescue Game

House Of Games is a series in which John explores what happens when you take popular culture and throw dice at it. This week’s board game is…

thunderbirds-board-game

So here’s the thing – I never saw Thunderbirds when I was a kid. In fact, I think the first time I saw Thunderbirds I was in my mid-20s and that’s really not the time to be discovering Supermarionation.

I grew up in country WA and we only had one commercial television channel – GWN, or the Golden West Network. Their programming was a mish-mash of the major commercial networks but obviously there was only room for a third of the content of the big-smoke – so I grew up with no knowledge of Thunderbirds, or Bill Collins, but did get to see Crusader Rabbit and that mid-60s Beatles cartoon series. The other channel available was the ABC, which was the only choice in some rural areas – which is why country people know so much about opera simulcasts.

As it turned out, the Evil Doctor Chris was the only member of our House Of Games test group who knew Thunderbirds well. While helpful, this would lead to outbursts of his famed violent temper – “For god’s sake, only Thunderbird 3 can go into space!” he would bellow while upending the coffee table. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

thunderbirds-puppets

The source material: Thunderbirds was a 1960s British television show created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson (who had previously made Fireball XL5 and Stingray, and would go on to make Captain Scarlet, UFO, Space: 1999 and Terrahawks).  The characters were all puppets, using what the Anderson’s called “Supermarionation”.

The protagonists were the Tracy family: former astronaut Jeff Tracy and his five sons – Scott (pilot of Thunderbird 1), Virgil (Thunderbird 2), Alan (Thunderbird 3), Gordon (Thunderbird 4) and John (space station Thunderbird 5) – and their resident geek, Brains. Together they formed International Rescue, an organisation that would swoop in whenever people were trapped in highly cinematic situations.

Other characters included a villain named The Hood, the family’s manservant Kyrano and his daughter Tin-Tin, international socialite Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, and her Cockney butler/chauffeur Aloysius “Nosey” Parker (who looked exactly like Noel Gallagher from Oasis).

parker

The Andersons were always keen on Australian actors – they felt they did American accents better than the Brits – and the Thunderbirds cast often included Ray Barrett and Charles “Bud” Tingwell.

Thunderbirds was hugely popular with children at the time and is still popular now – in the 1990s the BBC started playing the episodes again, leading to another slew of merchandise. Surprisingly, only 32 episodes were made in the original TV series, which ran from September 30, 1965 – December 25, 1966. There were also two original films, and later came many knock-offs and cash-ins, none of which are really worth discussing (two words of warning: Jonathan Frakes).

The game:

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Oh, the promise of it all – a board with a 3D Tracy Island element, small plastic spaceships, a bizarre Aztec temple for the Hood… Then Zoe started to read the rules. And kept reading. And kept reading. The instructions seemed to come in a bound set of 24 volumes and at some point I must have dozed off for a while… I distinctly recall the phrase “there’s only one more page” being uttered.

The object is to complete a rescue mission, which have their own booklet. With exciting titles like Pit Of Peril and Day Of Disaster, they give the background to the game you are about to play. The Mighty Atom, for example, says “The whole of Australia is threatened when fire breaks out at an atomic energy station in the desert near Melbourne. General Speyer appeals to International Rescue to save the two scientists trapped by the blaze and shut down the reactors to prevent a cloud of radioactive dust being released over the continent. A jammed intake valve under the sea must be released to shut down the reactor. TB5 has detected the Hood in the area and Lady Penelope must be fetched from the city to foil him. Thunderbirds are go!”

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It sounds very exciting. So what exactly does that translate to in the board game? The four corners of the board represent City, Marine, Space and Desert. You place small coloured pegs in each corner, according to the mission book. You then take your ships and collect them.

You collect the pegs. The objective is to put pegs away. Effectively, it’s a game about tidying.

It should be pointed out that – in a strange parallel-world arrangement – you each have four Thunderbird ships, and you are each rescuing separate pegs. This means you don’t really have any contact between players – I mean, god forbid someone should bother you while you’re tidying your pegs. I suspect this game may have started out as “Get The Hoover Out: The Game!” before someone suggested whacking spaceships in it to make it sell.

We narrowed our mission choice down to Sunprobe or Desperate Intruder, because they both sounded dirty (although we were intrigued by The Duchess Assignment). Our pegs were duly placed. The rules instruct that the youngest player goes first – this is probably straight-forward for children, but for adults it’s an awkward social moment. The game also instructs you must roll a six before launching any of your ships. Only the Evil Doctor managed to do this, so the first ten minutes of the game involved him having a nice time while the rest of us looked grumpy.

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Duly we went through the motions, collecting our pegs and dying a little inside. Finally the game ended.

Does it match the source material? Not really being familiar with the source material, it’s hard to tell. The Evil Doctor was disappointed that Lady Penelope only appears as a “get out of jail free” card. The playing pieces are cool models of the ships from the show, and they have the same restrictions on where they can go as the series. There are many illustrations of the characters and of Tracy Island. The missions are also based on episodes of the series, although the booklet has the caveat “Some missions have been altered from the original episodes to assist game play”. Presumably there weren’t enough pegs in the original.

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Verdict: For me, the Thunderbirds International Rescue Game fails because the players don’t really interact with each other. The only threat is from the Hood who may randomly appear near you – but mostly doesn’t. They only time the Hood did land near a player they had a card that stopped him, so no excitement there. There were suggestions that perhaps it’s a game intended to keep the kids busy for a whole afternoon – or a whole summer holiday – or until they are 18 and move out of home. To be fair, the other players did enjoy this game, but I suspect they were high on crack because it really was astonishingly tedious.

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Final thoughts? “The Hood looks like John Howard”, “I’d hate to think what my carbon footprint is”, “I liked it more when I was the only one moving around the board”.

Thanks to Sue Ann Barber for supplying this game. Comments? Suggestions? Board games? Place your fingers on the plastic letters and make words appear below… You can buy lovely Thunderbirds things at amazon.co.uk, such as the Thunderbirds Complete Series Box Set.
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7 Responses to House Of Games: Thunderbirds International Rescue Game

  1. StephBG says:

    The Thunderbirds (live action) stage show was the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life. Two actors, minimal props.

    Also, a big shout out to Aardman Animation for many TBesqe moments in Were Rabbit.

    The recent live action Spy Kids-type TB movie made me want to weep tears of blood. Not that I actually went to see it. And the tears of blood would ideally belong to someone else.

  2. Dan Cardone says:

    Basically all International Rescue did was save people in danger, so based on your description, the board games is a logical extension of this idea. Is the first person to collect all the pegs the winner? Would it have been more exciting if the pegs were ‘distressed person needing rescuing’ shape?

    Maybe it would have been more interesting if you could steal the pegs away from other people, but since the Tracey brothers were such nice blokes, i doubt they would have done this to each other.

    What they really should have done is combined the game with elements of Ker-Plunk or Mouse Trap, so that if you didn’t collect your pegs in time, the board would collapse or spontaneously combust or something.

  3. Dave AA says:

    I guess the problem is that International Rescue worked together to save people from disasters, so there isn’t naturally any competition in that premise.

    I used to love Thunderbirds when I was a kid. Even watching it now, when I can see it’s corny, slow-paced and often nonsensical, I can’t help but love it.

  4. outlandinstitute says:

    Damn you, co-operation. You make boring board games. Actually, I didn’t say much about the Hood in this game, but after every turn you roll for the Hood who only moves on set squares. I think it might be more interesting if you could play as The Hood and deliberately try to ruin it for everyone else.

    Incidentally, speaking of that Thunderbirds live-action movie, here’s what South Park’s Matt Stone said about it in 2004 while promoting Team America:

    “…what a terrible miscalculation. What an awful thing to do with that franchise. The only good thing about “Thunderbirds” was the artistry of the puppets and the look — it’s really what made it “Thunderbirds.” The concept and the characters and the stories are pretty mediocre — but what’s made it last is the time and care that the people who did that show put into the marionettes. I mean, they really formed an entirely new niche of filmmaking — and f***in’ Universal or some idiot somewhere, some exec, decides it has to be a “Spy Kids.” That’s just Hollywood in a nutshell.”

  5. Anne-Marie says:

    Well, you know I don’t want to play it if I can’t at least attempt to win.

  6. simbo says:

    So the game is long and slow and kinda dull and the only thing exciting about it is the concept?

    Sounds remarkably like the series then! Honestly, as a series “Thunderbirds” takes one of those ideas that would be a kinda fun half-hour series, and … makes each episode one hour long. How? By Padding. Lots And Lots Of Padding. It really is an incredibly tedious program only enlivened by a reasonably fun concept, a memorable theme song and Lady Penelope. Actually, the incredible tedium thing applies to most of the Gerry Anderson series (as discussed, Barbara Bain has fewer facial expressions and is more ungainly than most of the puppets)

  7. Janet says:

    My brother and I were members of the International Rescue fan club as kids. They sent us a badge (amongst other things) to be stitched onto a jacket but I never remember mum doing it. In fact, she probably threw them away and just pretended she couldn’t find them. I was also a member of the Lady Penelope fan club and I had a little pink ring which had a raised P on it, rather like a potato print. You were supposed to use it like a stamp to send special coded letters. But I never had anyone to send the letters to. Even I wasn’t stupid enough to send one to Lady Penelope. Marionettes have a bugger of a time writing back.

    And I loved Thunderbirds and its offshoots. But I was only seven when it started.

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