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…
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…
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).
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).
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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”.