In my review of the Tracy Island expansion last week, I mentioned the silver lining of COVID-19 isolation is the chance to work through more solo games. I’m also mid-move giving me less time than usual for trying out new games. I loved the base Thunderbirds game and The Hood expansion (which requires at least two players). So I pulled out Thunderbirds and here we are.
This expansion gives players four new ways to play and take their game Above & Beyond. First up is “Epic-Level” Difficulty. In every game, The Hood has three Schemes that must be defeated to win. In the “Intro-Level” the Schemes are level I, II, III. In “Standard-Level” they are I, II, IV. “Heroic-Level” is I, III, IV, and “Legendary-Level” is II, III, IV. The new “Epic Level” includes five level V cards that I can’t even imagine beating with less than three experienced players. To play at “Epic-Level” Schemes II, III, V are used. If you still aren’t challenged, there is also a single, blank, Level VI Scheme, that lets you create your own evil plot.
The second new mode is Crisis Mode. For this, there is a ~70-second sand timer. When the timer runs out, that player’s turn is over, any unused actions are lost, and the next disaster card is drawn and resolved. Players may not strategize in any way when the timer is not going. Again, I was playing solo so this didn’t add anything but random busy-work for me. But I can certainly see it being a larger challenge in co-op play, especially if there are players who suffer from “analysis paralysis”
The third, and most significant, change is the ability to Level Up the characters. Until now the characters have all had two abilities. A bonus in certain Rescue situations, and a unique action. Now characters have a larger character card (to remind players of that character’s level up requirements) and start with only their Rescue bonus. When a player succeeds at a Rescue, they get the reward as usual, and then place the card under their character instead of in the discard pile. When they have acquired the proper number of disaster cards that player can use an action to level up. They get a new character card at Level 2 and regain their unique action. If they level up again, to Level 3, they flip over their character card and get a third unique power. These new power vary wildly, for example Alan can give a Teamwork token to another character at any time, while both Scott and John can place an intelligence token on any unresolved disaster card, that can then be used by any player (to reroll a die) who is attempting a Rescue there. The number of resolved disaster cards needed to level up varies by character, current level, and player count; with more cards needed with less players. I found that REMEMBERING I only had one action was the hardest part of Level 1, since the second action is universally more strategic in nature. In a standard game, the Level 3 powers can be a game-changer but aren’t worth the intentional effort in a solo game (dear bob, take it if you can though).
The last new element is Disaster Vehicles. These are 10 cards, with matching models, representing non-International Rescue vehicles that appeared in the Thunderbirds TV series. When the disaster card representing the main episode each vehicle is drawn, the model is placed on that card (mostly as a reminder), and on a successful Rescue the player can choose to take the regular token reward or the vehicle card which can be played like an F.A.B. card.
The Disaster Vehicle module is the first time I’ve been actively disappointed in this game. On paper, this is a great idea. In practice, I didn’t use them once. There are 10 Disaster Vehicles, and each one only appears once in the disaster cards and if you are playing with the Tracy Island cards there’s no guarantee some of them didn’t end up in the unused cards and will never come up. Those specific cards came up so rarely that the tokens were always the more necessary choice, and at least once I didn’t even remember the choice was an option. The other disappointment was the models themselves. They are comparable to the Pod Vehicle models from Tracy Island, but not nearly as well executed. The Pod models each have a letter stamped into them as a reference. These ones have no such markings, so setting them up was sometimes a process-of-elimination. This was made worse for models like the Sidewinder and Crablogger, both of which have arms, but the arms (and legs) are a single section of plastic. This is largely necessary to keep things from breaking off, but there isn’t enough detail to realize that is what’s happening. The Sidewinder looks like it has a vacuum head instead arms and two solid stands instead of multiple legs. I’ll likely try using them again next time I can play a multiplayer game, just to see if they work better there, but it’s unlikely I’ll ever use them in solo play again.
On top of all that, there are also a piar of new Hood Event cards and a pair of new F.A.B. cards. Since Above and Beyond is designed to work with or without the Tracy Island expansion, all of these can be permanently sorted into the regular decks for these. There is also a Jeff Tracy figure that is intended to replace the active character marker for solo play.
This is a sad moment for me. This is the third and final expansion for the Thunderbirds Co-operative Board Game. There is room for more. There was, undoubtedly, plans for more. But as the game becomes more challenging to find, even a reprint seems unlikely at this point. I purchased Thunderbirds along with The Hood, Tracy Island, and Above & Beyond as a package and I’m forever glad I did. I’m just sad that I’ll likely never get a physical copy of the (also out of print) Thunderbirds RPG that came out at the same time.