Thunderbirds vs Pandemic: do I need both?

This is an edited version of a comparative review I wrote for the voice of experience competition on BoardGameGeek.

2016-05-29 17.05.24

My husband and I enjoy co-operative games, they are our go to option when we aren’t sure what we want to play. We have built up a reasonable number of co-operative games, but by far our two favourites are Thunderbirds and Pandemic. We were drawn to Pandemic as it seemed to be the favourite co-operative game of many people on BoardGameGeek. As fans of the TV show Thunderbirds we automatically investigated the board game when I stumbled across it on Kickstarter.


There are some obvious similarities between Thunderbirds and Pandemic:

  • They are both co-operative games by designer Matt Leacock that feature a world map.
  • Each player has a unique role with special abilities. Some abilities are not as good as others, in particular John Tracy (Thunderbirds) and the contingency planner (Pandemic).
  • Play involves taking a set number of actions and then drawing a card or two (which may lead to further effects) then the next player takes their turn.

Which may lead you to ask: ‘Do I really need to own both of these games?’


Even with their similarities I would say it is still worth owning both due to their differences:

  • In Thunderbirds you are members of International Rescue working together to defeat the Hood’s schemes whilst averting disasters. In Pandemic you are searching for a cure for four diseases whilst preventing any disease spiralling out of control.
  • Although they both feature a world map, the map is very different. In Thunderbirds it is split into sections (and you can go into space), each vehicle has a top speed it can travel at making most places on the map accessible in a couple of turns. It is possible, and often worthwhile, to take another player with you in your vehicle so they can carry on where you left off. Whereas in Pandemic the map features cities that can be travelled between by flying and driving. Most of the time you try to split up to deal with different problem areas only coming together to exchange cards.
  • In Pandemic if you have enough actions to complete a specific goal on your turn, such as treating a city, you can guarantee success. However in Thunderbirds completing rescues requires the use of two dice, there are ways to mitigate risk by taking certain characters, pod machines or Thunderbird vehicles with you, but there is still the chance the rescue may not be successful.
  • In Thunderbirds the roll of the dice when attempting to avert disasters adds in the main luck element. In Pandemic it is the card draw – you need five cards of the same colour to develop a cure, so there can be a fair amount of damage limitation carried out whilst waiting for the necessary cards.

With these differences they give different experiences to play, partly due to their theme, but also due to the underlying strategies needed to win.

How do they feel to play?

As a member of International Rescue you co-ordinate rescues with your fellow team mates deciding who should go where, in which vehicle and whether they need to take any equipment with them. Generally there is a lot of discussion on the merits of any course of action and how different players can work together over several turns to both avert disasters and manoeuvre pod vehicles and players with the correct tokens into position to defeat the Hood’s schemes. With the Thunderbird models and screen shots from the TV series on the cards it is easy to get involved in the theme and feel like part of International Rescue. Tension is high as the dice are rolled to pull off rescue missions and the feeling of relief when the Hood doesn’t advance and the rescue is successful is great.

Pandemic also involves discussing tactics, which player’s abilities are best suited to the various tasks. And although sometimes players need to coordinate to be in a specific place at the same time, generally it is less essential to decide upon every action together. As the diseases are represented by cubes and the characters by coloured pawns it is easy to lose sight of the theme and just become an exercise in cube management. However drawing an epidemic card or causing an outbreak generally brings back the we’re defeating diseases together feel.

What if I can only buy one?

Do you prefer logistics (moving people and vehicles into position) or attempting to prioritise what most needs attention? If logistics go for Thunderbirds, generally it is fairly obvious what needs to be done the key is working out how to do it in the most efficient way. If prioritising get Pandemic, it is not always clear what most needs attention due to never knowing when an epidemic might come up, so choosing wisely what to tackle is vital.

The theme is also important, if you love the Thunderbirds TV show then I would say that is the game to get. Otherwise it depends what appeals to you more, if you have never seen Thunderbirds it may not hold the same appeal. Pandemic on the other hand relies on a universally understandable theme, treating and curing diseases.

Ultimately though either would be a fine addition to any game collection.

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