Updated: Jul 9, 2021
The golden rays of sunlight bounce off the blacktop and the melodic overture of the bird song is drowned out by the roar of a pushrod v8 engine. Tires squeal and smoke and the crowd cheers as forty muscle cars careen around the track like savage beasts chasing a gazelle.
Game Night is back y’all! And this week the boys have been playing Thunder Alley from GMT Games. Thunder Alley packs all the excitement of a hundred lap NASCAR race into a 1-2 hour board game experience.
A Quick Overview
Depending on the number of players each player is assigned a number of cars they will control for the race, this forms their team. Each round a player will play a card to activate one of their team cars. Players keep taking turns to activate a car until all cars on the field have been activated. At that point an event is drawn, players have the opportunity to pit and then everyone gets a new hand of cards and begins the next round.
Movement is the core of the game and Thunder Alley features 4 types of movement. Solo is simple, move just your car and nothing else the specified number of spaces. Draft movement links your car to all the cars in front and behind and you move as a column. Pursuit movement links you just to the cars in front and Lead movement to the cars behind.
Almost all movement cards give you damage and if you suffer more than 6 damage on any car it is out the race. Making a pit stop will help clear your damage, but it will also slow you down for the next turn. Pitting only clears temporary damage and high value movement cards cause permanent damage that never goes away.
The first car to cross the line wins the race, but points are tallied across your whole team so every place matters. The team with the most points wins the game.
Did They Like It?
On both occasions Thunder Alley has received a mixed response from the group. Some definitely like it and one has expressed interest in seeing how other tracks and events would have affected the game. However at least one of the guys feels the game is too random, that doing any forward planning is essentially useless because “the board will have completely changed by the time it is your turn”.
Another problem that arose was the length of the game with one player saying “Will this ever end” during our first play, while other players commented “That was a lot faster than last time” after the second play. The first game suffered a lot from a large number of yellow flags during the home straight which kept resetting the cars. We would all race forward, not quite cross the line, a yellow flag event would come out and we’d all traipse back to the reset line.
A final thing that proved to be less fun during our first play were the random events, which proved rather brutal, exploding one player's car during the first lap, although he still won in the end.
All in all then Thunder Alley has had a mixed response, overall I have enjoyed my plays but for some chaps at the table the game is too long and too random.
The guys are wrong with this one. Yes, you can’t plan your move, realistically, until your turn begins when you can take a look at the state of play. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t tactics to be exploited. Ending your turn as part of a pack of cars is pretty vital. If you race off on your own and don’t link up with some other cars the pack will simply race past you on a later move unless you can block the whole track, such as in a single lane corner.
Tactical pitting is also a skill, knowing when to pit, do you pit early and clear damage potentially losing positions and getting left behind, or do you hold out and hope that a yellow flag event comes out so you can pit while remaining part of the pack? Holding damage on your cars can prove very dangerous though as many of the events target the most heavily damaged vehicles.
Sometimes in Thunder Alley you are at the mercy of the deck. On your turn you might just end up with a bunch of solo movement cards which don’t allow you to manipulate the pack, although can provide a great deal of speed. However a lot of what Thunder Alley is about is dealing with the cards you’ve been dealt. It is a hand management and area control game. Also because all your cars score, even if they get knocked out, staying in the race is not vital. The difference between most places beyond first is a single point, which you can make up for by simply being the turn leader.
As to the comment about the length of the game. With 5 players the game is going to run to two hours. Familiarity with the game will speed things up but constant restarts and yellow flags may slow things down. Also be aware there is a small possibility that the race could end prematurely if two red flag events are drawn.
I don’t think the game is perfect by any stretch of the imagination. The rulebook is written like it’s a legal document which makes it kinda hard to remember everything, although it is easier to look things up. The game can be lucky, which would be fine if it were a little shorter. However I really like it and that makes it a hard one for me because I think I like it more than the rest of my players.
I like the sense of speed as the cars fly around the track. I like the tactical manoeuvring and jostling for position. I like those moments where you deliberately break the pack and leave Bob behind and I like those moments where you watch in dismay as Bob comes sailing past waving to you in his rearview mirror just one turn later. I like the fact that the scoring is tight and it really is still all to play for right until the last second. This one really appeals to me as a gamer and I wish my friends enjoyed it more.