Thunderbirds Are Go! An Interview With Designer Matt Leacock

If there’s a master of the modern cooperative game, it’s got to be Matt Leacock. He created the seminal Pandemic. Then Forbidden Island. And Forbidden Desert. And Pandemic: The Cure. And now he’s going retro, with a Kickstarter for a new cooperative game based on the classic Thunderbirds franchise from the ‘60s. 

Matt, thanks for joining us. So tell us about Thunderbirds. 

Thunderbirds (the show) featured International Rescue – a secret organization formed to offer aid when all other means have failed. It aired in the 1960s and featured a combination of marionette puppetry and scale-model special effects dubbed “Supermarionation.”

Thunderbirds (the Co-operative Board Game) lets you take on the role of a character in International Rescue. You can fly any of the vehicles around the world and in outer space in order to complete missions before time runs out.

Were you always a fan of the show, or is this a new experience for you? 

When Chris Birch approached me at a conference about doing the project, the show was new to me. When I got home I watched a bunch of shows, saw the appeal (and great fit for a cooperative game) and signed on.

What’s your favorite mechanism in Thunderbirds? 

I like the way the Hood’s Scheme (the track on top of the board) ties everything together. If you try too many missions at really long odds, there’s a good chance that The Hood will advance and trigger bad events and disasters. I like the way this forces you to make tradeoffs between short-term emergencies and long-term threats.

Why do you like cooperative games so much? 

I enjoy playing them with my family and friends. Win or lose, everyone has a good time.

What are some of the exciting trends you see emerging in the world of board games right now?

Well, the overall quantity of games is staggering these days. I used to pride myself on being able to play “all the good games” of a given year. Sure, many of these aren’t worth playing, but given the larger field of games to choose from, I think there’s never been a better time to be a part of the hobby.

What are some of your favorite games? 

I tend to favor classic Euro games that play in about 45-60 minutes, have lots of interaction, not much downtime, and are easy to play and teach. This year, Splendor stood out for me. As a kid I loved Avalon Hill’s Civilization but don’t have the time to play it anymore.

What’s coming up for you on the cooperative horizon? 

This week, Pandemic: State of Emergency is coming out which adds some new challenges. Next October, Pandemic Legacy will be premiering at Spiel. I can’t wait for people to try that out.

Here’s the Lighting Round: 5 Quick questions, and 5 quick answers.

Favorite toy when you were a kid?


Favorite minor character from a TV show?

Elsbeth Tascioni on The Good Wife (played by Carrie Preston)

Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Wars

Last good book you read?

I really enjoyed Shades of Gray by Jasper Fforde about a societal hierarchy strictly regulated by one’s limited color perception

Favorite game designer?

Based on the number of titles I own and regularly play (and his influences on me as a designer) I'd have to say Reiner Knizia.

Matt, thanks for talking with us today.

Make sure you check out the Thunderbirds Kickstarter campaign. And thanks for reading!