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Thunder Alley

COMPONENTS:    2 Mounted, Double-sided 22"x34" Game Boards    7 Playing Mats (Team Cards)    26 Event Cards   84 Racing Cards  2 countersheets - 178 counters  16 Page Rules Booklet

Online Resources: Track Errata Sticker   Designer's Blog   Sample of Final Event Cards   Sample of Final Race Cards   Sample of Final Counters   Track 1: Yunta Brothers Velodrome   Track 2: Saint Adriana Speedway   Track 3: Verghn's Grove  Track 4: Pullinger's Pyramid

Here is a set of  Print and Play Files for Thunder Alley. Feel free to print them out and take the game out for a spin. Enjoy!  
Check out Chad Schrieber's Video demonstration of two types of movement in Thunder Alley:     Sample Playtest Car counter     Sample Playtest Super Speedway Track

PUBLISHED: 2014     DESIGNER: Jeff & Carla Horger    DEVELOPER: Chad Schrieber    COMPONENT GRAPHICS: Kurt Miller   PRODUCERS: Mark Simonitch, Tony Curtis, Rodger MacGowan, Andy Lewis, Gene Billingsley

    

So from being one of the best tabletop war game publishers GMT are taking another step away from weapon-based combat with this fine production of a racing game. With so many racing games available, Formula One, Formula Dé and Top Race springing immediately to mind (and a lot more are now forming a queue in my brain cell) it is a brave move to head away from their bread and butter genre to the world of motor sport which is even more of a specialist market than wargames in general. Not only have GMT chosen to go to a motor racing genre though they have isolated their possibilities even more by publishing a game based on stock car racing without mentioning the largest stock car racing organisation in the world; and as they haven't mentioned it neither shall I.

THUNDER ALLEY is based loosely on Stock Car racing which generally takes place on an oval circuit. To keep this tradition one of the four tracks available in this game is the basic oval. To add variety to the game three other tracks: one is a Pyramid (or Triangular) track; the second is an oval with a slight angled deviation along one long side; and the third looks like a regular F1 style track with a hairpin bend, straights and curves and a sharp corner (I apologise but I don't know the name, if there is one, for this type of race track). These four tracks are on two double-sided boards, quite large so a fair sized table is required for playing; each board also contains some necessary quick-reference game rules. Unlike the boards for Formula Dé, these boards are not bright and colourful with cartoon style illustrations - some of the Formula Dé boards are like "Where's Wally" puzzles - instead, the THUNDER ALLEY boards are no nonsense race tracks.

The tracks provided are:
Yunta Brothers Velodrome - LA California.  This is the basic oval shape, like a motor-cycle speedway track, and has 28 spaces from start to end. It has 4 Lanes along the straights and three lanes round the curved ends.
Saint Adriana Speedway - Tenerife. Almost an oval but with a slight angle along the Start/Home straight. It has 48 spaces and 5 Lanes along the straights and 4 lanes round the curved ends.
Pullinger's Pyramid - Glassboro N.J. Straight sides of 14, 11 and 6 spaces and curves of 5, 5 and 3 spaces make this a 44 space track with 4 Lanes along the straights and 3 lanes round the curved ends. 
Verghn's Grove - Columbus Ohio. This is the track that has a hairpin bend (only 2 Lanes most of the time).  50 spaces around the 3 outside Lane and 49 round the inside track. 

On all tracks there are spaces that can be used strategically where two Lanes go into one. Also on each track there is a Lane which is known as the Apron Lane. This has been counted in where I have listed the tracks and lanes previously but it is only used by cars that are Pitting. Instead of having actual Pits where the cars pull into, Teams that wish to Pit their cards move them down to the Apron Lane, then what occurs depends on whether the rules require a Green Pit Stop or a Yellow Pit Stop, either way all Wear markers are removed from the Pitted car(s). Wear markers are accumulated during the race and represent the general wear & tear cars suffer on the track. If a car suffers 6 or more Wear markers (any kind, not necessarily 6 of the same type) then the car must be retired from the race. Cars removed are placed on their Team Sheet and awarded the lowest Position Marker still remaining. Cars with Wear markers are probably also going to have their speed modified; this is also shown on the Team sheet. It is essental that you are very careful with Team sheets as if they are accidentally knocked the markers on them may become dislodged.

     

Being GMT, there are dozens of cardboard counters (52 Tyres, 16 Lapped cars, 40 Fuel, 16 Turn Leader, 22 Place Tiles, 10 Body, 12 Engine, 20 Suspension, 16 Serious Body, 8 (Yellow) Suspension, 8 Transmission, 2 Current Leader and 1 x 1st Player) and to keep them safe there are more than enough zip-loc bags provided - enough in fact to also hold all of the cards, though we split the main deck in two as it stacks rather high as a single deck. Also, being GMT, the quality of the cards and the counters is extremely high. I do fear for the boards though as they are folded into 8 sections and being printed on heavy stock card the folds are already becoming weak and showing cracks and creases; perhaps with such a large and heavy board a jigsaw style would have suited a little better, or maybe having the board in two halves with connector clips; of course none of this affects the game play, only the visual aesthetics after several plays.

There are some logical moves in Thunder Alley, such as driving up on the outside track and pushing in, dispersing cars with your skillfully reckless driving, but then the logic turns illogical as you can move into the line and force the car or cars in that line to go backwards. I understand why your cars go backwards when you enter the pits, that's just a clever way of making the rest of the cars go past the pitted car(s) without actually having to move every car on the track, but why cars go backwards when you push in ? that's just out of the box and there really isn't a need for it, just move the car one space forward and if there are cars in front they also move a space forward - that would, in my opinion, better represent a car slotting in.

Cars are moved by the playing of cards and each car can only move once in a round (hence the flipping the cars over when they end their move). Most cards show a car with one or two arrows, either from the front or the back or both. If the arrow is pointing from the front of the car it means that the car will "push" any and all cars in front of it as many spaces forward as it itself is moving, as per the number on the card. If the arrow is from the rear of the car but pointing forward, it means the car will drag all cars directly behind it along as it moves. If the arrows are front and back then all cars directly in front and all cars directly behind it will move as well. Cars can begin their move by going sideways (yup, that's what I said, sideways) and then continue onwards, but the weird thing about movement is that cars cannot move diagonally, and yet moving diagonally is actually more realistic than moving 90 degrees sideways, and dragging any cars directly behind you along at the same time.

     

THUNDER ALLEY is for up to 7 Teams with 6 cars per team. Each car in the team is the same colour (white background on one side and black background on the other) and with specific numbers:
Green cars: 1, 3, 7, 18, 22 & 40           Purple cars: 2, 6, 10, 13, 21 & 27          Blue cars: 4, 9, 12, 15, 17 & 24         Pink cars: 5, 20, 23, 26, 53 & 56 
Yellow cars: 8, 11, 16, 43, 44 & 54        Black cars: 19, 28, 66, 70, 71 & 78          Red cars: 25, 29, 41, 42, 69 & 77

The Team sheets are laminated and show six sections - numbered for each car in the Team, and each with the Driver's name (many of these names, or variations of, can be found in the credits)  - which have boxes for Lap Lead and Temporary / Permanent positions.
 
     

The setting up of a race is simple but time-consuming until you are used to playing. Players begin the race with all of their cars on the track; how they are placed on the track is down to the draw of a single random card. Cars begin each race with their white bordered side face up. As a car may only be moved once in a Turn it is flipped over at the end of its movement so that the dark bordered side is showing. Once all cars show their darker side then a new Turn begins and this time the cars are flipped back to their light side after moving. Unlike most racing games it is not the rule that the car in front moves first. In Thunder Alley the cars are moved in the order chosen by the owning player. Cars may be retired from the race by their owner before they suffer the necessary Wear - there will be reasons that occur during a race for thinking about doing this, but unless the car has 6 or more Wear markers or has been lapped it is not an automatic action.

Many of the cards allow for moving fast but always at a cost. Usually this cost is in non-permanent damage (tyres, fuel etc) which can be repaired by pitting, but there are also permanent damage markers and these cannot be repaired. Cars also show a second, lower number which is for movement when you are coming out of the pits. If you use one of these to leave the pits, such as the Slingshot card valued 7/3, then you don't suffer the tyre damage which you would do if you used the card normally and moved your car seven spaces forward. Cars begin to slow down the more damage they take until they finally collapse in a heap of broken fibreglass and metal alloy. Players only have a set number of cards to use each turn, but if a player voluntarily retires a car from the race they still get the same number of cards which means they have more options, but obviously less cars and thus a smaller possibility of winning the race.

Along the bottom of the Race Cards there is a Team Bar, a strip of colours and symbols, that is used to resolve random events and situations - the rules book actually defines this very clearly. Having a car or cars retired is not always as harsh as it sounds because the players always have the same number of cards as the other players at the start of the new Turn. this means they are able to hold onto cards that may be more useful later than to be forced (by the rules of one card per car per turn) to use the majority of their hand. In this way losing a car or two gives you more control and betters your strategy.

     

The rules are sparse compared to regular GMT games and most of the pages include many illustrations and examples of play. In turn order each player plays a Race Card for the movement of each of their cars, The Race cards offer four different types of movement. Solo, where a single car moves on its own; Draft, cars in front or behind your vehicle move with it; Pursuit, cars in front of your car are pushed along with it; and Lead, cars behind yours are pulled along by the slipstream. Races are not just won and lost by the turn of a card or the roll of a die, instead there is the need, requirement even, of thought, planning and making a daringly bold move at just the right time and from just the right position. Such are the possible strategies opened by the way the cars can be moved, that it is often difficult to see where the main strike forward for home is coming from and when it is coming. A clever player can break the pack, and break free of the pack, in one well executed and well planned move, but an unexpected move by another player may force plans to be changed just when you were ready to go for it. Single races are fun, but once you have let THUNDER ALLEY get a hold on you then you will want to keep records and play longer race seasons, just like the Formula One guys only much more entertaining. 

THUNDER ALLEY has captured the spirit of motor racing because the cars quickly form into a zig-zagging line of growling motors snaling their way around the track with barely a fag paper of space between them. One or two cars may break away for a bit but the likelihood is they will soon be caught up as the other cars push and pull each other along. The biggest mistake is to let a car get left behind because then it will get no help from slipstreaming and pushing and will almost certainly be lapped, and then eventually removed from play - there's nothing quite as embarrassing as being the owner of a car with a "lapped" marker on it.

The biggest regret is that THUNDER ALLEY is not particularly visual - the cars being counters which are rather dark and thus there is a loss of detail. 3D model cars would make the game look so much better and the flip-over mechanic could easily be remedied by simply turning the cars round so they race forwards one turn and backwards the next. Okay it isn't the best solution and it isn't realistic, but I think logic and realism was already blown out of the box long ago. The more you play the more interest you get and the more there is to say about it - hence this revised review.

     

If there is a better motor-race board game, Stock car or other, available I don't know it. There are many other games in this genre that give players a lot of fun while playing, and an absolute thrill when the die result required rolls up or the correct card flips over at the best possible time, but as for depth, atmosphere and exhileration combined with ruthless but thoughtful planning, then THUNDER ALLEY reigns supreme and most likely will do so for many years.

          

 

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015