Quick Look: THUNDER ROLLS
Designer: Richard Launius
Artists: Jack Hoyle
Publisher: Mr. B Games & Zeroic Games
Year Published: 2022
No. of Players: 1-8
Ages: 8 +
Playing Time: 20 – 60 Min
Rating: 7. 6
Thunder Rolls is a fast paced dice placement action stock car racing game for 1 – 8 players. There are two phases to the game; the Rolling Phase and the Thunder Phase. In the Rolling phase the players roll their dice pool and place sets of dice on matching racing actions to gain track actions and Thunder cards. In the Thunder phase players program their Thunder cards, giving their cars movement and unique driver actions.
Whether you play a single race, a series, or a full championship season of 10 – 14 races – Thunder Rolls combines true stock car racing actions with a unique tiered dice placement bidding system that keeps the game, and each race, moving fast. This system, designed by stock car enthusiast Richard Launius, offers the feel of bump and grind stock car racing right on your table top with rules that are easy to learn while providing multiple options and strategies for players. A single race on a Short Track can be enjoyed in as little as 20 minutes, while races on a Mile Oval, a Tri-Oval, a Superspeedway, or a Road Course are playable in 30 – 60 minutes; each requiring different strategies to manage their unique race conditions.
Think you’ve got what it takes to be a champion? Gather some friends and run multiple game sessions that comprise a Championship Season.
Regardless of the number of players, Thunder Rolls always has 8 competing race cars using Non-Player Driver cards, each with their own unique driving style to complete the field. These cards along with the NPD (Non-Player Drivers) Action deck makes each race of Thunder Rolls challenging. With so many uniqe Race cards, the game’s ease of play rules and ever-changing strategies required to meet the actions of other players and non-player drivers; players can’t help but get caught up in the racing excitement when they hear the Thunder Roll.
Ladies and Gentlemen start your gaming engines…. We are reviewing the newest Racing Game on the market that does not strap a machine gun to the hood or dawn oil slicks from the rear unless you count blowing an o-ring mid race. Let’s drop the green flag and get rubbin’ and racin’.
I have played a number of home-grown games created by some with the fan-crazed passion for Nascar and stock car racing. They too, always include six-sided dice and matchbox cars usually with the person’s favorite brand and driver. Oh, to have the Rusty Wallace Miller Genuine Draft #2 car on the track again would be finer than a new set of snow tires! Thunder Rolls was a supported Kickstarter and to my surprise, It came with the EBG (Everything Board Games) brand sticker that I immediately took on as my car of choice, sporting my favorite 88 on all sides. This customization of the cars that come with the base game (8 in total) was a very nice introduction and way to feel more involved and connected with this title. I should have bought the level to include the Meepology logo in it in retrospect. You will find some of the logos a bit tough to see on any color you first place on the car – an inverted print of the logos would have made this feature even better but still does not diminish its value in delivering a unique customization to the game. If you are a fan of the hobby of miniatures painting, you will enjoy the option of custom painting your rides before adding the decals provided with the game.
Order of play is broken out into two key phases and then what is referred to as the “interlude” is nestled between each phase.
The roll phase is a dice placement mechanic that you choose based on the visible “action cards” you might be interested in owning for the second phase and gives you specific movement and maneuverability actions that your race car takes instantly. You control one of six slots based on the number of IDENTICAL dice you roll and place in one of three available slots. This ranking 1 to 3 may change based on you or your competing racer’s rolls and decisions to add to one of the slots. The more dice in a slot the higher the rank you stay at or move up too. In the end, this ranking allows you to choose one of the three “action cards” that were dealt out to each of the six possible areas of game play you can acquire for later use. Pit Stop (1 rolls) allows you to not get the dreaded HAZARD Card that comes with not swinging in for a new set of rubber during the round. It also allows you a reset of your TEAM Card that gives you one chance to reroll dice during this phase. Rubbin’ is Racin’ (2 rolls) provides some unique immediate maneuvers to jockey your car in position for future turns. Low Line (3 rolls) simply provides you with a movement that turn. Crew Chief (4 rolls) helps you along and gives you the chance to pull back a die from one of the other slots OR draw a crew card which gives you a goodie to use now or in the future. The “Free-get-out-of-jail” card for race day. High line (5 rolls) offers a way to connect with a teammate or just someone that is lucky enough to be ahead or behind you on the track board and take off with a “Drafting” mechanic that moves both of you at the same time. Lastly, there is The Groove (6 rolls). No it is not bellbottoms or disco balls, it is the sweet spot on the track that gives you a double move to possibly break free from the pack.
The interlude follows immediately after the roll phase. You review any reward and/or penalties that you incur with action cards you pick from the six options based on your final position within the above areas of game play mentioned. The other way you would be handed the dreaded “Hazard” card is if you fail a risk roll when “PUSHING” you and another car forward on any move you previously made that forced an opponent to move their race car forward. This mechanic is very cool when playing with multiple racers, as it provides moments of disruption in strategies and may cause elimination or negative effects in the following phase.
The thunder phase is where you strategize the next series of moves to the best of your ability. I was not quite sure as a min/max gamer how to best arrange the cards you have at the start of this phase outside of putting the larger moves first unless there was a specific mechanic or action that would catapult me like a medieval inflamed boulder into the lead.
The next sequence of time is dedicated to systematically resolving each card in preset order. These cards are hidden from other racers throughout the rounds and proceed until your drafting, side drifting, and crossovers ensconce your race car in its final position on the track. The placement determines if you won the race or ended behind the lead car in second place, aka the first looser!
Between all of these individual racing mechanics and positioning of moves via dice rolls and card reveals is the Non-Player Characters (NPCs) activities that come with this title requiring all eight of the cards to always be on the board and participating. Though I appreciate the designer developing and play testing a version for solo, two, and three player sessions, I found the NPC card play very tedious, detracting us from the quick and thematic play that goes with each player’s dice rolls and card manipulation. I have found a few racers who have developed a better digital system online of determining the placement of the race car much faster which keeps things moving. I welcomed that option that did enhance the overall playability of the game with folks like me often unable to get any number of friends to the physical gaming table. I do believe that this game is best played with a larger group of 6 to 8 where you can maximize the racing feel and the jockeying of cars on the board.
The multiple race day scenarios, weather advanced rules, and more skillful NPC drivers all give this game a very strong value in the base box set. You can tell each element was well tested and modified to keep the game moving and provided a new feel for each of the tracks played. The double-sided board (road and oval) tracks where you weave your way around or simply continuously turn left give a different feel and force a new style and strategy when they are played. Victory conditions depend on your available time and interest in play. Single race, single, night, or legacy play. You can tally up a score for an instant win or combine multiple stages within a race or group of races together to determine the series winner at the end. With the fast play, you can certainly make a day out of this game, with or without the cooler of beer and BBQ with all the fixins.
Thunder Roll certainly started our engines and revved me up throughout my session with fellow racers. We all felt that the theme that is often tried but many times falls short of a thematic experience in the racing world was achieved by Mr. B Games. Unlike some that focus too heavily on the Nascar, Indy, or Formula One brand of racing, Thunder Rolls truly provides a solid experience to the sport of not just racing but board gaming in general with this creation. It is inviting to those with no knowledge of bell-housing, ramp runs, and pole positioning. If you love the smell of burnt rubber, gasoline, and concession stands, get a real ticket to your local track. Want a game night of racing fun without visiting a port-o-let at a price that doesn’t kill your entertainment budget, Thunder Rolls by Richard Launius is your ticket to the checkered flag.
Find out more at BGG.