Thunder Alley Review

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I am not a stock car racing fan. I know almost nothing about stock car racing, and have never really given an effort to learning about it. This is what I brought with me before sitting down to play Thunder Alley - my expectations were not super high.

In Thunder Alley, players are put in command of a team of stock cars, and will score points according to the place each of their team's cars are in when the race ends (the round after at least 1 car crosses the finish line). Basically, players want as many of their team's cars as close to the front of the pack as possible by the end of the race.

The biggest thing I kept hearing about Thunder Alley is that it is a racing game without dice. Indeed, Thunder Alley's action is "driven" (hehe) entirely by cards. Each round, players will be given a hand of cards, and a player's turn consists simply of choosing one of her hand cards, choosing which of their still unactivated cars to use it on, and executing the actions indicated by the numbers and the text.

There are 4 basic types of movement in Thunder Alley:

  1. Solo movement - a single activated car moves by itself
  2. Draft movement - an activated car and all linked cars in front of and behind it move together
  3. Lead movement - an activated car and all linked cars behind it move together
  4. Pursuit movement - an activated car and all linked cars in front of it move together

Links between cars are created when cars are in the same lane, and are immediately adjacent to each other. A link could theoretically exist among all of the cars in a race, if they were all lined up in the same lane and there were no empty spaces separating any of them.
The movement cards in Thunder Alley are sometimes simply one of the four movement types listed above with a numerical value, and sometimes they involve a slight twist - like only being able to move towards the outside/inside wall this turn. Most of the cards with higher movement values will also include a damage icon.

There are two main types of damage in the game - temporary and permanent. As the names' suggest, temporary wear can be repaired, while permanent wear cannot. After receiving 3 wear tokens of any type, a car will suffer a penalty to its movement. And after taking 6 wear tokens a car will be removed from the race altogether. So managing wear tokens gets more and more important as the race goes on.

Players take turns playing cards and executing movement until everyone has activated each of their team's cars. Once all cars have been activated an event card is revealed, which could result in some of the cars receiving extra wear tokens, or a yellow caution flag, or even a premature end of the race due to rain. 

In between rounds players will have the option of pitting their cars. Doing so will allow the player to remove all temporary wear tokens from the pitting car, but will require the car to not only move back 5 spaces, but will also cause the car to suffer a movement penalty on their next turn.

The race will end once at least one car finishes the required number of laps. Any cars that cross the finish line are awarded the highest value trophy token available. After all the cars have been activated, for the round the game will end, and any cars that haven't crossed the finish line will be awarded trophy tokens according to their current place.

Thunder Alley has a theme I don't care about, more randomness than I usually care for, and fairly boring (though very nice looking) components. All that being said - I have had a great time playing this game. 

The strategy of the game is fairly clear - keep your cars on the inside lane and grouped with other cars as much as possible - but playing the game is a lot of fun. The chaos of not knowing what the other players are going to do, coupled with the excitement of the temporary alliances and rivalries that are formed as players move other teams' cars either purposely or inadvertently make for a really great experience.

As I mentioned, there is a good amount of randomness in the game - I had at least one round a game where I had drawn a full hand of cards that I simply did not want. This, while frustrating, is mitigated by the fact that since multiple cars are usually moved each turn, player's cars may actually be moved more on other players' turns than on their own. 

Thunder Alley is a great racing game, and the team aspect of the whole thing really sets it apart from any other racing game I've played. It is by far my favorite of the genre. I give it an 8.0/10.

Jim would like to thank GMT Games for providing him with a copy of Thunder Alley for review.

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