ROLL WITH IT plays: Big Thunder Mountain

Big Thunder Mountain happens to be one of my favourite roller coasters. Ever. My wife and I have a habit of visiting Paris, and whenever we do, we dedicate a full day to running over and making Disneyland Paris our playground. Ever pushed children out of the way to get a prime spot on Pirates of the Caribbean as “A Pirate’s Life For Me” plays?

In French?

Because, and I cannot stress this enough, I haven’t. Especially not around ten in the morning on December 28th back in 2019, thank you very much.

Big Thunder Mountain is much the same whichever park you ride it at – a series of mine carts trundle around an enormous, fully-realised mountain. You eventually head into the mines, at which point there’s a dynamite-exacerbated shaft collapse, at which point you hurtle down and around and around, screaming the entire time. The ride is immersive, beautifully constructed, perfectly paced, and thematically on-point. In short, any excuse to go back there is one I’ll take.

Funko has made that possible.

Big Thunder Mountain Funko

Big Thunder Mountain is aimed at families – which is only fair – but it’s a really fun little game that manages to successfully recreate the overall vibe of the ride, minus the breakneck speed. Actually, that’s not fair – once the rules are ingrained, you can whip along at a good pace, but the only real flaw to Big Thunder Mountain is one I want to get out of the way up front.

The mountain itself.

The game revolves, quite literally, around a large plastic piece full of little channels leading to mineshafts. Every turn, each player turns the plastic mountain at the top, which grabs a random marble from a channel and then deposits it, letting it find a random path down a channel and end up in an arbitrary shaft. This is the core mechanic of the game – during mining, ore, water, and gold will show up in random shafts when you mine, meaning you often have to frantically fang it around to gobble up precious goods before someone else does. It’s a really enjoyable way to screw over your fellow miners, frankly.

But the enormous core piece – the base with the tunnels and shafts on it – is made of extremely flimsy plastic. This is totally fine if you’re careful, but because the turning mechanism on top (the mountain) is hard plastic, it often gets stuck, and I found myself having to press it down to turn it, which made the plastic below buckle slightly. And let’s face it: kids are rough. All it would take is a clumsy or angry child with sweaty hands to destroy this game’s ability to send marbles off where they needed to go.

If you’re gentle with it (and you should be, you absolute brutes, games need to be treated tenderly and we all know it), the game is an absolute blast. Each player has an actual, physical mine cart (like in the ride!) which they can fill up with a maximum of four marbles. This means you have to keep going around the mountain, stopping at town to trade them in for either points (first one to twenty wins), or buying upgrades for your operation, which drastically alert your playstyle. There’s also a dreaded red marble, which forces you to draw a “fate” card, essentially throwing everyone’s game into chaos.

I also love Big Thunder Mountain’s ability to introduce board game newbies to deck building. Each player starts with a deck of supply cards, which have random actions on them (mine, pan, move, etc). As the game proceeds, you can acquire better cards with meatier movesets and work them into your deck, which means players become more powerful as the game builds towards its conclusion.

Really, this game cleverly takes complex gaming concepts and clearly boils them down. It’s a brilliant way to ease people into the world of games that aren’t just Scrabble and Monopoly – it has narrative elements, flavour text, deck building, random events, and a weird plastic mountain.

All wins in my book.

So whether you’re a rollercoaster aficionado going through withdrawals or a board game geek desperate to initiate their friends and family into their lifestyle, Big Thunder Mountain is a smash hit.

Just… be gentle with that mountain, OK? We don’t want any cave-ins.

Paul Verhoeven
Paul Verhoeven
Writer of Loose Units for Penguin. Host of ABCs Steam Punks. Host of 28 Plays Later. Unicorn enthusiast. Unicron enthusiast.

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