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Review: 1st and Goal

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Are you a loyal fan of the home town team?  If so, no doubt you bleed the home colors and root for your boys (or girls) through think and thin, victory and defeat, glory and agony.  But yet, every so often (or more), watching your team on the TV, you just know that you could play better or make smarter decisions.  If only youwere calling the shots and given the chance to slip that jersey on and get in the game.  Well, now is your chance!  R&R Games’ family-friendly design puts you in charge on the sidelines.  Make the call to roll, pass, and kick your way to victory!

How it Plays

1st & Goal is an American football quasi-simulation played with dice and cards through the use of a simultaneous action selection mechanic.  Further, through the play selection process, there is a bit of bluffing and deduction as you’re trying to guess your opponent’s move and the best offense or defense against it.

Two decks of cards and a handful of dice are the central components that drive the game.  Players share the cards – an offense deck and a defense deck – exchanging back and forth, as necessary, depending on who currently has possession of the ball.  These cards are the individual plays that the “coaches” may call, which they do so simultaneously and reveal at the same time.  Hand sizes are always eight cards, providing a good chance to have some variety to pick from.  Each card lists the type of play, plus a handy table beneath which cross-references it with the one your opponent called from the other deck.  Matching up the two calls indicates which die or dice to roll in order to determine the play’s results.

In the base game, there are six different colored dice for offense, one black die for defense, and three unique special dice – a play die, a referee die, and a penalty die.  The play cards indicate which offensive dice to roll (typically 1-3, though sometimes none) and how many times the defensive die is thrown (usually just once).  Most of the numbers on the offensive dice are positive, while the black die includes some negative amounts.  After rolling, the aggregate result is the number of yards that that play gained.

The basic dice (black for defense) with breakaway symbol showing on the play die.

The three special dice, however, can create some unpredictable events and/or wild plays.  The play die is rolled with the offense dice every down, possibly leading to unforeseen results.  Tossing an ‘X’ on this die means no gain, regardless of the total from the offense and defense dice.  The play die might also indicate a possible turnover or penalty; however, you must get a similar result on the subsequent referee die to determine whether or not they actually occurred and, in the case of penalties, against which team and for how many yards penalized.  Another interesting scenario is the break away – in which case you get to re-roll all of your offensive dice, adding the total to previous yards earned.  You also roll the play die again, ignoring any results other than the break away symbol – in which case you may get to keep rolling for an even bigger gain!

All of this progress is tracked on a board representing a 100-yard field (not to scale), replete with magnetized yard markers and a little football.  For each yard a play earns, or loses, players move the football the corresponding distance on the field.  Just as in real football, you get four attempts to make a first down, field goal, or punt.  Advancing past the yardage marker earns a new 10 yards and a fresh set of downs.  Advancing into the end zone scores 6 points, with an extra point or two-point conversion attempt to follow.

After resolving a play, cards are discarded as both the offense and defense decks are whittled down play by play.  When the offense scores, punts, or turns the ball over, players switch decks to represent changing possession; but discarded cards remain out of play.  The first half ends when the offense deck is depleted.  At that point, all cards are shuffled again and the game continues in the same manner for a second half.  The player or team with the most points at the end of the second half is victorious!

The view from the nose-bleed section!

Hail Mary or Quarterback Sack?

Ah, Fall.  It’s that time of year when the country gears up for America’s true classic pastime – and I’m not talking about that snooze-fest called the World Series.  No, I mean football!  Can’t you can feel the excitement in the air?  This week, big cities and small towns across the Unites States will be filling high school stands for Friday nights under the lights.  Marching bands, cheerleaders, and mascots will entertain swelling stadiums on campuses from coast to coast.  Even those monsters and divas in the National Football League will soon kill and maim each other in 21stcentury gladiatorial battles throughout the nation’s modern day coliseums.  Are you ready for some football?!

In full disclosure, I’m a huge fan of the gridiron – college football, to be more precise.  Real life responsibilities often intermittently interfere, but it’s not unheard of to see my bum parked on the recliner on Saturdays from noon to midnight catching as much NCAA action as humanly possible as the networks will allow.  It’s kind of the one, self-indulgent excess I permit myself.  Ironically, I don’t think that hardcore football fans are the target audience for this title.  In fact, they may not enjoy it, because it’s not a true simulation of the game.

However, I’m an even bigger fan of the family.  That’s who I spend quality time with the majority of life. Plus, if I’m honest, they’re the only people I’m likely to get off of said bum for on Saturdays between noon and midnight in the Fall.  And family is, in my opinion, the preferred target audience here.  Family gamers should appreciate 1st and Goal because it’s accessible, quick, looks nice, is fun to play, and has enough thematic chrome to really enhance the experience.

Penalty against the defense, but I’ll take the 11 yards, instead…

You don’t need to be an expert in the sport to enjoy 1st& Goal.  Depending on what you’re looking for, that’s either good or bad.  This is no detailed, stats-heavy simulation about X’s and O’s.  Sure, die-hard fans will pick-up the game quicker as they’re already familiar with the game’s terminology and concepts.  But anyone wanting to channel their latent analytical skills or become the next Vince Lombardi will be sorely disappointed.  Now, if those same individuals would like to spread a little love of the pastime with casual gamers and family, this is a good choice.

1st & Goal has lots of thematic chrome.  Its simple rules include many core elements of the sport such as touch-backs, field goals, timeouts, turnovers, and penalties.  Furthermore, it adds similarly intuitive mechanics to bring in other characteristics that have made the game so exciting and endearing through its history: Hail Mary passes, quarterback sneaks, breakaways, two-point conversions, and onside kicks.  These bring a lot of flavor to game play and contribute to the enjoyment.The unique “clock” mechanism works very well. The dwindling deck represents minutes ticking away.  If you call a run, you must discard another card to simulate the fact that rushing plays use up more clock.  You can call up to three timeouts per half to search the discard pile for a card to help with clock management.  And if you’re down to the last play (card) of the half or game, and behind by just one score, you can try a Hail Mary and go for a desperate, last second heave to the end zone.

Cross reference the Bomb with an Inside Blitz and the offense gets to roll the red, blue, and green dice. That’s a big play!

The theme can get a bit clunky, however.  The largest offender is the way plays match up in obvious passing situations.  When you need lots of yardage for a first down, you will understandably call a pass play.  However, the defender knows this as well, and so dials in an appropriate defense.  Now, this is what coaches do in the real game, but individual skill and savvy play calling will often trump well prepared defenses who know what’s coming.  Not so in 1st & Goal.  A pass defense against a pass will usually shut it down, sometimes even automatically disallowing the player on offense to roll ANY dice.  Instead, just the defense die is tossed, and sometimes twice.  Sure, that black die might have some positive numbers on it, but they’re very low.  A two yard gain on a “bomb” play is laughingly incongruous with reality.  Similarly strange results are applicable to rushing plays, as well.  Short rushing plays against short run defense will invariably lose yardage, every time, making goal line scenarios rather anti-climactic.

Without any rules changes then, the fix to this glaring issue is bluffing and deduction.  Since the coach on offense knows the defender will be playing the pass, he may just call a run.  With the formulaic results table never changing, a run play against a pass defense should normally net a lot of positive yards.  But then the defender knows this, as well, so maybe he’ll put in a rushing defense instead.  However, the one on offense knows that the defender knows that he knows, and…well, you see?  It becomes a battle of wits, ala The Princess Bride, and clearly I cannot choose the glass in front of me.  Therefore, the play selection mechanic is counter intuitive for those half-way familiar with the game.  But it is meant to abstract the reality.  Personally, we’ve implemented a house rule that ensures the offense always get to roll at least one die, usually the lowest color corresponding to whether the play be a run or pass.

Another thematic oddity is the rarity of turnovers and penalties, in spite of the mechanic included to enact them.  Rolling the requisite result on the play die occurs often enough, but that only indicates that the referee die is then rolled.  In the case of turnovers, the referee die must land the identical symbol – the equivalent of a snake eyes – for the ball to actually change hands.  Theoretically, penalties may happen more often since there is a two-thirds chance of tossing the right symbol on the referee die – but still only after the play die indicates so beforehand.  While I can appreciate the concept in keeping these events low, they nonetheless seem less probable than in reality.

The game board is eminently functional – they scored a touch down on this one, for sure!

Despite some wonky results, 1st & Goal just has that intangible fun factor that’s hard to quantify.  Yes, there is a great amount of luck involved and the bluffing/deduction element is largely a peanut and shell game.  But it’s not pretending to be dissected by ESPN.  Rather, the design is trying to capture the spirit and flavor of the sport, not simulate stats and player skills.  One, there is no way to really game individual skills in an analog product.  Two, a game bogged down by stats, attributes, and ratings would just be boring.  I’d play Madden ’13, instead.

To add variety and replayability, there are several expansion packs for the base game.  Each pack offers four new teams, providing a completely customized set of dice for each squad with different strengths (or weaknesses) in rushing, passing, and defense.  Buy them all, gather some friends and family, and organize a league.  Once again, greatly adding on to that intangible fun factor.

Game play moves rather quickly.  There is no downtime since players choose their actions simultaneously.  Resolving the play’s results is fast and simple, even if a turnover, penalty, or breakaway occurs.  Really, the most difficult thing is counting off yardage once you get too much further beyond a first down.

Field not to scale.

Now, 1st & Goal is much better as a two-player affair.  With three or four, then teammates will split offensive and defensive duties, which means you’ll be sitting out roughly half the game.  Yes, it could be fun while following along and hamming it up, but honestly, who wants to sit out for extended periods of time?  And while the game moves quickly with constant action, it does last a little too long for the repetitive activity that you take play after play.  Experienced players will clock in right around 90 minutes, but it could stand to be truncated by about a third of that time.

The production quality is top notch.  The board is perfectly functional with well-marked hash lines for yardage.  The yard marker and football magnets are a tremendous touch and keep those important components from sliding around so that you don’t lose your place.  Helpful tables are printed directly on the board for easy reference in regard to the important, special rules exceptions.  The cards are heavy stock with a slick, gloss finish.  Clear plastic tokens help keep score and track of timeouts, which are also on the game board.  The dice are the only bits not to write home about – they are generic cubes that require stickering the supplied numbers to.  Otherwise, the components show the design’s attention to practical function, clarity of detail, and ease of use.

Special rules summary table comes in handy!

1st & Goal delivers the excitement of the gridiron right to your table-top.  Fans of the sport will certainly pick up the title faster.  But thanks to the dice and card mechanics, one need not know the difference between a nose guard and slant back to enjoy it.  It does have a few thematic miscues.  However, it includes a number of the game’s elements to really capture football’s true nature and spirit.  While more realistic simulations may exist, 1st& Goal offers a very condensed and eminently playable experience for the whole family to toss, run, kick, and pass their way to pay dirt.

Summary

  • Rating 7.5
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Pros

  • Simultaneous play
7.5 Good

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

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