1st & Goal from R&R Games tackles the excitement of the gridiron squarely to the tabletop. There have been other American football simulators, like those on gaming consoles and the old electric football. These may be a classics in their own rights, but 1st & Goal best captures the careful calculation and daring chance-taking that every coach must master to guide his or her team to the top.
Cards and dice synthesize the thrill of athleticism on the tabletop. Players flip a coin to determine who goes first as the offense team with the other acting as defense, each with their own decks. Players draw up a hand of cards, each marked with plays common to football like the long pass Bomb or the Sweep running play, and secretly choose one.
The offense and defense reveal their chosen cards at the same time, which determines a set of dice to be rolled to show the effect of the play. Varied yardage dice count the forward movement, defensive dice count backward, and a Play Die shows potential results like the play being broken up, the runner breaking away into bonus yardage, or a referee calling a penalty. Just as on the field, the offense must move the ball down the field ten yards, otherwise it is turned over to the defense to become the new offense, prompting players to trade decks.
The rules of 1st & Goal follow those of American football very closely. This may lead to a learning curve for some, but the game beautifully ties in the particular eccentricities of football that make the game so engaging. Scoring is the same as on the field with six points for a touchdown, kicking for an extra point or going for the two point conversion, or kicking a three-point field goal. Players will enjoy bonus rules that allow for squib kicks or a last-minute Hail Mary.
The beauty in 1st & Goal is its ingenious touches that smooth the game and minimize anything extraneous, such as using the offense deck as a “clock,” meaning the half runs out as the deck does. The board has magnets built into the yardage along the field to perfectly line up the first down flags while the ball moves in sections showing which down, clearing up any potential confusion before it could start. The game proves so fluid that, within the first few reveals, players will have the mechanics down pat and begin the real challenge: outwitting an opponent with the cleverest play.
1st & Goal is a board game for two to four players aged fourteen and up. As one of the strongest two-player games out there thanks to its dual-deck system, it is also suitable for team play with one player as the offensive coach and one for the defensive team. 1st & Goal is a medium to longer game, lasting about an hour or more, depending on how quickly players roll through their decks or spend trying to outwit one another on the field. Younger players might join in as part of the team play, helping to roll the dice while more experienced players determine the plays and their outcomes. Whether a football enthusiast or a serious gamer, players will return again and again to 1st & Goal in the off season or as some tailgating entertainment.