02 July 2022
A Rat Race You Won't Want to Escape
In First Rat, junkyard rodents are racing to build a rocket bound for the moon where they will gorge on cheese. While the premise is at times holier than a chunk of Emmental (isn’t it mice that love cheese?), this game has real charm.
The cover box suggests a family affair with lightweight gameplay. In actuality, it’s loaded with easy-to-learn strategy that tests all ages, and any patronising thoughts about “letting the kids win” soon vanish. First Rat is anyone’s for the taking.
Unlike in traditional family games, there isn’t a clear way to triumph. Using multiple score trackers, points can be earnt in a variety of ways from collecting cheese for the journey to building the most rocket parts. Whoever is the first to place eight cubes across the score trackers (or get four rats ready for blast off) triggers the end of the game.
The path to victory is quite literally a path – one that ascends. Players use rat meeples to collect items and travel towards the launchpad, where they will remain upon arrival, making every step count. Rather than relying on dice to progress, movement restrictions apply, getting players to think ahead and assess consequences (free parenting!). These rules are kept simple through colour-coded spaces and basic maths, so kids pick it up almost instantly.
In addition to the main path, two further tracks require attention. These comprise of the burrow (where rats can be released to join the mission and collect more items/points) and a string of lightbulbs hung to help the rats see in the dark and therefore collect bonus resources. Even the rulebook can’t deliver this nocturnal nonsense with a straight face and pokes great fun at itself. Who can stay mad at such self-deprecation? Besides, the string has a score tracker all of its own, and extra items are always welcome.
Each item helpfully introduces kids to the idea of resource exchange, whether it’s fashioning baking soda and vinegar into rocket thrusters or cashing in fromage for objective tokens. The tokens themselves are a highlight, taking the form of cardboard bottle tops with a wonderfully tactile serrated edge.
It’s time to address a potential barrier: theme. Other than Roland (hello, rat fans!) and that Disney film no one can spell, rats have an image problem. Yet First Rat might just be the PR campaign to change all that because it’s so humorously, and cutely, illustrated. Adults of a certain age get misty-eyed reminiscing about the 80s cartoon vibe (very Count Duckula), while kids love spotting the cast of secondary characters who dish out bonus points from their witty homes. Look – there’s Zippy the Frog swimming in a fizzy-pop pond! Ah - Harry Hamster’s stall is an old match box!
At £30, the cost is obviously greater than your average family title. It’s justified through a reversible board that flips to reveal a variable blank path and score trackers, ready to take kids to the next level when they’re able.
It would be remiss not to mention a couple of niggles. When the basic game has been grasped, super rats are introduced. One, Neil Ratstrong, is, er, stronger than the others, giving owners double points if they reach the top first. Neil’s presence needn’t trigger aborted missions, however, because he can be caught with a bit of cunning. Another minor factor… in all the games tested, the mouldy cheese penalty was never once needed. Straws are being clutched here and neither issue is enough to spoil enjoyment.
Offbeat, light-hearted and fun, First Rat has the cross-generational appeal of a family favourite. As kids get older, they’ll be able to appreciate the finer aspects and even dabble in the variable board, giving them a replayable game capable of growing as they do.
PLAY IT? YES
First Rat strikes a balance between intuitive play for kids and Euro mechanics for adults. It paves the way for developing strategy and planning techniques, shaping the next generation of gamers.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED: Great Western Trail
Parents patiently waiting to share Great Western Trail with their offspring will appreciate the similar race-to-the-top device, as well as echoes of the point-to-point movement rules.
Designer: Gabriele Ausiello & Virginio Gigli
Publisher: Pegasus Spiele
Time: 30-75 minutes
What’s in the box?
- Double-sided gameboard
- 22 Rat meeples
- 5 Light string markers
- 64 Score markers
- 5 Rat burrow markers
- 60 Cheese markers
- 12 Mouldy cheese markers
- 10 Backpack tokens
- 6 Energy drink tokens
- 10 Bottle cap tokens
- 10 Comics tokens
- 95 Building materials tokens
- 26 Variable path tiles
- 8 Variable score trackers
- 4 Super rats
- 16 Awards
- 5 Player aids
- Start rat marker
- 22 solo game cards
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This review came from Tabletop Gaming Magazine, which is home to all of the latest and greatest tabletop goodness. Whether you're a board gamer, card gamer, wargamer, RPG player or all of the above, find your copy here.Get your magazine here
If you want to read more about one of the most hotly anticipated games of the year, check out our interview with Cole Wehrle on ARCS! A new game from the designer of Root and Oath, and we've got all you need to know.To infinity and beyond
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