Work on the new board game “First Rat” began in August 2017. In 2019, the prototype by the two authors Virginio Gigli and Gabriele Ausiello was presented at Pegasus at SPIEL. Another 3 years later the game is now available. Here the players are in a race to the cheese moon. On their way to the rocket they collect resources needed for the journey. The rat family that contributes the most will also claim the largest share of Cheese Moon. The test shows how the game with the unique theme performs in practice.
The working title of the Pegasus novelty was "Four Camels". Mechanically, not much has changed at its core. Thematically, the wise decision was made to choose a theme that is significantly more unique. Almost 5 years have passed since the start of development. Now the game is out and available from Pegasus. The game comes with the claim to offer both frequent players tactical depth and to enable beginners to get started in more complex games. This claim is also reflected in the author duo. Virginio Gigli had his fingers in the game at Grand Austria Hotel, Golem or Coimbra and is therefore more on the demanding side of the board game world. This also applies to his personal taste in games. Gabrielle Ausiello, on the other hand, prefers lighter games. Da duo now has both tastes in first advice tied together. Let's take a look at how well this worked.
Houston, we have a cheese
Cheese is the in-game currency. The golden-yellow creaminess is the money of the rats - quasi their Emmen-Taler. Loans are moldy cheese. Unfortunately, it is not noble mold, but simply moldy cheese, which in the end earns minus points. In addition to money, of course, you need more to start a successful mission to the cheese moon. The individual parts of the rocket are assembled from vinegar bottles, baking soda, tin cans and calculators. If you're worried that you don't have enough of these in the house, rest easy. Of course, the game comes with everything you need in the form of resource tiles. You don't even have to store the cheese in a cool place, since it and all other resources are made of cardboard. There are also point markers, backpacks, energy drinks, comics and bottle caps.
For each rat family there are four rats in one of the five colors, ten scoring markers and one wooden rat den marker and one light marker. If there are fewer than five players, the neutral rats and scoring markers are used. These block some spots on the scoring tracks. The game content is completed by game aids, starting rat markers, scoring pad, solo cards and components for variable construction.
The rats run to the launching rocket
The easy access to the game is already evident when reading the train schedule. A move consists of only 2-4 steps. Here it is above all the first one that requires a greater mental effort. Your own rat(s) are preferred here. If you want to go to a field where another rat is already standing, you have to pay this person a cheese. Two of your own rats are never allowed on a field. If you only move one rat, it can move up to five spaces. If several of your own rats are to move, up to three fields are possible per rat. All must then remain on squares of the same color. Possible fields are yellow, white, green, blue or orange and bring corresponding resources or steps for the rat burrow or light marker in the second step. Yellow spaces bring cheese, white scraps of apple that can be used to move around the rat den to get comics, new rats, or access a score track, green and orange spaces bring resources, and blue spaces bring lamps that can be used to move the light marker. Through this, the income on the fields that he has passed will be increased in the future.
If one of the spaces on which a rat has ended its turn borders on the hamster, the frog or the crow, backpacks, energy drinks or bottle caps can be purchased there. The first two items will help collect more resources. The bottle caps bring victory points for different requirements at the end. These improvements can be paid for with cheese or stolen. Stealing is the only action that will make a rat go backwards. The miserly rats land back on the starting field.
At the end of the turn collected resources can be used to build parts (cockpit, cargo hold, engine) of the rocket. For each piece, a scoring marker is placed on the corresponding track. If you have a set of all three parts, you can also place a tile on the rocket bar. More bars are accessible when you donate ten cheese, when the light marker passes one of the three construction lights, when the rat burrow marker passes the storage cave, or when a rat reaches the rocket.
The game ends when a player's fourth rat reaches the rocket or a person places the eighth scoring marker. The rat family with the most points wins.
In addition to the printed path, the structure can also be designed variably using the small plates. The same goes for the score bars.
A solo mode is now almost standard. In the solo game, a rat family competes against the robo-rat Greg. Unfortunately, he has given up playing fair, the rule warns. The movement mechanism is central here. Thus, the core interaction mechanism between the human players is carried over into solo mode as well. Greg's deck of cards indicates how far his rats will travel. Each of these cards also has a symbol printed at the bottom. This specifies which scores Greg prepares or triggers. The ending is triggered using the same rules as in the multiplayer game. The structure is also variable in solo mode. Greg's difficulty can be adjusted to any level using cards from the A and B decks.
Number of players: 1 to 5
Age: from 10 years
Playing time: 30 to 75 minutes
Long-term motivation: very good
Core Mechanisms: Point-to-Point Movement, Race
Authors: Gabriele Ausiello and Virginio Gigli
Illustrations: Dennis Lohausen
Official Website: Link
Year of publication: 2022
Cost: 35 Euro
With first advice there is a really interesting game at Pegasus that unfortunately flies a bit under the radar. Had it come out a bit earlier, the game would certainly have been a hot contender for Kennerspiel des Jahres as well, as it caters to many types of board gamers.
The theme of the game is excellent. The illustrations are very lovingly designed and in the end make the topic appear present. The rules also use a lot of thematic explanations. However, the actual task of the rulebook is not forgotten here either. After studying the instructions once, no questions remain unanswered. The gameplay is clearly structured and quickly internalized.
The gameplay is very good. The resources, backpacks, comics, energy drinks and bottle caps made of sturdy cardboard are of excellent quality. The same applies to the wooden components. You won't find anything wrong with the material.
During the game, the only elements that need to be looked up for the meaning of the symbols are the comics and their effects. But here you also find out very quickly what they do. All other symbols on the game board and also the solo cards are absolutely unique.
A move is executed quite quickly. Even if you use all four phases, the waiting time for the other players is not too long. The running mechanics work very well and require planning ahead for profitable combos. The game offers a lot of possibilities to build up a strategy. Each focus you set when collecting has its advantages and disadvantages. Nevertheless, there is no way that one could identify as the better one from the start.
The interaction between the players is of a pleasant intensity. Of course, the higher the number of people, the higher it will be. Choosing whether to pay your opponents a cheese and help them is a nice part of the game. Of course you shouldn't lose sight of where the other rats are running around. Otherwise you run the risk of no longer being able to implement your well-considered plans.
The evaluation at the end is quite detailed due to the many individual bars, but it is not confusing or provided with unnecessarily complicated conversions. This shows that the balance between the individual strategies has been very successful. All, if done well, produce a similar result. Whoever does this best wins, of course.
The replay appeal of the game is very high. If the pre-printed side becomes too monotonous for you, you can play each game with a completely new structure on the back. The individual bars can also receive variable points and shift the preferences when placing the scoring stones.
Compared to the multiplayer game, the robo-rat Greg and the solo mode don't have to hide either. The simple controls of the robo rats do not distract from your own game. The fact that Greg prepares the scores before he scores them also allows you to influence the points that Greg can receive. Only the difficulty is not really high. In the test, Greg only had one chance at the highest level.
Thanks to its low barrier to entry and the many tactical possibilities, the game is suitable for both occasional and frequent players. On the one hand, it can offer an entry into the world of somewhat more complex board games, without deterring experienced players with the shallow feel of the game.