Published by Pegasus Spiele Designed by: Gabriele Ausiello & Virginio Gigli
Online prices found: £29.00 - £39.00 Solo - 5 Players aged 10+
Okay, let's get the tabloid headline out there from the start, FIRST RAT is FIRST RATE. Actually I am quite surprised that the cover art designer, the extremely creative Dennis Lohausen (Terra Mystica, Village, Camel Up, Luxor, Quacks of Quedlinburg etc), didn't arrange the design so that the flag held by the Rattronaut on the top right of the artwork had an 'E' effect.
5 cute mini wooden Rats in player ID colours along with 10 of the same colour coded Score markers, 5 of each (colour coded) Light String and Burrowing markers. There are also a Grey Rat mini with its own 14 score markers which are introduced if there are less than five players. We played our games with just the regular 4 members of our group so the Grey Rat was always in play.
Life in the junk yard has always been good. New and useful salvage appears almost daily so there is always something the Rats and other Animals, especially the Rats, who frequent the yard to do or play with. Having been convinced by the Rat children that the information discovered about the Moon in a comic was true - the Moon is made of Cheese - the Rats decided to cash in on this intelligence and, with the help of all the creatures in the yard, a plan is conceived to build a Rocket and fly to the Moon, not just to mine the Cheese but in fact to colonise and take over the Moon itself. Yellow Moon at night is a Rat's delight!
Each player takes on the role of the head of one of the yard's Rat families who all work together to collect the necessary components to build and launch the Rocket.
If you, yes you the current reader, are an astrophysicist or a rocket scientist, then you will be delighted to discover that the First Rat game designers have done their due diligence on rocket building, and ensured that the most useful components requiired can be found in the yard.
These include the following:
Backpacks, Energy Drinks, Bottle Caps, Comics, Calculators, Tin Cans, Vinegar, and Baking Soda (children know that Vinegar and Baking Soda have long been a major recipe for propulsion).
To collect resources players have to land on the required spaces. Each of these spaces, except Yellow, supplies one resource as shown on the space itself. Apart from Yellow, the spaces of which provide a number of pieces of Cheese, the Red and Green spaces provide one only of each resource shown on them. Where their Light String marker is on the Light String track defines whether there are bonus resources.
The path to the launch pad has been marked through the junkyard by a pattern of colourful ellipses, each showing one type of collectible component. Alongside this track is a string of lights, also set out like a pathway, that players move their Light String Markers along. These tracks go towards the game being a race, and indeed the player whose pieces reach the end of them do gain valuable points and prestige. However, this game also requires strategic movement of pieces so as to collect resources along the way; thus making it a two-fold contested event.
Each player uses the same simple sequence of play, which may make you think the game could get stale quickly, but because of the special movement rules and the options open to all players, each game plays similarly but different enough to prolong playability.
Players have four Rats they can move on the track, but not all at the same time. Beginning with two Rats (each) on the Start Space players have to release the other two Rats during play. On Turn the movement allowance per player is up to 5 spaces for one Rat or 1-3 spaces for 2-4 of your Rats along the elliptical race course. Rats may only ever move forward never backwards. Rats of the same owner may never land on the same space and when moving more than one of your Rats in a Turn they must end up on different spaces of the track but those spaces must be of the same colour.
On the lower part of the board is a one way track called the Rat Burrow. Players move their Barrow Marker pieces around this track according to the number of Apple cores collected in the Turn. From the Start space on this Barrow the marker moves along the spaces into the Library and then along to a right-hand turn where they can enter the Nursery and set another of your Rats out onto the elliptical track, or instead of taking the turn they can move onto the Food Store - each of the Nursery, Library and Food Store has an entry space that when landed on provides players with a reward.
Players move their The Light String piece on the Light String Track to gain additional resources - as you pass each scoring space the number of resources you gain with your Rats is increased. Moving onto or past the Construction Lights spaces allows players to place a marker on the respective score track for VPs.
Rats going to the Moon to colonise it for the Cheese is a super theme to hang on what is basically a double-race game. The opening tale (not tail) sets the scene and (sort of) suggests that this is a cooperative game - the Rat families working together to achieve the mighty goal of getting to the moon - but it is more of a rat race between the families than a friendly collaberation. It does have the rule whereby all players have the same number of Turns.
This is a good fun, free flowing strategy and tactical game. It has a frustration factor, a race factor, rewards, bonuses, Rats and Cheese and even short cuts from a lower part of the track to a higher part. There are Super Rats, Moldy (that's mouldy in the UK) Cheese, Shopping (landing on one of the special stores run by Harry Hamster, Zippy the Frog, Madcap Crow), Stealing (grabbing a resource and running back home (returning the Rat to the Start Space), and the construction of a Cockpit, Cargo Bay and Thruster, in fact the only thing missing is an actual Rocket - though if there is an expansion planned this would be the ideal beginning for it; starting where this game ends and continuing with completing the Rocket and racing up to the Moon where they can mine Cheese (and perhaps a little relish to go with it).
Pegasus Spiele - if you're looking for ideas for an expansion, you know where I am!
If I have one complaint about FIRST RAT it is that with all that's going on with the junkyard board there are times when it looks a little confusing, particularly the Light String Track as it tends to blend in with the background. This only bothered one of my friends as they have a spatial awareness problem and such a fully decorated playing area can disconcert them.
Overall FIRST RAT is as I said at the beginning, FIRST RATE!
It plays well, has a fun theme, is challenging, and is enjoyable win or lose - though more so if you win. It's the type of game I would suggest to players who like family friendly games but are looking for a more than Monopoly, Cluedo, etc but aren't quite ready for Catan. Yes I know Catan is an easy to play game, but it is somewhat daunting for people who have never played a game in that genre, whereas FIRST RAT is first and foremost a race game, although it has shiny knobs attached, that people can understand the significance of.