I'm a big fan of (American) football in general, and professional football in particular. My father grew up in Wisconsin, and from my earliest memories there was never any doubt that I would be a fan of the Green Bay Packers. Today, I'm a part-owner of the Packers, as are my father and my wife. So it's natural that I'm also a big fan of football-themed board games.
And 1st & Goal, designed by Stephen Glenn and published by R&R Games, has quickly earned the title of my favorite football-themed game.
Simple But Challenging
At the core, 1st & Goal is simple -- in the same way that a real football game is simple. The offense chooses a play, the defense chooses a play, and then... excitement. Or a 1-yard run. But something happens every play.
There are two primary elements to 1st & Goal: a pair of 60-card decks (one for offense, one for defense -- each split evenly between running plays and passing plays) and 10 dice (seven "team" dice and three "game" dice).
After the kickoff, which is resolved with a touchback or a series of die rolls (receiving team's choice), each player draws eight cards from the appropriate deck. They each choose one to play, and the cards are compared to determine which dice are rolled; the results on the dice determine the outcome of the play.
Offense vs. Defense
There are a dozen offensive plays (e.g., halfback dive, screen, slant and bomb) and a dozen defensive plays (e.g., goal line, cover 2 spy, corner blitz and dime). Aggressive play calling on offense or defense can result in some spectacular successes, but it can also give your opponent an opening to make a large gain.
For example, if it's 3rd and 10, the offense might call a medium pass. If the defense calls a safety blitz, the best the offense can hope for is a gain of one yard (or a penalty on the defense). On the other hand, if the offense expects the safety blitz and calls a sweep (running play) instead, the result of the play could range from -1 yard to +22 yards.
The game is played in two halves; each half ends when the player currently on offense runs out of cards. So a large part of being successful in 1st & Goal is card management. (Time outs are also key to proper card management.)
The board represents a 100-yard football field, with some key rules summarized on the side. The "field" section of the board is magnetized, so the football placement and the first-down marker cannot be knocked out of place simply by bumping the board.
Expansions Add to the Game
By itself, the base game would be enough for me to give 1st & Goal a five-star rating and an enthusiastic recommendation.
But there are also six expansions available, each of which includes four custom sets of team dice. The Scranton Scorchers, for example, are a strong running team and above average on defense, but rather weak at passing. On the other hand, the Oklahoma City Ogres can turn in a dominating offensive performance, but have a remarkably bad defense.
Each expansion shows the rankings (passing, rushing, defense) for all four teams on the back of the box, so you know exactly what you're getting before spending any extra cash.
A Must-Buy for Football Fans
But the expansions are really just icing on the cake for an already great game.
I could nitpick a few things -- Why is the slant not permitted from inside the 10-yard line? The Packers run this play all the time! -- but that misses the point. 1st & Goal is a board game, not a real-life simulation. And it succeeds wonderfully.
As a fan of American football, 1st & Goal will always have a spot in my game collection. I cannot recommend it more highly.
1st & Goal was designed by Stephen Glenn and published by R&R Games. For 2 to 4 players (best with 2), ages 13 and up. About 60 minutes per game.