Review: 1st & Goal

Designer: Stephen Glenn
Publisher: R&R Games
Players: 2-4 (best with 2)
Ages: 10 and up (publisher recommends 13 and up)
Play Time: 60-90 minutes

Review by Erik Arneson

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

This review was originally posted on About.com.

Opinions from the Other Opinionated Gamers

Ted Alspach: 1st and Goal is by far the best boardgame “simulation” of football. There’s a fair amount of chaos thanks to the dice rolling and trying to outguess your opponent, but in that way it’s like real football. In fact, calling plays (choosing the correct card) is a continual game of oneupmanship, where anticipating what your opponent is going to do is key to moving (or stopping) the ball.

Mark Jackson: I’ve been a long-time fan of Pizza Box Football – I liked the blend of dice-rolling (the chaos Ted refers to) and calling plays. But I think 1st & Goal has raised the bar with the larger play grid (12×12 for 1st & Goal vs 6×6 for Pizza Box Football WITH the expansion teams) and the deck/timer mechanic. I also like the varied dice for the expansion teams, though the base game is perfectly playable without them.

My only gripe – and it’s a minor one – is that I miss the the whole “playing with a ‘real’ NFL team” vibe.

Greg Schloesser: As a youth – and even into high school – I played the heck out of the Sports Illustrated Pro Football Game, which ultimately became Paydirt when Avalon Hill absorbed the Sports Illustrated line of games. 1st and Goal borrows heavily – extremely heavily – from those games. The problem is that it leaves out what is to me a critical feature. In SI / Paydirt games, even if the defense called a play that was a perfect call versus the offensive selection, there was still a chance – albeit small – that the offensive play could result in yardage. That is missing in 1st and Goal. For me, it is a glaring oversight that sucks much of the fun and excitement from the game.

Like Mark Jackson, I also miss playing “real” teams, but I’m sure the licensing would have been prohibitive.

Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it!… Erik Arneson, Mark Jackson, Mike Siggins
I like it… Ted Alspach
Neutral… Greg Schloesser
Not for me…

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About Erik Arneson

Gov. Ed Rendell once called me brilliant. He didn't mean it. Fiction in Thuglit, Needle, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, and more. Temple Owl. Packers owner. Find me at erikarneson.com and @erikarneson on Twitter.
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3 Responses to Review: 1st & Goal

  1. Craig Massey says:

    Great review Erik! I’ve been waffling on playing this one, but your enthusiasm has changed my mind.

  2. rprasadusa says:

    Just a quick comment on the other side of this, sort of: for someone not at all familiar with American football, holy crap there are a lot of rules and terms and stuff to learn!!

  3. R Pisarz says:

    Greg brings up a valid point. That is why as the publisher of Data-Driven Football (Paydirt’s successor) I pay close attention to representing defenses realistically. With the data and technology available today our generation has distinct advantages over the original football simulation designers decades ago.

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