Dale Yu: Ways of Choosing Who Goes First

One of my favorite things to do is to read the rules to a new game and see what the rule is for determining the starting player.

In the most recent crop of Essen games, here are some of the starting player rules

  • He who dances the flamenco the best
  • The player who can correctly say the name of the game backwards three times
  • The player who was last on a tower
  • The smallest person starts
  • The player who is the furthest south starts
  • the person who most recently visited a building under construction

(Bonus points to those readers who can figure out which games these come from)

Despite these inventive rules, the majority of games simply ask you to choose a starting player in any suitable manner.  Sometimes, it makes sense to choose a particular player to go first.  For instance, in a very complicated game that some have played and others have not, it makes sense to have the experienced player go first so that the newbies have a chance to see how a turn is played before they have to start.  In other games, if there is a specific advantage to going first, we might try to let the less experienced player go first to even out the disadvantage of not knowing the game as well.

When we don’t know what else to do – here are our usual options

1) The finger to nose game – usually at some point during the rules explanation, someone in our group will touch their finger to their nose.  This starts a quick chain reaction of all players touching their nose.  The last person to figure out that this is going on is the “winner” – and gets to go first in that game

White House Chief of Staff-designate Rahm Emanuel either doesn't want to go first or he smells something fishy.

White House Chief of Staff-designate Rahm Emanuel either doesn’t want to go first or he smells something fishy.

2) Start Player


Mini-review of Start Player

  • Designer: Ted Alspach
  • Publisher: Z-Man Games
  • Players: 1+
  • Ages: 14+
  • Time: about 1 minute

Honestly, there’s no better idea to decide how to start a game than by playing a separate game to choose!  Start Player is a “game” that gives you 54 cards, each of which lists a condition to determine Start Player.  Most of them are inherent qualities such as “The Player who has the biggest ears in the Start Player”, though some are reaction-based such as “The next player to put something in their mouth is the Start Player”.  To play Start Player, one player flips over a card, reads the condition aloud and then the players figure out who won.  If there is a tie, there is a clever little arrow that points in a random direction on the card, and if it points towards one of the tied players, then that player goes first.  If there is a dispute, simply flip over a different card and do the whole thing again.  The “winner” of Start Player gets a huge white Start Player meeple – and one of the meta-game conditions of Start Player is that the person currently holding the Start Player meeple may not be the starting player in the next game.

My thoughts on the game

It’s a decent way to figure out who starts the next game, and when we use Start Player, we make the person currently holding the big white Start Player meeple be the person who has to read the card out loud.  As some of the cards involve a quick reaction, it makes sense for the person who can’t win to be the one to read the card.

While there are plenty of other ways to choose the starting player, Start Player is a cute way to do it.  It’s also a nice stocking stuffer, gag gift, etc.  Apparently plenty of people agree with me as the game has just gone through a re-print.  Z-Man has just recently re-released the game.

There is even an iOS implementation of this – but as I’m an Android guy, I haven’t tried the iOS app…

Ratings for the Opinionated Gamers:

  • I love it! Ted Alspach*
  • I like it. Dale Yu**
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

*NB: Ted might be slightly biased in his rating as he is the designer

**NB: Dale thinks it’s good, but not as good as say Suburbia, Dominion or Gib Gas!

(This probably sets the record as the only game which takes you longer to read the review than to actually play the game itself!)

3) Select Who?

As I mentioned earlier – I’m an Android guy!  Select Who? is a new app that was brought to my attention by the designer – Robert Eggar.  This is a free app in the Android market


The concept here is simple.  Each player places a fingertip on the screen of the smartphone running the app.  The app supposedly can handle up to 10 fingertips, but I think that the actual number depends more on the sensitivity of your smartphone screen.  On my Galaxy S4, I have been able to get the app to recognize 10 different fingers at once.


There is a short countdown that starts when the first finger is placed, and when the countdown is complete, one of the fingertips turns dark purple.  The owner of that finger is the start player.


It’s a neat app, and the price is right.

4) Throwing bits across the table – if the game gives players a colored scoring bit, whoever is closest to them might pick them up, pick an object on the table or maybe on the game board and then throw/drop the scoring bits.  Whichever scoring bit is closest to the stated goal is the start player.

5) Drawing bits out of a hand – Alternatively, someone can pick up all the scoring bits and hold them in their fist.  Another player then has to try to squeeze their fingers into that sweaty fist and pluck out one to determine the starting player.  It works just as well, but is somehow less sexy.

6) Spin-4-It – I received one of these gadgets as a door prize at a Gathering of Friends or maybe a Gulf Games.  It’s a metal pointer finger which has a little divot in it that allows it to spin around and around with the slightest of pushes.  As long as players are spread out somewhat equally, you plunk this on the table, let it spin and whoever it points to is the start player.


As a word of warning, they really spin for quite a while.  If you’re in a rush, you could probably play three or four games of Start Player in the time it takes this finger to stop spinning…

They are $3 each or a box of 100 for $150 for the creators: http://www.twojbs.com/Spin-4-It.html

7) Shocking Roulette

The last one is Shocking Roulette – a battery powered object.  I got my copy of this from Dave Arnott as a booby prize for some puzzle hunt that I must have sucked at.

The idea here is simple – players who are vying to be start player put their fingers into one of the slots on the shocking roulette.  Someone hits the start button and the lights on the Roulette light up in order around the device.  At some point, the “winner” of the game gets a nice little electrical shock on their finger.  While the lights on the device don’t tell you who won, usually everyone can figure it out as the “winner” is generally quickly pulling their finger out of the shocking roulette!


The shock itself isn’t too bad – much less severe than say sticking your tongue on a 9V battery.  The big downside of Shocking Roulette is that it only accomodates four victimes (I mean players).  You can still find this at many online game stores as well as Amazon.  I think I’ve even seen it at a Spencer’s Gifts in my local mall.

Are there any other methods that you guys use to determine start player?

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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8 Responses to Dale Yu: Ways of Choosing Who Goes First

  1. Matt J Carlson says:

    I’ve used Start Player as a makeshift source of “Minute to Win It” games to good effect in our Youth Group… call up a couple students, flip a card, and see who can “be” start player. (Usually I’ll cull out the “biggest ears” or whatever ones so there’s some sort of action needed…)

    I also have a set of “player order” dice. (Four 12-sided dice that are rolled to give each player an equal chance of going 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th. The all numbers from 1-48 are used on the dice so ties will not happen… They’re “very cool”. http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/130357/go-first-dice

  2. nathanbeeler says:

    One I use constantly is a free spin the bottle app on my iphone. What makes this much much better than something like the Spin-4-It finger is that it’s absolutely clear who the bottle has landed on in the border cases. It lights up the colored region of the player it is currently pointing at. The other common method I use in games that have a die and six or fewer players is to assign everyone a number and roll the die. If we come up with a number that wasn’t assigned, then we simply reroll. It takes only a couple seconds and is a big improvment over games that would have everyone roll two dice with the highest going first. Finally, we will use the “drop colored pieces out of a hand” method, usually in games where you don’t just need a start player but a starting player order (first, second, third, etc). The only trickiness of that are the occasions when more than one piece falls, but even that is usually easy to resolve.

  3. huzonfirst says:

    Then there’s Tom Rosen’s favorite method, in which he uses the children’s game of pointing in turn to each player while saying, “Eeny, meenie, minie, mo…”, through all 16 words of the jingle. We’ve repeatedly tried to tell him that we know exactly who will be chosen the moment he picks the first person to point to, so this is in no way a random method, but he persists in doing it, so we humor him.

    When there’s no obvious method of choosing a start player, I turn to math. If it’s, say, a 4 player game, I’ll put my hand under the table, stick out from 1 to 4 fingers, tell a random player that he’s number 1, then ask someone to call out a number from 1 to 4. I then reveal my hand, add the number of fingers to the called out number, and start counting from player number 1 to get to the sum; that player goes first. It’s completely random and fair, but it looks like it might not be, so I usually only do this with the small number of people who actually trust me!

  4. There is a set of dice called “Go First” Dice with a specific configuration of numbers on four twelve-sided dice.


  5. David Chappelle says:

    If the number of players is X, have each player simultaneously hold up a number of fingers between 1 and X. Sum the numbers. Starting to the left of the player who runs the selection, count of the players clockwise until the sum is reached. Of course you can divide the sum by X and use the remainder to save time. Fast and easy.

  6. Where Euros give additional resources to later players to even out play order advantage, having the more experienced players go first can make sense not only to demonstrate the game but because start player advantage usually involves valuation of options (which comes with experience) while additional resources is a more flexible advantage less reliant on that knowledge.

  7. jdegann says:

    Most ways I use involve the colored playing pieces. If they stack, I’ll stack them randomly in my hand under the table and ask a player to count out a “number from 1 to X from the top”. Then I reveal the stack and count down from the top of the stack.

    With four players, I randomly put two player pieces in each hand, and have someone choose a hand. Then I take those two pieces, put one in each hand, and repeat.

  8. shigadeyo says:

    A similar app for iPad is Selector @ http://appshopper.com/entertainment/selector.

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