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This ongoing series covers tabletop board or card games that video gamers should dig.

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1st & Goal

Video games that 1st & Goal reminds us of: What else? Madden NFL Football

  • Publisher: R&R Games
  • # of players: 2-4
  • Cost: $30
  • To learn: Even though the rules walk you through the basics of football (down to needing 10 yards to get a first down), some familiarity with the sport will help a lot. If you know how football works, you’ll be fine here.
  • To play: 1st & Goal is extremely easy to play. The turns go by quickly and smoothly.
  • Noteworthy: This game is also available on iOS and Android, with PC and Mac coming soon.

I’m still having trouble understanding how the 1st & Goal football board game even happened.

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It determines the results of plays via dice rolls, which means it’s full of randomness (though maybe not as random as vibrating pieces shaking down the field in electric football). Yet what plays you pick in which situations do matter — just like in real football.

This game is easy enough for a kid to pick-up-and-play. Yet two grown men (and football fans) in the GamesBeat office had a good time with it — especially the one who had a huge come-from-behind victory (ahem, that’s me — sorry, Jason).

So yeah, R&R Games somehow managed to take one of the most strategy-intensive sports and turn it into a dice game that works.

1st & Goal

Above: This magnetic board uses the football to indicate field position and down, while the field markers show how far you have to go for a first down.

Image Credit: R&R Games

On the most basic level, 1st & Goal works like this: The offensive player and the opposing defensive player simultaneously reveal a play from their hand of cards and compare. If the offense selects, say, the running play “Sweep” and the defense picks a passing package like “Prevent,” the cards will both reveal which dice the offense will roll for that particular combination.

In the above scenario, the offense will get to roll more dice of higher values because the defense went all-out to stop the pass, not the run. The offensive player rolls them and adds up the values to see how much yardage his team has gained on that play. If the defense had picked a card to stop the run, the offense wouldn’t have as many dice (and/or have lower-valued ones) because the potential yards gained would be much lower.

Sounds almost too simple, right? But that’s just a brief, high-level synopsis of the gameplay. Impressively, 1st & Goal gets many of the sport’s intricacies right.

Other dice involved in each play could reveal a possible penalty for either side, potential turnovers, or breakaways, which would allow the offense to roll for additional yards. These seem to trigger as often as you’d expect in a real game of football, leading to a level of variability that keeps 1st & Goal exciting yet not so wildly unpredictable that fans of the sport would consider it to be unrealistic.

1st & Goal also accommodates all of the nuances that make football so fun: running out the clock (“burning” cards to make the decks dwindle more quickly), timeouts (to stop the running out the clock and get access to more plays), safeties, limited play selection in the red zone (don’t even try calling for a “bomb” pass at the 10-yard line), Hail Marys, squib kicks, quarterback sneaks or kneels, fake punts/kicks, and so on. And despite dice and cards interpreting all of these actions, everything still makes sense within the context of the game and the sport.

Bottom line: You know how when you watch football, and you momentarily hold your breath as the center snaps the ball, hoping for a first down or a big defensive stop? 1st & Goal captures that anticipation with the card reveals and the subsequent dice rolling. Unfortunately, you won’t find an official NFL license here, but separately sold expansion sets (with fictional teams that have dice with different values to represent better offenses or defenses) help make up for that.

More images (click for a larger view):

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