While we humans were telling each other about the rocks and dust on the moon, the rats were sharing different stories late at night. Stories about a moon made of cheese far from those dangerous humans. And then one little rat found a comic book that showed just how to make a rocketship and the race was on! Who would be the first rat to set a tiny foot on the cheesy lunar surface? Who would be the first rattronaut?
That’s the premise of the fun, family-friendly 1-5 player game First Rat, designed by Gabriele Ausiello and Virginio Gigli for Pegasus Spiele. Each player manages a family of rats that work together to scrounge components for their rocketship as they race to be the first rats to launch into space and make it to the moon. The game is played on a board with a winding path through the junkyard, with each spot offering one of a variety of building materials or other benefits. Players additionally seek to attain the resources needed to build each of the three stages of their rocket, bring rats out of the nursery to expand their family, gain points for exploring the under-junkyard burrow, and more.
I played the game both in 1v1 mode, seeking to try different strategies as a dual-hand solo mode, and in the official First Rat solo mode of competing against Greg the Robo-Rat. This writeup shows a game against Greg and his evil robo-minions, but gameplay is about 90% identical to multiplayer.
FIRST RAT BOARD GAME SETUP FOR SOLO PLAY
To start out, the board is prepped with the various building resources and other components. There are three animal friends who have little stores where you can buy boons and benefits too. From the lower right and winding up to the top of the board (in the pic below) are Harry Hampster, Zippy the Frog, and Madcap Crow:
The board is divided into three zones. The top left are the progress tracks for building the components of a rocketship, completed rocketships, rats who have completed the junkyard journey, rat families who have generously donated cheese to the general pool (for points) and helped build out the Construction Lights.
The main portion of the board is the junkyard track, where each space has a specific color and reward. The spots near the beginning have relatively paltry rewards and those near the end of the track offer much better rewards, but once you get to the end, that particular rat is out of play, so you really have to think about your entire rat family, not just focus on a single rattronaut.
Finally, the bottom portion is the Rat Burrow, broken into three sections. Left to right it’s stored food (the score track), the nursery (you can see that there are two yellow rats therein), and the library (those tokens are comic books that offer terrific benefits to the player who acquires them).
FIRST RAT GAME COMPONENTS
Let’s look a bit more closely at the components because the above picture is pretty hard to decipher! Much of the game is a race to collect building materials and cheese (which acts as currency in the game):
Along the top are tin cans, baking soda, vinegar, and calculators. Along the bottom are cheese deficits (if you ever need to get a loan from the general supply to pay off a debt) and cheese. The components are thick and beautifully designed. In fact, the aesthetic of the entire game is a delight, it’s really fun to play, with a bright and lively board and accompanying artwork.
If we have a closer look at the Burrow area, you can see the comic book tokens (in the right area), the baby rats (in the middle), and the food store scoring track. Notice that the track has two grey cubes already placed, and an orange cube, even though I’m playing yellow and Greg’s Robo-Rats are blue:
The gray cubes change the scoring and are only used for less than four players, while the orange cube is part of Robo-Rat Greg’s approach to automated play: On his turn, a card from the solo play automata is flipped and some include the symbol of one of the scoring tracks. The first time it appears, the orange cube is moved onto the track’s icon (the apple core, in the above), and the second time it appears, Greg scores in the highest available spot!
Note above that there’s also a handy cheat sheet for players, which you will only reference the first few rounds until you have memorized gameplay. It’s easy enough to master.
Along the top of the game are all the interesting score tracks, because that’s where you assemble your rocketship!
Again, the orange cubes are part of Robo-Greg’s solo play automata, and the grey cubes are because there are less than four players. On the very top track I’ve moved one of the cubes so you can see that the track includes a handy reminder for lower player counts. A Rattronaut rocketship has three stages. Bottom to top, they are the Thruster, the Cargo Bay, and the Cockpit. Each requires specific materials to assemble and once you collect all of the needed materials (2 baking soda and 5 vinegar for the Thruster, for example), you immediately score by putting your cube in the leftmost available spot. Build all three components and you also get to place a cube on the top in the completed rocketship track. If you were first for all components, therefore, you could earn 9 + 8 + 8 + 5 points.
The oval space that’s the end of the track is the Launchpad and it matches any color for movement purposes (I’ll get back to that in a moment), plus whenever your rat lands on it, you can either collect three victory points or move one of your rats out of the nursery and onto the beginning of the track.
PLAYING THE SOLO GAME
With everything set up, it’s time to play First Rat. Each turn has four phases: Move, Collect Resources, Go Shopping, Build and Donate Cheese. You can either move one rat up to 5 spaces or any two of your rats up to 3 each as long as both of them end up on spots of the same color. In the below, my yellow rat has ended up on a green space and therefore collects a single vinegar, a vital ingredient for that propulsion system:
In solo mode, you start with two rats in the junkyard and two in the nursery. Greg the Robo-Rat, however, starts with all four of his rats in the junkyard. He doesn’t collect resources, but he’ll still race to complete components and score. His actions are dictated by cards from a solo play deck. Here’s an example:
Remember, he has four rats on the board, so the card specifies how far forward each of them go. In this instance, the frontmost rat and second rat both move up 1 space, his third rat moves 2, and the rat furthest back moves zero. He also tries to score with the Cargo Bay, as shown in the circular inset on the lower right. If it’s the first time this has appeared, the orange cube moves onto the score track, but if it’s already there, Greg scores on that track!
Up at the top of the track it’s a race to get a rat or two launched: The first rat to do so earns 10 points, while subsequent rats score, but less and less points each time:
The game proceeds quickly once you figure out the turn rhythm, and was also quick when I played as two different players. The key is to plan ahead so you know if you’re racing up the junkyard track, seeking apple cores to move around the burrow, or similar. In the official solo mode Greg moves quickly too with his movement cards, particularly once you figure out the somewhat confusingly worded staging cube approach to score track motion.
Because Greg’s robo-rat squad are always heading to the Launchpad, it was a good strategy for me to also emphasize racing to the finish line too, a strategy that gave me first and second rattronaut:
From a points perspective, notice that I also attained first rocketship and first on all the components, while Greg only got two of the three stages and thereby didn’t get all those additional points. With so many ways to earn points, it’s no surprise that there’s a scorepad to help calculate everything:
You can also see a closeup of the Roborats From Outer Space solo cards. In the end, I thoroughly trounced Greg the Robo-Rat, 77 to 61. This was on easy mode, however, so I do have to go back and try it again with a more aggressive solo deck.
FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT FIRST RAT
I really enjoyed playing First Rat in both 1v1 and solo mode and look forward to getting some fellow rattronauts to the table for a multiplayer game. It’s quick, lively, easy to understand, and logical. I would say that it’s tween and above, and if you have eager young gamers in your household, they’ll be able to figure it out too after a game or two. There’s also a lot of replayability with the many different strategies you can try (build rocketships as fast as possible or race to the launchpad? Zoom around the burrow or maximize your cheese collection so you can donate it for easy points?). The board is also reversible: Flip it over and you can then use the included tiles to create a very different junkyard layout. In solo mode there are a variety of specific challenges to try and attain too.
This is not only a great family game, though, it’s also a good gateway or intro game for friends who might want to learn more about modern board gaming, but will find the classic progress track a familiar anchor for all the new concepts that are also part of First Rat. Definitely recommended.
Disclosure: Pegasus Spiele sent me a copy of “First Rat” in return for this review. Thanks!