Game: First Rat

Release Year: 2022

Publisher: Pegasus Spiele

Designers: Gabriele Ausiello and Virginio Gigli

Player Count: 1 to 5 players

Play Time: About 15 to 20 minutes per player

Rules Complexity: Moderate

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Generally speaking, I tend to prefer board games that have streamlined designs, fast teaches, reasonable table footprints, and clever ideas. But every so often, I end up playing a game I really like despite it breaking that mold.

First Rat is one such game. It looks visually overwhelming, takes a while to set up, and consists of several disjointed game mechanisms... yet it all comes together in a package that's engaging and enjoyable.

If you're looking for a family-friendly strategy board game that's meatier than your usual suspects, you might want to check this one out.

Here's everything you need to know about First Rat, my experience with it (both good and bad), and whether it's one that should enter your collection.

This review is based on my own personal copy of First Rat, which I bought used from BGG's GeekMarket. Not a free review copy.


In First Rat, you play as your own little rat family competing against other rat families (i.e., other players) to collect resources, to build rockets, to reach the moon.

Usually, a board game can be boiled down to a single mechanism that sits "at its core." First Rat isn't like that. This one is an amalgamation of different mechanisms that play against each other and pull you in various directions.

But if I had to boil it down? I'd say First Rat is an action efficiency game with elements of racing, engine building, set collection, and point salad scoring.

First Rat's game board is a single track that goes from a start point to an end point. Each player begins with 2 Rats that move along this track, earning resources and bonuses depending on which spaces they land on along the way. Later, players can recruit up to 2 more Rats for a total of 4 Rats per player.

The spaces along the main track come in five different colors: Yellow spaces earn Cheese, Blue spaces move your Light String marker, White spaces move your Rat Burrow marker, and Red/Green spaces earn resources. (More on these below.)

The key twist in First Rat is in how these Rats move: you can either move one Rat up to 5 spaces, or you can move multiple Rats up to 3 spaces each. If you choose to move multiple Rats, they must all end on spaces of the same color.

If you land on a space that's occupied by other players, you must pay 1 Cheese to each player on that space. If you can't, you'll lose points as a penalty.

Along the main track is a secondary track called the Light String. Every player has a Light String marker that moves along the Light String whenever one of their Rats lands on a Blue space.

As a player's marker moves along the Light String, it empowers all the main track spaces up to where the Light String marker is, making all those spaces grant an extra resource or bonus whenever their Rats land on them.

The Light String track is a secondary track that moves alongside the main track.

Since Rats can be sent back to the start of the main track, those earlier spaces can be landed on multiple times—and that's how the Light String injects an engine-building element into First Rat. The more you move your Light String marker, the more powerful your future actions can possibly be.

And there's also a third track called the Rat Burrow. This one's detached from the main track and you use a separate Rat Burrow marker to move along this track. Doing so lets you unlock special abilities (by picking up Comics), recruit Rats to the main track, and score points on a special Rat Burrow scoring track.

The last big element are the three shops along the main track. Landing on these shop spaces lets you pay Cheese for special bonuses: Backpacks (which let you gain even more from specific colored spaces), Energy Drinks (one-time doubling of everything you gain from spaces), Bottle Caps (extra ways to score points).

Landing on this Yellow Space lets you buy one of the Bottle Caps, but it'll cost 12 Cheese!

But here's the thing: you can choose not to pay Cheese and still take something from a shop, but the Rat on that space gets sent back to the start space.

This turns out to be a good thing because you get to take advantage of those early spaces again, except this time boosted by your Light String bonus and any Backpacks you might've acquired. All of this feeds into the engine-building aspect of First Rat.

The game end is triggered in one of two ways: a player gets all 4 Rats to the end space OR a player places all of their scoring cubes on scoring tracks. (Every time a scoring condition is fulfilled, the player places a cube on the respective track.)

First Rat has 8 different scoring tracks that can each be fulfilled multiple times but award fewer points every time it's fulfilled. In other words, players aren't so much racing to get their Rats to the end as they are racing to fulfill scoring tracks.

The scoring tracks are fulfilled by:

  • Turning in resources to build ship parts.
  • Turning in Cheese to provide the ship with rations.
  • Getting Rats to the ship (i.e., end space on main track).
  • Reaching milestones along the Light String.

And don't forget the previously mentioned scoring track in the Rat Burrow!

At the end, all points on the scoring tracks are tallied, plus extra points for any Bottle Caps acquired during the game and leftover (unspent) resources. Whoever scores the most points wins.

Setup and Table Footprint

First Rat game contents in the box.
First Rat game contents in bags, taken out of the box.

Even though First Rat isn't a long game, it does take a long time to set up and get going. All of the components are bagged for organization, yet even so there are so many components to unbag, shuffle, and distribute.

It takes me upwards of 10 minutes to set up First Rat. If I'm playing on the variable side of the game board and with Greg the Robo-Rat bot player, setup can easily take 15 minutes or so. The setup-to-play-time ratio is surprising.

A game of First Rat in progress, set up for 4 players.

First Rat is also a game that demands a good chunk of table space.

Even though everything is played on a central board, there are so many resources and tokens that need to be accessible, so they'll be scattered around the board. Players will also need a little bit of personal space for their cubes, resources, and acquired bonuses, which adds to the space requirements.

I was drawn to First Rat because it's one of the few recent games that's played on a central board without personal player boards, but sadly the setup time and overall feeling of table messiness are turnoffs.

Learning Curve

No individual element of First Rat is hard to understand on its own, but when you throw them all together and try to explain the game to someone, it can be a little bit overwhelming—especially for non-gamers.

What all do you need to know to play First Rat?

  • How the Rats move on the main track.
  • What the different Spaces offer.
  • How to interact with shops.
  • How the Light String works.
  • How the Rat Burrow works.
  • What Cheese and resources do.
  • What Comics, Backpacks, Energy Drinks, and Bottle Caps do.
  • How the different scoring tracks work.

Despite being marketed as a family board game, First Rat does have a lot of moving parts and I would avoid it when playing with people who aren't well-versed in medium-weight hobby board games. It's definitely more complicated than, say, Catan or Ticket to Ride. But once it clicks, it's pretty straightforward!

Game Experience

Decision Space

Given the large number of components and mashup of many different mechanisms, you'd think First Rat would have a lot of agonizing decisions. Yet, as it turns out, First Rat is quite straightforward. The decisions are few, but they're meaningful.

Which scoring tracks are you gunning for?

This is the first big decision of the game, and you want to make it at the very start of the game. Once everything is set up and you know which Bottle Caps are in play, you can immediately assess the board and decide on which scoring tracks to prioritize.

If you play the variable side of the game board where all the scoring tracks have randomized point values, this decision is even more important! Some scoring tracks offer more points, making them objectively better—and that can influence which scoring tracks you want to pursue.

At the same time, you don't want to rush the exact same scoring tracks as everyone else because each scoring track gives fewer points every time it's scored. If you don't make it fast, you'll end up missing out on points.

One of the most important decisions in First Rat comes at the start of the game when you assess the scoring tracks and choose which ones you're going to prioritize.

But then which scoring tracks should you go for? The high-value ones that everyone's going to fight over? Or the low-value ones that don't score as much? There isn't a right answer, and that's what makes the decision so interesting.

It also means you'll need to pivot strategies as you see how the different scoring tracks are fulfilled (or not fulfilled) over the course of the game.

How are you going to build your resource engine?

Like many engine-building games, First Rat gives you the choice to take meager resources right now OR forego resources to build up an engine that might generate you more resources in the future. It's a risk, but the rewards can be great.

Maybe you want to rush the advancement of your Light String marker, which not only increases the power of Spaces you land on but also presents scoring opportunities as you reach milestones along the Light String. Couple that with some Backpacks and you could become a resource-generating machine.

You can pick up various Backpacks from this shop, which permanently increase your yield when landing on Spaces of the same color as the Backpack(s) you have.

Or maybe you want to advance along the Rat Burrow, unlocking abilities through Comics and recruiting more Rats to the main track so you can have more flexibility and variety with movements every turn.

Or maybe you don't want an engine! You can rush your Rats to the end of the main track and only focus on gaining Cheese along the way, earning points for getting Rats to the end and for submitting Cheese to the ship.

How are you going to move your Rats?

My favorite part of First Rat is the movement mechanism, where you either move a single Rat up to 5 spaces or multiple rats up to 3 spaces each. The catch is, when moving multiple Rats, they must all land on the same colored Spaces.

The Orange player moved two Rats this turn. They were allowed to do this because both Rats landed on the same colored Spaces (in this case, White Spaces).

This is such a simple but entertaining mini-puzzle every turn. You usually want to move multiple Rats because you'll gain more stuff, but you can only do that if you set up your Rats properly ahead of time. You also want to avoid landing on too many occupied Spaces, which will seriously eat into your Cheese reserves.

So, there's a little bit of thinking ahead you need to do if you want to truly maximize your gains per turn—or you can be like me, don't think ahead at all, and treat each turn as its own efficiency problem in the moment.

You can navigate the main track much faster if you take these Shortcuts.

This mini-puzzle becomes more interesting when you consider the Shortcuts throughout the board, which let you jump ahead on the main track by paying a resource. (Each shortcut demands a different resource type.) You can make some big plays this way, so don't underestimate the Shortcuts!

When are you going to use your Energy Drinks?

You can play First Rat without ever picking up any Energy Drinks, but it's a powerful one-time pickup that you should seriously consider incorporating.

Why? Because if you can set yourself up for a big turn where you gain tons of resources, you can use the Energy Drink to double everything you gain. If you time it right, you can gain 20+ resources on a single turn, which could be enough for you to score multiple tracks right away and rocket up in points.

These Energy Drinks may seem innocuous at first, but they can seriously swing the game!

But there is a bit of a push-your-luck element to Energy Drinks. If you're impatient and use it too early, you'll miss out on all the extra stuff you could've doubled. But if you wait too long, the doubling might happen too late and you won't be able to extract as many points from what you get—or worse, the game might end before you can even use the Energy Drink at all.

The Energy Drink is a brilliant element that makes it possible for someone to swing the entire game with a well-timed play. You never know who's going to win.

Luck Factor

There's almost zero luck in First Rat, which is what makes it such a great strategic board game. Everything can be planned ahead.

The little bit of luck occurs at the start of the game when you're setting things up. Every play of First Rat starts with a random selection of Backpacks, random selection of Bottle Caps, and random selection of Comics. You'll need to devise your overarching strategy based on what appears.

But once everything is set up, there's no more randomness. First Rat has perfect information and nothing comes as a surprise. (The only exception is if you're playing with the Greg the Robo-Rat automa, who moves somewhat randomly.)

Fun Factor

All things considered, First Rat is a fun game for its frequent moments of accomplishment and steady sense of progression.

On every turn, you're gaining something. It might be resources. It might be movement along the Light String or Rat Burrow. It might be the acquisition of Backpacks, Energy Drinks, Bottle Caps, or Comics. No turn is ever wasted, which feels great.

Furthermore, First Rat takes a point salad approach to scoring, meaning you can gain points in many different ways—there's no single path to victory, and it's in your best interest to pursue multiple paths if you want to stay in the running. (While "point salad" can often be derogatory, I don't mean it in a bad sense here.)

Every time you fulfill one of the scoring tracks, you get a hit of dopamine. It feels like you've accomplished something. The smaller turns coalesce into bigger turns that feel meaningful, and it's especially exciting when you can score multiple tracks at once.

That constant churn of gaining stuff and scoring stuff is what makes First Rat engaging throughout, but it's those moments when you pull off big turns that make First Rat memorable.


First Rat starts off slow but gradually ramps up as everyone builds their engines and acquires bonuses, leading to a climactic final few rounds where score tracks start spilling over faster than you expected.

Being a race game, First Rat maintains a tension that keeps you chugging along. There's always a sense that you're falling behind as you watch everyone else score on the different tracks, but they're also feeling the same when you score. It's a neck-and-neck battle that keeps you propelling forward.

The Spaces at the end of the main track give much more than the Spaces at the start of the main track, which contributes to the accelerating pace in First Rat.

And because those final few rounds can be so explosively impactful, you never quite know who's going to win. Even when someone has a big lead, it's entirely possible for someone to overtake them with a clever turn at the end.

As far as turns go, First Rat is pretty darn snappy. Most of the time, you're just deciding how to move your Rats. Occasionally, you'll have to decide what to take at a shop or which resources you want to turn in, but it's all rather quick.

First Rat plays in about 15 to 20 minutes per player. Then, when you're done, scoring is simple despite how many scoring tracks there are—the included scorepad makes it easy to tally everything up in a minute or two.

Player Interaction

First Rat is a strange one when it comes to player interaction.

Even though everything is played on a central board, you're basically playing your own Rats and you have no way to block or influence anyone else's Rats. You collect and manage your own resources, you choose how you want to score, and you don't need to worry about others. In that sense, it's multiplayer solitaire.

And yet, there is some player interaction in First Rat.

If you land on an occupied Space, you must pay a Cheese to each player already on that Space.

Most of the interaction comes from the clogging up of Spaces on the board, which forces players to pay you Cheese if they want to land on a Space you're already at.

It's a very small bit of interaction that seems inconsequential at first—it is, after all, just a piece of Cheese—but it ultimately has a large impact on how you navigate the board. It forces you to get to Spaces fast, or wait until Spaces free up, or amass Cheese at the cost of amassing other resources.

The earlier you score on a track, the more points you'll earn. This creates competition between players to fulfill scoring tracks as quickly as possible.

The same goes for the scoring tracks, where more points are granted to players who score each track earlier. It creates a sense of urgency, driving you to act quickly to maximize point gain. But that same urgency can cause you to make mistakes that might cost you points elsewhere.

Overall, First Rat isn't a conflict-heavy game. You're doing your own thing most of the time, but you do have a fire lit under your feet and you're ultimately in a race against everyone else to earn the most points before the game ends.

Player Counts

Since most of the player interaction comes from Rats landing on occupied Spaces, First Rat is most interesting with 4 to 5 players. With that many Rats on the board, you're almost always paying Cheese—it's no longer just about what Spaces you want, but how to minimize Cheese costs and who you're willing to pay.

However, I wouldn't say that First Rat is "best" at those counts because the downtime between turns is more noticeable (although you might like that because it gives you more time to think and strategize).

With just 2 or 3 players, you can avoid landing on occupied Spaces somewhat easily, which noticeably reduces the tension and makes Cheese less important as a resource. But, it's still fun! I still enjoy First Rat even at just 2 or 3 players, but I highly recommend playing with Greg the Robo-Rat at these player counts.


While First Rat is flush with lots of components, it's not too fiddly to play. Most of the game is just moving your Rats along the main track every turn. Beyond that, you're collecting cardboard tokens and placing wooden cubes on scoring tracks.

The scoring tracks are kind of annoying because they aren't dual-layered, meaning the cubes can get jostled with a light bump to the game board, potentially throwing the score tracks into disarray. The scoring tracks are also kind of tight, especially with 4 or 5 players; lots of wooden cubes are going to pile up.

But, overall, I wouldn't call it a fiddly game.


The replayability in First Rat mainly comes from the challenge of assessing the randomized board setup, deciding on a strategy for that specific game, executing your strategy as well as you can, while adapting to how everyone else is playing and switching up your strategy mid-game if necessary.

Which is why it's so great that First Rat's game board comes double-sided, with the variable backside that randomizes the entire game setup.

While the basic board isn't bad, it does start to feel samey after a few plays. The Rattronaut scoring track (i.e., getting Rats to the end) and Light String scoring track always score the most, while the Cheese scoring track and Rat Burrow scoring track always score the least, so you tend to fall into the same patterns on repeat.

But the variable board not only randomizes how much each scoring track scores, but also randomizes the positioning of all the Spaces on the main track. Combined with the randomized Backpacks and Bottle Caps, it feels fresh every time.

Again, the main mechanism in First Rat is action efficiency through Rat movement, so it's kind of boring when the main track is always the same. You could potentially "solve" it and know the best order of actions to take, or at the very least play the same way every single time.

With the randomized main track, a clever player can spot opportunities to exploit the layout.

But once the main track is randomized, you have to figure it out all over again—and because there are thousands of possible permutations, you can't just memorize the layout. It's a new puzzle every time, and that puzzle is the fun of First Rat.

Similarly, the scoring tracks inform how you move your Rats on the main track, so randomizing the scoring tracks presents an additional layer of puzzly goodness on top of the randomized main track.

The Rat Burrow track normally scores less than the other scoring tracks, but in this session the randomization has made it the most valuable scoring track. That'll influence how you play!

On the basic board, you might always play First Rat as a race to get your Rats to the end because that's the most valuable track. But what if the randomized setup results in that being the worst? And the Rat Burrow scoring track is now the best? Well, you'll probably play First Rat differently—for this particular game, anyway.

Normally, I think variable setups are poor excuses for replayability, but that's far from the case in First Rat. This is one of the few times where I believe variability is needed, in the same way that sudoku puzzles get their replayability from variable setups.

For that, First Rat's double-sided board is cleverly designed.

Solo Mode

First Rat comes with a built-in bot opponent named Greg, who basically exists to take up spaces on the board and the score tracks, plus acts as a timer that eventually ends the game (so you can't just dilly-dally and rack up points).

Here's how Greg the Robo-Rat works:

First Rat comes with a deck of 22 solo cards. At the start of the game, you pick several of them at random to create Greg's deck and the rest of the cards are put back in the box (unused for that particular game).

Greg starts the game with 3 Rats already in play—on spaces 1, 5, and 8—and his 4th Rat on the starting space with all the normal players.

From here the game plays as usual. Landing on a space with Greg's Rat means paying him 1 Cheese (i.e., to the general supply), and if any of Greg's Rats land on spaces with players, he pays each of them 1 Cheese (i.e., from the general supply).

So, how do Greg's Rats move? That's where the solo cards come in. When it comes to Greg's turn, the top card of the solo deck is flipped over. This solo card dictates how far each of his Rats moves (usually 0–3 per Rat), in order of their board positions.

Solo cards may also have icons indicating the various scoring tracks. When such a card is revealed, Greg "prepares" that particular scoring track using a neutral marker. Later, if a prepared scoring track is revealed again on a solo card, Greg scores on that track (thus depriving everyone of that scoring opportunity).

The icon on a solo card could also indicate the Comics Library (in which case you randomly remove one of the remaining Comics from play) or a Shuffle (in which case you shuffle Greg's spent solo cards back into the solo deck).

What's nice is that Greg's difficulty can be adjusted. The solo cards are cleverly designed to be divided into three groups called A, B, and C:

  • The A cards all have scoring icons on them.
  • The B cards either have Comics Library icons or no icons at all.
  • The single C card is the only one that triggers a Shuffle.

Greg's solo deck always consists of the C card plus 10 other cards. Depending on the balance between A and B cards, Greg will be more or less difficult—having more A cards in the solo deck means he'll score faster and more often.

The rulebook has suggested A and B card counts for different difficulties, but you can construct Greg's solo deck however you want!

Not only is Greg's bot logic extremely simple to run, but the best part is that Greg can be included even if you aren't playing solo. (In fact, if you intend to play First Rat primarily with two players, I highly recommend including Greg. He just makes the game that much more interesting with his interference.)

This is how solo automas ought to be in board games! Easy, fast, and impactful. Greg the Robo-Rat significantly increases my enjoyment of First Rat at lower player counts, and my opinion of the game would be strictly worse without him.

Production Quality

The production for First Rat is... uneven. Some parts were thoughtfully made with clear intention, while other parts were neglected or overlooked.

The player pieces are excellent. The Rats are large and chunky, which makes them easy to manipulate and easy to see as they traverse the board. (They kind of look like squirrels, not rats, but maybe that's just me!) The Light String and Rat Burrow markers are smaller and not as easy to pick up, but at least they're stackable.

And I really like the choice of player colors in First Rat. It's not just that they smartly decided on Orange, Blue, Yellow, Green, and Purple, but the actual shades chosen for each color comprise a palette that's quite pleasing to the eyes.

The score markers are simple wooden cubes. I guess they serve their purpose and they don't need to be fancy or custom-shaped, plus it's nice that they don't take up too much space on the scoring tracks. But they are wooden cubes.

Everything else is made of thick, durable cardboard. All of the resources and bonuses are made of sturdy cardboard, and the artwork on the tokens are great. It feels like a durable game that'll last for many, many years.

The game board is busy and visually overwhelming. Indeed, the graphic design of the board is my greatest production complaint. I just hate how it looks, how dark it is, and how messy it looks. The three shop areas don't stand out so it can be easy to forget about them—especially when you're new—and the board is so loud and that it just feels like it's yelling at me.

The customizable alternative side to the game board is phenomenal. I really, really appreciate the backside of the board, which is the same thing except all the spaces and scoring tracks are blank. You can use the variable spaces and scoring tracks to create a fresh layout every time, which adds a nice layer to the game. Every game board should be double-sided like this!

The box size is irregular and the box insert non-existent. First Rat comes in a weird, rectangular box that's slightly longer than a standard Ticket to Ride box along its length and slightly shorter along its width. It's a somewhat awkward fit, both on my shelf and in the bag I use for carrying my board games around.

The Bottom Line

First Rat

Recommended Score Guide
  1. Hodgepodge of game mechanisms that somehow work well together
  2. Strategic gameplay with strong forward momentum and zero luck
  3. Puzzly turn-by-turn decisions that are impactful
  4. Highly replayable, especially with the variable side of game board
  5. Excellent solo automa that can also be used with more players
  1. Long setup time, sizable table footprint, and messy table presence
  2. Not an easy teach for non-gamers, may even trip up casual hobbyists
  3. Game board visuals are loud and busy

First Rat embodies the idea of evaluating a randomized setup, coming up with a strategy, and doing your best to execute that strategy. It's a test to see which player can evaluate and execute the best—but even when you lose, the process of running through your strategy and adapting on the fly is fun in itself.

If that sounds fun to you, then you'll love First Rat.

My only caveat would be this: First Rat is definitely a family-style board game, but it's on the more advanced end of the spectrum. There's a lot of front-loaded learning before you can play, and there's a lot of stuff to think about during the game if you're playing to win and want to maximize every turn.

But once you play 2 or 3 games and familiarize yourself, it's relatively smooth and straightforward—and that shouldn't be a problem because First Rat has a lot of replayability packed into its clever design.

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