The box says ‘seven-plus’ for age range and while this feels like a kids game, older players who enjoy a little novelty, silliness and plenty of chaos may also get a kick out of it.
In the box you’ll finds a small two-part playing board, six player pieces and a 32-card deck. The cards are good quality (but not linen finish), the art cartoony: in terms of components there isn’t anything to either get excited or to complain about.
As you may have guessed the idea of the game is to come second. In each of five rounds players simultaneously play cards from their hand (you start each round with five cards and play them all) – either on themselves or others, as you see fit – in an attempt to end up in second place and so score points. But of course you only want to score enough points over five rounds to end up coming second overall…
The Why First? rulebook is spread over a folded piece of A3 paper, and spread is the operative word. Page 1 contains component images and a few words on setup; page 2 the rules; page 3 examples and page 4 some variants. This is a very simple game.
While I haven’t played this with kids I can’t see it being tricky for them to pick up – you simply play one card each round from those you are dealt. The first is very much meaningless too, as you are all start on the ‘0’ point space on the board so have no information to work with.
This means you can easily show players how things will work by playing out a fake first round (or a proper one if players don’t really care who wins in the teaching game), and also showing how that would score if it had been the last card played in the round.
The card values range from +5 to -4 (there are no suits and no zeros). Once everyone has chosen a card from their hand, you count down “3-2-1-go!” – at which point each player either drops the card on the table in front of them, or throws it towards another player. Everyone now flips any cards they ended up with and move their player pawn accordingly (the board has spaces from +16 to -12).
The fifth and final card in each round has to be played on yourself; after which scoring for the round happens. The Why First? scoring may be a little trickier for youngsters to get a grip on, although adults shouldn’t have a problem (even if it seems unusual). Any players in second place score points for where they are – so if one player is in the lead on space 4, and two players are in second place on space 1, they will both score one point.
The four sides
These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.
- The writer: Why First? is daft. It takes one of the biggest no-no’s in game design (king-making) and makes it the point of proceedings, then throws in more chaos than you could shake a Carl Chudyk game at. But (with three or four players) it has made everyone I’ve played with giggle – and you can’t say fairer than that. I have my doubts about it as a regular on the table, but as it’s retailing at little more than £5 how much will players really expect from it?
- The thinker: There really isn’t much thinking to do here, especially at higher player counts, because the game is totally chaotic. You know what you need to do, but as you have control of only one card out of potentially five or six, planning is futile. There is a more strategic variant, where players flip there cards but then decide what to do with them in order – which is decided by the small unique number also on each card. This does add more meaningful decisions, but not enough to make a strategist happy – while taking away the silly chaos that will appeal to many.
- The trasher: I liked the sound of Why First? during the rules explanation, and it was fun to play – it’s a game I’d be happy to play again. But it also feels like a missed opportunity – it’s an awesome idea with very little game hung onto it. I quickly found myself wanting more things to do: special powers, attacks, longer effects etc. As it stands the game is quite silly and quite fun, but with a bit more imagination this could be a real winner for in-your-face game fans.
- The dabbler: This is a fab, light little game! It’s fast, simple to teach and everyone is involved throughout – with cards flying across the table and just the occasional interruption to do some rudimentary maths, both the kids and the gamers can into it. It is very light and random but it can create a brilliant atmosphere with everyone giggling, moaning or cheering.
Set up/pack down time is non-existent, rules can be explained in a minute and you can you can play as many or as few rounds as you like – the keys for any great filler.
I think part of the problem is that the central conceit of the game is a fresh and funny one – but reading some comments about the game makes you realise this can raise expectations to a height which the game struggles to reach. Playing with king-making is a gamer’s joke, but this really isn’t a gamer’s game.
Lack of replayability is also raised as a concern, but this doesn’t bother me too much. I don’t think it’s a game you would reach for on a daily basis – but if you were looking for something for your kids and they tend to obsess about one thing until they’re done with it, Why First? may not be a great choice. That said, at this price point, I think it’s hard to argue that you wouldn’t get your money’s worth.
Complaints that you could simply play at random as the game is so chaotic are simply wrong at lower player counts – although I certainly wouldn’t recommend the game with more than four. You hear this from people about most lighter games (6 Nimmt!, For Sale etc) and these players usually haven’t played the game enough – or with enough thought – to see where things can be manipulated.
Will I still like it after another 50 plays? I don’t know – and probably never will: I have so many games that most don’t get more than few plays each year, so that really isn’t a problem – and in fact, it makes games with a novel twist all the more appealing.
I’d love to hear from people who have played this with their kids, as not being a parent I can only really speculate that it would be fun with them. But for me this is a keeper for sure – something a little different that will hit the table every now and again and, if my first few plays are anything to go by, will have everyone smiling and laughing throughout.
* I would like to thank Pegasus Spiele for providing a copy of the game for review.