Going Analog

Where video game industry veterans introduce great board games to video gamers

Stylish ways to pick the first player at your game nights

Impress your friends with these speedy methods to pick a starting player.

We checked the history books, and the chicken and the egg were the earliest to ever argue over who goes first. It was agreed all round to be a dreadful incident resulting in many yolked feathers, yet 10,000 years later we’re still seeing the same dispute play out across tables worldwide.

Squabbling over who goes first sucks and wastes precious time that could be spent arguing and backstabbing each other in-game. We’ve made it our mission to ensure no one suffers the same fowl play by breaking down some of the best and most stylish ways to pick the first player at your game nights.

Stylish ways to pick the first player at your game nights

Hold up, didn’t we just cover first-player rules? If this is all sounding a bit familiar then you probably read our list of our favorite first-player rules from board games. The manuals of the world hide many entertaining instructions, but it pays to learn some universal backups that’ll sort you out no matter which box is plonked down on the table. We’ve broken our first-player picking methods down into three distinct approaches, so you can use the system that suits your group the best.

Get me in the game quickly:

Stylish ways to pick the first player at your game night

If you’ve got games to win in a hurry, then try these quickfire methods to determine who’ll form the vanguard of your next tabletop venture:

The clock rule
For any game with 2-6 players, divide 60 by the number of players and give each player around the table a range (e.g. 1-20, 21-40, 41-60 for three players). Then look at the nearest clock, and see where the second hand is currently. That player starts.

Chwazi Finger Chooser
One of the most commonly used apps for indecisive groups, Chwazi gets every player to stick a finger on your phone screen, then selects one randomly to start. It’s less fun than other methods, but it gets the job done.

Ask your smart speaker/assistant
If you’re looking to freak out your smart-speaker-averse friends, then this is the perfect opportunity to suddenly shout out “ALEXA!” the second everyone’s taken a seat at the table. Asking a digital assistant to generate a random number is a lot more fun than looking one up online and will sort you out with a first player in no time at all. All you need to do is mark yourself as number one, with each clockwise player increasing by one around the table. Then it’s up to Siri or Alexa to choose their favorite.

A game before you game:

Best way to pick a first player in board games flicking

Settling in for the long haul? Break the ice with one of these silly pre-game games that’ll stoke up the competitive spirit despite almost entirely relying on luck. A win is a win, OK?

Highest unique number
Every player at the table closes their eyes and raises a number of fingers (and/or a thumb) on one hand. Everyone opens their eyes and whoever has the highest, unique number of digits extended gets to start.

Remainders rule
Assign everyone around the table a number, starting from zero. Similarly to the last rule, everyone closes their eyes and raises a number of digits. Add up the total, then divide by the number of players. Whoever was marked as the resulting number wins. It’s a little biased to the middle of the pack, but it’s still good fun.

Table flick
Dexterity games are the favorites of some and the foil of many. Teach your feeble-fingered friends a lesson by having everyone attempt to flick the same type of object -- bottle caps, dice, coins, and even meeple work great here -- from one end of your table to the other, without it falling off. The closest to the end of the table wins.

Pick me!
One player takes a meeple/player token for everyone at the table and splits them secretly between hands behind their back. They then offers a choice of hands to another player. The meeples/tokens in the chosen hand are then split in secret again, before offering the choice to the next player. Continue until only one meeple/token remains. In case you hadn’t figured it out, that player who’s token is left starts.

(Psst! If you're more concerned with who's placing first rather than playing, you should definitely click here to see our list of the best tiebreaker rules in board games as well.)

Solve my problem with money:

Stylish ways to pick a first player start player express

Start Player Express
Designer Ted Alspach has clearly sat through far too many umming and ahhing openings to a game night, because he’s invented not one but two entire games dedicated to picking a first player. Clearly the original card-based Start Player wasn’t quick enough, because Start Player Express hurries the process even further, compacting the entire game into a single roll of the dice.

All you need to do is toss the four dice included and read the question created to your group. The white die gives a qualifier (most, lowest, highest, etc.) and an arrow telling you which colored die to follow with. Read the object/concept/body part on the die in question and voila, you’ve got a rule.

We’re big fans of Start Player Express because, while it certainly succeeds at speeding everything up it also retains an element of silliness, asking the person with the most shoes or largest phone to sheepishly own up before they start the session. Even if you get a combination that doesn’t quite work for your table, all it takes is another quick roll to sort everything out.

A single round of Love Letter
Board games don’t come much quicker than Love Letter. If you own a copy then dishing out the cards and racing to earn that Princess’ affection is a speedy and satisfying way to pick a first player. Be warned that you might find it tough to stop. Best of three is also acceptable. OK, best of five. We’re playing until I win, dammit.

Go First Dice
Everyone enjoys rolling dice. The trouble is, even with the mass of digits on a D20, you could always land on the same number, meaning they’re rubbish for deciding who goes first. Or at least they are if you use regular dice. 

Eric Harshbarger and his friends spent an awful lot of time planning the numbers on his Go First Dice -- seriously, you can read through the entire process here -- such that all rollers have an equal chance of coming out on top. Well, we trust that he did anyway; the math looked scary, OK? Either way, if you’re playing a game with four players or fewer, a set of Go FIrst Dice can start off each game with a tense and enjoyable roll-off.

We’re always open to suggestions, so if your gaming group has their own fun way to pick a first player then share it with us on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. For more board gaming goodness, give the Going Analog Podcast a listen as well.

Author bio: When he’s not losing himself as a mercenary in Frosthaven, Henry Stenhouse can be found scouring the web for the latest and greatest games, then wondering why he never has time to actually play them. Share your love of deck builders with him at @Fernoface on Twitter or drop an email to henry@moonrock.agency.