Monday, 5 May 2014

Good Cop Bad Cop Kickstarter Review

This review is for a project still at the Kickstarter stage.  As such, final game contents may vary from those shown here.
As Games & Tea heads towards its first birthday (we're expecting cake - please don't let us down), it's delighted us just how much we're making in-roads in the gaming scene.  Sure, we're probably at least a couple of weeks away from being mobbed by adoring fans in the street, but over the last couple of months we've had the nice experience of games developers approaching us to review their up and coming games.  It's our pleasure to bring you another one of these now, in the form of Good Cop Bad Cop from Overworld Games: a semi-cooperative card game of hidden identities, deception, and occasionally shooting someone just out of spite/to be on the safe side.

Good Cop Bad Cop is for 4-8 players, and each player (as the name implies) takes on the role of a police officer (or "cop", as we understand the cool kids call them these days).  Some of these cops will be the very embodiment of honesty, whilst some of them will be a crooked as a politician, and it's the aim of the game for each team to eliminate the leader of their opponents.  Unfortunately this isn't quite as easy as you might first think, as the crooked cops have done a fine job of covering their tracks, so nobody at the start of the game knows which players are crooked and which are honest (aside from themselves, obviously).  As such, the game starts out with an investigatory feel until players know just whom they can trust, after which it can descend into all-out interdepartmental war!
Well that's the rough outline of the game, so let's take a look at the components and then break down just how it all works!
There are three main types of cards in Good Cop Bad Cop: Integrity, Equipment, and Guns.
The Integrity cards determine whether a player is honest or crooked.  At the beginning of each game, each player is dealt three Integrity cards which they must look at and then place face-down in front of themselves.  If the majority of the cards are honest then the player is honest, and vice-versa.  One player will find the Agent card amongst their Integrity cards and one player the Kingpin, which will mark them out as the leaders of the honest and crooked cops respectively, regardless of their other Integrity cards.
Once these cards are placed face-down they have to remain in the same order, which will come into play as one of the game's major mechanics shortly...
The Equipment cards are the next to be dealt out, as each player is dealt one at random, which they keep hidden from everyone else.  The majority of these can be used at any point in the game, and have effects ranging from the revival of an eliminated player, to switching another player's allegiance for the remainder of the game.  Each player can only carry up to one item of Equipment at a time, so having the right gear on-hand can be a game-changer at critical points!
And then we have the Gun cards.  These are used to eliminate other players, including the all-important Agent/Kingpin.  There aren't enough Guns in the game for each player to carry one at the same time, so knowing when to sit back and investigate or when to arm yourself for the coming storm can be the key to victory.
Once everyone has their trio of Integrity cards and their item of Equipment, the game beings, starting with the player who most recently told a lie - of course getting said player to admit this can be troublesome, as their credibility has already been brought into question.
During each players turn they may only take one action out of four possible options.  They can Investigate another player, which involves taking a look at one of their Integrity cards and returning it to its face-down position.  This is where maintaining card order becomes important, as investigating would obviously become impossible if players could shuffle their Integrity cards between each turn.
The second action option is Equip, in which a player may draw a card off the top of the Equipment deck.
Thirdly we have the Arm action, where a player takes one of the Gun cards from the centre of the table and aims it at another player.  Whilst having a Gun obviously gives players the power of life and death/grievous wounding over the others, the act of taking one does require the player to turn one of their Integrity cards face-up, and so can bring the wrath of the opposing team bearing down upon them!  This makes Gun-grabbing a tactical risk, rather than something to just be done casually.
If you've got a Gun you might as well use it!  The final action is to Shoot, where the player pulls the trigger on their unfortunate target.  The target of the attack must flip all of their Integrity cards face-up, and if they are the Agent or the Kingpin they take a wound.  If they are hit a second time, they are out of the game, and their team is defeated.  If the shot player is just a regular honest/crooked cop then a single shot is enough to eliminate them from the game.
"That gunshot wound looks pretty nasty, boss.  I think you're gonna need two plasters for that."
After the action phase, if the player is holding a Gun they can choose to re-aim it at another target, and then play passes to the next player along.  Play continues this way until either the Agent or Kingpin are eliminated, or until one player takes control of both the Agent and Kingpin cards, which results in victory for the crooked team.
So that's the basics of the gameplay.  But how well does it work?
The first hidden identity game which we played was The Resistance, which, whilst a lot of fun, did have its share of shortcomings - one of which was that accusations of loyalty and treason started getting regularly thrown around at the very start of each game.  Good Cop Bad Cop has avoided this pitfall first of all by leaving all players in the dark about one another, and secondly by giving players the power to eliminate eachother.  Shouting up your suspicions about a crooked cop in the game's early stages may seem like a bold move, but in all likelihood it will just end up putting you on the wrong end of a crooked gun!  The option is certainly there to voice your suspicions, or share the findings of your investigations, but we found that most players erred on the side of caution and kept their opinions to themselves for as long as possible.
This makes the investigation part of the game highly crucial, as players are forced seek out just who they can trust and who is a threat.  After several games with a variety of different players, we have to admit that this does start the game off at quite a slow pace, however once players start to get an idea of who is on their side (even if it's just one other player) things start to pick up, and the game quickly becomes quite cutthroat and frantic!
Looks like we've got ourselves a Mexican stand-off...
One of the mechanics to which we all gave a wholehearted thumbs-up was the aiming of the Guns - specifically down to the fact that it must be done at the end of the player's turn.  This prevents players from simply aiming and pulling the trigger, as the round of play in between can completely change their plans on who to eliminate.  This comes into play all the more so in larger games, adding a whole new level of depths as affiliations may be revealed and new suspicions raised in their place.  One more than one occasion we've witnessed players picking up a Gun card and then changing their target three or four times before finally taking the shot!  On top of the aiming we also liked the fact that taking a Gun in the first place reveals one of your Integrity cards, giving other players  hint at your affiliation, or giving you a chance at a devious bluff.
And finally we have to give credit to the Equipment cards, which can literally change the course of the game at the drop of a hat.  There are some cards which appear much more potent than others, such as Taser, which allows a player to steal someone else's Gun, or Blanks, which prevents Guns from being fired during a particular turn.  However, some of the less-potent looking cards can be used to devastating effect at the right time.  The Bribe card is a great example, as it allows a player to switch one of their Integrity cards with that of another player.  This may not sound amazing at first glance, but if you're an honest cop and your Agent's already taken a wound and has weapons aimed at him by the crooked cops, it can allow you to take the Agent card for yourself, giving your team the drop on those dirty crooked officers!  Each Equipment card is completely unique, and with a hand limit of just one, it's unlikely that the entire deck will be cycled through during a single game, so repeats of the same effect will be avoided.  This is a bit of a double-edged sword, however, as players will soon learn the effects of each of the Equipment cards - if the only card that can foil their plan has already been played, they know that they can go ahead without any danger.  We couldn't help but think that if the Equipment deck was doubled in size to two of each card, this could be resolved, adding a little more tension as the game progresses.
The other real downside of Good Cop Bad Cop is purely statistical, and comes into play during smaller games.  It's entirely possible after the Integrity cards have been dealt out, that the Agent or Kingpin can be the only player on their team.  Within our first few test games we saw both sides of this, with the Agent left alone in one game, and the Kingpin left flying the crooked flag solo in the next.  This meant that once the single player shot their opposite number for the first time, every other player in the swiftly picked up a weapon and gunned them down before they could pick up another Gun and finish the job.  In both cases the imbalance wasn't noticed until the shooting began, but it was a bit demoralising for the single player to find out that they never stood much of a chance to begin with.  As we say though, this is entirely a statistical issue, and doesn't effect larger games.
Stepping away from the mechanics, it's physically a nice game to play.  Being purely a pack of cards, Good Cop Bad Cop is very easy to transport.  Things like the active player or wound markers could have been done as punch-out tokens, but by keeping them as cards the entire game fits very neatly into a box no larger than a poker deck.
As each player will never need more than 5 cards in front of them at once (three Integrity, one Gun, one Wound), it doesn't require a great deal of playing space.  In fact when out FLGS was packed to the rafters, our first games of Good Cop Bad Cop were played in a pub garden with five of us around a relatively small table!
And in terms of the cards themselves, they're pretty darn nice to look at.  You won't find any lavish artwork in Good Cop Bad Cop, but the simplified silhouettes on the cards fit the feel of the game perfectly, and make it aesthetically very pleasing.
Overall our experience of Good Cop Bad Cop has been a positive one, and if you wish to support it at the Kickstarter level then you have until May 20th to get on board here.
The Good Points
  • Good Cop Bad Cop is an easy to learn game and quick to play.
  • Set up space is small, and it's a game which can literally fit in your pocket.
  • Unlike some hidden identity games, players are not rewarded for throwing blind accusations around.
  • The wide variety of Equipment cards can shake the game up in various ways when players least expect it.
  • It's a great game for large groups, accommodating up to 8 players.
The Bad Points
  • Team-balancing becomes an issue in smaller games
  • Experienced players can learn to wait until certain Equipment cards have been played, removing other players' chances to foil them.

Recommended Number of Players: 6+
The team-balance issue is most frequent in 4 player games, and occasionally crops up with 5 players.  With 6 or more it seems to have been pretty much eliminated, but Good Cop Bad Cop is definitely a game which gets better with larger crowds.  If you can pull together a full lineup of 8 players then we'd highly recommend it!
Average Game Time: 15-30 minutes
Depending on player numbers, Good Cop Bad Cop will take 15-30 minutes to play - obviously with higher player numbers there has to be more investigation before players start shooting wildly!  Being quick and fun to play though, the entire group was happy to play a few games back to back.
Replay Value: Medium/High
Whilst Good Cop Bad Cop doesn't have much by way of additional mechanics to make each playthrough different, hidden identity games by their very nature owe their replayability to the group.  They are the specialist gaming scene's equivalent of poker, and as long as you have a group who can stonewall eachother and keep their affiliations under wraps until the last possible moment, games like this can be brought back out again and again.
The Future: Under Investigation...
Good Cop Bad Cop is still at the Kickstarter stage, so right now all attention is on making this game see the light of day.  Once it reaches general release, the option of additional cards may be addressed.  With simple games such as this, too many additional mechanics can rob it of its character, but simple additions such as new Equipment cards - or even a third character card such as Internal Affairs for larger games - could be used to help it go the extra mile.  At this point this is purely our whimsical speculation, but it's worth keeping an eye on!
Price: £15/$14
Being a Kickstarter project, it's up to each backer how much they'd like to pledge to Good Cop Bad Cop.  A $14 pledge will secure you a copy of the game upon its release including postage within the US, so with the additional cost of postage to the UK, this works out around the £15 mark.
Tea consumed during this review: Typhoo, milk and 2 sweeteners. Brew rating: 9/10

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