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Designer Diary: Police Precinct

Welcome to my blog about the creation of Police Precinct, a semi-cooperative game about police work, crime and corruption...

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Player Cards and the Corrupt Cop in Police Precinct

Ole Steiness
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I thought I would just tell a bit about the Player Cards in Police Precinct, and how they can be used… or abused, if you are an unrevealed Corrupt Cop – the use of cards as a Corrupt Cop is actually what this diary segment is about, as I sense that this is what people is more interested in reading about, and since it is the less straightforward way of using the cards.
Player Cards can be played either in your own turn, or to assist other players, in their turn. Let us look at examples of both (all illustrations here are temporary prototype graphics, btw).

Using cards in your own turn:
In your turn, you can play a Player Card for no action: Just play the card face-up, and follow the instructions on it (and ignore the symbol in the top right corner). For example, a player can play this card to secretly look at the top two Event Cards, and then pick which one will show up first:



The benefit of doing so for an unrevealed Corrupt Cop is pretty obvious (but harder to reveal, for the other players): You can pick the worst of the two Event Cards and place it at the top of the card stack, while the other one goes to the bottom of the stack – and you can always claim that both cards were bad, as no one will be able to immediately check that statement.

Player Cards can also be played in your turn to mess with the police work, but in a more subtle way. For example, you can play this card:



It would allow you to place two Patrol Officers at the Police Station, ready for use. How could that benefit the Corrupt Cop, as the Patrol Officers can be used by anyone? Well, in several ways, actually: You would seem to do something clearly beneficial to the good cops, which might lessen the doubt about your true loyalty… even though the Patrol Officers still will have to be activated in another player’s turn, to even get them out into the streets, costing resources… and once on the streets, you yourself might show up and pick them up to use them to get more Investigation Cards yourself, for example.
Furthermore, did you notice the double Magnifier Glass symbol in the top right corner? This card could clearly have been used to help someone solve the murder crime, but now you are just burying it in the discard stack while conducting the less effective action printed on the card… hopefully without anyone noticing.

Assisting other players in their turn:
Assisting other players means that you just look at the symbol in the top right corner, and disregard the text. For example, you can play this card to assist another playing in arresting Street Criminals:



It has the Hand Cuffs symbol, meaning that the receiver of the assistance will get to roll an extra die, when attempting to arrest Street Criminals. That is very nice of you, so obviously you can’t be the Corrupt Cop, right? Well… Again, this card could have been played as a bluff, and the incident you are helping with might not be anything critical, or close to fail without your assistance.
Furthermore, you have to look at the current game situation, and read the text on the card. This card might have been put to better use if there was an urgent Traffic Accident in play, for example… but as an unrevealed Corrupt Cop, that is not for you to point out – unless somebody else played the card, of course, to spread mistrust and to confuse.

These were just a few Player Card examples, and the Corrupt Cop can of
course perform other dirty tricks in Police Precinct, with Player Cards, or not.
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Fri Feb 17, 2012 10:48 pm
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The Police Precinct Game Board

Ole Steiness
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My first prototype boards were a few very simple paper sketches...



...but I felt I had something sensible going pretty early, and since I like nice prototype art (for myself and my testers) I started building the city sections in a simple art program, originally designed for making RPG maps (Dundjinni). It is nice, but not bug-free, so I ended up just using it to make simple buildings and import props, and then I finalized it all in Photoshop:



Although similar in size and layout to the original, the board has been simplified somewhat, since I started prototyping. I will explain the decisions here, but also start by saying that since the board will likely be redesigned from scratch, lots of stuff might still change…
When I started the layout, I did not want to make it too “gamey”, so I did not include any “slots” for the Emergency Cards to be placed. I simply had texts on the buildings, but ultimately decided to include the card slots, so that other people than me could understand where to place any cards The only exceptions are the Emergencies taking place on the streets – there is no slots for these, as they could mess with the player movement feel.

Also, I had alleys for criminals and civilians to move through, just as I had markers on the sidewalk to show in which direction to move pedestrians. I finally decided to not have civilians and criminals running around, as it became too complex and the mechanic felt… well, too mechanic …So I removed that part, and then also the directional arrows. At the same time I made the sidewalks smaller on the sides with no Bad Hoods – that allowed me to increase the size of the city blocks, which again gave me the possibility to add slots big enough to hold cards, on each relevant building.

To make it more clear when a player was next to a building, I added big white arrows next to the buildings with card slots. Furthermore, I went ahead and printed the building name on the arrow as well, so that you could find your way to a specific building, even if it was already covered with an Emergency Card.

Finally, I decided to give spread the six warehouses and apartment buildings to six different zones, and then number these zones (Districts? Blocks?) accordingly. Before that I just had numbers next to the name on each individual building, but it took too long to find the building you needed:

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Mon Feb 6, 2012 3:51 pm
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Patrol Cars and Unmarked Cars

Ole Steiness
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I decided from the start to make the player pawns into police cars. That seemed pretty logical, to fit the theme as players travelled around the board. But that wasn’t enough, since it did not go well with the crime investigator stereotype from the 80’s TV series/movies, where the detectives usually drove around in discreet, unmarked civilian cars (often brown, for some reason).
Therefore I decided to make both type of cars available to the player. By simply flipping the car token, players could now switch between unmarked cars and marked patrol cars (with lights and police logo). This way, players could pick the type of car which fitted their chosen type of police character.


Of course, this would not make any sense if the car chosen to drive in did not affect game play. It would be like switching between a fighter jet and a bomber, but have the same weapons load-out, etc., on both!
I toyed around with different ideas about which bonuses to apply to each car. One of the ideas was to have some player cards to be playable only when driving one type of car. However, it seemed too restrictive, and testers often did not want drawn cards to dictate what cars to drive. The good thing about the idea was that players would not be able to immediately spot what car types were best to choose for other players at any given time (including the choice made by the Corrupt Cop).


However, it was not an intuitive way to choose the type of car to drive, and cards drawn initially might not even give you a preferred car to drive, from game start.
Based on this feedback, I ended up giving fixed investigation bonus when driving an unmarked car (thus behaving in a more discreet manner), and a fixed movement bonus when driving a marked patrol car (thus being very visible and recognizable on the streets).
Of course, special circumstances unknown to the player from the start might be affected from the choice of car, and thus the choice of behavior style…
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Fri Feb 3, 2012 11:50 am
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Corruption in the precinct: Design of the Corrupt Cop in Police Precinct

Ole Steiness
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Throughout the design process I toyed around with different ideas for the Corrupt Cop mechanics. There were several aspects to take into account...

Bluff and silent corruption
First, I had to decide how the Corrupt Cop could be able to mess with the work of the good cops without immediately exposing himself/herself, but still in a way that might hint that something is rotten, to not leave the good cops completely clueless of the nefarious actions.
I came up with the idea that the players would not reveal what Investigation Cards they were drawing; this way a Corrupt Cop could claim that he only found useless cards, when he/she in fact was discarding real evidence, thus delaying the crime investigation. At the same time, other cops might be unlucky and draw useless cards for real, but not being able to show these would leave them just as suspicious as the Corrupt Cop.
This part worked fine and made it all the way into the final prototype. However, it favored investigators working on the murder investigation itself, while the street smart patrol officers/sergeants would have a harder time getting away with messing with evidence, since this was not their strongest field, and thus it would seem suspicious if a patrol officer spent a lot of energy on the murder investigation (although some times this is necessary).
To fix this, and to add some variation, I added more ways for the Corrupt Cop to mess with the game. For instance, some character skills and Player Cards enable players to look at the top Event or Investigation Cards, and then choose whether or not to discard this (inspired mainly by the traitor element in Battlestar: Galactica). Once the top card is drawn from that pile, players could start accusing each other of trying to throw away good cards, even if it might have been an innocent player just trying to help by hopefully drawing and discarding a bad/useless card.
Corrupt Cops will also be able to influence the game in a lot of indirect ways, e.g. by not playing Player Cards when needed. The police might find themselves asking other players to play Player Cards to assist them when in trouble, and the Corrupt Cop can simply claim not to have the right cards. A few other examples of hampering police progress in a discreet manner would be counter-accusations (can be very fun), wasted use of resources (cards, officers, donuts, time) and bad priorities: “I think I will go here and arrest this single Street Criminal. Yeah, I know it will not ease the pressure on the city much, but it is the safest choice at the moment, and safety comes first, right guys?...”

Exposing the Corrupt Cop
To actually reveal a player of being corrupt, I decided that it should not be without consequences. I am forcing the accused player to reveal his/her loyalty, so if accusations could be easily done, players might exploit this and accuse left and right early in the game. This is where the Donuts come in: You must earn at least three Donuts (experience tokens in this game) to be able to accuse someone. You can try to convince other players to help you out in the accusation, by adding their Donuts to the accusation; but if you are wrong, you will have to discard the Donuts and skip the rest of your turn… and the Donuts lost will have to be replaced before you can accuse again, and they could have been spent instead to buy useful upgrades.

Revealed Corrupt Cop in action
Once the Corrupt Cop is revealed (involuntarily or not), he/she will go underground and try to hamper the police work in a more direct way. Initially I gave the Corrupt Cop the opportunity to either play an Event Card or distribute a few Street Criminals, but it quickly turned out to be too boring.
I then added a Criminal Underworld Board with different locations for the Corrupt Cop to travel between, to conduct the evil deeds listed for each location.


It worked ok, but it was too close to the Cylon ship in Battlestar: Galactica, and I often found people sticking to the same two locations - again not allowing for much play variation.



I finally decided on a Criminal Act deck, given to the Corrupt Cop, once revealed. It would grow in size whenever bad things happened. It provided more variety, and nobody would know what bad things the Corrupt Cop could throw at them…
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Wed Feb 1, 2012 9:05 pm
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Police Precinct: Thoughts behind the theme and the gameplay design

Ole Steiness
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Hello, and welcome to my blog where I talk about the different parts of creating Police Precinct, currently available at Kickstarter, with a short video presentation and all:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1529038443/police-precin...

The idea
Like many others, I’ve always loved watching police television shows and movies, but I had yet to find a board game about law enforcement. The ones I found were either kids games, or fantasy/super hero games. I wanted something closer to real police work, as I find the theme meaty enough for an exciting game, without having to boost it with magic, super powers, monsters, space ships, aliens, steam punk or the like. On the other hand, I did not want to make a documentary style game with lots of paper work and tedious assignments; I was going for the 80’s TV shows and movies (the Eddie Murphy era, you could say) style and pace, and it would of course need tension and action to be exciting to play. I also wanted it to look and feel like you are actually being a cop handling tense situations and ultimately arresting criminals, in a not-too-simple and not-too-hard game that could be played by most gamers.

Basic game play
I knew from the start that I wanted the players to work together to first and foremost solve a murder crime by moving around a city, by collecting clues, interview witnesses, interrogate suspects, read autopsy reports and so forth. Classic crime scene investigation stuff, translated into a replayable game. By classic I do not mean Agatha Christie / Arthur Conan Doyle murder mysteries (you can have Clue and Mystery Express for that), but rather realistic police work – again, because I find that interesting in itself.

Pandemic crime
I also wanted spice things up by having crime incidents occur throughout the city, requiring police attention, thereby diverting resources away from the actual murder investigation, and having the players choosing what to deal with, from turn to turn. As criminal incidents, I got inspiration from Pandemic, but instead of infection cubes I had three kinds of street crime, and they would be randomly distributed between six different areas, called Bad Neighborhoods, on the game board , as the game progressed. If the police did not respond in time, the precinct would drown in crime, which would turn organized and make things even harder, before finally failing the game for the cops.
The three kinds of street crime was eventually simplified into just one type of crime, as the Event Cards got introduced, and finally they changed from crime to criminals, since it felt less abstract to deal and move around with criminal persons, instead of a token simply depicting a criminal event.



There is something rotten in the precinct
I love Pandemic, but I am not too happy about the fact that there is no player opposition, compared to e.g. the traitor in Shadows Over Camelot and the Cylons in Battlestar: Galactica. It did not take me long to decide to add a corrupt cop, secretly working against the other players. The corrupt cop introduced suspicion and meant that people could question each other, when somebody kept looking at new cards at a murder scene, but never finding anything useful (“is he just unlucky, or is he in fact tampering with evidence?”). This is a feature I have kept right to the end, but I’ve also made it possible for players to play it as a truly cooperative game.

Murder investigation
For a long time, I kept the main game focus on the murder investigation itself, and I tried to be faithful to how actual murder investigation would be carried out: You would have to first locate the body, and then work the crime scene to find trace evidence, examine the body, find and interview the witnesses, find the suspect matching the witness description, interview relatives and neighbors (to find the motive), and then, when you had enough physical evidence and suspect, players would go the the crime lab and compare DNA, finger prints, etc., and then confront the suspect with the hard evidence, as well as witness statements. The suspect would then be able to claim an alibi, which the players would have to get confirmed, or better, disproved. Finally, you could take the suspect to court and have him admit the crime, thereby winning the game for the good cops.



Another gruesome murder: Killing your darling
At some point I added the Event Card deck, which presents various random events and emergencies for the players to deal with, to nuance the game a bit, and to give players more things to deal with. An emergency card presented a challenge with a difficulty to beat, by rolling dice according to your level of skill in that area. It turned out pretty nice, and it gave an opportunity to have players help each other by assisting on location, and by playing cards.
However, with street crime, emergencies and advanced murder investigation, things just got too complex to explain to new gamers, and I did not want to scare away people. So even though the crime investigation mechanic worked very well, I decided to simplify it, but still keeping it faithful to the theme. For this to make any sense, I presented the players with a prime suspect from the start, a gang leader which everybody knows carried out the murder, but has yet to prove. To prove the criminal deed and convict the murderer, I decided to simply have the players go and investigate at different locations, to collect evidence, witness statements, autopsy reports, etc., but it was simplified so that you do not have to actually compare finger prints now, or match witness descriptions with suspects, and stuff like that.
I found it pretty hard to simplify this part, but the murder crime investigation had just gotten too complex, combined with all the other elements in the game. I did, however, keep the thematic crime investigation board, and the players are still tasked with filling it out with classic crime evidence and statements.



Hitting the sweet spot
I think I ended up on some nice spot between a modern murder crime investigation game and a more tense and action packed emergency response game. What I ended up with feels like a board game version of a mix between the COPS TV drama documentary, Beverly Hills Cop and CSI TV show, and I hope that this shines through in the game and lets the player take on any police role that they like in the game: Do you want to actively fight street crime? Fine, jump in a patrol car and rush out to the crime infested Bad ‘Hoods. Do you want to be a clever crime investigator? Fine, flip your car token to an unmarked car, and go search the crime scene, interview witnesses and look at autopsy reports, to solve the murder case.
I set out to create a game that really encompasses the police genre - I wanted the police theme to mix with the game mechanic and end up having the actual gameplay situation look like a still from a police TV show.


I think it worked out well – for me, theme and feel is exactly as important as the gameplay mechanic. I am just excited to see how the final art will look
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7 Comments
Tue Jan 31, 2012 1:44 pm
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