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Subject: Brook City - Excellent game in it's niche, opinion may vary otherwise rss

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Sean Ginley
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There's a lot to unpack here... figuratively and literally. So I'm going to do this step by step in bullet-points.

Concept
This game simulates a Cop movie in the form of a co-operative board game. Which cop movie? Well, sort of all of them... While many are in side-cards, this game references more police films than I even know (literally. As in "I'm not even sure who this is supposed to be outside that it's clearly supposed to be someone" in a few cases). If having a crazy fantasy team-up between the cast of Fargo and Bad Boys II to do a bust in the style of Miami Vice on the killer from Seven would interest you, this game lets you do that, and it does it quite well. Track down leads, patrol in squad cars, commandeer a vespa, run down a suspect on foot, have a shootout, do surveillance, grill witnesses, collect clues... you might not do it all in one run, but in some form you can hit all the notes associated with the genre via mechanics that feel in-theme while also working well and being pretty fun.

Mechanics
In terms of specifics on mechanics, I'll be a bit terse because there's too much to cover effectively short of reading the rules and doing a test game... While most are simple enough and self contained, the depth of the game is that they interact in a combination of ways that makes things complex (and yes, I do mean "complex", not simply deep... it can be a lot to figure out and manage at times). The gist of the mechanics are more or less as follow:

1) The core goal of the game is to crack a case, which often either requires or will be aided by by busting a suspect (perhaps multiple times). The details of how both these are achieved vary based on the Suspect and Case chosen, but typically involve a lot of map traversal and Encounters both to complete a set of goals as well as by yourselves time (as there seem to always be "loss" conditions, which typically occur from being overwhelmed by untended cards from the Suspect or possibly Case deck piling up). Game happens in rounds, until either a win or loss occurs.

2) Round starts with player turns, which can happen in any order (but always one player, from start to completion, at a time). The order of these turns can be decided communally, according to the needs of the group, and is often a fun strategic decision.

3) Player turn starts with the player drawing a criminal card, typically playing it in front of themselves, on the right end side of their lineup. Typically either triggering putting an enemy target on the board (which will cause ongoing or periodic effects hindering players, thus incentivizing players removing them) or some form of event that causes negative effects based on the board state. Many of these cards don't kick in till AFTER either their turn or all Player turns, however, giving the players a chance to deal with it. While the effects of these cards are commonly global, the fact they are played in front of a specific player and occur on THEIR player turn means that the players can strategically time when these effects repeat if uncleared at the end of the turn.

4) Player Turns then occur in three steps, Move Step, Card Step, and Action Step
a) Movement is typically 3s, but can go thorough buildings and diagonally if on foot, or in "squares" of 2 (doubling speed) but only orthogonality and on streets if on a vehicle (with exceptions such as boats going through water). Players can enter/exit a vehicle once per step (so up to three times a turn, which can maybe be the most tactical decision in most turns) and "commandeer" a new one if they lose or are far from the one they had (such as if the player discarded it to activate a special ability it/their cop had), which is convenient, but the vehicle drawn is typically random. The player could skip their move to recover stress, which is more or less health.
b) Card step the player can play a card, from their hand (starting hand 4, normally draw 1 card at the end of a full turn, "decks" are unique to the Cop character but all include 3 copies each of 2 abilities, 3 Encounters, and 3 Tactics). Card types include abilities, which are instant and often global effects, ongoing "Tactics" that offer passive bonuses or an Action option and commonly trigger an effect if a duplicate of it is already out, and "Encounters", which we'll get to. The play can draw an extra card instead if they don't play one.
c) Action step allows the player to choose one of a number of "default" options, which are commonly inefficient versions of things that can be done through cards of some sort (but rarely do you have "a card for everything", so it lets you act expediently towards an urgent goal by "duplicating" options (such as moving twice, or using an Action to Encounter in a turn you also played an Encounter card), or taking an Action to achieve an effect you presently lack a card to perform more optimally. One of these options also allows you to gain a Hunch (another useful resource, giving some symmetry to the ability to recover a card or stress by skipping the Card and Move steps)

5) At the end of these three steps, the players Crime cards (including the one drawn this turn, if still in play) take effect from left to right (and thus newest to oldest). The player then draws a new card, and play proceeds to another player unless they've all had a turn, in which case the round moves on.

6) Crime Cards in the global area (rather than a player area) then activate (typically starting with the prime Suspect). After this, Case cards activate. occur from left to right (so again, oldest to newest). A new Case card is then drawn and played on the right end. The timing of Case and global Crime cards are often ruled in such a way that players get a full round to deal with/prepare for/prevent them before anything too dire occurs. After that, the round resets.

7) Typically speaking, the goals involved with the case are achieved by completing Encounters. These are often criminals (perhaps even the prime suspect), but can also include things like analyzing evidence or crime scenes. Encounters can be approached Dangerously, Normally, or Carefully, which (with rare exceptions) are decided by what Action/Card the player is using to trigger the encounter. Many Encounters are more easily completed by some approaches over others, and may have mitigating factors/options to their difficulty and results, and almost all can be chipped away at via lingering progress (as opposed to completing them all at once). These tests for progress are typically conducted via dice throws including "exploding criticals", the faces of which creates results consistent enough to be semi-predictable (one success per die is typically possible as a minimum) with a chance of variety in the results by way of critically successful rolls. Hunch results on the die can also create hunch tokens (giving an incentive for players to attempt rolls they're unlikely to complete) or to spend hunch tokens the player had beforehand to create results (letting players go "all in" when success is more critical). "Interact", a use of the Action Step, also is a common feature of completing mission-critical goals, which is typically just spending the Action to automatically do something (such as pick up a piece of evidence to carry with you).

8+) The game features a number of other smaller mechanics, including Leads (which are typically "Pick up and Deliver" benefits that pop randomly one at a time, and can be discarded after being gained for bonuses), Vehicles (players start with Cruisers, but may ditch them to move on foot or wreck them driving fast as it were, and end up replacing them with anything from sports cars and vans to yachts and vespas, each with slightly different effects), and Rivals and Allies (optional card sets that create extra Encounters to address or giving a "Extra player light" character the players control like a more limited extra character, to increase or decrease difficulty respectively). Some expansion material also includes Syndicates (adding more "generic" encounters, to add difficulty) and "Off Time" (giving each character a set of locations to visit, and a beneficial effect when all three are completed).



Review
All in all, the game is excellent as what it does. If you like this sort of adventure simulation game, this is a great co-op or solo experience... It's not exactly staggeringly original, but it probably does this game style better than I've seen anything else do it, and there's a lot to be said for that... If you WANT a game of this sort to play and are willing to put down the price tag for one, this probably is the game to get... so for a lot of people, anything else positive is just icing on the cake and other complaints immaterial... That said, if "Willing to pay handsomely for an adventure sim board game" doesn't describe you, keep reading because the value may be more questionable for you.

- Leading with the positives, the game has a good element of conflict and tension, and all without actively including violence (although it does infer it... Morgan Hall is clearly based off the show Dexter, after all). There's a feeling of tension and pressure, but it doesn't feel hopelessly oppressive, like "The only way to survive is to win too fast to die/barely survive long enough for a victory by the AI timing out" like in games like The Captain is Dead or Tharsis.
Play is tactical, with a lot of options to take on each turn, and most of them feeling like hard choices because so many options are tempting, as opposed to feeling stressful about which is least risky/damning. Coordination and Cooperation goes far, but in multiplayer each player can feel like their own person, making their own decision... the all-too-common scenario of a co-op game becoming the most savvy player telling everyone else how to take their turns wasn't happening much... we felt like a team, rather than conjoined siblings.
Most of the systems were well designed, with smooth balance and working well once understood... The dice system in particular surprised us in how elegantly it functioned as random enough to feel like it involved real uncertainty without being so unpredictable it frustrated... Failures felt more like our fault than RNG's in most Encounters. Vehicle entering/exiting/Street Blocking caused the most analysis paralysis, but also ended up feeling like some of the most challenging and meaningful choices as a result, so in terms of core mechanics, the game functioned rather well even at its worst.

- While the tongue-in-cheek humor of all the shameless references amused, the game could really do with more flavor... prose like the character and case dossiers were really interesting, it would have been nice to have things like that for more cards. As it was, it felt like there was story to the setup to the game, and none during or at the end of play. In particular, the end of a session feels like an anticlimax ("Well, we buried the last Clue, so... we win, I guess? Caught the killer? Yay?")

- There's a lot of content here... Which is a good thing, but also sort of a bad one. The game has a lot of moving pieces, including modular decks... Cop, Case, and Criminal decks in particular alter play quite a bit EACH. This makes for a mix and match system that can feel fresh for quite some time, which is of course great... it also feels like it creates a bit of an "Elder Scrolls DLC" problem, in that I'm looking at my expansions going "Why did I get these?" It would take me so many playthroughs to try all the characters I have, having more seems superfluous... I'd probably really advise just the base set if you picked this up, which is unusual for me and not really smart design, in a sense.

- Some aspects of the modular content are better than others. For example, the Cops are fantastically versatile and fun, and trying a new character (or combination of them) is the part I'm most excited for in terms of a play session; Cases seem varied enough to be interesting, even if some strike me as much more-so than others; and Criminals in the starting set feel like they have an obvious "Easy, Medium, Hard" progression, which is a bit dull but isn't without it's merits. It starts to fall apart a little from there though... Vehicles seem a bit too easy to gain and interchangeable for the deck to be exciting, Syndicates and Rivals mostly just stretch the game out, Allies do the same while also making the game too easy, and Leads feel far too random as they vary from useless effects and/or too out of the way to bother retrieving (commonly taking them out of the game entirely, in effect, since a new one won't appear in a different location till the one currently available is take) or alternately landing right next to a player and giving them so much help it leaves victory a forgone conclusion. Outside the Cop options, the only modular deck I was left feeling excited about taking a new card from by the start of my second game was Off-Duty, which I confess is really a great element to the game-play as it adds some much-needed direction to moments where the players lack real urgency in terms of picking one route over another. The details of the next Case deck had me curious, but the Criminal deck swap and new draws from Leads/Vehicle decks felt ho-hum, and I just put the Allies/Rivals and Syndicate cards back into the box to probably leave them there forever.

- On that topic, the games biggest Achilles's heel is it's potentially long playtime... an hour game is pretty plausible with two people knowing what they're doing taking their turns fast,,, but the game can have a lot of slowdown by analysis paralysis, learning the system, or if a run isn't going well for the cops (because a run going sideways can still be won, but can upwards of triple in length). Honestly, I recommend the game two players, or possibly solo, and playing only 1 Cop if solo... More characters in play feels complicating rather than a thing that improves the experience, even if the difficulty seems decently "balanced" for player count.

- The game does have a bit of a learning curve... There's basically a lot of balls in the air, moving pieces as it were... systems that work in concert but are really separate from one another. While I think all those systems work well, it makes the first play-through deeply confusing if not a single person at the table has played. Rulebooks and how-to-play videos made navigating it go fairly well in terms of avoiding major gaffs, but was a lot of confusion, stopping to google errata or re-read sections, etc. About 4 times as many minutes were spent on reading up on rules and setting up as were playing the game, the first time... this wasn't nearly as bad any time after, but it's very much a point of concern for many.

- I'm not one to talk about components normally, but I feel I need to talk about components... Specifically that the game comes with oodles of them, most of them unnecessary. One can't even say "Well less isn't more, more is more", because in many cases, it's to the detriment of the game's functionality.
For example, the game comes with something like over a dozen generic crook figurines from three separate factions, even though you are unlikely to ever need more than one faction's worth at a time if you aren't using a Syndicate expansion. A set of two dozen cardboard tokens would have easily sufficed, and aside from making me wonder how much this inflated the price tag, this is actually WORSE for gameplay than my proposed alternative... because the crook figures are all identical, there's no way to know if it represents a generic criminal or an important suspect short of checking the cards. Is that the Blackmailer with Full Health, or the Frauder that's nearly defeated? Check the card, no other way to know. Lettered or numbered or colored cardboard tokens wouldn't have just been cheaper, they'd have made it easier to tell the state of the board at a glance, and stored more easily.
While more low-key, I've the same feelings about the vehicles, who each have their own figurine (duplicates, in most cases) even though if I understand the rules tight, you can never have more than 1 vehicle on the board per player (so the 4 colored vehicles should have sufficed).
The board is also so large it's a bit obtuse, requiring a fairly substantial amount of table space just to fit it, while it's a game that uses even MORE space for various lineups of cards and such. It also has six folding points, and navigating the "order" you fold them is not particularly intuitive and we damaged the board the very first time we tried to pack it up.
Which on the note of space, the boxes are all gigantic far beyond the size they need to be by about 3x or so. You could consider this a positive if it allowed you to pack all expansions into the base game box, but you actually can't... there's no form of insert to make it possible to both fit it all in and have it maintain a semblance of organization. Big boxes help sell games from shelves, but this really feels beyond manipulative and into the realm of inconsiderate. They could have at least made the single cardboard insert for the cards and their dividers have some form of lid, big enough to fit all the cards (they don't, they'll fit maybe the base game + 2 expansions out of the 5 or so just out now, tops), and similar fold-able dividers that could hold the figures and such bin-style. Instead, be ready to throw it all in some other bag or box, if you don't want to juggle a tower of separate boxes for all the expansions.

All in all, it's a pretty good game... I wouldn't deny that in a heartbeat. It's not so much a question of "Is it more fun to play than other games like it?" so much as "Is it worth it's price tag?" The base game alone is a considerable expense, and going in on expansions was even more pricey yet, and the fact my final impression is "It's more fun than others games in it's niche... but only a little... while being considerably more expensive." Honestly, if you already own games like this and aren't desperate for more and aren't positively flush with cash, I might recommend passing on this. Likewise if you're "ok" with this genre rather than deeply in love with it, I definitely feel like there are many cheaper games that are more interesting... It gets a 9/10 on quality, and about a 7/10 on value (at best), as it were. If you were to pick it up, I'd rather strongly consider starting with the base set, and deciding from there if you want more.
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Matthew Filla
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Nice thorough review - thanks. Having received my multiple boxes from the everything pledge, I agree they are far too big. I was able to consolidate everything down to the core box and one long card box, using the very nice dividers they provided - all the cards from base + all expansions fit nicely into the long card box, while the core box can hold all the plastic (bagged by type (cops/villains/allies/each type of generic criminal/cars/other vehicles)) plus the bagged tokens and game board. Doing so means you can't use the nice plastic inserts to hold the minis, but shelf space is more valuable to me than those. (Also, as a non-painter, I don't mind tossing all the minis into bags together). I also ignored the card box they included as far too small.

Very much looking forward to getting this on the table.
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BG.EXE
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Bagging minis is the problem though. I’m not going to spend dozens to hundreds of hours painting to have the minis go in bags. Gotta keep them safe!!! And if you want box inserts (I do), you need boxes to hold them.

Thankfully we can both have ideal outcomes!
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Joel Karpowitz
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boardgamesdotEXE wrote:
Bagging minis is the problem though. I’m not going to spend dozens to hundreds of hours painting to have the minis go in bags. Gotta keep them safe!!! And if you want box inserts (I do), you need boxes to hold them.

Thankfully we can both have ideal outcomes!


I'm not going to be able to paint for a while still (just started Hellboy), but my thought is that when I do get them painted I'll make some foamcore organization, because even using the plastic there's just a lot of empty space in those boxes. I think if I do so I can still get it down to one large and one small box, or maybe the two large boxes if I want more separation.
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SlyFox
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Where are you getting your foamcore?
 
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The 2 things I noted as well during the Kickstarter; can’t we just have one generic set of goons (instead of 7 all in)? And why isn’t there story decks like Street Masters? That’s a miss for me. Thanks for the review. I am still super excited to play though because I do not own another game with these mechanics, let alone the theme
 
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Brady Sadler
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gambitrogue79 wrote:
The 2 things I noted as well during the Kickstarter; can’t we just have one generic set of goons (instead of 7 all in)? And why isn’t there story decks like Street Masters? That’s a miss for me. Thanks for the review. I am still super excited to play though because I do not own another game with these mechanics, let alone the theme


The minis were purely an aesthetic choice. We knew that if we only provided generic goons, the miniature board gamer mob would demand "where are the specific sculpts for each gang?!?!" It's hard to please everyone

Story decks were intentionally not included in this game, for two big reasons: first, they are the single element that bogs down the development and editing process of the project, and—leading into the second reason—this theme works a lot better as one-off cases.

That being said, we look forward to providing more narrative content in the future, we just want the game to shine as a one-off experience with lots of replayability.
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BG.EXE
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More expansions confirmed? I’m in.

I agree the card box included is too small though. It fits the cops nicely, and then like a couple more decks. Lots of cards left needing a solution :’(

Not a huge problem though.
 
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Joel Carr
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I am on the fence with parting with it... I do not have any cop games but also have too many games “collecting” dust. I liked the gameplay vids and concept but will likely only ever play solo. So thank you for the review and impressions. But even after your thoughts I am still on the fence. Hah. Seems like a lot to like but...hmmm
 
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BG.EXE
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Just played a solo game as 2 officers and it plays excellently. Can be hard to get across the map though, I kept getting spawns in opposite corners. Still there are ways to move FAST!
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Mike DiLisio
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B Wumpus wrote:
I am on the fence with parting with it... I do not have any cop games but also have too many games “collecting” dust. I liked the gameplay vids and concept but will likely only ever play solo. So thank you for the review and impressions. But even after your thoughts I am still on the fence. Hah. Seems like a lot to like but...hmmm


This will be an almost exclusively solo game for me. I just imagine I'm a "Lone Wolf" cop who doesn't play well with others. It scales terrifically as a solo game. No adjustments needed. Play as one or more cops (I personally play with one.) I like Street Masters a lot, but the theme and the vehicle mechanism put this one over the top for me. Also, I'm one of those apparently odd people who would rather play one off games rather than long, linked campaigns, and the cases in this game facilitate that.
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Sean Ginley
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@strayknife, Both those points are super fair. When story isn’t what you want, feeling forced to navigate one can hurt a game, so if it wasn’t the focus in design, I can get behind the decision of downplaying it’s inclusion. Even if I would have liked a “After” text in the guidebook or something, you indeed can’t please everyone.

Likewise, I always furrow my brow at excessive numbers of redundant figurines, but you’re right that there are other people who want exactly that.

In both cases, my appraisals were more a matter of taste than purely objective, which still has value since those sorts of reactions and their explanations may resonate with others, but I’ll cop to the fact a clarifier might have been good: some parts of my review is more opinion over facts than others, so anyone reading it should decide (based off my listed reasoning) if my reactions sound like ones they’d likely agree/disagree with rather than assume they’d feel the same.
 
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boardgamesdotEXE wrote:
Just played a solo game as 2 officers and it plays excellently. Can be hard to get across the map though, I kept getting spawns in opposite corners. Still there are ways to move FAST!


yes. Brook City has an EXCELLENT bus service!
 
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Joel Karpowitz
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slyfoxbgg wrote:
Where are you getting your foamcore?


Amazon or a hobby store.
 
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Barry Miller
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A VERY well written review! I like how you framed it as a "value" perspective, rather than a "good game/bad game" perspective. There are too many portions of your article worth positive mention (especially your comments about too many minis), so I'll pick only this one to address:

The Nue wrote:
The dice system in particular surprised us in how elegantly it functioned as random enough to feel like it involved real uncertainty without being so unpredictable it frustrated... Failures felt more like our fault than RNG's in most Encounters.

First, let me provide a bit of context for my comment which follows:

While I have a good collection of Euros, I'm an Ameritrasher by nature. So I love how - in well designed Ameritrash games - dice determine the result of an action based on smartly researched probabilities of outcome. (IOW, in good games, dice don't produce random results, they produce a result based on a known probability of something happening). I like to discuss this concept when players complain about "luck" as being a factor in a game. To my thinking, "luck" is a factor only in poorly designed games, or in games which are designed to feature luck.

So, to your excerpt... I haven't played BC yet, but your comment really makes me want to, sooner than later. While I have no problem with dice-based outcomes in most good games published this decade, the way you describe the use of dice in this game does sound intriguing.

 
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Elijah
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Great review, thanks for posting!
 
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