Bad Company board game: A four-sided review

The Bad Company board game is a light and fast-paced dice/order fulfilment family game for 1-6 players. It takes less than an hour to play once you’ve got the hang of it and the suggested age range of 8+ seems about right.

Players use dice to collect and later trigger gang members, who in turn give symbols (thematically ‘skills’) which are used to complete heists (for victory points and abilities). All while trying to stay one step ahead of the chasing police car.

While lightly pasted, the theme does a good job of telling the game’s story. And the art – which is often bizarre – also helps set the slightly whacky and frenetic scene. In the box you’ll find 14 boards (two per player, plus two shared), around 150 cards, five dice, 19 wooden pieces and 100+ cardboard tokens. Comparison site Board Game Prices lists the game for around £45, which feels a little steep. But this may be because it hasn’t properly arrived in the UK at the time of writing. Expect it to be a little cheaper once in wider UK distribution.

Teaching the Bad Company board game

During setup, each player receives a (very slightly asymmetric) two-part player board. Each has a gang member that corresponds to each number from 2-12. The asymmetric bit being the symbols they show for each number being a little different on each board. Each player puts their car on the city board and their recruiter on the scoreboard; and chooses two of three heist cards to start the game with. These have a variety of symbols required to complete them and will give rewards ranging from ongoing benefits to victory points. Each time you complete one, you replace it with a new one.

The active players rolls five dice; one for the police car (see below) plus four standard six-sided dice. They then make two pairs from these four dice, in exactly the same way as you do in classic push-your-luck game Can’t Stop. Once decided, they trigger the gang members matching both the numbers – while all other players get to trigger one of their gang members that matches one of the two numbers. This largely involves taking check marker tokens and placing them to matching symbols on either heist cards or bonus spaces. But you may also accrue money or move your car.

Money is used to hire additional gang members. These are cards you place on top of your gang board which add extra symbols to particular number spaces. So as the game goes on, players continue to diversify. While choosing whether to hedge their bets (spreading out their new gang members) or pump up a few gang members to be super useful. As long as you manage to roll the correct number, of course…

Quick! It’s the cops!

The final thing your gang members can do is move your getaway car. Each round the police die is rolled and at the end of the round the police car will move 0-2 spaces. The players start a few spaces ahead of the police car, and as they move along the road (city board) they’ll pass and collect bonuses – as long as they’re ahead of the cops. And there is also an end game points penalty for finishing behind it.

Several smaller bonuses also add into the mix. There are four types of heist reward (paintings, jewellery etc) and whoever has the most at any time gets to show off with a necklace. This is added to one of their gang members and is worth a point each time they’re activated, as well as points if you still have them at the end of the game. While loot cards, awarded for passing certain spaces in the city board, give everything from one off powers to points or money.

The game ends one round after any car (including the police car) crosses a particular position on the city board. Or when one or more players have completed six or more heists. As well as points for heists etc, you also score the top card on each of your gang member spaces. So it can pay to diversify, as your base gang members are worth zero.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: I was worried when we started playing the Bad Company board game. Did it have enough going on? Is this it? But I needn’t have worried. While elegant (rules checks inevitably lead to what you expected the rule would be), the game is simply fun. The tried-and-true dice mechanism works well here and while mechanical the theme really comes through. At a busy con I taught this to four new players and we got the teach and play done in under an hour. And everyone enjoyed the experience.
  • The thinker: This certainly isn’t going into my collection. But the game did surprise me. What looked like a silly luck fest has just the right amount of mitigation and decisions to make. You can spend a coin to reroll as often as you like. Shortcuts on the city board let you make up ground in the police chase. And you can use ‘spare’ tokens on bonuses such as wilds, money or car movement. So, you always get a positive benefit from them.
  • The trasher: While there’s no direct interaction, you can mess with people on your turn. As players start to specialise, you’ll know what they want you to pair up – so don’t do that! While manipulation of the police car’s pace can also pay dividends. You also need to think carefully about the heists you choose, as you’ll always have two on the go. Taking and holding those necklaces can be key, so choose wisely. Overall it’s fun, but too passive to be a favourite.
  • The dabbler: Loved it! Setup sets the mood, as each half of your gang board helps create a silly name – like the Sneaky Pimples, or the Emotional Tacos. Yes, it’s a basic mechanical game really. But the super bizarre card art (everything from crazy David Bowie to a guy with a traffic cone on his head) and car chase really help to drive the theme home. It reminds of baddies from Mad Max or Gotham, rather than real life. Fast, frenetic and fun – with some proper decisions and table talk. What more do you want?

Key observations

I really, really didn’t like Machi Koro and Space Base. I found them too swingy for the complexity on show, especially as the decisions you made often came to nought due to a lack of guaranteed mitigation. Bad Company gives you a lot more control, because even if you don’t roll what you want you can change the roll or use the symbols you do get for a variety of options. And the interaction of worrying about what your opponents can do with your roll also adds to this. It’s probably closer to My Farm Shop, but more fun and engaging.

Some bemoan the luck or complain about a runaway leader problem. I’d say luck is a bigger problem in the games mentioned above. And I haven’t noticed a runaway leader problem, which I expect is more of a first game/poor play issue, as so much can be changed by the active player. And the powers you pick up early are never big game changers.

But I do have sympathy with those questioning its longevity. I’m five plays in and still enjoying Bad Company. And see it being fun for a long time yet. But I don’t play games to death and, in a small collection, I can see this getting old after 10 or so plays. There isn’t a huge amount of genuine variety in the box or a wealth of different strategies to discover and explore. But this is a light family game and should be judged as such.

The game does come with short solo rules. I found them a good way to learn the base game and they involve very little fiddling around. Your goal is to beat your previous high score and there’s no dummy player or complexity. It’s fine, but nothing to write home about.

Conclusion: Bad Company board game

Some game simply deliver on their promise, and for me Bad Company is one of them. It’s a light and fun family game with some genuine decisions. It takes tried and true mechanisms and combines them in interesting yet straightforward ways. And it has just enough theme, and some fun artwork, to give it that little extra charm a game needs to succeed. It has gone straight onto my ‘new gamer/family gamer’ pile and I’m sure it will hit the table regularly.

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