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Dirty Cops: A Game For Scoundrels (developed by Thing 12 Games) is a game where 2-4 players cooperatively try to take down groups of criminals while simultaneously trying to earn more money than their underhanded compatriots. The game’s components consist of money, various colored tokens, and a whole lot of cards.

This was a prototype Preview copy, so it’s important to note that what you’ll see in the pictures here isn’t what you will see in the final product. Everything from the components to the art may change. What I can say is that the art on the cards was really nice and high quality. Otherwise, I can’t yet comment on what will come in the final shipped product in terms of the components.

Setup is a bit involved. There are Criminal, Defense, Raid, Attack, Action, Detective, and Issued Item cards, and these all have to be separated and organized in a specific way. It was a bit difficult to set up Dirty Cops: A Game For Scoundrels the first time through, but I’m comfortable chalking that up to inexperience with the game on my part. I can see it being done relatively quickly once you have an understanding of all the different card types.

First, players are issued their standard equipment. Everyone has a pistol, an “Off Shore Cash Vault,” some starting money, and six health tokens. Players may elect to choose a special “Cop Profile” card for an alternate playstyle. These Cop Profiles serve as character cards, and each of them confers a unique special ability.

Some of the cards players will use in the game.

Some of the cards players will use in the game.

Next, you have to separate Defense, Raid, and Attack cards into three separate piles. Each pile is shuffled and one card is dealt to each player. These three types of cards are then combined into the “Combat” deck and placed on the table. You then shuffle the Action cards deck and give three cards to each player for a total of six.

After the players have their starting hands, you must sort out the Criminals. There are four types of criminals: Punks, Thugs, Enforcers, Mid-Bosses, and Kingpins. You have to separate all of the Criminal Cards into five distinct piles to set up the “Crime Scenes,” which serve as the combat encounters that take place throughout the game. You create four Crime Scenes by placing a certain amount of each type of criminal into them. Crime Scene 1 will have a Punk, Thug, Enforcer, and Mid-Boss, whereas Crime Scene 4 will have a Punk, Thug, two Enforcers, a Mid-Boss, and a Kingpin. Once you have your four Crime Scenes sorted out you combine them into the Criminal Deck. This is where you will draw the enemies for your combat encounters from.

After you’ve finished setting up the players and the Criminal Deck you move into the game proper. The gameplay of Dirty Cops: A Game For Scoundrels is relatively straightforward. You place a certain number of Criminals from the Criminal Deck based on which Crime Scene you’re on. The first Crime Scene will have three criminals, and each successive one adds another Criminal to the group of enemies. The random choice of criminal types in the setup followed by the shuffling of each Crime Scene before assembling the Criminal Deck assures a good degree of randomness in your encounter – there are plenty of different Criminals that will ensure that no two games play the same.

Players allot Health, Ammo, Drug tokens, and cash to each Criminal based on the stats on their cards and then add modifiers as necessary. Some Criminals will increase the Ammo of the Criminal to their left, for example. This element of positioning can serve to make an encounter just a little bit more difficult if the cards happen to be drawn in a particular way and further adds to the randomness of the battle. A group of the same Criminals can be a bit tougher or a bit weaker depending on how they all happened to line up based on the draw.

Criminals can vary in Strength and have special abilities that make other Criminals stronger.

Criminals can vary in Strength and have special abilities that make other Criminals stronger.

After all the Criminals have been placed, players draw until they have seven Cards in their hand.

Solving a Crime Scene starts with the Lead Detective. The Lead Detective is the player chosen to be first in the rotation and is represented by the Lead Detective Badge. This mechanic is similar to the dealer button in Poker, but it’s more than just marking who goes first—Criminals will specifically target players based on their seat relative to the Lead Detective. For example, a card might say “Targets the player to the left of the Lead Detective.” The Lead Detective badge is passed clockwise after every Crime Scene.

The players take turns in a sort of preparation round where they can play either Defense Cards or Raid Cards. Defense Cards serve as buffs that can protect the player by absorbing damage or providing other beneficial effects. Raid Cards affect the forthcoming combat either by dealing damage to Criminals or by changing the way the subsequent rounds of the Crime Scene play out.

Once everyone has played their Defense & Raid Cards, the Criminals get to commence combat. Their damage is largely based on how many Ammo Tokens they have.

After the Criminals have got their shots in it’s the Cops’ turn. Cops can elect to play as many Attack Cards as they would like. They may include extra damage abilities or an equippable firearm that can be used one time only. Cops may also choose to use their basic sidearm, which guarantees that they can do 1 Damage to any Criminal—this mechanic ensures that the cops will be able to do something regardless of their cards.

Cops may also choose to use Ammo Tokens to do damage—two Ammo Tokens will do one damage to a Criminal. Ammo Tokens are typically acquired as the spoils of war following the completion of a Crime Scene and can otherwise be sold for $200 apiece.

Should a Cop lose all of their health, they’ll lose everything aside from their hand and equipped Items. Everything goes into the Loot Pile and gets divvied up by the surviving cops at the end of the Crime Scene.

The Criminals after successful Cop Combat. The remaining spoils on the board are divvied up by the Lead Detective to all players.

The Criminals after successful Cop Combat. The remaining spoils on the board are divvied up by the Lead Detective to all players.

After Criminal Combat and Cop Combat have been completed, each player draws 3 cards from either the Action Deck or Combat Deck. If any Criminals are still alive, the combat goes back to the beginning with players playing Defense and Raid cards as needed. If all of the Criminals are dead, the players move on to the Crime Scene Cleanup Phase.

The Criminals are discarded, and any remaining loot is divvied up as evenly as possible between the players at the discretion of the Lead Detective. Players must then heal back up to full health at the cost of $200 per Health Token. If they don’t have enough cash on hand to do this (typically after they’ve lost all of their health), they’ll get healed up for free anyway. Players can use 2 Drug Tokens to heal one Health Token during combat, but as the Drug Tokens are valued at $200 each, this isn’t the most efficient way to do things.

Players can then sell any leftover Ammo Tokens, Drug Tokens, Defense Items, and Combat items. This is the point where other players may try to steal from one another or make an opponent lose some money or assets. Following this phase, players can safely store money in their Off-Shore Cash Vault for a fee of 50%. For example, a player with $1,800 can vault $1,200 at a cost of $600. Money in the Vault is completely safe and cannot be stolen by other players.

Once all of this is done, the players discard cards until they are down to the maximum hand size of seven and the next Crime Scene begins. Players go through three or four successively harder Crime Scenes (depending on the number of players), and the game is finished once the last one has been resolved. The player with the most money at the end of the game wins.

That’s Dirty Cops: A Game For Scoundrels in a nutshell. The fact that it took me well over 1,000 words to describe essentially how a single round plays out tells you how involved this game can get at times. It certainly has a lot of moving parts that all play off of one another. Unfortunately, some of these parts are a wee bit broken.

To start, a few of the cards have wording that was a bit confusing at first glance. For example, the “Rat” card says the following: “Target cop, with drugs, loses 1/2 of their drugs rounded up and up to $300.” It was a bit of a challenge to parse this—does it mean up to $300 in cash or up to $300 in Drugs? After a minute  we realized that “Up to $300 in Drugs” wouldn’t make sense since the tokens are valued at $200 each.

The wording on a couple of the cards was confusing and difficult to interpret.

The wording on a couple of the cards was confusing and difficult to interpret.

Another example was The Spray & Pray card. Here’s how it works: “Starting with 1st criminal in line, flip a coin for each criminal and each cop. When ever it is heads, that target takes 1 damage.” We interpreted that as “Shoot the first criminal based on coin flips totaling the number of players and cops.” However, since it said “Starting with” we took it to mean that you used this card for each enemy. Playing it this way resulted in the Lead Detective managing to wipe out all three criminals of the first Crime Scene on his own. If this is the intended behavior, the Spray & Pray card is ridiculously overpowered (especially in the early game). If this isn’t how it should be used, the wording on the card could really stand to be much clearer.

I also got the feeling that the “mess with other cops” aspect of the game wasn’t as well fleshed out as it could have been. It’s hard to say why exactly it didn’t quite feel right. It seems almost counter-intuitive in some respects, unlike a game such as Munchkin, you are very much dependent on the abilities of your teammates to be able to complete a Crime Scene. Players can steal from one another in the Sell Phase or perhaps play Action Cards to cancel out something that might save a fellow cop’s life so that they can pick up the pieces from their fallen friend. It just felt like something was missing from this element, and days after playtesting I still can’t quite pin down what it is. It’s just a gut feeling that I had.

My tabletop group played one game of Dirty Cops: A Game For Scoundrels over two hours and that was about it for us. It wasn’t necessarily that it was a bad game, we just didn’t find it to our taste. My tabletop guys just weren’t feeling it, and I can’t exactly force them to play something they don’t have an interest in.

I read over all of the cards and played a couple of mock games by myself to try to get a better feel for it. I feel that overall the game is relatively well-balanced. I do want to emphasize that I feel the developers need to give some of their cards a second read to try to make them more clear. The rules could do with a bit of cleanup and clarification as well. I had a preview version and these are all issues that I feel can easily be corrected by the developers.

Dirty Cops: A Game For Scoundrels is overall a solid game that myself and my tabletop group ultimately didn’t enjoy solely on the fact that we didn’t like the style of game. Plop me in front of Civilization V and I can play all day. Put Crusader Kings II in front of me, and I will be hopelessly lost and overwhelmingly disinterested.  I’m sure that there were people who read the description of Dirty Cops: A Game For Scoundrels and thought, “Hell yes, this is the game for me” just as there were people who stopped reading about halfway through.

Dirty Cops: A Game For Scoundrels launched their Kickstarter on March 14th, 2016. You can follow updates for the game on their Facebook page.

The copy of Dirty Cops: A Game For Scoundrels used for this preview was provided by Thing 12 Games.

What do you think of Dirty Cops: A Game For Scoundrels? Are you fond of a card game with RPG-esque stats and loot elements? Let us know in the comments below!

Robert N. Adams

Senior Writer

I've had a controller in my hand since I was 4 and I haven't stopped gaming since. CCGs, Tabletop Games, Pen & Paper RPGs - I've tried a whole bunch of stuff over the years and I'm always looking to try more!