I have an absolutely unabashed love for television police procedurals going all the way back to my youth. From reruns of CHiPs and Dragnet, to Homicide: Life on the Street and the omnipresent-on-cable Law and Order franchise, they’ve always provided me a view (albeit not always an accurate one) into the world of law enforcement.
At the same time, my other major interest of gaming seemed to be bereft of games that involved this vast amount of content and theme. Having heard excellent things about Police Precinct by Common Man Games, I was very interested in backing the Kickstarter campaign for the reskinning and reprinting of the game. Did Police Precinct gather all the evidence to prove that it is a solid game beyond a reasonable doubt, or are there enough holes in the game to lead to a dismissal? Read on to find out.
Police Precinct is a cooperative game for 1-6 players, that takes between 60-90 minutes to play. Police Precinct plays best with 2-4 players, and also plays well as a solo game.
In Police Precinct, your squad is tasked with finding the evidence necessary to arrest a murder suspect by interviewing witnesses, searching the crime scene for evidence, and examining the victim’s body.
Thanks to the murder, crime in the city seems to be on the rise, with street toughs threatening neighborhoods and assembling into gangs, and calls to 911 looking for police responses to emergencies such as thefts and assaults. Your goal is to collect all the evidence needed to apprehend the murderer, while keeping all the crime in the city in check. If you can accomplish this difficult task, you win! If you let the crime level rise to unsafe levels, or if the murderer escapes the city, you lose!
The artwork in the game is truly solid at supporting the theme of the game, especially the graphic design of the event cards. The Emergency Reports look like case files, with handwritten notes, paper-clipped pictures and typewriter fonts, while the Internal Memos are all in authentic memo format, with the typewriter font and text highlighted by actual highlighter marks. The game’s theme shines through in the design of the cards. In addition, the characters are given life through their character sheets, which are also easily readable and of decent thickness and weight.
The game board, representing the city of Commonville, is rather large, with each building given some individual flair in its design. The tokens for donuts, police cruisers, street toughs, and police officers are functional, with two-sided art being added in the 2nd edition. We ran into an issue of durability, as our game board showed some separating from the cardboard backing right out of the box, but we were able to fix that easily enough with a small dab of glue.
Where the components fall short is in the design and production of the Evidence cards. Due to color differences in the card backs, we were able to discern the evidence cards from the “useless” cards easily for 3 of the decks. While not having much impact on game play, it still is a quality control issue we would have liked to see addressed. In addition, the Evidence cards themselves are a little bleak in terms of their artwork; we would have liked to have seen some better art for these cards.
How to Play:
In Police Precinct, each player takes the role of a law enforcement officer, each with their own specific set of statistics. Each officer also has a special power or two, such as having a “gut feeling” to examine evidence cards before their turn, or to be resourceful and get special options when they play Police cards. They also decide if they want to drive a police cruiser (which gives them an extra movement) or an unmarked car (which provides a bonus when searching for evidence).
On their turn, the first thing a player does is move their police car up to the number of spaces they can move, most likely either towards an emergency or to investigate something. Extra movement can be granted by playing Police cards or by spending Donut tokens.
Players then take one of the following actions:
- Make an arrest: Players move to one of the blocks where the street toughs are gathered to make some arrests. Players roll a number of dice equal to their arrest stat (with possible bonus dice). A successful roll is any value greater than the number of street toughs on that space.
- Look for evidence: Players move to the crime scene, the morgue, or apartments to find clues and evidence. Players total up their investigate stat and any bonuses, then draw that many cards from the top of the Evidence deck in the space they are investigating. If any of the cards they drew were evidence, those cards go to the Evidence Room for storage.
- Handle an emergency: Players move to one of the buildings or street areas where an emergency is happening. Players total up their Emergency stat and any bonuses, then roll that many dice, hoping for a result higher than the difficulty value of the emergency. If they succeed, they get some rewards (usually donuts or a peek at the top cards of a deck). If they fail, the emergency is still in play.
- Draw a Police card: Players can draw an extra card as an action.
- Undergo training: If at the Police Station, players can turn in some donuts for a permanent boost to one of their stats.
After their action, players draw 2 Police cards, which can either be played for their special powers, or to give bonuses to other players’ checks. Finally, an event is drawn and put into play, causing a number of things to occur.
If an emergency is drawn, it is put into play at the location specified. If an emergency of the same color is already in play, that event is considered “urgent” and needs to be addressed, with severe penalties occurring if not handled. Some emergencies and other Event cards will cause more street toughs to be put into play. If 4 toughs end up on a block, they turn into a Gang, which causes a penalty until they are all arrested. Other Event cards can move police cars, or represent a gas leak, or generally other bad things. After the event is resolved, play passes to the next player.
There are two tracks that need to be kept close attention to in order to be successful in Police Precinct. The calendar advances after every full round of player turns, and if the marker reaches the end of the calendar track, the players lose. The crime level starts at the bottom and rises every time a street tough needs to be placed and is not available in the supply (making arrests very important) or if an ‘urgent’ emergency is not handled. If the crime level reaches the highest level, the players lose.
Players win by collecting all the evidence at the various investigation sites, and by arresting the murderer when he appears in the city. If they collect all the evidence before the murderer appears (on Day 16), so much the better!
The rules of Police Precinct are very straightforward to pick up, making it a game that can hit the table quickly and be explained to new players easily. The turn phases are easy to remember and work through, and the fact that you are limited to one action per turn makes the game easier to pick up. While there are some card interactions and board states that can slow down gameplay somewhat, these tended to be more the exception than the rule. We found that we had games with new players up and running in 5-10 minutes.
Police Precinct is great at providing you with lots of options on your turn, because there are so many different things to try to take care of while trying to win the game. If you’re good at handling emergencies, there’s always one to be taken on. At the same time, someone always needs to be searching for evidence and arresting thugs, otherwise players will find themselves losing the game very quickly. This can lead to some analysis paralysis and some ‘alpha-gamering’ by having one player try to direct everyone else, but that will depend on your gaming group and their dynamics.
Since the turns are so streamlined and tight in terms of structure, gameplay is quick with limited downtime, with players still able to contribute and act while not on their turn through playing Police cards to add bonuses to their team’s checks. However, we found that playing the game with 2-4 players is best, as playing with 5 led to some interminable waiting. We also tried to play the game solo, which led to a positive outcome as well. We especially liked the addition of a “support car” in the solo/2-player rules, adding a dummy car that could be controlled by the players to provide backup and bonuses. We also experimented with 2 players playing 2 characters each, which also led to an enjoyable game. The 2nd edition also comes with rules for a Battlestar Galactica-style “Dirty Cop” scenario, with one player working secretly to undermine the investigation. We did not get a chance to play this variant, but we are definitely looking forward to it.
An issue that we ran into with the game play is in the “evidence collection” aspect of the game. While the mechanics related to arresting street toughs and handling emergencies is elegant but still worthwhile, we found searching for evidence to be a bit tedious, with the only luck involved being whether the cards we were looking for were in the top 3-4 cards of the evidence deck. While we understand that, like the rest of the game, the mechanics were designed to be quick and easy, we would have liked to have seen a little bit more of a deductive aspect to the game.
If you could not tell by now, we love games that are dripping with theme, and Police Precinct really delivers in this regard. We were crafting a story out of the events that were popping up and how we were dealing with them, and we even put on a playlist of police show theme songs (Hill Street Blues and SWAT are my favorite). This game really let us dive deep into the characters we took on, and we relished the experience for it.
Another small issue we had was with the character cards and the description of the player powers. Some of the characters start off with FBI and SWAT tokens that are very powerful one-shot items that can be spent over the course of the game. However, it is mentioned nowhere on the cards that they start with these tokens, only that they can spend them. It took a careful reading of the rules to find a vague mention of the amount of tokens they should receive. In future printings, we would recommend that they print this information on the character card itself, rather than in the rulebook.
A last hat-tip to the designers for creating an equal number of male and female character options for players to choose from, and including female characters who are just as badass and no-nonsense as their male counterparts. As a community, we should be demanding more of this from game designers so that we are being as inclusive as we can for both male and female gamers. Seeing Common Man Games integrate this into their design pleased us quite a bit.
Police Precinct is a solid game that I cannot say enough good things about. Easy rules, engaging gameplay, and outstanding theme all come together in a game that is great for both gamers and non-gamers alike. With the right adults moderating the game, this could even see play with teenagers as well. The mechanics are not groundbreaking in their originality, but they are implemented well within the framework of a cooperative game. Police Precinct is fun to play and stands up to multiple plays since the events that come up change from game to game.
If you’d like to get a copy of Police Precinct yourself, you can pick it up for about $60.
Final Score: 4 Stars – A great cooperative game with a theme that will stand alone in your collection.
• Art quality is spotty at times
•Some rules need to be written on cards, not in the rulebook
• Evidence collection mechanic is a bit repetitive