'Derivative' feels like such a pejorative term to use, but as the modern board gaming hobby matures, originality is increasingly hard to come by. So, when something that is clearly derivative comes along but is still good, hopefully we can look past any disparaging connotations the term might have and, instead, seek to praise a game for its reimplementation of earlier mechanisms. There is little original about the various mechanisms of Bad Company, but they harmonise to sing a song that is at least equal to the sum of its parts.
Designed by Kristian Amundsen Østby, Kenneth Minde and Eilif Svensson, and published by Aporta Games, Bad Company is a light family board game for 1 to 6 players, which takes about 20-60 minutes, depending on player count. Players take on the cartoonish personae of gang bosses whose members, numbered 2 through 12 will activate when two pairs of dice are selected to activate them. This provides resources, movement, and cash: the resources go toward Heist cards which are where Victory Points and special abilities are mostly gained, the movement speeds your car away from the cops who are in erratic pursuit, and the cash goes towards upgrading your gang members so that they might provide even more of the same.
Can't Get Enough
A player's turn rocks along nicely... roll dice, activate gang members and clean up at the end of turn. The five dice consist of four standard d6s and a police die showing 0, 1 or 2; when rolled, the boss chooses to make two pairs of dice a la Can't Stop (Ravensburger/Eagle-Gryphon), Sid Sackson's classic push-your-luck game from 1980. No traffic cones here, though.
Shake It Up
Instead, the choice is to activate gang members who provide the resources you need to complete Heists and move your getaway car along a road with rewards and short-cuts. At 2 and 12, the dice provide special bonuses, but bosses should remember that their choices benefit players whose turn it isn't as they choose one of the numbers generated to activate on their own board. While most strongly evoking Machi Koro (Devir) and Space Base (AEG), this sort of dice-based resource generation can be traced back at least as far as 1995's Settlers of Catan (Kosmos).
Even if a boss can't use a dice result for a Heist card, there are four tasks on each gang board with spillover symbols to provide a benefit every other time, which can be useful to get around a lack you might have in your modular gang and mean that every roll is of some use. That said, the dice are a big point of interaction in the game: while the process feels like multiplayer solitaire, if other players keep picking someone's best number, they will likely run away with the game, so keeping a look-out is smart.
During their turn, a boss can Recruit upgrade cards which are added to the existing slots on the player board, empowering that gang member with more resource-generating capabilities, much like Space Base's off-turn power ups. Spreading the numbers will increase both victory points (VPs) and the likelihood of more resources, while concentrating on one or two numbers can mean huge payouts, but lower VP.
Fame and Fortune
While you can get piecemeal VP elsewhere, the bulk of the points should come from Heist cards which are available to select from a row, like Century: Spice Road (Plan B), among others. Requiring 3–6 resources to complete, the rewards range from 1 to 7 points as well as granting game-changing special powers - great to lean into as a strategy early on - and variable point rewards for collecting a particular type of loot. Said loot comes in four types - Money, Gold, Art, and Jewels - and the player with the most of each receives a necklace to adorn a gang member, which gives 1 VP per activation and 2 VP at game end.
Run with the Pack
While players are trying to gain resources to complete Heists, they will likely also want to stay ahead of the police car chasing them down; being passed by it means they will pick up no bonus cash or loot boxes from the road and suffer a 3 VP penalty at game's end. The game concludes either when a car enters the red zone at the end of the road, or when a player completes a sixth heist, at which point there is one more complete turn.
This Could Be the One
There is a solo variant which mostly feels similar to the multi-player experience but sees you having to constantly outpace the police car or lose the game outright; as the cop car's movement is variable, the game can last different lengths which can strongly influence how much you score. It is enjoyable but not as much fun as the multi-player experience.
Good Lovin' Gone Bad
There's really not much negative to say about the game, other than that it might be too light for some tastes, tho' that should already have been conveyed by the fun box cover and illustrations by Gjermund Bohne. A couple of minor quibbles might be that, firstly, if someone gets a Heist early on with a clear direction - eg: 1 VP per Jewel - that can really swing the game their way; the best scores seen so far have included one of these cards.
Secondly, I wonder if ignoring the police car (in a multi-player game) might be as powerful as the 'Starvation Strategy' in Stone Age (Hans im Gluck/Z-Man): clearly the design is meant to encourage players to stay ahead of it but if they simply ignore the police car and accept a 3VP loss, there will be many actions saved over the course of the game that can be repurposed toward Heists and Upgrades. Pleasingly, the designers have responded to this thought directly and said that both it and playing the game as a race had been sub-optimal through their playtesting.
I found the rulebook a little hard to navigate but the player aids and iconography were really clear.
As far as (relatively) simple welcoming games go, Bad Company is one I would not hesitate to pull out with 99% of potential players: it has a flexible player count, is not overly prone to slow play, and everyone is involved on every turn, with a good amount of agency. The art and design is exceptionally attractive and clear, giving the already engaging theme an extra boost. Overall, while the play experience feels fresh, it is also comfortably familiar which is not surprising given the heritage. While the game isn't Everything I Need, if you're after a gateway or family game for several players that keeps everyone engaged, you'd be a wise guy to get Bad Company before it's Gone, Gone, Gone!
(Review by David Fox)