Heist Dice: Bad Company review

Be honest.

You would be disappointed in me if I didn’t start this review of Bad Company, the new dice chucking engine building game from Aporta Games, with a quote from the lyrics of Bad Company, the eponymous song from the British super group fronted by Paul Rodgers, and managed by the same dude who handled Led Zep.

Far be it from me to disappoint you, dear reader. Like Sam Tyler, let’s take a quick jaunt over to the early 1970s and hit some power chords:

Tell me that you are not a thief

Oh, but I am Bad Company

It’s the way I play

That’s the entire experience of playing Bad Company in three glorious phrases. I can still hear Stephen Buonocore singing the chorus while Dave and I played Bad Company again at BGG Con 2021 with The Board Boys Podcast krewe (Rob and Cam) for their latest episode and review.

But enough blather, there are some jewels to steal, so let’s get right to this thing.

Bad Company is a 2021 release from Aporta Games that you might not be able to find until 2022 (unless you are willing to pay the shipping.) But if you head to any big game playing cons like BGG or Dice Tower, you should be able to find a copy. And you definitively should.

GAMEPLAY:

In Bad Company, up to six players will choose a random board representing their gang, each gang member marked by an ascending set of pips from two six sided dice from three to eleven. The artwork is silly in a good sort of way, lots of exaggerated poses, wild hair, and hard stares. Sure, they are your gang, and they’ve been with you as you moved up from siphoning off gas tanks to passing fake Rodney Smith Magic Cards. You trust them, honor among thieves and all that. But now you need to tool ‘em up, as Gene Hunt would say. 

The game allows you to upgrade each character by spending keesh that you earn (?) during the game. But upgrading your gang can only get you so far. Your gang needs a place to roam, and the game comes with two boards for you to do just that.

The main board depicts the city that you call home where your car will race as fast as your plastic accelerator pedal will allow toward the exit, a dark police car chasing you at every turn. The other board is your journey to the big time of small crime, where you can upgrade your gang members for a price.

But it’s the dice, baby, it’s the dice that tells the story. Rolling the dice is one of the best parts of the game. If you’ve played Machi Koro (no!) or Space Base (yes!) then you are already familiar with dice engine building.

The gang members on your player boards represent different dice rolls on a 2d6, (and hey, the fact that 2 and 12 are not upgradable is one of the reasons why Bad Company is better than those other games.). Hitting those numbers is a little like Christmas-comes-early-to-Mamou. You get some surprising stuff that always seems to be exactly what you need, like a resource or three.

If you’re lucky enough, those bonus resources fit just perfectly on the heist card you just drafted, allowing you to complete the heist in one turn and get a jet boost of speed in your car to stay one step ahead of the law.

Back to the dice rolls. Each turn, players will roll five dice, one representing the movement (from 0-2) that the cop car careens through the city after the gangs, and four dice representing two pairs of dice the active player will split. The split they choose is the two pairs of numbers that they will activate for stuff like movement in the city (to get closer to the getaway and earn bonuses along the way), gold coins (to upgrade even more gang members) or the tools and rewards of the breaking-and-entering trade (artwork, lock picks, etc.)

Okay, but if there are six players, isn’t that a lot of downtime between each turns? Nope.

Like in those other dice engine games, every player is active on every turn, and even more so than other games. The active player splits the four dice into two pairs, but the other players can choose one of those pairs and activate that number on their board. Right from the get-geaux, players are banging out tools they need for their heists or upgrading their gang without any waiting. Come on, man, sharp’s the word and quick’s the action! 

I love seeing the reaction on a player’s first on their very first turn when they snag enough gold to get a cool upgrade on their number 7 gangster. Or they get a space or two ahead of the cops on a big move later in the game, just when they needed to collect the bonuses that are strewn about the city. That’s how these dice chuckers should be, especially one as visually appealing and thematically engaging as Bad Company. Right from the beginning, it always seems like you are a dice roll away from a big turn, and that’s just satisfying to the max.

I also love how playing a game of Bad Company feels so thematic, a surprising result from a game that realistically can be played in about thirty minutes.  Each game is different. In some games, the cops will be on all of the players’ tails the entire time, forcing players to spend hard earned (!) rolls on movement instead of heists and upgrades. Losing to the cops is a bad thing for two reasons: if the police car is ahead of you at the end of the game, you lose three points, and the entire time it is ahead, players will not get any of those sweet city bonuses. The movement of the police car is such an interesting way to discourage specialization and creates tons of fun tension in the game.

In other games, the police will seemingly take a wrong turn, leaving you and your fellow thieves a leisurely journey to the escape. There’s plenty of time for side quests like getting as many of your gang members upgraded as possible which not only helps your dice rolls become juicier, but also nets you more points in the end. In those somewhat slower games, you will hopefully find like we did that there is no right way to play – take what the dice give you and what your gang is good at and lean into it.

Besides, the joy of this game is in creating the stories!  You’ll remember that rivalry with your fellow art heist gangs, when someone else grabs more Mona Lisas than you do and steals the bragging rights (and points) that geaux with it. Or watching your rival gangs struggle with a black-and-white chasing them through the city, only to score heist after heist right under the law’s nose like a 2021 version of Clooney and ten of the best looking thieves in Vegas. Or scoring some loot cards, the special bonus cards that can really boost up a big turn. Maybe you get a loot card right at the moment that you can complete the one heist that gives you a ton of end game scoring right from under your opponents’ noses.

I’ve got two downsides to this game. First, the way that the cards stretch out to add bonuses as you upgrade the gangs if fun if you are listening to Thurl Ravenloft in the Haunted Mansion, but a little freaky for a game about professional purloiners. It took a little while to get used to this unusual graphic design choice, but it’s not a deal breaker, thankfully.

Two, the game is hard to find right now! Right now, it appears to only be available directly from the publisher unless you were lucky enough to score some of the limited copies at Spiel. But fret not, hopefully more copies will find their way to FLGS soon, or perhaps other publishes localize the edition.

That’s about all I can come up in terms of negatives, although it would have been nice to have something that would easily distinguish one player from another as it gets really annoying to sort out the moves in a five or six player game when the colors are not readily assignable. 

Bad Company is a solid, breezy little game that has a rule set that can be taught to just about anyone in five minutes. Maybe it was the high of playing 30 different games in four days, but Bad Company was easily one of the best highlights of BGG Con.

I expect some fuddy-duddy commentary from some reviewers and gamers that this game is too light, too close to a party game version of Space Base. They’ll turn up their noses and offer to trade you Bad Company straight up for your dusty copy of Bonfire.

Make that trade in a heartbeat, and please don’t cackle out loud on your way out the con.

Bad Company / Til the day I die

Oh yeah.

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ

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