Full disclosure: Blacklist Games sent me a review copy of Brook City.
What is this game about?
Brook City is, at its heart, a buddy cop movie turned into a board game. If you've ever wanted to commandeer cool cars, zip around the city, and bust stylish yet troublesome criminals, then this theme may appeal to you. Brook City is designed by Adam and Brady Sadler, and it once again makes use of their Modular Deck System, which also appears in Street Masters and in their upcoming Altar Quest. What this boils down to is that each player will choose a cop deck with its own unique cards. They will also choose a criminal deck, and their battles with that criminal will take place against the backdrop of a case deck, which represents a larger crime you need to solve. (In case you were wondering, yes, this game also shares a lot of DNA with an all-time favorite of mine, Sentinels of the Multiverse.)
Solving crimes in Brook City is an abstract process—you'll be following up on leads, gathering clue tokens, and rolling dice to make "progress" against certain criminals until you are able to "bust" them. As in other games designed by the Sadler Brothers, the dice aren't always with you, but they are never totally against you, either. If you don't get successes or critical successes, you'll at least get "hunches." If you already have hunch tokens from a previous roll, any hunch result can be converted to a success. And if you don't, you'll receive hunch tokens that will help you out on future die rolls. Unlike in Street Masters, which had a fairly compact arena to fight in, Brook City takes place across a sprawling city map that you'll have to traverse, mostly using one of the game's many vehicles.
While you're working on your cases, the criminals will be working to amass influence in Brook City. If the criminal you're trying to bring down in a given game ever gains enough influence, then you'll lose the game. You can also lose by letting your cops take on too much stress—reach your stress threshold, and you'll be fired and all of the cops will lose the game. Most of your decisions when it comes to dealing with criminals involve making the unpleasant choice of allowing your enemies to gain influence or taking on more stress that you really don't need. You'll need to make the right choices if you want to bring the crime lords of Brook City to justice!
How does it play solo?
Brook City is a cooperative game, and it is no problem to solo the game with a single cop or with two. I recommend playing with two cops so that you can make the most of interactive card abilities, but I do not recommend playing with more than two—like other games that use the MDS, there are a LOT of cards to deal with, and that means a lot to keep track of.
I have never seen a bad game from the Sadler Brothers, and Brook City is no different in this regard. It's definitely an enjoyable game, especially if you love the cop theme. The different cop decks really do make you feel like you're playing different characters, and each one suggests a new approach to gameplay and provides you with interesting strategies to try. Each cop has a different approach to their work (cautious, normal, or reckless) and the cards you can play from their decks thematically match who they are as police officers. I think the game really shines in this respect. The game also forces you to make some interesting choices—will you choose to manage small-but-vexing criminals, or go after a clue? You won't be able to do everything, and you'll have to choose which in-game goals to pursue and which to let go.
Brook City also has some delightful gameplay elements. The need to plan your movements intelligently really adds something to the game. Learning how to manage your vehicles—and knowing when to ditch them—is a major strategic aspect of Brook City, and I really enjoyed it. (Also, getting a cool car is never a bad thing in a board game!) I also love the way that die rolls work, in that even a "bad" roll can be turned to your advantage, either immediately or on a future turn.
I also have to say, however, that Brook City is my least favorite MDS game to be released so far. It doesn't have the visceral feistiness of Street Masters or the epic vibe of Altar Quest. (I've only demoed AQ, but I have high hopes.) Part of my feelings on this matter may come from the fact that I don't normally gravitate to cop themes. I am also not totally convinced that Brook City nailed its theme this time, for two main reasons. First, the game can run a little bit long—it doesn't quite have the snap and drama of Street Masters, and I can often see the end of the game coming long before it actually arrives. This is especially true if things aren't going smoothly for the cops. It's still possible for you to win after taking your lumps, but it will definitely take longer for you to do so. Second, while the cops feel varied and compelling, the criminals are fairly static. And while this does cut down on their upkeep, it also cuts down on their personalities. I also don't feel that the criminal and case decks always go together well—part of me wants to feel like the big criminal is the one I'll bust for the big crime, and the game doesn't always feel that way.
If you're looking to make good choices about cops, criminals, and case decks, however, BGG is there to rescue you. This thread breaking down all of the different available decks was a total godsend! Seriously, click through and give that contributor some Geek Gold.
All in all, Brook City is a fun game and I enjoy playing it. The tactical choices it forces you to make are interesting, the cop decks are a ton of fun, and while the game doesn't always pace perfectly, even the longer games are still a good time. There are also plenty of expansions to spice things up, so it will keep you entertained for a while.
Do I recommend it?
If you love the Modular Deck System, buddy cop themes, or cooperative adventures, then yes. Brook City is definitely a fun game. It's just not my favorite of its kind. (I also think there are some people who will think it is the best MDS game—definitely watch a playthrough or two if you think this might be you.)
Overall Rating: 3.5 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.