The Long Arm of the Law:
Using Cops in Gangsters
Written by
John R. Pack

The boys in blue are in evidence in every game of Gangsters. But frequently their effect is more random than the result of being an integral part of a gangís strategy. How many times is the largest cop shootout in a game hammering a player whoís not doing well already? How many times is a cop move rushed so that a potential raid or shootout is overlooked? How can we put the cops to work in our quest to dominate the streets of Chicago?

Each turn we have the option to bribe a cop, move a cop, or bring a new cop on the board (assuming the crime level is at least the same as the number of cops on patrol). Letís take a look at each option with an eye to making our use of the Cops more effective.


Bribes have three uses:

  1. Stop a cop from shooting it out with your gang or raiding one of your joints.

  2. Deter other gangs from steering cops in your direction to begin with.

  3. Allow a bribed cop to pass through one of your crime zones with some assurance of safety (to get to another gangís targets in the same vicinity).

A single bribe marker has only a 10% chance of actually stopping a cop and an even lower chance of being an effective deterrent. For this reason, a fair number of bribe markers do nothing in the game except drain a gang of its financial resources. If youíve ever come up just one or two hundred dollars short of a victory, youíll know what a critical mistake it was to buy such a bribe (particularly if purchased late in the game). Worse, 10% of the time a bribe draw will result in the useless UNTouchables marker. As a consequence, a lone bribe is often only useful for the third use Ė though one may need to show the bribe marker as a deterrent in order to avoid having to use it.

On the other hand, a player with five bribe markers has an excellent chance to stop police interference. Even more importantly, the chance that a police move will be wasted is high enough that the other gangs are more likely to steer the police toward each othersí crime scenes. My experience is that the deterrent effect kicks in around four bribe markers. Ultimately, that means each cop becomes more useful to the player holding many bribes.

What does that say about when you should bribe a cop? For me there are three viable strategies:

  • Never bribe a cop Ė no matter how low the blue die may be. Save your money for other uses. This makes sense if youíre going for a cash victory.

  • Bribe a cop whenever youíve got the cash available. Is $500 too much? Not if youíre going for a monopoly or ten-joint victory and have plenty of money available for joint purchases and recruits.

  • Set a budget (e.g., $300). If a cop is available for that price or less, bribe. If not, donít. Decrease your budget by $100 every other turn. If the first five turns result in fewer than two bribes, convert to strategy #1. On the other hand, if you end up with three or more bribes on the first five turns, you may want to convert to strategy #2. This is a useful approach for those whose opening strategy may convert to a backup strategy depending on the luck of the opening rolls or those planning on a few endgame shootouts to stop the early leaders.

How about bribing a cop for $100 whenever the blue die is a one?  This is a version of the "set a budget" strategy -- and it makes perfect sense at the beginning of a game.  But it doesn't make any sense for a cash player in the last few turns of the game.  It also doesn't make sense when a cop showing up on Subway #1 could threaten a gang that's threatening to win.

Bringing in New Cop

Be certain to know whether a new cop is a possibility each turn before rolling.

Every cop action taken by oneís gang should be made with a purpose. Thatís true with respect to bringing on a new cop too. Whatís going to happen with this cop once youíre done with your move? Will he threaten other playerís criminals (particularly those of the player who doesnít move next)? Will he threaten your own criminals in short order? Be sure you know before you draw a cop from the cup and add him to the mix.

Every criminal mastermind should know the location of all thirteen one-jump joints. If thereís a crime in one, be ready if that subwayís number comes up (although, of course, it may not be the best move if another player is far in the lead). If youíre the criminal in a one-jump joint, plan to exit as soon as possible (since the police will be arriving soon otherwise).

New cop strategies boil down to:

  1. Raiding one-jump joints and associated criminals

  2. Making the city safe for criminals by parking cops in dead zones far away from crimes (if one can get enough cops in such spots even one-jump joints will be safe for crime)

  3. Setting up enemy criminals for arrest in the near future (just be certain that there isnít one of your own crime scenes right behind your intended target)

Moving a Cop

Before one ever rolls the dice, one should know a few key pieces of information. 1) Whatís the distance from each crime to the nearest cops (including via subway)?  This is particularly important for those crimes belonging to the leader. If any of those numbers come up on the blue die, you know what to do. You also know which crimes need some police attention. 2) Are any of your crimes in range of the police?  If so, youíll want to move either the police or the criminal! If you leave your crime in range, are you prepared for the consequences? Donít take chances with gang members you canít afford to replace!

After rolling the dice youíll be faced with four basic options (assuming youíre not bringing a new cop on or bribing a cop):

  • Move a cop into a crime scene (you should know these rolls the moment they come up)

  • Move a cop toward one of the leader's crime scenes

  • Move a cop so that he no longer threatens one of your crime scenes

  • Move a cop toward or into a dead zone

Just because an opportunity to attack is available doesnít mean itís the best opportunity. Is the opponent youíll hit in the lead? In last place? If the former, the shootout or raid is pretty much a given. If the latter, it should depend how far in last place the player is and whether thereís an opportunity to set up an attack on the leader available (or a chance to move your own pieces out of harmís way). Suppose Robocop (Cop #10) can hit last placeís 1-Thug now or move to a spot where heíll have a 2 in 6 chance to hit the criminal 4-Racketeer of the current leader? The latter represents a chance at a decisive blow where the former may actually make it easier on the leader in the long run! (Which is great if you happen to be the leader!) Maybe Barney Fife (Cop #2) will get a shot at that 1-Thug later?

Often times the top priority will be getting the g-men out of harmís way (your harm, that is)! The question then is can you get two for the price of one? Can you steer a cop where heíll do you no harm but draw a bead on another player, preferably your toughest opponent? Nothing feels better than taking a cop thatís ready to hit you and attacking an opponent with him instead! If not, can you send the cop into a dead zone permanently?

Why would a gangster want to send the coppers to remote areas (e.g., The Viaduct and Southside Drive) where theyíll likely never be heard from again? If oneís gang frequently commits crime near subways, it can pay to have all of the allowable police patrolling a long way away. It can also be helpful for large gangs that plan on a few shootouts toward the end of the game. I once lost a game when Robocop (#10) blew away my 6-Racketeer in a single shootout right after Iíd eliminated the joint which I needed to buy in order to win.  If only Robocop had been patrolling Southside!

Keep in mind that whenever a cop moves toward the subway, he's moving toward all of the crimes that are near subways!  (Of course, this is terrific if your crime scenes are safely out-of-reach of the subways.)  Also keep in mind that your cop moves are move effective when directed at the player to your right (since your next opponents will have a chance to follow up on any threat you've established before the target can react).


Any cop is just as effective as another in a raid on a joint being patronized by the public.  Barney Fife will reduce the joint by a level and send the public away just as easily as Robocop.  As a result, if you're moving a cop to threaten an eventual raid (e.g., putting a patrol outside the Downtown Bus Station), you may as well use a small cop when you have the choice.

Be sure to note enemy one-jump joints that are eligible to be raided before rolling the dice.  Not only will a raid save you the need to use one of your own moves on that public piece, it'll reduce the threat that the one-jump joint poses to score cash in the future!

Moving a small public into a small enemy joint (with a cop nearby for an eventual raid) can be a good way to stop a monopoly or ten-joint win.

Cops in Shootouts

In a shootout, a cop acts just like a gang piece of the player whose turn it is.  The cop shoots at the criminal piece of the acting player's choice.  The cop also absorbs hits from criminal pieces -- up to its number -- on behalf of the acting player.  As a consequence, a cop's intervention in a shootout or the cooperation of a cop when one gang hits another (when one of the target's pieces is in criminal-mode) can be decisive.  Players should be aware of the opportunity to join a cop with their own Thug and Racketeer pieces when opportunity presents itself.

The average cop will inflict two hits during a shootout.  That may not seem like much, but it has several implications in the game.  A 2-Thug extorting turn after turn in a a remote business isn't much more likely to survive a cop shootout than a 1-Thug.  As a result, one might be better off saving the $200 at opening setup.  On the other hand, a 3-Thug is likely to walk away from the first cop it encounters.  The same reasoning can guide joint operations.  For example, suppose Kojak (Cop #6) is bearing down on an enemy 3-Thug.  A seduction by your Vamp will dramatically increase the odds that Kojak can eliminate the enemy Thug altogether.

The large cops are at their most effective against large gang members.  Large extorting Thugs deserve the attention of the biggest, baddest cop on the board (as do the occasional, large criminal Racketeers).  Be sure to send the boys in blue their way.


Finally, a word about Donuts -- the advanced option that applies to cops.  If you have the option to park a large cop near an enemy crime scene using donuts, you should take it.  This is by far the strongest way in the game to threaten the player who moves immediately after you with a cop.  A cop inside a grey building getting a donut increases it movement options and its threat potential (as a result of being able to move down the street in either direction).  On some occasions, a donut can also let a cop that's been moved passed a crime scene to double back!

Gangsters is the only strategy board game in the world with donuts and squirt guns.  Use both as often as possible!


The cops can be a nuisance to finishing your move in two minutes, or they can be an integral part of your strategy in Gangsters.  Wise mobsters keep an eye on the boys in blue and bend them to their bidding.

Cops are, by far, the cheapest way to interfere with your opponents plans.  Direct attacks on the other gangs are very expensive in terms of your most valuable gang members.  So expensive that players won't consider using such means until an opponent is threatening to win.  Cops, on the other hand, can be used early and often -- and also represent a way to cooperate with other gangs to take down the leader.  Don't waste that opportunity.

Use the cops wisely, and you'll always be true blue!

Gangsters® is a registered trademark of The Avalon Hill Game Company.