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Subject: MisterG's Review of Judge Dredd rss

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Geoff Burkman
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I AM THE LAW!


Many years ago—thirty, to be precise—long before the explosive growth of the designer boardgame industry that was set off by the likes of The Settlers of Catan, hobby gaming was mostly the province of wargames and a handful of abstracts and themed games. Mainstream gaming was dominated by the likes of popular card games (think Bridge and the like), old standards like Monopoly and Scrabble, and a number of upstarts like Trivial Pursuit and Uno. The amazing phenomenon of Magic: The Gathering still lay a decade in the future, and even the role-playing juggernaut of Dungeons & Dragons, despite a worldwide player base numbering in the millions, was only beginning to make itself a noticeable part of the popular zeitgeist.* Games licensed from other properties like television shows, movies, and books were, for the most part, simplistic and typically forgettable, offering very little real gaming challenge and/or replayability (notable exceptions were almost always in the wargame genre). In Britain, the aforementioned Dungeons & Dragons had caught the fancy of a trio of ardent gamers who’d recently formed a cottage publishing and mail-order company by the name of Games Workshop. One of the trio left around the time the company acquired British rights to Dungeons & Dragons, but the remaining partners, Steve Jackson** and Ian Livingstone, went on to carve out long and noteworthy careers in the gaming industry. It’s not the place of this review to go into those details, but suffice it to say that the latter of those two men was the guy who designed the game I’m going to wax poetic about in this review. I, for one, am glad he did.

*I consider it to have been finally legitimized by its oblique appearance in “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.” (1982)

**No relation to the American game designer of the same name.

Introducing the evidence


Judge Dredd was born in the pages of the long-running British comic tabloid 2000 AD and proved to be its most enduring character, a futuristic cop, judge, jury, and occasional (well, kinda…) executioner rolled into one, with an impressive panoply of colorful crimes and criminals to combat. I was lured into following his adventures in the very early 80s, mostly on the strength of some (dare I say it?) arresting cover art by the esteemed Brian Bolland, and when I happened across a copy of GW’s boardgame not too long after it was released, Bolland’s awesome box art made the purchase a no-brainer; I had no idea whether the game was any good or not. Happily, it is.

The game is as thematically rich as any Judge Dredd fan could ask, from the board’s cartoonish map of a portion of Mega-City One (essentially the New York section of a vast post-apocalypse conurbation stretching along much of the eastern seaboard of what was once the United States) to the lovingly rendered illustrations on the various cards that constitute the core mechanism of play. You and up to five competing Judges are tasked with arresting as many perps* as you can within the time-frame of the game, and preferably the ones doing the severest of crimes and offering the greatest challenge to bring to justice. It’s a seemingly simple task of movement and set collection, but wait! There’re all those cards! And dice! OMG, this isn’t a Euro, even though it’s British! This is trash—Brit-trash!

*Perpetrators, i.e. miscreants with nefarious intent, i.e. criminals!

The prosecution will argue its case

The rules are relatively simple and very nicely encapsulated here, for which I credit and thank the appropriate folks for putting together, and tazwell for the link. Basically, what happens is that in clockwise order everyone moves their Judge and then arrest attempts take place, also sequentially clockwise, wherever contact has been made with the bad guys, and throughout all this, card play is typically fast and furious. There will be periods of relative calm as players seek to replenish their Action cards before making another foray into the concrete jungles of Mega-City One, but the primary goal is to get out there and collar perps. Marking time is generally not a winning strategy.


The core of the action centers on the card play, which is very likely why they’re called Action cards. All serve as combat cards with a minimum value of 1, although the combat-only cards can be worth up to 6. Various movement cards will expedite (or hinder) travel about the board, especially the Hovercraft, which offers instant transport to any sector, and Barney* cards that provide a free ride to one of the starting sectors (there’s one for each of them) over and above normal movement (i.e. you can Barney yourself and then move normally from that location, or move, find yourself in trouble, and Barney yourself out of it). A number of “Tip-off” cards relocate perp/crime combos, there’s an Alien Creature that can harass Judges in a sector adjacent to the (what else?) Alien Zoo, and Robodocs offer a free pass out of Intensive Care. Judge Dredd himself executes any arrest automatically, while Edwin Parsey negates an arrest by another Judge. Like I said, gameplay can be frenetic, and it’s not unusual for a player to unload his entire hand in one turn.

Constant Reader will correctly surmise that there’s a certain element of luck in the game. In fact, there’s a lot of it: die rolls, the distribution of Action cards, and the values and locations of perp/crime combos; nonetheless, it’s the tactical and strategic finesse that each player applies that will likely determine the ultimate winner of the contest.

Constant Reader will also note the relative balance in starting positions. The Grand Hall of Justice offers a haven for the quick resupply of Action cards (and is quite often the first choice), but also only offers six potential arrest locations within easy striking distance, whereas Spaceport puts one out of easy range of the Grand Hall, but also offers sixteen possible opportunities for a first arrest. The remaining four starting positions fall between these two extremes, with City Hall being the favored second/third choice by many players.


Hand management plays a large role in a Judge’s progress. Although aggressiveness is often the best policy, there are times when discretion remains the better part of valor. Do you pursue a murderous Judge Death or Rico Dredd in hopes of a big score at the risk of being thwarted, or do you wait for other players to burn off their cards and reduce the chances of being denied on a delayed attempt? Perhaps it’s better to make several smaller arrests than to go for the one big one. Given that perp/crime combos can range in value from 2-16, with an average value in the vicinity of 9+ points, it behooves each Judge to weigh their chances and allocate their cards carefully. Do you use that one Robodoc you have to marginally increase your odds of success in a good arrest, or do you save it in case you get sent to Intensive Care? Likewise for almost every other card you might be holding. There is a constant balancing act going on throughout the game as each player decides whether to commit Action cards toward advancing their own score or against an opponent to minimize theirs. It’s a delicious perpetual tension.

Typical game length with a full complement of six players should be about an hour or so, with Starting Player circumnavigating the table 5-7 times. Even players afflicted with AP can’t overly stall things terribly, since the decision trees are relatively small and the nature of the action is fast and fluid. The opportunity for trash talk is immense and highly entertaining in and of itself, with the perceived leader often taking the brunt of the (hopefully good-natured) abuse. The leader (or so perceived) will often change from turn to turn, so being caught in the opposition’s crosshairs tends to be a communal experience. Universal screwage is an essential part of every game of Judge Dredd. It’s very difficult to stay “under the radar” and weasel a win; someone is going to notice your accumulation of successful arrests and alert everyone else to the incriminating fact!

Speaking of which, the linked rules summary fails to mention that the players keep their stack of successful arrests face down, just as accumulated shipping points in Puerto Rico are concealed. Sure, Bookkeeper Man can keep track of things if he must, but my crew considers that to be injudicious at best, and since there’s an action card that grants its owner a free perp from the remaining deck (and it often gets played four or more times during the game), such bean counting has limited utility. We do require the number of arrests a Judge has made to be public knowledge, but beyond that we do our best to discourage any efforts at a running tally.

*In the world of Judge Dredd, Barney is the central computer that issues travel imperatives at the most inconvenient times.

The verdict!

With its minimal set-up time, equally minimal player downtime, and fast-paced action, Judge Dredd is an ideal light (or light-medium, depending on your criteria) game that can function equally as a filler (to either rev up to or wind down from more substantial fare) or as a multi-play evening’s worth of beer ‘n’ pretzels entertainment. There’s not a lot of brain-burn involved; the decisions are primarily tactical with a slight strategic overlay, and the chaos factor afflicts everyone equally, kingmaking is a negligible concern, as is being locked out of contention early in the game, and the inevitable meta-gaming is as much a strength of the game as it is a flaw.* Judge Dredd suffers only two real weaknesses—despite being rated for as few as two players, the gaming experience noticeably declines with less than four, and truly only shines with five or six; in addition, the durability of the Action cards is simply not up to par with how much shuffling is required. Should there ever be a reprint of this game, upgrading the Action deck to top-rank playing card quality would be an absolute requirement.

*Gamers of a passive and/or cooperative nature should avoid this game like the plague. Not only will they get crushed, they’ll also put a damper on everyone else’s fun. Just sayin’.

In summation, Judge Dredd gets a decided thumbs-up from me. Btw, all rights reserved, of course, to the creators of these images I have so willfully stolen borrowed to jazz up this review, along with my thanks for their unknowing consent. Hopefully, judgment will be lenient, but never forget: Judge Dredd Is The Law!

Post-"Voice of Experience" Contest Addenda

Beyond a few cosmetic tweaks and minor edits, I thought I might add a few comments that didn't seem worthy of inclusion in the main body of this review, at least at the time I put it together. Possibly I'm wrong about that, but what else are addenda for, right?


First, I should have mentioned that I've played this game scores if not hundreds of times; my crew and I have beaten two copies of this gem senseless (which is to say both decks of cards have been shuffled, crimped, creased, and flayed to within an inch of their lives), and yet I had to write the above material without benefit of having the game at hand. That copy is now found, allowing me to add the following:

1) The Action Cards comprise a 54-count deck (plus one blank card, ideal for creating your own Action), quite obviously developed from a standard deck of playing cards, Jokers included. The breakdown of these cards is: 6 Robodoc cards, 6 Barney cards, 4 Tip-off cards (3 Move a perp/crime + 1 free look at hidden perps), 7 Movement cards (2 lose a move, 2 half move, 2 double move, 1 Hovercraft), 21 Combat cards, and 10 Special cards. All Robodoc, Barney, Tip-off, and Movement cards are alternatively worth one Combat point toward an arrest attempt. Combat cards include 6 Judges (+3 in arrest attempts) that can be expended to cancel orders from Barney. Specials not mentioned in the main review include "Boinging" (force an opponent to play a Tip-off card or go to Intensive Care), "Block Mania" (forces two Judges to fight each other), "Benji Doonan" (removes a random card from all opponents' hands), and "Requisition" (allows you to steal a Combat card from one opponent).

2) I'd have liked to have rambled on a bit more about the play of various Action cards, particularly several that call for precise timing to maximize their effect. In retrospect, I'm glad I didn't, since I feel that such things are best left to new players to discover. As I alluded to in the main review, timing is certainly an issue in the play of all cards, depending on what each Judge's current goals are and their perception of how best to accomplish those goals.

3) My crew and I adopted two play variants that we found increased our enjoyment of the game. The first involves Edwin Parsey, which normally causes a Perp/Crime combo to be discarded completely from the game; we altered this to discarding only the Crime, while reinserting the Perp into the remaining deck for future appearance. We did this to A) slightly lengthen the game, and B) we hated seeing prime Perps like Judge Death disappear unapprehended. The second variant was how we conducted the endgame. As per the rules, once the last Perp hits the board, everyone gets one more turn and that's that; we altered this as follows: when the last Perp arrives in Mega-City One, all Action cards are immediately discarded, the now-full deck is shuffled, and all the cards are dealt out by the player who triggered endgame. Everyone gets one more turn, each with an overloaded hand (six player = 9 cards each, and so forth). We found we liked this final splurge of card-playing, since it tended to allow more chance for trailing players to catch up.



December, 2015 update: the game can be briefly spotted in the 1986 cult favorite "Labyrinth," in the girl's bedroom, a lovely bit of trivia that remanded itself to my attention thanks to the folks at CinemaSins, who actually took the trouble to point the fact out in their trademark take-down of the film last year. They note it at the 34-second mark:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mi90kTE-yiI&list=PLMWfZxj1nT...
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Chris Morse
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What a superb review.
Judge Dredd did come out in a golden age of games for Games Workshop. I wonder how many of us started with this game, bought because we'd seen it advertised in the Galaxy's favourite comic, then looked at the other games GW did at the back of the rules, like Battlecars and Dr Who and started collecting.
It's still a very fun game. Easy to play. Plenty of room for a bit of pvp shenanigans as you get those Barney cards in action or start closing bridges, but manages to stay light hearted.
It usually takes me an hour+ to play it with my family, because I end up explaining the perps history and explaining the crimes.


Edit:
Little trivia note...The board was drawn by Ian Gibson who also went by the alias of Q.Twerk. it didn't make any sense to me until I said the name aloud
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Patrick Runyan
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Is it as good as the movie?!
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Jim Patching
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jpwrunyan wrote:
Is it as good as the movie?!


Sheesh, let's hope so!

There's a new Dredd film out this year and it looks like it could be pretty good.
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Tim McCarron
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I hope he's not referring to the fiasco that was the Stallone movie of JD

I do hope the new movie does better justice!
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Geoff Burkman
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jpwrunyan wrote:
Is it as good as the movie?!


Much better actually. As Tim mentions above, "fiasco" is one of the kinder ways of referring to the Stallone vehicle. And as Jim mentions, there's a new version on the way, starring Karl Urban, that promises to be much more faithful to the character.

And thank you, Chris, for the props and supportive comment, and to Jim for the gg. I had a good time putting this one together.
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Jon creek
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Re: [Voice of Experience] MisterG's Review of Judge Dredd
This was the first boardgame i ever bought! I had great fun with this.
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Re: [Voice of Experience] MisterG's Review of Judge Dredd
Excellent review. I played this game with my partner, sister and her partner, none of whom had been a reader of Dredd, let alone from the time this game was made. I was concerned that lost references would hamper their enjoyment, yet it was a hoot and I only occasionally had to fill in the background. The perverse wackiness of the cards was spot on, everyone enjoyed themselves. But yes, card sleeves are a must. Splundig Vur Thrigg!
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David
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Re: [Voice of Experience] MisterG's Review of Judge Dredd
Fond memories of this game, with many fun times as a young chap. It had a bit of a sad end as the friend that owned it moved away and I never ran across it again.

I'm glad that my view of the game is not over tinged with nostalgia, and it actually was as good a game as I remember it to be!
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Железный комиссар
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This game and this era of the GW catalog is before my time, and given the preferences I've honed over the last few years, I'd bet against it being a hit for me.

But this review was an absolute blast to read; in my view, one of the most seamless and impressive blends of style and substance I've seen on BGG. Your passion for the game comes through loud and clear, the cavaets provided are good-natured, the footnotes were hilarious (and let it be said that the majority of articles on BGG that try to be funny come across as strained or clumsy - or maybe I just love footnotes). There's plenty of insight into what the game offers and it's remarkably well illustrated and formatted - one might use the word "professionally".

A review on a now-obscure, long out of print, early-80s title, produced by a now widely-maligned company, and ranked well outside of the top 1000 games - a lot of folks aren't going to read that. I hope more do, though, because this is just a great piece of content on gaming.
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Geoff Burkman
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Thank you for the kind words. Although educated to be a writer,* I never actually pursued it professionally.**









*No, really, they actually offer degrees in that sort of thing! Really, I kid you not!***

**Perhaps to my regret, but life has a funny way of taking you in directions you never expected, doesn't it?












***But that assuredly won't turn you into a Ray Bradbury, especially if you don't apply yourself to the work. whistle
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J J
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I must concur. This is quite simply the best review I've seen on BGG. And now I must see if I can track down a copy...
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Skarsnik Larsen
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What a review, what a lovely review
Got this a year ago and just recently came around to check it out. Glad I stopped by to see this masterpiece
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Geoff Burkman
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Thank you, sir! You are most kind. I hope that you and your gaming friends enjoy the game as much as I have!
 
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David Bate
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I have no idea what happened to my original copy. But I now have a replacement, but sans minis or pawns.

I entertained buying a set of Mongoose JD miniatures but at £30 it was more than twice the cost of the game. So I'll be making a nice little set of standees out of the old GW JD RPG card components unless any knows of some ready made standee images.
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Geoff Burkman
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Sounds pretty cool! Just don't forget to sleeve your Action cards!
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David Bate
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MisterG wrote:
Sounds pretty cool! Just don't forget to sleeve your Action cards!
Already sleeved (compulsive sleever). They are kind of thinnish especially given their age.
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Frankie
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One of the best reviews on the site, please continue to make the effort, and offer us more insight on your games.
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Geoff Burkman
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Thank you; you are most kind. I've been considering going back and revamping my Agricola reviews, although I suspect few would care. But, we shall see what we shall see...
 
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Dominic Mahon
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Brilliant review - I was wavering about whether to buy this, having not played it since my brother had it in the eighties, and not really remembering how it played. But I'm off to eBay to get a copy, now that I can see its true potential set out in your review thumbsup

Thanks for taking the time to submit such a comprehensive and entertaining write-up.
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Geoff Burkman
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Thank you, Dominic! blush
And don't forget the sleeves!
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Dominic Mahon
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Aha - sleeves... Good point! I must get back on eBay for these while my game is on its way

Thanks!
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Bruticus
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Is this game anything like Munchkin?
 
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Geoff Burkman
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No, thank Grud! laugh
 
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Bruticus
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Great! I was concerned it sounded like Munchkin from the review.
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