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Friday 23 June 2023

1982: Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One

1974 is an important year for the gaming hobby. It is the year that Dungeons & Dragons was introduced, the original RPG from which all other RPGs would ultimately be derived and the original RPG from which so many computer games would draw for their inspiration. It is fitting that the current owner of the game, Wizards of the Coast, released the new version, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, in the year of the game’s fortieth anniversary. To celebrate this, Reviews from R’lyeh will be running a series of reviews from the hobby’s anniversary years, thus there will be reviews from 1974, from 1984, from 1994, and from 2004—the thirtieth, twentieth, and tenth anniversaries of the titles. These will be retrospectives, in each case an opportunity to re-appraise interesting titles and true classics decades on from the year of their original release.


Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One is back! Originally designed by Sir Ian Livingstone and published by Games Workshop in 1982, it was the very first board game to be inspired by the Judge Dredd comic strip from the pages of 2000 AD. In the original game, the players control Judges patrolling the streets of Mega-City One, the vast twenty-second century metropolis on the Atlantic coast of North America, home to eight hundred million citizens and all of them potential lawbreakers. Every Judge is trained from the age of five to arrest criminals, pass sentence, and carry out the sentence—even if that means a death sentence!—all in the name of keeping the city and its inhabitants safe. Every turn a player sends his Judge to the scene of a reported crime, perhaps the Palais De Boing—the only place in the city where it is legal to go Boinging, Otto Sump’s Ugly Clinic for the very best in uglification surgery, or the Alien Zoo where wonders and weird creatures from across the universe can be seen— and attempts to arrest the perpetrator. Perhaps Joseph ‘Mad Tooth’ McKill for Tobacco Smoking, Ma Jong for Stookie Glanding, or Dobey Queeg for Robot Smashing. Notoriously, this is the board game where you could be arresting Judge Death for Littering, or Ma ‘Green Fingers’ Mahaffy for Murder. Unfortunately, only one Judge gets be top dog in Mega-City One, and that is Judge Dredd. Which means the player with greatest total strength of Crime and Perp cards in his score pile at the end of the game is the winner and thus next top dog.

Much like the later Block Mania, the good news is that Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One has returned to the fold of 2000 AD and is now published by Rebellion Unplugged. Like Block Mania, it has undergone a redesign and makeover, but not by very much, and the game play remains very much the same. What has been added are clearer rules for ending the game and a simple expansion to make play a little more interesting and worth revisiting. Everything else remains the same. Same game rules, same art style, same set of perps and crimes, and same take that style of play. So, although a classic, Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One is still a game from 1982. What that means is that the game is easy to learn and easy to play, has bags and bags of theme—even if that theme dates back between 1977 and 1982, a degree of players acting against each other, and a high degree of luck. Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One is by any definition, an ‘Ameritrash’ board game. That by no means is necessarily a bad thing as the game can also be funny and silly, and it is playable by anyone—not just those who played it first time around in 1982 and are noshing down on the nostalgia.

Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One is designed to be played by two to six players aged fourteen plus and has a playing time of between an hour and an hour-and-a-half. The board depicts twenty-eight locations in Mega-City One. Over the course of the game, each sector will be seeded with a reported Crime and Perp. The Judges will proceed to the Sectors where these Crimes and Perps have been reported, reveal them, and attempt to arrest the Perp. Failing that, they may be able to stop the Crime in progress. At the end of the game, the player who has scored the most points from Perps arrested and Crimes stopped, wins the game.

Set-up first requires the group to choose a game length—‘Hotdog Run’, ‘Day Shift’, or ‘Night Shift’—and decide whether or not to use the Specialist Judges expansion. Each player receives six Action cards, and the Crime, Perp, and Sector cards are shuffled. Sector cards are drawn and these indicate where reports of crimes have been made, Perp cards and Crime cards being drawn and placed face down in the indicated Sectors. Each round consists of three phases. In the Movement Phase, the Judges move two Sectors in a direction, taking accounting of bridges to cross the river, but primarily to the nearest Sector containing Perp and Crime cards. When a Judge moves into a Sector Perp and Crime cards, both are turned over and revealed. In the Arrest Phase, a Judge attempts to bring a Perp and his Crime to justice. To do this, his player rolls the game’s black Judge die and adds his Judge’s Strength. Another player roll’s the game red Perp die and adds the result to Perp’s Strength, a total of the value on the Perp card plus the value on the Crime card. Highest total wins. If the Judge’s result is higher, he arrests the Perp and his player takes both Perp and Crime cards and adds it to his score pile. If the Judge’s result is lower, the Judge has failed, is knocked out, and has to discard and refresh his hand of Action cards. If the result is a draw, the crime is stopped and the Crime is added to the player’s score pile, but the Perp runs away, ready to be arrested by another Judge! In the third Refill Phase, new Sector cards and Crime and Perp cards are drawn to bring the number in play back up to six, any Judges knocked out go to the Justice Department Hospital, and each player receives a new Action card, more if their Judge is in certain sectors.

Of course, it is not always possible for a Judge to beat a Perp and a Crime on a singe roll. For example, if Fink Angel And Ratty with a Strength of eight was Body Sharking, which has a value of five, the total Strength the player has to roll higher than is thirteen. Which is not possible with the addition of a Judge’s Strength of six plus a die roll. Fortunately, a Judge has access to Action cards. Most are Support cards, which add a bonus to the arresting Judge’s Strength. For example, ‘Judge Hershey is with you today’ adds three and ‘The Perp is Kill Crazy. You send in the Sonic Cannon.’ adds five. Others though, are Sabotage cards, and can be used by a player to make an arrest attempt by another player’s Judge even harder. For example, ‘Your breakfast of plasti-flakes and synthi-lix is giving you chronic indigestion. You are not in tip-top fighting condition’ levies a -2 penalty or ‘The Perp you are fighting is secretly an East-Meg spy. Add an Extra Die to their Strength’. The worst of these cards, of course, the Escape card, which reveals the Perp to be the notorious Edwin Parsey, notorious confessor of other people’s crimes, which forces all Support cards used in the arrest attempt to be discarded and the attempt be treated as a tie. Other Action cards allow extra movement, send the Judge to a particular Sector, grants on the spot healing, and so on.

Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One adds one expansion—Specialist Judges. There are six of these—or seven if the Judge Fish from ‘The Day the Law Died’ storyline promo is included—and each Judge has a different ability. They include Chief Judge, SJS Judge, Psi-Judge, Wally Squad, Cadet, and Mechanismo. For example, the Cadet Judge only has a Strength of four, but begins play with and can hold seven Action cards, and draws an extra card; the SJS Judge can look at another player’s Actions each turn and wins ties in combat; and the Wally Squad Judge can move through Sectors containing revealed Perps, but does not have to arrest them. All six are nicely thematic and give a player a good little edge in play. The mix means that the players can come back to the game, try another Specialist Judge and a slightly style of play.

Physically, Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One is well presented. The artwork on the board is in colour, whilst the cards is black and white, but also is sharply and crisply handled. The rulebook is clearly written, easy to read, and supported with examples of the rules. In addition, the rulebook includes all of the UMPTY CANDY CARDs from the Jack Caldwell’s Old-fashioned Umpty Candy packs. All three series—‘SECTORS of Mega-City One’, ‘CRIMES of Mega-City One’, and ‘PERPS of Mega-City One’ explain the three sets of cards in the game, giving background for each of them.

Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One is not a perfect game by modern standards. It is too luck driven, the game allows one player to directly hamper another with the Sabotage cards, and towards the end of play, players can congregate around the remaining Sectors that have not yet been drawn if they have been keeping an eye on the cards that have been drawn to date. That said, they were part of the game’s design in 1982 and they should be there also in 2022 because the new edition is intended as a nostalgia piece and to change the game’s design too radically would break from that. Another issue is that the game only draws from the first five or so years of the Judge Dredd strips in 2000 AD—1977 to 1982—so that means forty-year-old stories which may not be as familiar to younger players. Perhaps yet, there is room for further expansions involving the more recent stories and thus more Crimes and Perp cards?

Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One is a fun game, easy to play and all the more enjoyable if the players know the lore, know the crimes, and know the Perps. Rebellion Unplugged have done a fantastic job of updating the quality of the game whilst both retaining the same game play and adding an expansion for more varied play. Judge Dredd: The Game of Crime-Fighting in Mega-City One marks the welcome return of a beloved classic, British in both design and inspiration, in turns funny, frustrating, and evocative of our gaming youth and another age.

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