Growing up in the 80s, my friends and I were no stranger to the pages of 2000 AD. Some were attracted to the stories of Johnny Alpha and the Strontium Dogs, others the ABC Warriors or Nemesis the Warlock… But for me the headline act was always Judge Dredd and the other stories set in the irradiated world of the Mega-Cities. So I jumped at the chance to play the ‘I am the Law’ Judge Dredd starter game and the ‘Arch Villains of Mega City 1’ add-on box.
Inside the box
The box is just big enough to fit the footprint of the rulebook and a bit of wiggle room. The first surprise was that it was a full, softcover rulebook! Usually with boxed starter games, you get some quick start rules-lite affair and have to go and buy a full rulebook as an add-on. So that was a big thumbs-up straight away. The next surprise is that, although there are some cardboard bits you can pop out and play with, the critical game components — order tokens and injury markers — are all on plastic sprues. Again this is a big thumbs up; usually you would expect to get these in serviceable cardboard with the option to drop some extra cash to get deluxe versions as an add-on.
As for the miniatures, in the I am the Law box you get a Street Judge, a Cadet and a Block Gang. All are standard plastic single-piece castings. Being single-piece castings the Judges in particular are light on detail and posed ‘flat’, but they do have a passing resemblance to Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby from the 2012 movie. The Block Gang are actually very nice models in the typical punky Mega-City style. There are also some custom dice and a bunch of game cards. Overall I was very impressed by the contents of the starter box.
The rulebook itself is beautifully laid out and lavishly festooned with Dredd art drawn from the pages of 2000 AD and the Megazine. Combined with photographs of the studio-painted miniatures, it’s a lovely piece of clean design — full kudos to Dylan Owen for a job well done. I particularly like the campaign system included with the rulebook, which adds a ‘story mode’ element to games. In fact, you are encouraged to mix it up to replicate your favourite stories from the pages of 2000 AD. Want to simulate the Cursed Earth Trek, easy Justice Department versus Muttie Sky Raiders? Want to run a Sov Block sleeper cell, add a Sov Genetik Construkt to a Block Gang or City Def Unit? Want to recreate Block Mania? Go City Def on City Def. With even the few miniature sets available at the moment there are a lot of possibilities, and if you want to go Judge versus Judge, you can do that as either Special Judicial Service hunting a Rogue Judge or (with a bit of conversion work or imagination) run East Meg or Bit Cit Judges against the Mega-City’s finest.
There are, however, still quite a few of Mega-City One’s best villains missing from the rulebook, which I would guess are on hold for a sourcebook down the line. I’d love to see the Ape Gang, Angel Gang (though Mean Machine is in the Arch Villains set), Dark Judges (though Judge Death is also in the Arch Villains set), and my favourite: Juve Mutated Kung-fu Kleggs!
Gameplay is fairly simple. Every one of your models contributes an action chip, and really good characters might contribute a star action chip (more on this later). All the chips for all the models on both sides of the game go into a bag to be drawn out randomly. Players alternate draws but whoever’s chip comes out gets to play. Each time a chip is drawn the owning player can activate one of his models, then leaves the chip on the table to show that that model cannot activate again this turn. Then there is the star chip: these have the possibility of going back into the bag to be drawn again, and again, and again… if you’re really lucky!
When you activate a model you get to choose either two ‘single actions’ like move, ‘snapshot’ or ‘shake it off’, or perform a double action like sprint, aimed shot or ‘overwatch’. It’s straightforward.
It is only natural to compare the dice mechanics to the granddaddy of all tabletop games, Warhammer 40,000; doubly so given that both Andy Chambers and Gav Thorpe — formally having worked on 40K — are credited as designers. Both games follow a three-step process, but 40K uses roll to hit, roll to wound, and roll to save, leading to a lot of dice-rolling just to potentially get no effect. Dredd refines this a little, using roll to hit, roll to save (called ‘evade’), then roll to wound, potentially cutting down on the unnecessary dice-rolling.
Dice mechanics make use of custom d6s. You roll a number of dice equal to the model’s attribute, and you add or remove extra dice based on modifiers. Score more hits that the target’s ‘cool’ and you also get to pin them. Then the opponent gets to evade, using the same principle as rolling to hit, except you need to score a ‘special’ result on the dice to avoid being hit. At first, reading this took me aback; you have a one-in-six chance of a special result on each die rolled, and you only need to get one result to completely negate the incoming attack. So rolling a few evade dice makes taking any kind of damage unlikely. However, it’s not as bad as it first appears: most Perps have an evade stat of between 0 and 2, and Judges are better with 3 or 4. It does lend itself to a more cartoony, comic-book feel.
Assuming they didn’t evade, the attacker then gets to roll for damage. The number of successes gives the damage effect, from stunned, through three stages of injury, to grievous, which also happens to reduce the models attributes. Injured models, even if they are not off to Resyk, can become fairly useless quickly.
If I have an issue with all this it’s that the number of tokens that can quickly clutter the tabletop. I’m not a fan of table clutter: action chip, pinned marker, stunned marker, numerous injury markers, and so on. But this is easily solved: I personally like to have stat cards sitting along the edge of the game table, and the clutter of tokens can be put on the cards rather than the tabletop.
The book also covers terrain, vehicles and a host of weapons options that would make any Futsie smile. To add complications to playing a scenario, there are both Armoury and Big Meg cards that players can use to screw things up for their opponent. Armoury cards cover special bits of kit like HI-EX, incendiary rounds or stims. Big Meg cards can be played between activations and add some extra Mega-City flavour to the game, with the random appearance of a Boinger, a weather control malfunction, or the arrival of time-travelling bounty hunters (Johnny Alpha and Wulf Sternhammer) who steal away your perp. I was grinning as I flicked through the card deck. Each time you buy an expansion pack you get more Armoury and Big Meg cards to add to the chaos.
The Graveyard Shift
The current Covid-19 situation being what it is, I’ve not been able to play the game against a real-life opponent. But the guys at Warlord Games have come up with a solo campaign system: The Graveyard Shift can be freely downloaded as a PDF from their website. [footnote: https://www.warlordgames.com/the-graveyard-shift-solo-play-in-mega-city-one/] This offers both an alternative to the ‘story mode’ campaign system already in the rulebook, and can be used as solo or multiplayer. It does require you to spend a bit of time printing and cutting out the various cards that run the system, but that’s a small price to pay for being able to throw down a Judge and set to work. The one limitation on the solo rules is that you play a Street Judge, so cannot take a Juve Gang, but The Graveyard Shift does lay a foundation for you to get creative and build a perp-based campaign system, and you have some starting blocks you could work from.
The Graveyard Shift sets up a mini campaign that lasts for the duration of a single night in the Mega-City. Each hour of the shift you get to make a series of draws to determine the situation that your custom-made Judge has to face. So you draw an Incident card, followed by a number of Perp Cards (depending on the incident). The details on the cards set up the basic scenario you will be playing. Some of the combinations are a bit left of field, like Judge Death Umpty Bagging or a Rogue Judge Scrawling. Most of the odd combos are generated by the appearance of named characters, like Judge Death or Judge Grice, being drawn in conjunction to petty crimes like littering or illegal possession. It is a lot of fun and very amusing when they occur. There are also Support cards that dictate what kind of backup you can call upon: basically the models you get in addition to your own Judge character.
For my part I created my own Judge Urban. I rather liked the creation process; it’s not quite roleplaying, but adds some of that feel to what is otherwise a skirmish wargame. I did choose to prune the decks a little, taking out any options I didn’t have access to or couldn’t easily proxy out of my model collection: so basically Muttie Sky Raiders, as obviously my Judge’s street beat was deep in the Mega-City, far from the wall. I also dropped the support cards that I couldn’t represent easily (Judge Gerhart and the various special weapons Judges), and considered that fair compensation.
This isn’t a battle report so I won’t take you through a blow-by-blow account, but I will say that Judge Urban’s first incident was an Armed Robbery using the Foot Chase scenario. I pulled three Perp cards and got Orlock the Assassin, a Juvie Gang and a group of Fatties. In support I pulled two cards, getting Judge Dredd (oh yeah!) and a Cadet Judge. I think for future games it might be more balanced to stack a few extra unnamed cards in the deck to reduce the chance of pulling some famous perp. For my story continuity I decided that mine wasn’t the ‘real’ Orlock, but an East Meg agent who counts as Orlock for the sake of stats. As much as it was fun to play with Judge Dredd on my first outing with the game, he did stomp all over the idea of Judge Urban being the centre of my story.
This writer found himself really enjoying the meta-game and the ‘story’ around and between scenarios. Sure, I enjoyed actually playing my first game; though as it was my first time a fair bit of time was spent rules-referencing, so the whole thing took a good bit longer than expected.
That said, I did really enjoy it. I’ll get to play the next chapter in the story of Judge Urban next time my wife goes out to visit her friends and I can have the kitchen table for the evening.
‘I am the Law’ Judge Dredd starter game is available from Warlord Games for £50. Parallel Worlds earn a small commission on purchases made with this link.