There’s been a welcome resurgence of interest in Judge Dredd on the tabletop in recent years. Not only have we seen the excellent – if ridiculously challenging – The Cursed Earth, but there’s also been a miniatures game, an RPG and other board games too, perhaps most notably the critically acclaimed retheming of Wildlands, Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter – which mashes up several disparate 2000AD universes into a single game.
On a smaller scale, we also have Judge Dredd: Block War, a two player game in which players take control of rival blocks locked in battle, with the Judges of the Justice Department trying to keep the peace between them. It’s a setup that’s been a part of Dredd lore since the early days of the comic strip, which itself has been running since 1977.
In the Block War card game, the aim is to be the last block with functioning gates; in the event of a tie (seeing as the Justice Department can – and will – destroy your gates just as many times as your opponent will), the player with the most victory points wins – with victory points given for destroyed gates as well as enemy units and Justice Department units defeated in combat.
The basic, action point-based gameplay in Block Wars is superb, allowing players an awful lot of flexibility in how to approach each turn. To add to the positives, the artwork and general look of the game is wonderful – with art taken straight from the original black and white comic panels in Block War-related Dredd stories. It gives the game a striking, detailed black and white look on the table that feels pretty unique – and is very appealing to a lifelong Dredd fan such as myself. There’s even an appearance from Mega City One’s MVP, Dredd himself, who’ll show up to dispense his own brand of justice when drawn from the Justice Department deck.
It pains me to say that there’s quite a few issues with Block War, however. Though an earlier edition of the rules were apparently a shocking mess of inconsistencies and missing clarifications, the updated rules don’t fare that much better. There’s some glaring omissions in terms of the way that some cards should act and instead, pages and pages are dedicated to giving examples of combat that’s actually really straightforward, while completely missing the opportunity to better explain concepts such as ‘Dropping’ one-use Justice Department cards into the street between blocks, amongst other things.
The cards themselves don’t always have the best explanation of their purpose and/or usage either, with a few examples highlighting certain cards in the rules, with others being ignored entirely.
It seems like a mistake that block gates have exactly the same art on both sides too – the difference being the ‘Open’ and ‘Closed’ caption; who’s idea was it to show missiles being fired from the gate on both sides, when a ‘Closed’ gate means that you can’t fire or be fired upon? It’s a daft, really basic oversight.
That said, the core mechanics are very satisfying once you’ve got your head around them – and as long as you settle on a consistent way to handle the more confusing cards in the deck with your opponent, most of the game flows pretty smoothly. Having a turn summary card for each player helps too; I can’t emphasise enough how turn summaries and player aids should be included in pretty much all but the simplest of games – they’re an absolute godsend, especially when games such as Block War have a number of actions to choose from on every turn.
The combat sequence is brilliant too, with shootouts being fast paced, easy to plan and often leading to mutual destruction for each unit involved.
The end of the game, as gates become destroyed, becomes little more than a waiting game at times however. Players are often unable to directly attack each other due to the position of their last remaining gates – leaving it to the random draw of a Justice Department card aiming in the right direction to end the game, rather than players winning with their own clever card play. Similarly, there’s a weird problem in the game which means that it’s of little benefit to open a gate for most of the game, as it leaves you quite vulnerable. Turtling, as it’s known (mostly from real time strategy video games), is probably the smartest strategy – but it leads to boringly dragged out stalemates that’ll only be broken by random Justice Department cards with specific powers.
Though Judge Dredd: Block War has an appealing and nostalgic comic book style that looks incredibly striking during play, as well as a nice core mechanic of action point spending that allows players the freedom to carry out their turn however they see fit, the problems with the poorly written rulebook and issues with the endgame are hard to ignore. It’d be a decent enough game with a bit more polish and perhaps some variants – but as is, Block War feels like a disappointingly incomplete experience.
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