Monday 6 May 2019

Tabletop Review - Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth

Osprey Games (From a game design by Peer Sylvester)

There have been a rash of tabletop games released recently based on the worlds of the 2000AD and Judge Dredd universe, with several also in the pipeline. Osprey publishing have turned their hand (rather successfully) to rule sets , and now boxed games, over the last few years. So how do these industry experts handle the Dredd IP? Let's load up those Lawgivers and head out beyond the walls of Mega-City One to find out!

Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth is a card based game where the players, in the guise of three MC-1 Judges, head out on the trail of Max Normal - a citizen harbouring the Block Mania virus. Normal is being chased by Satellat, a drone from East-Meg 1 (Russia, in case you were wondering) and its guides, and it is the players job to overtake them and get Max before the bad guys! On the way they will encounter all the weirdness and danger of the Cursed Earth, a nuclear ravaged wasteland stretching across the entire North American continent, and the crazy collection of inhabitants strewn across it.

The game is played using two decks of cards, the location deck and the encounter deck. The Max Normal card is shuffled into the bottom three of the location deck, then the top three are revealed and lined up for the starting location row. Then pawns are placed representing the positions of the Judges and Perps (Judge slang for perpetrators). Encounter cards are dealt among the players, and the Judge party is prepared. Players don't take individual characters in this game, the Judge party will always consist of three Judges with 5 health points each, plus ammo and rations. The players have to work together to ensure the party survives and finds Max Normal by teamwork and discussion, along with careful playing of encounter cards.

Play consists of a series of rounds, each representing a day in the search, split into two investigations, Dawn and Dusk. Each investigation sees players dealing cards from their hand to make an encounter row which will decide the fates of the Judges, Dawn cards are arranged in numerical order, while Dusk cards are encountered in the order they are played. While discussion is required, revealing details about cards before they are played face-up on the table is not allowed. With six cards on the table the investigation begins, and the cards are read from left to right; each has a series of boxed symbols which can/must be encountered before moving on to the next. Symbols will provide a bonus or cause damage to the party, or occasionally affect further cards in the line by skipping, removing them or swapping the order. Movement of the players and opponent's pawns are also controlled by the card symbols and new location cards are revealed as they move down the row, where the active card can have an effect on play. Once a card has been dealt with it is discarded, and when all encounter cards have been discarded that investigation is over and the next can begin. When the Max Normal card is revealed in the location row the game is over, if the Judges get there first it's a win, otherwise you lose! But beware, if you run out of Judges or encounter cards you also lose!

So let's start with the good points. The production values on this game are really high, the hinged box and glossy, oversized cards really draw the eye, and the "Justice Department" field ration box for token's is a great touch. The whole set features all new artwork from 2000AD artists Rufus Dayglo (responsible for the recent returns of Tank Girl and Bad Company) and Dan Cornwell (a relatively new artist on Judge Dredd and the current Max Normal story)throughout, and is an absolute joy for comics fans! So good they added promo cards to magazine covers in the weeks after release... The back story is a little flimsy, little more than an excuse to re-live the classic Cursed Earth storyline without being slaved to the original sequence of events, but every time you turn over a card with a familiar location or character on it there's a little joy to be had.

Make the most of it, because there is unfortunately little else to get excited about. There seems to be a tendency in co-operative games at the moment to make objectives extra difficult. The rulebook glibly states "Life is hard in the Cursed Earth"... That's putting it mildly. This game is incredibly punishing! On our first play through, with three out of four players former/current Dredd heads, we didn't make the end of the first dusk investigation. After much convincing (in the name of writing a review) another game was played. We seemed to make a little more progress, but then got suddenly killed off in the second dawn investigation.

I will not be able to talk any of those players into ever playing this game again.
And we were playing the easy level!

There seem to be a number of problems. You are leading the worst provisioned expedition ever sent out by Justice Department for a start, and there seem to be hardly any bonuses on cards to help you out. Nearly every bonus is tempered with party damage, but taking a damage symbol hardly ever gives a bonus. The easy level takes three locations out of the deck at the start of the game, but that hardly matters when you only move twice before dying. The idea of the system is to make the encounter row survivable and manageable, but you seem to have almost no control over the game and consequently it feels like there is nothing you can do to affect it. The PSI action actually adds more cards to the row, and with so few positive cards around this never feels like a good choice. A better "easy" option would have been to give the party more rations and ammo, a much better survival plan. However this would need quite a bit of playtesting to gauge the level required, and I'm not sure anyone would have enough patience for that.

I even tried the solo version of this, and had the same experience. There is a 2 player "vs" option, but I don't think I'll be able to find an opponent.
Not sure I would want to.
Let's hope the forthcoming 2000AD reskin of Wildlands is a better game.

By day, David Mustill is a Human Workhorse for a chemical company. Naturally, every possible moment away from this existence is spent gaming and painting miniatures.

A steady diet of rock, metal, punk, comics, gaming, miniatures and genre movies has moulded David into a renaissance geek, for whom no gaming company or genre is too obscure, and no graphic novel is unreadable.

He is currently the Chairman of Milton Hundred Wargames Club, which affords him the privilege of running the Broadside Games Show. He will not let you down. Unless you're after selfies. He is rubbish at selfies...

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