Thursday 12 December 2019

Tabletop Review - Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter

Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter
Published by 2000AD and Osprey Games
Designed by Martin Wallace

Review by Dave Mustill

The World Has Broken. Over use of dimension jump devices in Mega-City 1 has caused an overspill of multiple realities into the world of Judge Dredd. The Dark Judges, the Sovs, Judge Cal, all used dimension tech to attack the City, and now the fabric of reality is stretched too thinly... Buildings flicker in and out of existence, people appear and disappear, some long dead, some from the far future, some who shouldn't even exist in this reality.

It's Helter Skelter.

Based on Martin Wallace's extremely well-received Wildlands game, Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter is an area control boardgame based in Mega-City One, and featuring characters from Judge Dredd and the various worlds of 2000AD. Judge Dredd himself, Johnny Alpha, Slaine and Nikolai Dante each lead a team of characters from their world to try to regain the fragments of their reality scattered across the board, while at the same time trying to wipe out the other groups.

To set the game up, first choose a side of the game board to play. Each side features a location in Mega-City 1, either the Grand Hall of Justice or Dan Tanna/Enid Blyton Block rooftops (recommended for the first play through). Then choose your team from the four available and place the corresponding character cards in front of you, adding red cubes to each to represent health points. Take the action cards, team card and fragments of reality of the correct colour into your playing area and place your team miniatures on their matching cards. Both maps are divided into 40 numbered locations, represented by a deck of map cards. The 40 map cards are dealt out, 10 to each player, who then secretly choose a starting location for each of their characters and places the card beneath their picture. The remaining 5 cards are passed to the player on the right, and are then used to locate starting spots for the fragments of reality, which are placed directly onto the board. Take seven action cards from your own shuffled deck and you are ready to play!

Starting with the player who's fragment is on the lowest numbered zone, each turn consist of four steps, taken in order:

  1. Deploy a character
  2. Deploy a character or take an action (Repeat any number of times)
  3. Declare end of turn
  4. Draw cards and pass the actice player marker to your left

Deployment is simple; turn over the map card beneath the chosen character and place them on the map. The turn sequence is set up to make sure at least one new character from each faction is brought onto the board each turn, but it is up to the individual to choose whether to bring on any more during step 2. Actions are taken by playing the action cards from your hand. Each one has a number of symbols representing some or all of the team's characters and a number of action icons, which may be linked to a certain character or "wild", enabling its use by any team member whether or not they are on the card. To move a character a card must be played with that character's symbol on it, one symbol to move to an adjacent space, two to climb to high ground. To claim a fragment of reality occupying the same square as the character, three cards must be played with that character's symbol, or that of a dead character on them. All combat options are taken by playing the appropriate action symbol linked to that character or in the wild slot. If attacked, players can use their cards out of turn to defend their characters. Not all cards have all symbols on them, so careful use of the deck is recommended! Once a player declares their turn over they draw up to 3 new cards from their deck to make it up to a maximum of 7, and play passes to the left.

Each deck also comes loaded with a number of Interrupt actions on the wild action slot. During another player's turn one of these can be played to take an interrupting turn, which is exactly the same as a regular turn for deployment and actions, but does not allow the interrupting player to draw new cards (this can only be done in their own subsequent turn). Once finished, play returns to the active player. Other players can also play an Interrupt, even during an interrupting turn! Each faction also has their own specific skills or powers, as indicated on the team card and character cards, which can be used as indicated. One point is scored for each fragment of reality recovered, and one point is gained for each opposing character killed. Once one player has scored five points, from a combination of collecting fragments and killing other characters,the game ends.

The first thing you notice when you are unboxing this game is its high production values. The board is heavy and solid, with a glossy finish, the cards are obviously high quality, and the miniatures... As a long time wargamer I am always a bit dubious when it comes to minis in board games, but fear not, these are some of the best figures I've seen in a self-contained game! When you can read the name on Judge Giant's badge you know you are on to a good thing. The miniature sculpts also tie up with the art on the character cards, another often overlooked feature in a boxed game. Top marks to Osprey Games and their sculptors, Jason Weibe, Bobby Jackson, and David Lee-Whitaker. And let's talk about the art work. The board is beautifully rendered, and each set of character cards is drawn by a bona fide 2000AD artist: Rufus Dayglo on Judge Dredd, Chris Weston on Strontium Dog, Clint Langley on Slaine and Simon Fraser on Nikolai Dante! In a really nice touch each set of cards is brought together by the backgrounds, which when laid in order form a tableaux behind each team. Graphic design is also top notch, the icons on the action cards are clear and well-defined, making it easy to take in the contents of your hand at a glance. Ten out of ten for presentation!

From a personal point of view, I'm both surprised and stoked that Osprey Games chose Nikolai Dante as the fourth team! Despite the epic saga that ran for over ten years in 2000AD they're not as well known as the other three, and certainly won't have any recognition outside of the comics readership. But it's a bold move, and gets some great characters out into the public eye (and means I get some Dante characters to paint!)

We started playing expecting a card-driven area control game, and it seemed at first as if that's what we had, however as things progressed we began to realise what we actually had was a hand management strategy game. The ability to use more cards than you can draw back each round means if you are not careful you can quickly run out, and find yourself keeping your head down for a couple of turns to get your cards back. Not every character can be activated by every card, so tactics can really change the game up. And the theme is great if you're a fan of 2000AD, clashing characters who would normally never meet makes for some great game moments: Our first game began with Judge Dredd emptying his Lawgiver into the face of the Gronk, and ended with a head-butting contest between Mean Machine Angel and Middenface McNulty! (Mean went up to 4 on him and won the game...) Nice thematic powers for each team make things that little bit asymmetric to keep it interesting, from Justice Department getting Hi-Ex rounds, to Durham Red's vampirism, to Slaine busting out his Warp Spasm if he gets a few hits in!

I'm going to try to find a few faults, just for balance. Getting Elena Kurakin's name wrong on the character card is pretty irritating... I know she's not as well known a personality, but seriously, that's pretty glaring (It's spelt correctly in the rule book!) The first player marker is kind of invisible, being a black plastic marker that's housed in the logo in the Dredd packaging. I'm being picky. Seriously, this isn't normally my type of game, but we really enjoyed playing it through once we realised how it actually worked! I would be a bit concerned over its longevity once you've played each faction and both boards a couple of times, but the presentation and quality make it well worth a go.

I've not played Wildlands, but after this I'm definitely interested. Now let's talk about getting an expansion team up for this one. Sinister/Dexter? Rogue Trooper? ABC Warriors? (I know that's seven characters, but go with it) I reckon there's plenty of scope!

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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