Recently I took a look at Mongoose Games Judge Dredd miniatures skirmish game. The rules are free and available here. I was expecting good things, as I am a big fan of Mongoose’s D20 system Conan role-playing game. I think it really captured the spirit of Robert E. Howard’s world, as presented in the Conan stories. This is something which the movies, while they have their good points, failed to consistently do. But that is a discussion for another time. I’m talking about Dredd today. And by the way, how great was the recent Dredd movie? The answer is very.
I wasn’t disappointed. This game really captures the manic and satirical feel of the Dredd universe, and is an excellent – if simple – little game. I was particularly pleased with the experience system for campaign play, which was one of the great things about Games Workshop’s now-defunct Necromunda and Mordheim games.
Speaking of Necromunda, after I read through the Dredd PDF, I couldn’t help but think that it would be a more modern and elegant ruleset for playing Necromunda than Necromunda itself. But then this raises a question: why would you play in a knock-off universe when you can play in the original? Judge Dredd had a huge influence on the Warhammer 40,000 universe and particularly on Necromunda. It would be a bit strange to use rules designed for Dredd to play a game that is itself an imitation of Dredd. If you did wish to do so however, or even just wanted to play a generic dystopian gang warfare game using these rules, the tools are all there: judges, mutants, punks, psychics and more.
The game is a simple D10-based I-go-you-go system where you succeed or fail at an action by meeting or exceeding a target number. And that’s pretty much all there is to it. Until your gang starts to survive a few battles and gain experience. Then there is a good array of skills and special abilities to learn; a lot, but not too many. The rules are well-written and clear, although there are an inordinate number of exclamation marks, making it feel as though the designers are very excited! about Judge Dredd! and robots! and apes! (and stump guns!)
A word of caution. Mongoose are historically an excellent provider of third party role playing products. The writers of this game have designed a system that due to it’s simplicity seems fairly immune to game-breaking on first inspection, but they definitely wrote it with the idea that players are going to bring a certain role-playing element to the table. For example, the campaign system provides in-game rewards for naming your minions. If a minion-level model with a name survives three games, then he or she (or it) can become a hero and gain skills and experience from then on. This instantly gave me visions of a certain sort of player cautiously huddling their minions in safe-houses for the first three games of a league, and then dropping five hero bombs on everyone else’s more balanced gangs. This is always a danger with games that try to reward immersion with in-game bonuses I think, and I’m not certain how to overcome it. People will either play to the spirit of the game or they won’t. This is certainly not a deal-breaker for me though.
Oh and the models are nice too: charmingly disproportionate and comical in the way old Citadel models were. In fact, it made we wonder if the style of the original Warhammer 40,000 models had less to do with unpolished 1980s sculpting methods, and more to do with 2000AD comics . . .