Judge Dredd Block War is a card game by Game and Curry Games, based on a specific story arc, Block War from the comic Judge Dredd of 2000 AD. Judge Dredd Block War is more of a card adventure game than a regular card game where 2 players would battle with their own decks. In Block War, players draw cards from the same deck, and the board is made up of cards from the set.
In Judge Dredd Block War, both players have control of 5 gates. These gates face the gates of your opponent, and between them is a chain of Judges, trying to maintain control of the area by taking out your crew. The game is won by destroying your opponents gates before they destroy yours. Neither player controls the Judge cards, but they can be influenced to target your opponent rather than you.
Each turn players get 5 action points (AP) to spend on various actions. Actions include opening and closing their gates, moving units on the board, drawing cards and playing cards from hand. There are two types of cards in the Perp deck, the deck that players hands are constructed of: action cards, which are resolved straight away, and unit cards, which are played onto gates. All the Perp cards have various AP costs depending on their power. Examples of Perp cards and their costs is the Block Commander, who cost 1s AP and is weak but boosts other units, or the Judge Defector, costing 3 AP and is one of the most powerful units released so far.
After a player uses all their action points, the combat phase begins. During the combat phase, each pair of gates is actioned in turn. The Judge in the street attacks the gate it's facing and if the Judge unit survives, it then battles the gate it isn't facing. To determine facing, half of the Judge Deck is shuffled upside down so that as they're dealt out, half faces one player and the other half the other. Combat is a very straight-forward matter of attack vs defense. The Judge cards attack/defense values are printed the opposite way to the Perp's so that the values line up. If one attack value equals or exceeds the other unit's defense value, it is removed. Unit's can remove each other if both values are the same.
After the first battle at the gate between the Perp and the Judge, the Judge will either battle the unit of on the other side of the street, or if the Judge was defeated and the Perp unit is still there, the Perp unit will battle the Perp unit on the other side of the street. Battles will only take place if a gate is open and combat never happens at a closed gate unless a card text says so.
The opening and closing of gates is what gives us the most trouble with Judge Dredd Block War. We expected it to feel like a block war, with units fighting across the street, but the reality is that opening your gate means that you have to fight a round of combat against the Judge unit, and if you lose, your gate will be open and exposed. If you defeat the Judge unit, you will then fight the opposing Perp unit and if you lose, your gate will be exposed. Once the Judge unit is defeated, a new Judge unit will be replace it, meaning that a very powerful unit could step into it's place. Even if a weaker unit comes along, you will still have to go through your opponents entire turn, with an open gate, and a danger of it being destroyed.
It's much safer to leave your gate closed and react to situations. The issue is that after your turn ends, you have a combat phase in your turn, your opponent's turn, and the combat phase in their turn to survive, meaning that you have no agency after your turn ends. You are putting in place defences that are on their own, rather than looking to take the battle to your enemy.
There are 46 cards in the perp deck. 6 of those are Hack cards, which allow you to open an opponent's gate. If the gate is undefended, and the Judge is facing your opponent's gate, it will be destroyed in the combat phase. There is also a Flash/Bang card that changes the facing of a Judge, so combined with Hack, for 2AP you can destroy an opponent's unguarded gate. There are also a couple of cards that can be played on Judge units to allow them to destroy closed gate.
Our test games were mainly each of us drawing cards, playing units, and hoping to draw the cards that allowed us to destroy our opponent's gates before they drew the cards. There are a couple of Judge cards, like the Bike Cannon that destroy closed gates, so you have to open your gate to take it out if it's facing you (or rotate it so that it destroys your opponent's gate) and we'd like to see more cards like this.
This could all change in the future, and Game and a Curry Games have already mentioned they will be releasing an expansion, they just wanted a punchy core set. Which it is. It comes with a small deck that allows two players to play a quick game. It's just that the gameplay currently feels stale, there's no back and forth of exciting combat, it's building up defenses and hoping that your opponent doesn't draw all 6 hack cards. There's no tactical depth to opening your gate and trying to entice you opponent to attack and the variety of the Judge units is simply in their attack values, other than the few units that can have an effect on closed gates and the few special Judges. It's the Judges that currently drive the challenge, and with a few more interesting Judge cards, everything could be turned around.
The artwork is both incredible and makes the game difficult to read. Everything is in black and white, which feels very thematic for the comic, but it means that when you're looking from a normal sitting position at the game, not all the card details are clear. The card art is taken directly from the comics and sourced back to the comic it's from. The card text is also of a font and size that sometimes looks like flavor text, so it's easy to miss.
With the stats also top and bottom of the Judge units, seeing their facing can also be unclear at first glance (the easiest way is to see if the card title is upside down). Several times we also drew cards to our hand from the Judge Deck, rather than the Perp deck. When looking at the cards close up, individually, they look great. Every card art is well suit to the chosen card. It's when you have a table full of cards that details can be missed, meaning that you end up focused on small details written on cards, rather than truly focused on gameplay.
Having the attack and defense values line up is great though and really speeds up working out combat.
We felt like we were missing something, or getting a core feature wrong when we were playing. It feels like the game could be great, punchy and have tactical depth, but at the moment it just feels like luck of the draw for Hack cards and Bike Cannon facing, and taking that agency away from the player deeply affects the fun of the game. I'm a huge fan of Judge Dredd. I read 2000 AD for many years and played the wargame a lot. I wanted to love Block War and if feels like it has promise, but it's not quite there. Game and a Curry Games have mentioned a larger game with 10 gates for each player, but it would still have the same issue with player agency, everything would just take longer. There needs to be a reason for players to open their own gates and battle it out, because at the moment it simply doesn't make sense to open your own gates, it's safer just to stay inside.
The Bottom Line:
Judge Dredd Block War is an interesting game, with lots of promise. It's currently let down by what feels like a small card pool and the ruleset that causes loss of player agency after your turn. It doesn't feel like a block war, more a block siege with each side waiting for their opponent to open their gates. The game feels like it's built around players opening gates and battling it out in the street, but the reality is that neither player will sensibly open their gates without a reason, and some rounds go by with players simply drawing 5 cards and then passing with no combat phase because all the gates are closed. There are some graphical issues with card readability, which gets easier the more you play and learn the cards, but some details could have been made clearer to avoid issues in the early games. We really want Block War to do well so that it can expand, as it does have lots of promise with the addition of more units and options. The cards are very thematic, and Judge Dredd fans will still find lots to love with Block War.
You love the worlds of 2000 AD and Judge Dredd.
You don't mind the loss of player agency and enjoy games that require you to plan ahead.
You don't like games without player agency.
You want a deep tactical challenge in games.
You don't want a game based purely on the luck of the draw.
This copy of Judge Dredd Block War was provided by Game and a Curry Games.
Are you a Judge Dredd or 2000 AD fan? Have you played Judge Dredd Block War? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.