Published by Games Workshop in 1982, Judge Dredd was the first in a series of cross-media adaptions of 2000AD comic strips into tabletop games- boardgames and an rpg, projects that were to have significant impacts on the aesthetics of their two main miniatures brands, but most iconically WH40K.
But that is to get ahead of ourselves because 40K was still 5 years away when, in 1982 GW launched their first in-house boardgame design with Ian Livingstone's unassuming little bookcase of a boardgame. This game hit our gaming group- already committed Cosmic players, like an earthquake.
The game's simple enough. There's a map with areas representing Mega City 1 locations. Cards generate classic Dredd perps performing random crimes across the city. The players' Judges move across the city, using action cards to help themselves capture the perps in VP race. On the face of it the game is one of fighting crime on the streets of the Mega City. But that's not taking account of the Grand Hall of Justice, and finkery, damned finkery- at least half of the cards can do bad stuff to your opponents as well as doing good stuff for you. The game becomes one of dirty politics in the corridors of the Grand Hall as players strive to enjoy the Hall's full 6-card redraw in search of that dirty little hand that'll nab you a prize perp.
On face value there's not a lot to Judge Dredd. It's the meta opened by the inevitable and incessant finkery that elevates this otherwise unassuming little production to an unsung proto-AT classic. In my group this game spawned the '25-year revenge' so bitter were the thrashings that were handed out out of sheer spite, all done in the best possible taste. I'm sure that set wasn't the only one to see so much action back in those days. The game is playable in 90 minutes allowing for repeated plays over long days intense with backstabs, grudge bearing and trash talking.
If the game was brutal behind its deceptively simple appearance, the production was evocative if a bit cheap. The board was outstanding- a thick jig-map featuring all-new artwork by Dredd artist Ian Gibson. The cheap was the crime cards- which had to be half size to fit on the map, these were unlaminated perforated sheet cards instead of card deck style cards like the full size action cards. The cards all had original artwork reproduced from the comics. This created a good in-game narrative out of the combos of perps and crimes from the monstrous- Judge Death doing a murder to the ludicrous- Gestapo Bob littering; and the action cards felt like combat kit to tool up with as well as finks to husband.
BGG lists Judge Dredd's categories as Comic Book/Strip, Fighting, Science Fiction. That's pretty apt. The game's crimefighting theme is only lightly brushed and pasted on, but it's there. Played knives out, the fighting is real. As a design, Judge Dredd is perfect. The mechanics are simple and are clearly explained in the short rulebook. A new edition would only need a slight production upgrade- the crime cards most importantly. GW and/or Ian Livingstone licensing the rights for a reprint? Well, you can dream, can't you?