Thursday, October 3, 2013

Block Mania

Block War

One of the advantages of having married into Old Nerd is that one doesn't always have to provide the game to play. I was lucky enough to get a chance to play an old Games Workshop boardgame with Mrs Kinch's uncle and my old pal Mr Target last week. Mrs Kinch was off at a missionary meeting for the Promotion of Stephen Sondheim to the Underpriveliged and we took the opportunity to get our teeth into some Block Mania. 

Judge Dredd indulging in a spot of Community Policing

Block Mania is a board game set in the Judge Dredd universe. For those of you unfamiliar with the canon, Judge Dredd is a fictional lawman in the future megalopolis of Mega City One. He was created in 1977 by John Wagner (writer) and Carlos Esquerra (artist), but has been worked on by anyone who is anyone in British comics at this stage. Mega City One is a vast conurbation that has grown up on the east coast of the United States in the aftermath of a terrible nuclear war. Outside the city is an arid wasteland called the Cursed Earth while inside are teeming billions ruled with an iron fist by the council of Judges. 

The thinking behind the Council of Judges is that the population of the city is so vast and the pace of life so frantic that democracy is unworkable and justice is dispensed by the Judges, a (mostly) incorruptible body of lawmen in the style of US marshalls, so called because they are not only police officer, but also Judge and often executioner, enforcing all of Mega-City Ones arcane and hilariously draconian laws.  

The humour is I think one the key parts of the Dredd universe and a part that cropped up rather a lot in the game we played.

Behold Mega City One 

Because of the overcrowding, underemployment and other horrors of the 21st (or is it 22nd?) century, the large housing projects in Mega-City One occasionally suffer from mass outbreaks of civic lunacy called Block Wars. Each Block will turn on its neighbours over some real or imagined slight and attempt to do them as much damage before the Judge turn up to shut the whole operation down. This is the setting of Block Mania, a Games Workshop game from 1987 that allowed up to four players lead their blocks to victory or defeat. 

Blessed is he whose cause is just, thrice blessed is he who gets his blow in first!

Blocks in Mega-City One are named after celebrities, now because the game was written in the eighties, they are things called the Sly Stallone Block. We decided to name our own blocks and so the titanic struggle of the Miley Cyrus Block, Christopher Hitchens Block and the Heston Blumenthal Block began. 

Gameplay is rather random with players getting 2-12 command pips and using those to recruit and deploy units to attack or (if they're not really playing the game) defend. This randomness is a recurring theme during the game, where the successful player is attempting to manage a number of different random systems simultaneously.  This is not an elegant design and I imagine it could get wearing after a while, but as a sometimes thing and as a reflection of the lunacy of the situation, it works very well. 

Above you can see some gallant Juves of the Christopher Hitchens Block attacking the Vehicle Bay in the Miley Cyrus Block.  The resulting explosions were extremely satisfying. 


I settled on a strategy of attack a l'outrance and soon saw explosions and mayhem erupting across both my opponents blocks. Now as it happened this meant that there wasn't much emphasis on defence and Mr Target (the gentleman with the beard) managed to sneak a mob into my block and set fires everywhere. 

My Fast Cavalry

Fortunately, I had a unit of Fatties (pictured above) who managed to get to the fire in time. Then I realised that my heavy weights were unable to fight fires, so they settled for trampling the Heston Blumental blockers into paste.  Twas the stuff of story and song. 

Meanwhile, my PDF (army reservists, poorly trained, heavily armed and slightly unstable) managed to sneak into the Heston Blumenthal Block and use fire bombs to get a conflagration going. This spread in a very satisfactory manner and meant that Target spent most of his game fighting fires while I tried to destroy his sprinkler system. That was of course, before Uncle WestProg started setting cannibalistic alien mercenaries named Kleggs on me. But it was all in a spirit of good clean fun. 

The smoking ruins of the Christopher Hitchens Block

Sadly, the Christopher Hitchens Block was not to prosper. My strategy of all out attack meant that I ignored fire fighting on my door step and soon, they raged out of control.  While using and destroyed units and vandalising civic spaces is all quite good fun, the real key to the game is damaging your opponents block and causing it to collapse. This illustrates an interesting point in the game design, players do not accumulate victory points, but defeat points. He who has the smallest number of those at the end of the game wins. 

I suppose the point being that by taking part, you're already losing. 

Target and Uncle WestProg consider the situation

Once a block has started to accumulate collapse points, there is a (very small) chance that the block will collapse. Unfortunately, that came quite early for me and Target and WestProg continued to blast away at each other for another forty five minutes before the Judges showed up and shut everything down. Mainly through the medium of shooting everyone. 

...they survey the smoking ruins of my once proud block. 

Kinch, I have some bad news.

In brief, we had a lovely evening. The game lasted four hours, rather more than I expected, but I didn't notice the time because we were too busy gleefully blowing things up.  The randomness which has been held against the game is a reflection of the theme, which is crazy anyway, and if the playing time is a major issue, one could simply take more cards out of the Specials deck (which is used as a turn counter).  I think Target won (or at least lost least) by the end, but there wasn't a huge number of points in it. 

Block Mania is probably not a game for the ages, but for an pleasent evening of horrendous civic irresponsibility is your thing, it's a very nice way to spend some time with friends. 


  1. 'Judge Dredd' is of course one of those 'guilty pleasures.' If you are into that kind of near-apocalyptic dystopia's. you might enjoy the David Feintuch novel 'Voices of Hope.' It was the last (I think) of Feintuch's novels featuring Nick Seafort, a kind of space-going Horatio Hornblower. But in this particular story, the focus isn't on Seafort exclusively, but on several characters, each with his or her own 'voice' contributing to the story. I recommend it highly.

    1. Guilty pleasures like cheap sweets are often best.

  2. It sounds jolly amazing, though I confess I don't understand Judge Dredd and read Warlord Games promo pieces on their JD line with incomprehension. I am however all for horrendous civic irresponsibility.

  3. Back in the day we had loads of fun with this game. Great memories !
    It was probably the only GW game I ever liked.