Ever heard of The Bloody Code? Me neither, but it’s the setting for the Tough Justice courtroom roleplaying game. It was one of the darkest times in British legal history, running from the late 17th to early 19th Centuries. There were over two hundred offenses that could lead you to the gallows via a colourful and exciting legal system. In this game the players are split into two teams – the Defence and Prosecution, the aim is to convict or acquit the accused. A true life or death situation.
Tough Justice utilises the ”Beer and Crisps” mechanic which is very simple and I like that. Choose one of yor six stats, roll a d6, add, modify by merits and flaws, compare. Winning tests adds to your case total and the side with the most points determines the poor defendant’s outcome. There are character classes but these don’t define your abilities, more your role in the trial – lawyers, police types and allies. Allies are everyone else that could be involved in the story, including women and children. As the time setting suggests, playing a women has it’s own special difficulties but they aren’t ignored or relegated, so anything goes. Including felons themselves! The case is split into phases, allowing for pre trial actions. Handy for the characters who aren’t able to talk in court due to the laws in place at the time. Here they get to investigate, harass, seduce or whatever else may help their side win. The book is a hefty two hundred and sixty pages with minimal art but I imagine that helps keep it nice and cheap at ten dollars to download as PDF.
There are many good things about Tough Justice. Never before have I seen such detailed examples of play throughout the book, following an entire case from start to finish using player’s dialogue. It is littered with helpful hints and has a seventeen page ‘olde slang english’ lexicon. They have obviously really tried to help the players understand both the game and the legal proceedings of the time, without getting too technical. Also included are suggestions for making the game kiddie friendly and LARP, something other games would benefit from. I personally like the rules for rolling up defendants and the group story generation. You need a game to play that evening and have nothing prepared? A game of Tough Justice can easily fill that gap as encounters can be player driven without much difficulty and the judge purely reactive.
The biggest challenge with Tough Justice is that it’s a game about playing through a trial in a court of law. When I first proposed it to my gaming group they weren’t jumping up and down with excitement. There are no bad guys to destroy, empires to build, civilisations to protect. The scope is very small, one life to save from the gallows with wits and cunning. Unless this appeals, it’s going to be a hard sell. However I think the game has excellent potential as additional rules to use in your current campaign, whatever setting that may be. Vigilante finally caught by the police? Pirate brought before the conclave for breaking the code? Spaceship pilot threatened with court martial? Tough Justice can be adapted to play out the trials in a way usually glossed over during sessions. Imagine how impassioned a player would be to save his character from a carbonite judgement after two years of play!
As an experienced gamer I would recommend Tough Justice as a well produced game with reams of background knowledge of the time, a simple ‘pick up and play’ concept and it’s usefulness in other campaigns. To misquote the judges of the time and their dreaded sentence of death “Take this game from whence it came, to be held in the hands until read.”
I am understandably sceptical about games that are part of advertising campaigns (this one is for chewing gum) but the Nightjar had three reasons that made me bother to download it from the app store. Interesting gaming concept, the new Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) doing the voice and its free. The premise – on an abandoned spaceship you must escape using only sound. Of course you are not alone.
Picture me ready to play, sitting in lowlight with large headphones and my iPad. The intro starts and my heart is in my mouth. It reminded me of the new breed of rollercoasters, where you sit in the car and they throw story at you in the dark, then whoosh! You’re off. Or not if like me, you haven’t updated your iTunes and iPad software recently. Crash city.
Take two and this time I get into the game proper. The only controls are walking forward and turning right and left. Seems simple? It is for the first few levels. Listen to the noises, head in the right direction. Though you might be wishing you had bothered to use that volume limiter on your music player or not attended so many loud concerts when you realise your hearing is that of an old man. There are fourteen levels in total and it was at seven that I started having problems. I would love to tell you how much harder it gets, but I can’t. I’m stuck on level eight. Is it ironic that I keep dying in the human waste room?
Atmospherically The Nightjar is right on the money. Aliens is one of my favourite films, imagine how much more terrifying it would be for Ripley if she couldn’t see anything at all, just hear the approaching xenomorph horde and the helpful computer calling out their increasing numbers. And she hasn’t got a gun. Downsides – there is a limited amount of narration which isn’t tailored to what you do in the game. Die from standing still and you still get the ‘don’t move too fast or you’ll die’ advice and for a game on the iPad you have to double size the iPhone version, making the menus slightly blurry. If you have a choice, play it on the iPad – the larger screen makes your movements far easier. I would also recommend the quiet, darkened venue. It helps you concentrate and adds to the tension. No need to be embarrassed in front of other commuters when you jump out of your skin and rip off your headphones. Thank goodness for volume control.
Extrapolation tells me if you play through it all first time it will take you about an hour to finish, but that’s a big if. You can’t skip forward to levels you haven’t unlocked yet and with names like ‘deep space’ and ‘exit pursued by an alien’ they do not fill me with confidence of successful completion. Did I enjoy playing it? Surprisingly yes, though i didn’t appreciate the increased heart rate. I doubt I would play it again if I ever did get to the end as the game does not have additional challenges. There is no score, you are either dead or alive.
Overall for me it was a fun and scary experience, fantastic for a free game, and a great use of the touch screen on the iPad. The campaign promises ‘a sensory overload in different areas of gaming, music, art, film and fashion’. If the other elements are of a similar quality then they might be worth investigation.
As soon as I get out of this septic tank.