Dear awesome gamers!
Welcome to my review of the fantastic, new, trick-taking game from Dragon Dawn Productions!
Play as Dwarven lawyers with differing agendas in this asymmetric and thematic card game where the fates of the suspects lie in your hands!
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Time: 45 mins
Designer: Ren Multamäki and David Hladky
Artist: Sampo Jumisko
Publisher: Dragon Dawn Productions
Dragon Dawn have done it again! The rate at which this company brings out new games is quite staggering, and Ren Multamaki is at the heart of all of them, or so it seems! Justice is another interesting variation on the trick-taking mechanic which is the base of two previous games I’ve reviewed, Tolerance and White Hat. Each game brings a new and innovative look at the trick-taking genre and drags it kicking and screaming out of dusty old bridge halls and gives it a good shake-over with some gorgeous art, immersive thematics and, most importantly, some fun and modern board-game mechanics!
Justice is a spin-off of one of the most succesful Dragon Dawn games, Factory 42 which is a worker placement game set in the fictional world of Odrixia where Marxistic Dwarves compete to fulfil government contracts. Taking the gorgeous steampunk aesthetic, Dragon Dawn have drilled into one aspect of this unique world and fleshed it out in a separate game.
In Justice, you will play a Dwarven lawyer in charge of Acquitting or Convicting various criminals. By winning tricks, you are able to influence the outcome in ways that are favourable to your ends.
Each round sees three suspects up on trial for a randomly selected crime. This aspect shows of one of Dragon Dawn’s strengths! The flavour text on the cards is second to none and I would highly recommend reading each card as you play. It slows down the game, sure, but adds so much more atmosphere and emersion to the game. The flavour is well written and humorous. Suspects could be up for a variety of crimes including Smuggling, Conspiracy, Racketeering or a number of others. The scale of the crime is also randomly assigned and will set the Trump for that round.
Each player receives an identity card which determines their role and how they want to influence the court. In Justice, true ‘justice’ is rarely the aim or the outcome, but each case is at the whim of various political influences.
The Nationalist, for example, wants everyone to be Guilty, whether or not they are Acquitted or Convicted whilst the Anarchist wants all Guilty suspects Acquitted and all Innocent suspects Convicted! This gives the game a lovely asymmetric quality and an extra level of complexity as, not only are you trying to win tricks, you are also trying to influence the outcomes of the trials.
The artwork is just gorgeous and really invokes the fantasy-steam-punk theme that the designers have gone for with that Marxist aesthetic as well is lovely. Each suspect has beautiful and individual character art which makes them stand out and adds an element of personality to the game.
The Playing Cards
As with most trick-taking games, there are 4 suits. In this case, they are “Evidence”, “Testimony”, “Eye-Witness” and “Rosettes”. There are also “Reaction” cards which are able to convert a non-trump into a trump after everyone has played their cards for a trick.
The Flavour text really comes into its own on the playing cards as well. Each piece of Evidence, Testimony or Eye-Witness has an interesting little snippet which, while not having any mechanical effect, really does add colour to the game.
Influencing the Case
When you win a trick, you are able to then attempt to influence the outcome for one of the suspects. This is achieved by placing cards from the trick to the left of the suspect to weight it towards Convicted, or to the right side to weight it towards Acquitted.
You also have a chance to place Rosette cards above or below a suspect in order to gain Victory Points later in the game. This is the third layer of strategy in the game.
Not only are you trying to win tricks and influence the cases, but you are also tying to match symbols according to your Identity’s preferences in order to win Victory Points. So there is a three-dimensional tactical play occurring throughout the game.
As well as the 3D-Chess aspect of the game, there is also an amount of randomicity which could be a little frustrating, depending on which Identity you are playing. Whether the suspects are actually Guilty or not is randomly assigned at the beginning of the round but not revealed until the case is closed.
The designers have added a neat mechanism for dealing with this as well by giving each player 2 Soulgaze tokens which allow them to peek at a suspect to determine whether they are Guilty or Innocent. This not only negates the frustration of not knowing, but cunningly becomes another whole dimension of deduction for the players as whether or not a player is using their Soulgaze tokens tells you something about their Identity and could be used to thwart their plans.
Justice plays really well. The rules do take a close reading, but once you’ve played a round or two, you will have most rules fully embedded and the game will flow nicely.
Again, I would recommend you reading out the flavour text for each card, especially the first couple of times you play in order to get the full experience of the setting. The age rating is 12+ and I think this is probably about right. My 12-year old loved it, but my 10-year old found it a bit complex.
I loved Justice. I loved the artwork and was pleasantly surprised that Dragon Dawn had managed to find another entirely new and enticing twist on the trick-taking mechanic for a card-game-board-game fusion which works really well!
I have not been lucky enough to play Factory 42 yet, but that did not detract in any way from my enjoyment of Justice. It is entirely a stand-alone game, it just shares the same world as Factory 42. It does make me want to play Factory 42 even more though!
And until next time, Happy gaming!
Thanks for reading,