Andy Chambers and Gav Thorpe are no strangers to penning a tabletop game based on the iconic 2000 AD comics, beginning with Strontium Dog back in 2018. Now they have turned their hands to the robot-on-robot carnage of the ABC Warriors! In this article, the two discuss the differences between robots and flesh-and-blood floppies, the cards that never lie, and bringing the tongue-in-cheek 2000 AD to missions and campaigns borne straight out of Pat Mills and Clint Langley’s The Volgan War arc, on which the game is primarily based.
Limited Time Offer – Signed Rulebooks
ABC Warriors The Miniatures Game has been penned by industry stalwarts Andy Chambers (Warhammer, Warhammer 40K, Battlefleet Gothic, Blood Red Skies, Judge Dredd) and Gav Thorpe (Warhammer, Warhammer 40k, Inquisitor, Judge Dredd).
Pre-order the Increase the Peace starter game, the ABC Warriors rulebook or the ABC Warriors All In Launch Collection during the month of November 2023, and your copy of the rulebook will be signed by both authors!
Andy: So then, ABC Warriors. Rather shockingly this is the fourth game I’ve worked on in the 2000 AD series of games; Strontium Dog, Judge Dredd, Sláine and now ABC Warriors. They are all tabletop skirmish miniatures wargames with a strong emphasis on recreating the feel of comic strips from the immortal 2000 AD comic.
2000 AD represents that rarest of all beasts; a weekly comic with multiple storylines, some episodic some not, some of them entire sagas for iconic characters with roots going right back into the 1980s. ABC Warriors is solidly in the latter camp. I have clear memories of reading about the first appearance of the ABC Warrior Deadlock in 2000 AD on the school playing ground and you can bet that it did a lot to inspire my work in other game systems later.
Once again, as with all of the 2000 AD games, it’s been fantastic to return to the source material for making a dedicated miniatures game. This was made all the sweeter by co-designing for a third time alongside the stalwart Gav Thorpe, my previous co-author in crime for both Strontium Dog and Sláine. After the latter’s slight diversion into fantasy it also afforded a chance to return to the core mechanics of Strontium Dog and Judge Dredd – sci-fi skirmish shooter!
One thing I’d picked up on during Sláine is that the common ruleset used in these games was a very popular feature, in fact for Sláine we’d reigned back on making too many changes and simply concentrated on a more detailed close combat system as befits heroes with axes.
ABC Warriors, on the other hand, was solid future war pew-pew territory, so job done already on the rules, right? Wrong. No games designer ever born can resist fiddling with things and something was bothering me; the big difference between ABC Warriors and Judge Dredd/Strontium Dog was that almost all of the protagonists (and antagonists!) in the former were robots.
Floppies Versus Tin Men
In fact a central tenet of ABC Warriors is that robots are built for war because they are better at it – loyal, obedient and expendable. They are the perfect cannon fodder. They are also tougher than humans, the ABC Warriors are regularly seen soaking up the kind of damage that would leave humans (‘Floppies’ as the ABC Warriors refer to them) as nothing more than a red smear. Speaking of which, the previous games used ‘injury’ and ‘pinning’ markers for models getting shot at, neither of which sounded right for hardened war droids.
The approach we came up with was to treat robots and floppies differently. So Floppies use all of the rules for Strontium Dog and Judge Dredd – essential for the inevitable crossover episodes anyway – while robots get their own damage rules. Leaks instead of Injuries, metal fatigue instead of pins.
To show the insane durability of ABC Warriors and their ilk they suffer few penalties for leaks. While injuries degrade disgusting flesh sacks across all of their stats when they get hurt, mighty robots only suffer penalties to their Move and Resist stats so they continue fighting until they become literally incapable of moving or resisting further. Robots can also reboot themselves once they are in a downed state, it’s a slim chance but never zero…
A human flinches and ducks under bursts of intense fire, becoming pinned in the process and limiting their future actions. Robots stand tall and simply accumulate metal fatigue instead, only reducing their Cool stat once they have collected two metal fatigue (scratched the paintwork). Metal fatigue is more insidious than that, however, because when an enemy attacks a robot which has existing metal fatigue the foe can opt to remove the metal fatigue markers in exchange for a power bonus on the attack, potentially turning cracked armour into real leaks.
Naturally this all makes the robots in ABC warriors way, way tougher in a fight than floppies – it’s what they are built for after all. For game balance robots cost fully twice the Notoriety points that equivalent skilled humans do and we’ve included some pointers as to how and where you might want to adapt the same rules to use for robots in Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog.
The Tarot cards are the ABC Warriors’ equivalent of armoury and Big Meg/Chicanery cards. They’re a mix of special events, attacks and defences just like the previous games but we wanted to do something thematic – basically just so Deadlock can play the Ace of Swords on occasion. Both the Tarot cards and characters are aligned to either Order or Khaos. Characters show their Order or Khaos value as a stat (which can change during a campaign of course) which affects their interactions with various Tarot cards.
As with prior games, Tarot cards can also be used for purposes other than the special rule printed on them, like improving activation opportunities or gaining scenario benefits. A few characters (guess who) can actively manipulate the Tarot by drawing additional cards during the game and/or using them to power attacks, so there’s no chance of having a useless card in your hand.
On top of the regular Khaos and Order Tarot cards there are also the four major arcana; the Ace of Swords, The Lovers, The Tower and Death. Each of these counts as both Order and Khaos and each can bring a major turning point in a game.
Gav: There is a lot to successful games design, from getting the basic mechanics right, through the overall presentation and layout, to getting just the right word for a rule that captures its essence. Andy and I have found our aptitudes and peccadillos cover that ground nicely, and though there’s lots of overlap between us, Andy focuses on the ‘crunch’ of the game engine, while I pay more attention to the narrative and appearance of the game. It’s been a good combination so far.
We’ve endeavored to make each 2000 AD game feel specific to its comic strip even though the basic mechanics remain the same. This started with Strontium Dog and the concept of the Set-up, Battle and Payoff, and a campaign system that centered on earning enough creds to retire. Obviously that’s not at all what the ABC Warriors comics are about, particularly the Volgan War story. I set about re-reading the Volgan War to get at its essence, and three things – a trio of themes – became obvious. First is that the story heavily satirises contemporary social media and media culture. Secondly, the past of each warrior heavily influences their present. Third, that they’re all a dysfunctional mess!
Pretty early on came the idea that instead of victory points the warrior bands in this game were competing for Likes. It’s a battle for hearts and minds, and modern media (social or otherwise) is as much about performative action as it is substance. It’s not enough to believe a thing, one must be seen to be a champion of it.
The fact that all the ABC Warriors and their mecha enemies are former soldiers (with a rare exception or two like Ro-Jaws) means that deep down that battle programming is still there, dictating how they think. This made its way into the game in the form of a standard objective-based scenario in the vein of many other miniatures games.
However, to spice things up on top of these Public Objectives, ABC Warriors are riddled with conflicting personality drives, which become a Personal Agenda in the game. The combination of Public and Personal agenda form the basis of the victory conditions, creating a fun, asymmetric scenario from very few parts. Also the idea of the Monologue double action came about – if a warrior has nothing useful to do, you can at least have the spout off on their favourite topic to gain some extra Likes.
This carries over into the campaign system. Here Likes can be exchanged for Influence in the real world, which means getting the public over to your cause and winning the campaign. But there’s all kinds of other drains on your popularity and political clout, especially when it comes to keeping everyone fighting. With floppies it’s just a case of alive, injured or dead after a battle. With mecha it’s more complicated than that…
Increase the Peace
This starter set contains scenery, tokens, Tarot cards, character & auxiliary cards and all the rules you need to play, including rules for combat missions, an immersive campaign system and profile lists to create your forces as you take control of the ABC Warriors or their Volgan counterparts. Will Volkhan, Ikon of Ikons obliterate all in his path or will the ABC Warriors, led by Hammerstein, succeed in standing firm during the chaos of the Volgan War?