I haven't played an honest-to-god pen and paper RPG for years. I grew up on a diet of AD&D and, in my teens, d20, and I've dabbled in other systems like Palladium, GURPS and various White Wolf games. I've always been a D&D player at heart though, and I've never really played any simple, rules-light games.
Enter Tough Justice, a roleplaying game in its truest sense. Your group form two teams of Defence and Prosecution and go head-to-head trying a criminal case under the Bloody Code of Georgian England. The emphasis is on the roleplaying; less, there's lots of die-rolling, but it's fast and simple and easy to keep track on.
At it's heart, the game is one long opposed roll. All of your actions - from the initial arrest to forming your case in the pre-trial phase to the trial itself - are done against the opposing teams, and success is measured in points that aid the strength of either side's case.
Character creation is fast and easy. There are six core stats to choose, and you'll find that once you have a character concept it's easy to decide where to put your points. The Composure mechanic is an elegant touch - it's a fantastic way of representing the stresses of the case and the effect of your opponents work, and watching it tick away after failing a check adds some nice tension to the proceedings. The Good At/Very Good At system is also a nice touch, and I like how much freedom there is in deciding what you can put there, but it would have been nice to have more than two suggestions to give a sense of the kind of things that are suitable. Something akin to the list of Merits would have been nice.
This is a big book, and it's packed full of historical info. The list of slang is very useful for adding an authentic flavour to the game - have a look at the highly entertaining sample of gameplay to see how it can really add to the atmosphere at the table - but I would have preferred it if the list was tacked into an appendix. That early in the book - at a point where you haven't seen anything about character creation or how to actually play the game - it's a little overwhelming to see pages and pages of period words. That said, though, you'll get a lot of use out of the list, and it's not exactly difficult to flick forward past the list and come back to it later.
The rules are light but robust, and it doesn't take long to get used to the system. The game will rattle along at a great pace. Get some beers in and a giant pizza and you'll have a great night on your hands.
EDIT: Ian Warner (the author of the book) kindly took the time to respond to my review over at the Tough Justice website. Thanks Ian!