I have always been a huge fan of resource management and strategy games. There is something about the Civilization and Crusader Kings series in particular that has always fascinated me and I love the challenge that they present. With several hundred hours logged in Civilization VI though, I have begun to need a new complicated strategy title to sink my teeth into. Developer Somasim's City of Gangsters more than fills that role for me as its fascinating setting and engaging mechanics make for a terrific experience. City of Gangsters may not be as well polished as its more famous counterparts, but it makes up for that with some unique and fun ideas.
The game puts you in the shoes of a young man who has just made it to Chicago in the year 1920. Prohibition has just begun and now one of America's favorite and oldest past times has been made illegal: getting drunk. Rather than accept that ridiculous decision though, most of Chicago has decided to rebel and start manufacturing illegal alcohol behind the government's back. As a relative unknown in town with zero experience, you have to work to make connections with the community around you in order to purchase booze-making supplies, learn important info about your neighbors, and expand your criminal empire.
At the beginning of the game, you start with a few hundred dollars and have influence over a very small street corner. The object is for you to begin chatting with the store owners nearby to get an idea of what they are buying and selling, and then forge business relationships both legal and illegal. For example, the person next door may sell stoneware jars, and the person two streets over may want to buy homemade beer. You as the player can purchase the jars from the first person and then use them to make beer for the second. This is really the core idea of the game. Players will want to purchase ingredients from a trusted source as cheaply as possible and then use those ingredients to sell a product at the highest price possible to someone else. If this is done correctly you are able to use the extra profits to improve your business.
Where things get really interesting with City of Gangsters though are the interactions that you get to have with the people around you. By engaging in business or completing tasks for shop owners you will improve your relationship with them and will unlock new things that you are able to do with those people. If someone likes you more then they might be open to buying/selling illegal goods or they may have a job for you to do. One of my favorite parts about interacting with people though is that you earn favors by increasing relationships. The favors can then be used to do things like asking them to put in a good word for you with someone they know or find out if someone nearby sells something you need. Favors are a great way to get ahead and will open up a lot of opportunities as City of Gangsters progresses.
Much like Crusader Kings, all of the characters in City of Gangsters have specific traits that influence how they behave in the world. If a character is cautious, for example, they are less likely to take risks and draw heat from the police. This person would potentially be good at running a front or being in charge of a booze-making operation. Another person though might have the weak trait, which means that if they get in a fight with a rival gang they will probably get hurt or killed. This system is nowhere near as complex as the one that Crusader Kings III uses, but the simplicity makes focusing on other aspects of the game much easier.
Just like any game in this genre though, the most important aspect of your job in City of Gangsters is working to expand territory. After building up relationships with friendly shop owners nearby you can actually establish a front in your territory that will help influence nearby street corners to consider joining you as well. This will further expand your controlled territory to grant you access to more people that contribute to your organization. This is an interesting system though as converting a corner can only be done if they are near your front, which means holding more territory can only be done by bringing a lot of people into the fold. While having a front does allow the player to hold more territory, it will also increase the amount of attention that you get from the police.
With the police breathing down your back and costs rising due to a larger area to control, you then have to make some moral decisions to see if your organization will survive. When dealing with the police the player can use their connections to gain favor with specific officers and then offer them a bribe. An officer might accept this and then illegal actions will be a lot less likely to draw the attention of the cops. The people who live in your territory can also be exploited for protection money to help fund your expansion. Fronts will collect this money to cover their expenses and then give the rest to you. You have to be very careful though because protection rackets will upset store owners considerably, and there is a chance that an owner might resist.
The only real issue that I had with City of Gangsters was its system of automating your employees is kind of complicated and poorly explained. Anyone who works directly for you and has a vehicle can be used to purchase resources, sell booze, or collect protection money by automating their actions. This allows you to assign certain stops to be made for that character every turn that they will then run without any additional input from the player. It is really a smart system, but it takes a lot of trial and error to determine how exactly it works. It is a little frustrating as well because the game's tutorial takes you to the point of acquiring your first employee and talks about automating them but then doesn't explain the process. The tutorial is then over after this moment and makes you figure it out alone.
At the end of the day, City of Gangsters is a great experience for fans of this genre, and it's a lot of fun to see familiar mechanics applied to such a unique setting. Conquering an entire planet with a strong military is great, but gaining control of a city using the power of alcohol frankly makes a lot more sense. I can definitely see myself putting dozens of more hours in City of Gangsters in the near future, and am excited to see what else this game has in store for me.
TechRaptor reviewed City of Gangsters on PC using a copy provided by the publisher.
- Fun Character Interaction Mechanics
- Unique Setting
- Simple To Get Started
- Tutorial Feels Incomplete
- Can Be Slow