City of Gangsters is a new game that lets players live out their fantasies of running a criminal empire. Set in the Roaring 20’s of the USA, you’re going to be getting deep into the life of crime. You play the role of the head of a burgeoning crime family, in one of several iconic cities within the US, often deeply associated with the Prohibition era. Set in the 1920s during prohibition, you forge your empire on the back of bootlegging and violence. You need to roll up your sleeves and get dirty to win. You need to expand control within the city, but at what cost? Violence is going to happen, and you need to be ready. Build up your crew and get them ready to knock out the competition.
The game is described as follows: “The year is 1920, the start of Prohibition in the USA. With congressional action, a huge segment of the national economy becomes illegal overnight: bars and saloons are ordered to close, distilleries and breweries go quiet, distributors shut down. But a new era is dawning: a gilded age for smugglers, black markets, illegal manufacture, and organized crime.” It’s in that tone that the quest for money and power begins.
The game is setup as a business sim through and through, and that means resource management is key. You will need to spend a lot of time talking to people and handling the logistics of your growing empire. Each map is loaded with personalities to interact with, and territory to claim. As you build out your influence, the web of connections you develop grows exponentially. This game builds the core around bootlegging, gunrunning and other criminal activities.
As you produce a bunch of items and materials, you also need to handle moving them around. The ability of your family to coordinate deliveries and expansion is important, as you always need money coming in. The logistics and social aspects of coordinating all this are the core of the gameplay. There’s also a mission system where characters will ask for different items. Players will have to handle a bunch of different items, and their storage, just to fulfill these requests.
There’s a fair amount of roleplaying potential as well. As you gain infamy on the streets, you can use that to your advantage. By building out your influence, you can even become a powerful name on the streets, bearing a name that men dread to hear.
But what does all that actually play like? Let’s talk about that.
Each turn represents one week of in-game time. The combination of this passage of time with the limited Action Points lends to a very heavy focus on planning. In fact, some might feel like it’s a bit to restrictive. In the very early stages of the game, you’re going to have a lot fewer moves you can take per turn. The fact that even unloading cargo consumes action points means it can take several turns to shift all of that hooch you just cooked up.
As you explore the map, various hidden operations come into view. Each storefront, warehouse and other building often has an operator that you have to work with. This interaction and the attached social elements will quickly consume much of your playtime in City of Gangsters. Your goal is to build connections and try to earn Favors, which you then spend on gaining discounts and other bonuses. One gunrunner might have a hookup for better hardware, and you’re going to need to build ties with them to get it. The usage of Favors adds another layer of resource management to the game, adding to the complexity and planning that you have to wrangle.
The process of taking over and upgrading your holdings is a huge part of how you actually make money in City of Gangsters. You can send your lackeys around the map handling deliveries. Although this process can be automated, there are a lot of minute details that will annoy the player. The UI is pretty cluttered at times, and keeping it straight can be a pain. The multitude of items you need to craft and upgrades you need to manage can become a dizzying array of recipes and supply lines, and sadly the game doesn’t have a clear way of handling it all on a territory-wide scale. You will find yourself constantly having to check up on production and deliveries to keep the booze flowing, slowing down your progress.
The focus of managing your empire is the primary goal. You will not be doing much combat here. Unlike similar games, such as Empire of Sin, there’s no turn-based combat here. It’s basically a dice roll that compares your stats to the stats of your target. If you get lucky, you can beat them down. Go too far though, and they could die from their wounds. This actually ties into the social aspects, as killing the ally of another family or gang of hoodlums will permanently turn them against you.
The process of building relationships is just as important as the production side. Expending favors and sweet-talking movers is a huge part of this. You have to be careful how you actually handle the violence, as too many attacks can turn the whole city against you. And that’s without mentioning the police. As you expand your influence and produce new goods, the supply chain will inevitably get picked up by the police. Police patrols also randomly target neighborhoods in the city with increased presence. You could even find your shipments intercepted, and gang members arrested. This adds yet another slowdown to the gameplay.
This all helps to highlight the core flaw of City of Gangsters. It has way too many slow points and clutter. The UI wrangling becomes more irritating as you expand, leading to more headaches. And with all the different moving parts, the various individual mechanics really lose their luster. But what I really want to get across — aside from the uneven nature of the game — is that this is really a bootlegging simulator.
The game has a pretty simple visual style, and as a result, it’s pretty easy to run. The game doesn’t have much to render, and it can run on pretty meager hardware. The visual effects are nice, but not too varied. You won’t be getting a ton of visual effects from combat, as is common with 4X and strategy games.
Value & Enjoyment
The reality is that this game should have spent more time in development or Early Access. Despite the UI issues, there’s still fun to be found here. Without a doubt, City of Gangsters is a unique experience, but the amount of clutter causes issues. The basics of the game are there, but the lack of refinement causes major problems.
The core of the system for expanding to new buildings requires way too much micro-managing, and it’s kind of annoying. The amount of time you’re spending rushing back to a building to check on a production run or affiliate is annoying. That’s yet another knock against the game. Despite its potential to offer a unique twist on the genre, gamers might be left overwhelmed and disappointed. You get a ton of production to manage, but minutiae aren’t necessarily fun.
But at the end of the day, you’re all competing for the same stuff, and there’s not enough variety of resources spawning per region to encourage conflict. I suppose that fits with the lack of focus on combat. And in a game about expanding a criminal empire, that seems misplaced. The lack of resource rarity also makes it harder to compete, and there’s a really lacking feel of competition once you get large enough. Most small gangs can’t compete, and the process of interacting with them becomes a bit tedious.