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[Review] City of Gangsters - Mobs, Rozzers and Prohibition Era Booze Trading

Mixing grand strategy with tycoon styled gameplay, City of Gangsters has you starting from nothing as you build your very own criminal enterprise through an illicit alcohol business set during the 1920's prohibition era. Does it go down smooth like a fine wine, or leave a bitter taste in ones mouth?

My first impressions of ‘City of Gangsters’ is mixed, I will confess. I start up the game with no foreknowledge of this title, other than the vague description of it being a Prohibition Era ‘Civilisation’ meets ‘Crusader Kings’. This intrigued me, and it also amused me to nickname the game ‘Crusader Dons’ in the privacy of my own mind.

The first thing that comes on starting a new game is the options. We get to create our soon-to-be mob boss. It amused me to name him Tommy Angelo, and I made a deliberate choice to make him Italian, because if I am playing a game focused around gangsters in the Prohibition, then gosh-darn it to heck, I better be playing as an Italian-American mob.

Admittedly, I didn't experiment with the ethnicity choices too much; but based on what little experience I have, your ethnicity isn’t a sweeping game-changer. Fellow citizens of the same ethnic backgrounds are more inclined to like you, but if there's more to it, then I have yet to uncover such mechanics. Am I taking that as an excuse to play more of this game? Maybe.  

We get to pick a starting skill, but not really knowing the full nuance of this game yet, I pick one at random with the full knowledge that my first attempt will have me looking like an idiot until I grasp the mechanics and how they come together. Then we are given a choice of three cities: Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburgh. I opted for Detroit.

Yes, this is totally not conspicuous. Truly, it'd take an investigative
mastermind to bust this illegal alcohol trade.

Like the ethnicities, I haven’t experimented greatly with the three cities. However, I am inclined to think that there are actual game-play changes. As I based myself in Detroit, the map was divided by a river, on the other side of which lay Windsor, Canada. This is important, because Canada didn’t outlaw booze, and you can establish a connection with your Canadian neighbours to help in your booze trafficking. Chicago and Pittsburgh might be close to the Canadian border, but not a single dividing river close, so I’m interested in how the other two cities change things up.

The aim of the game is to build up a gangster empire and to make money. This being the Prohibition, booze is illegal, and as we all know, being illegal only serves to make alcohol more profitable.

Thus begun Tommy Angelo’s rise to infamy!

I start the game with one safehouse; my dear old auntie’s shop - a modest store which will generate malt syrup passively. I quickly learn that this works to my benefit when I peruse the options of illegitimate backroom operations and find that homemade beer requires malt syrup. Coupled with the fact that the shop down the road from my starting safehouse will happily buy any homemade booze I make, it feels like a no-brainer to convert my aunt’s backroom into a beer distillery. My rise from rags to riches begins!

However, I quickly learn that while my aunt’s shop will generate malt syrup, I still need stoneware crocks, or else production will quickly stall because, you know…we have nothing to put our booze in. So while I slowly explore the city of Detroit, I keep my eye open for any shops willing to sell me stoneware crocks. When I find three nearby shops stocking such wares, I decide to buy them at higher than market value so that the shopkeepers will like me. This is important; if they like you, you get favours from them.

Spend a favour to have your friend tell their friend to be your friend. Or just
demand a gun, because who needs friends if you have a Tommy?

Favours are a resource that can have a number of uses. They can be used to have store owners put in a good word to other store owners, which was one of my most regular uses in the early game when shopkeepers were all too happy to slam their doors in poor not-yet Don Angelo’s face. Later uses include getting your gangsters armed with weapons, telling you about a store you haven’t yet uncovered but is of particular use to your illegal booze trade, and hiring new capos.

When it comes to building up your gang with your new underlings, pick wisely. Each new gangster has their own traits, and depending on what you need them for, being “nice” might not help when you’re hiring for street muscle. On the other hand, if you want somebody to be the delivery boy, “nice” is perfectly valid, as store owners will form a fond rapport with Harold “Mailman” Carr. My first hire had the “ugly” trait, which helped with any intimidation that needed doing, so naturally I set him as the man who informed stores that being under my territory they now get the privilege of paying “protective taxes”.

The most nefarious of all gangster activities...buying your groceries!

Early game involves a fair chunk of management. You need to buy resources in order to create your illegal alcohol, which you sell, and a chunk of the profits go back into buying more resources. Meanwhile, people will be asking you for favours, which can reward you with increased respect, or extra vehicles (I was so happy to replace my sedan with a pickup truck for more cargo space and less back and forth travel between my safehouse and establishments), and most importantly for my ventures to truly become profitable: a second safehouse.

This second safehouse I turned into a backroom beer trade. Now, instead of selling to finicky store owners who will only buy so many crocks of illegal alcohol at any given moment, I instead take my homemade beer to my new safehouse, where it gets sold passively each turn, allowing me to focus on other ventures. That went double when a separate favour rewarded me with a couple of hundred crocks of alcohol, which meant that for a time I wasn’t worried about the day to day of my homemade brew business. 

Six gangsters and a hoodlum. That police officer is about
to have an interesting day.

I had a plan - I was expanding. I foresaw repeating history with a backroom winery; all I needed were the required components to convert the next building I get gifted by any grateful citizens who required a favour.

Everything was going smoothly until the police randomly arrested Tommy Angelo and confiscated the contents of his pickup truck, which included seven hundred dollars and twenty crates of the really good quality booze I had just finished brewing. Curse you, ya bleedin’ rozzer! This is because I didn’t donate to your annual ball, isn’t it?

Over time I do tasks for the various citizens of Detroit, be it helping them pay off loans, delivering various bits and bobs, materials for them to upgrade their businesses, assist in my crew’s street work, or donating illicit alcohol to make a party actually feel like a party. Rewards can be as simple as a quick burst of extra cash in hand, new vehicles for your crew to get around and make deliveries in, or new safehouses to expand your illicit businesses to new ventures. Then lastly, but arguably most importantly, you can be rewarded with learning the art of creating those backroom ventures. You can’t build a garage without learning how to build one. You can’t create a sparkling cider brewery without knowing how to actually make sparkling cider.

Unfortunately, combat is a weak point in this game. If you’re sharing a space with a local hoodlum or a member of a rival crew, you can elect to attack them, which uses up all of the crew member’s movement and actions for that turn. Following this, a window pops up telling you what weapons both sides have, and the projected damage range, but that's about it. It's then time for the invisible dice roll and that’s your turn done. Fortunate then, that combat isn’t the focus of the game, but a means to an end. Though, usually that end is clearing out hoodlums who keep harassing nearby shops.

Ugly Stick Schneider prepares to introduce his trademark
ugly stick to Daniel Turner's face 
Some of the busywork in the game comes from the fact that just because you have the resources to upgrade a business, or to manufacture your illicit booze, that isn't enough. You absolutely must have the resources stored in the building where they're going to be used. Remember when I said that the backroom beer trade sold my homemade beer passively? It only does that if I manually transport the beer from my brewery to my trade house. Want to upgrade my backroom beer brewery? Well, not only do I need to have the money and the material components, but I need to make sure they're stored in the backroom brewery so that they'll be used. Coupled with the fact that you need to regularly check the shops for required ingredients/components, shops will only have so many in stock at a given moment, and the chores stack up.

However, there is a system to cut down on some of that busywork. You have the ability to set automated routes so a member of your crew will be in perpetual motion without you needing to ever touch him or her. The auto delivery route function is impressive in just how in depth it is. You select each destination, and at each destination you can tell the driver to buy or sell and the quantity to do so. If the destination was a safehouse, you can tell the delivery route to pick up goods from the storage, or put things into storage if the safehouse was along the same route you'd just bought goods from. You can also guide the delivery route with how many items you wish to move to/from storage. Just don't make my mistake.

I forgot to tell the delivery route to pick up cash from storage, so Mailman Carr was driving to all the shops on his auto-route, and trying to buy stoneware crocks when he wasn't carrying any money with which to buy said stoneware crocks. Yes, going back to the whole goods have to be in the right place to be used, your crew members need to actually carry around money on their person if they're going to be doing any buying. But of course, you don't want to carry too much money on your person at once, since the police have no problem confiscating your cash if they decide to pick you up on trumped-up charge. It is also vital that you keep money in your safehouse storage, as the crew members you recruit do want to be paid, and payment comes from any cash you have in storage, which is one of the few exceptions to the whole materials needing to be in specific places to be used. I suppose SomaSim realised that manually paying each crew member would be a fresh new experience in tedium that nobody wants, especially when your crew increases to a dozen members.

Graphically, City of Gangsters uses stylised visuals that are simple and clear, telling you what you need to know, without fuss. Tooltips tell you what each symbol means, and once it’s in your mind, you barely need to read the tooltips. When looking at the map, the game made it clear which buildings were paying their protective taxes, which buildings were fronts, and which store owners wanted to have a chat which would lead to you doing favours. Gangsters, coppers, and hoodlums are likewise easily identifiable.

I’ve been playing City of Gangsters for 16 hours according to Steam, and I don’t feel like I’m nearing the endgame, though what do I know, I’m some schmuck plodding his way through the criminal underbelly of the Prohibition Era. If you’re into 4X style gameplay, or just building yourself a business like an entrepreneur, this game is aimed at you. It isn’t an extensive brain-buster and it might not be high-level entertainment, but it is a fun time waster.

City of Gangsters is a game that gives you as much fun as you are willing to put into it. In my experience, it is one of those games that you tell yourself you’ll play for an hour and the next thing you know, it’s half one in the morning and you look like a crazy person for insisting it’s actually half nine.

City of Gangsters is available for purchase right now on PC. Review code was provided by the publisher.

Worth A Try is the second lowest rating we award and is given to titles that provide
some enjoyment, but lack the polish and entertainment of a AAA title.

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