Gangs Of The Undercity


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Review: Gangs of the Undercity Review

December 8, 2021 by jrtiemeyer

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Gangs of the Undercity (GotU) takes place in the cyber punk fantasy setting of Neo Babylon, where the rich keep getting richer, and the poor fight for the scraps. Familiar as that may feel, the setting is actually an alternate history where the ancient Babylonian Empire won a handful of battles they had no right winning, but they scraped out decisive victories with the help of arcane magic. As a result, we see the events of GotU playing out against a backdrop of Babylonian cultural supremacy where the proliferation of magic has stunted the growth of technology. Throw in the fact that your neighbors in this huge, multicultural metropolis may be elves, dwarves, orcs, or goblins, just as likely as humans, and you have a sense for GotU.

The first place in which this rich setting comes to life is in the vibrant art found within the GotU rulebook. Between its covers, you’ll find stylized cuneiform script alongside neon signs in Japanese katakana. There’s a gritty cyberpunk map of the Undercity, featuring a sprawl of shifting gang territories, with Zigtown, named for the Great Ziggurat, at its center. My personal favorite illustration features domed buildings with lion symbols against a backdrop of overgrown moss and artificial sunlight. The setting is absolutely foreign, but by the time you’ve read the rulebook, it feels familiar. It kind of like you haven’t seen every corner of Neo Babylon just yet, but you could probably extrapolate what the rest looks like, and that wouldn’t be possible without skillful end-to-end art direction.

I received the GotU Two-Player Boxed Set from the Kickstarter, which came with the following components: thirteen metallic miniatures, a pocket rule book, and a handful of useful tokens. The minis are meticulously crafted and they look better in person than any pictures I’ve seen, the rulebook is handy-sized with brilliant illustrations and immersive formatting, and the tokens are just plain useful during in-person gameplay. My wife’s a skilled cook and baker who lives by the motto, “Season during every step.” I think the team at Fragging Unicorns Games (FUG) applied this concept during every stage of production, down to the expert arrangement of the Two-Player Box to prevent damage during shipping.

As someone new to the skirmish genre, I was worried about playability, but with a combination of the solo play chapter in the rulebook, the sample gangs from the appendix, and the great assistance from the people of the FUG Discord server, these fears were quickly assuaged. Crouching down to determine line of sight as I played out an epic brawl between the Valkyrs and The Flaming Skulls gangs, I felt a type of warmth inside that I hadn’t experienced since my first few sessions of Dungeons & Dragons with an amazing group of friends over a decade ago. As for replayability, I’ve already brewed some strategies for the Valkyrs gang will take me a bunch of games to test, and this is just one of the many gang profiles I have access to play around with. I’ve also purchased Tabletop Simulator for online GotU play, and I’m in the process of simplifying the rules so I can play with my sons, ages two and five. I’m going to get a ton of mileage out of this game.

You couldn’t have any of this without good writing, and GotU comes from one of the writers behind Shadowrun 6e. How’s that for clout? The setting of Neo Babylon didn’t just manifest. It was plotted over months, drawing from complex ancient texts in multiple, often dead, languages. The named characters feel real enough that players are likely to resonate with one or more characters or entire gangs. Moreover, and this is my favorite part, kindness and justice are baked into GotU. Even in a game that promotes all-out brawls for supremacy, you can feel the FUG signature morality throughout. Not only does this warrant giving GotU my highest recommendation. I also find myself all the more excited for FUG’s upcoming RPG Subversion, which I’ve already seen enough of to feel giddy for the integrity, community building, and coping strategies it employs. This may be a dystopian cyberpunk fantasy setting, but my, is the future bright.

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