City of Shadows: A henchman’s tale

My megagame experience continue last weekend with the City of Shadows. Set in the “Big City” 1920s America this was a game about gang crime, police corruption, masked vigilantes and mad scientists. I had been cast as Indro “Romeo” Rodriguez the second in command of the El Hombre gang, a group of mobster of Puerto Rican descent looking to become the biggest and baddest gang in the city.

Community Relations

At the start of the game I found myself at a bit of a loose end. Jason, our boss, was busy showing off as a big man around time making its clear to everyone in our part of time that he rang thing (Boss gained “Respect” for his/her gang be being seen out in town, with the drawback that this left them vulnerable to attack). Alex, our money man, was out building our criminal enterprises to ensure we had enough cash to finance our gang. While Pete our strong man” was deploying troops on the map to spread our control across our starting district.

With everything under control I decide to talk to our local police officers to see if we could come to an understanding about the legitimate businesses we were establishing to provide much needed services to local residents (largely speakeasies and gambling dens). The local lieutenant was a very accommodating individual and we soon agreed that so long as our activities were too obvious, we gave off duty officers a discount at all our establishments and made occasional contributions to the police benevolence fund the majority of officers would spend their shift guarding important looking buildings at the other end of the district. I also starting building an alliance with a large Lithuanian gang that was based two  precincts away i.e. far enough away that we wouldn’t clash for control of crime zones but close enough that if we co-ordinated attacks we could put the screws on another gang caught between us.

Supervillain Origin Story

A few turns in we faced our real interaction with the other players. Our boss was hanging out in a local barbers, mind his own business, when a masked vigilante called the “City Redeemer” burst into the establishment and start burning the place down with their flamethrower. The combat went horribly for our team and our boss ended up teetering on the edge of death have had his face badly burnt. This was a disaster for our gang, with our boss taken out of action we plummeted down the respect rankings and were soon languishing down the bottom. Thankfully there is only one thing that you can do when you’re a criminal who has been horribly disfigured by a superhero, come back as a supervillain. After a turn recovering our boss came back as the villain “the Red Skull” who had vowed to take his revenge on the City Redeemer. And then rest of us, well we were basically his minions.

An opportunity for revenge soon presented itself when we managed to kidnap the City Redeemer’s sidekick. Clearly this was the perfect opportunity to set an ambush so went sent the City Redeemer to message to meet at us an abandoned warehouse if she ever wanted to see her sidekick again. Its turned out she really wanted her sidekick (who I think was also her nephew) back, so she turned up with a lot of support in the form of every police officer in our precinct, the Feds and another masked vigilante. Even with all of our mobsters, trap bonus for the ambush we set and our bosses new superpowers it looked like it was going to be an uphill battle.

Deciding that we needed to change the odds I went to find my tame police officer to get him to stand his troops down. Unfortunately I discovered that he’d been transferred to another police authority after his superiors had decided he was become too close to the local gangs. His colleagues has no interest in doing a deal, have decided that they were going to be “paladins” and not give into corruption. They were also eager to achieve a decisive victory over a gang to help get local unrest uncontrol (which had largely been caused by all the unopposed crime their predecessor had let us get away with). My appeals to logical and reason we are unsuccessful as my attempt to bribe them and they rejected my argument that helping concerned local citizens capture the pyromaniac who burnt down a city block and killed two civilians might be more effective way to address residents concerns about disorder.

Thankfully Alex was quicker to react to this setback than I was and walked over to the second vigilante in the fight, gave him all the money we had in reserve and told him he was on our side now. This was just what we needed to help swing the combat in our favour – after all the ploys and special abilities had been resolved our side was the stronger of the two. The only way we  could lose now was if the we rolled a 1 and the other side scored a 6…which is exactly what happened. So in the end the City Redeemer escaped with her sidekick and both sides too some causalities. Not ideally but we’d shown we could hold our own against the police, the Fed and these superhero and our reputation started to recover. Also been led by a supervillain is never bad for your reputation – something we decided to  capitalised on by buying our boss Red Skull themed car with our next turn’s profits.

However we were still in the bottom half of the gang respect rating and needed to do something impressive to get back in contention. Thankfully while all these superhero shenanigans had been going on I’d been plotting with a mad scientist…

An accessory to madness

Earlier on in the day I’d been chatting to Professor Emily Gargunza who’d be circulating through the gambling dens trying to get her research  budget to stretch to cover all of her mad schemes. Turns out our scientists were just as poor as real life academics and she needed a laughably small amount of money to fund the creation of her “wonders of science” which I agreed to provide so long as I got to decide where the “field tests” of these devices would take place.  

The first project I helped fund was meant to be the creation of a “fear ray” that once, deployed should send rival mobster fleeing from this rackets, leaving our lot clear to move in and take over. We agreed to deploy it again the Shamrocks, who were doing far too well, and I’d spoken to my Lithuanian allies to coordinate an attack on two fronts once our new weapon was deployed. Imagine my surprise then when Professor Gargunza took to stage to announce that she’d planted some kind of virus bomb somewhere in the city. Not quite what we’d agreed, but we decided to ride this one out and, when all the gangs were summoned to city hall and offered an amnesty if we helped find the device I decided to feed the authorities a stream of misinformation rather than ‘fes up to the location and claim the reward. One turn later the search had failed and the device went off in the park right at the centre of the Shamrocks home area, turning all the inhabitants into zombie. Led by the Red Skull our boys moved in to establish a “quarantine zone” which, coincidently involved us grabbing a lot of new territory. Unfortunately after some initial victories we were beaten back. Still we gained a lot of Respect for our ploy, helped by the fact a whole edition of the new paper was devoted to the story, in which Professor Gargunza credited us for her success and said one of her demands to stop her  wave of experiment was for me to be made Mayor. All in all it could have been worse.

Who framed Indro Rodriguez?

High from our successful virus bomb I got back to base to find out that the Red Skull has decided to fully commit to his new existence as a supervillain and would be leaving the El Hombres to fend for themselves (Control promised Jason a whole truck full of superpowers if he left our team to become a full time villain to combat the vigilantes). So I stopped being the Red Skulls chief henchman and took over the gang. However I didn’t  really get much chance to go lead my team as at this point I was arrested as it turned out that three other gangs, led by the Sicilian mafia, were trying to frame me for murder.

I was brought before the Honourable Judge Jeffries were a member of the Shamrocks testified that he’d seen me shooting a gun at someone during El Hombres efforts to muscle in on their territory.  Unfortunately for the witness he seemed unable to keep his story straight, as it quickly collapsed under the judge’s testimony. The judge became even less impressed when he realised that it was gangster giving evidence and not, as he’d first thought a police officer. So the case was dismissed without even having to trouble the jury. It probably also helped that at the time I was alleging killing innocent civilians I’d in fact been at a charity benefit run by my Lithuanian allies for victims of the virus bomb which was also doubling as a fund raising for the judge’s mayoral election campaign. I might all have helped that I made a donate to his reelection campaign on my way to the dock.

Whatever the true reason for my acquittal the Sicilian boss was really unimpressed. I just smiled at him and asked him how we was enjoying the giant mechanical spider I’d unleashed on his district. I’ve got to be honest, watching him run back to his table to survey the damage I’d arranged was pretty satisfying.

Spider-tank, spider-tank, does whatever a spider-tank does….

So about that giant mechanical spider I mentioned. This was the second wonder of science the Rodrigeuz-Gorgunza partnership was unleashing on the world the world. Emblazed with out gang logo on its shiny metallic hide, we’d set this contraption on the Sicilians home district and clear the way for our mobsters to move in a set-up shop. Professor Emily had also attached some kind of confusion ray to it, just to make it extra effective. The results were impressive and for once it was no half realised victory and for three solid turns it continued to smash Sicilian operations. Our respect was climbing skyhigh, and we were now in second place just behind our Sicilian nemesis. However we knew this in itself wouldn’t be enough to win us the game – it was time to turn our attention to City Hall.

Playing politics

As I mentioned earlier the Lithuanian-Puerto Rican axis had decide to throw its weight behind Judge Jeffries campaign for mayor (more accurately the Lithuanians had and I was jumping on their coattails – all my scientific philanthropy meant I’d largely ignore the machinations in City Hall for most of the game.) The result of the election would be announced on the penultimate turn and would be decided in the traditional manner for Americans elections – by money. We hosted a fabulous fundraiser in a luxury restaurant next to the rebuilt barber the City Redeemer had burnt down earlier attended by all our allies – the judge, the Lithuanian, Professor Gargunza (her only trip out of the lab for the whole game, apparently she was a wanted women after the virus bomb incident) as well as some other gang leaders I’d talked into supporting us. We raised a pile of cash and Judge Jeffries looked set to beat the incumbent (helped by the fact he was in hospital after his car was rigged to explode – I still have no idea who did this). One turn out the papers were announcing our candidate had an unassailable lead.

However this wasn’t a two horse race, the vigilantes had put up their own candidate, no less than the City Redeemer herself. In the end the City Redeemer just pipped us to the post. Maybe we got complacent, maybe it was due to the fact the other vigilantes bankrolled her by literally robbing banks. Either way we had failed to get our man into power. The City Redeemer has been a thorn in our side the entire game, there was only one thing for it – she had to die.

So as our final play in the game we set not one, but two, hitmen on the mayor-elect. Our hitman performed magnificently, replacing the tobacco in the newspaper editions cigarettes with C4 explosives, just before his interview with the new mayor. The results were explosive, and while the City Redeemer just pulled through the explosion, the secondary devices set by the second hitman finished the job. Then that was it – game over. While we might not have won the gang game (I’m not sure if the scores were updated after the last turn) it didn’t matter I’d had an amazing time and the El Hombres had shown they were not a gang to be taken lightly

Final thoughts

This was my third megagame so far, and I think my favourite. I was much smaller than watch the skies (only 100 people) and it felt much more dynamic as a result. It was possible to roughly know what was going on everywhere and it felt like everyone had the chance to be involved in many more major story moments (either of their own creation or someone else’s). If I had one criticism it would be that it felt like the police players (especially the local police forces) had a less interesting game than everyone else. That’s probably at least in part a function of the fact that the police are fighting a losing battle and playing a very reactive but if this is run again (and I really hope it is) I think it’d be worth revisiting that part of the game to see how it could be made more engaging for those players (or if our police players just missed the more interesting options open to them, how those choices could be more clearly signposted).
Finally a massive thankyou to everyone who took part, with special mention to Control (especially John the Control for our map), and the other player in the El Hombre Gang especially Alex and Peter who kept our criminal empire running smoothly when the other members went off doing silly thing.

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City of Shadows: A henchman’s tale

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