I'm a big fan of under-represented games, as nearly 2500 points of Battlefleet Gothic, Inquisitor rulebooks and Mordheim warband suggest. It's only by virtue of my FLGS not stocking them that I don't have a horde of Battlemechs and Heavy Gear figures in my cupboard. So when I was given the chance to try Urban Mammoth's small-scale sci-fi game Urban War, I leapt at the chance.
And I found a real gem there. Long story short, it's a very fast paced skirmish game with a healthy variety of factions to try out and some nice minis. While nothing is going to topple GW's domination of the market for light, fantastical wargames, UW is a nice alternative. The aesthetic is a bit more video-game or anime themed than 40k, but I don't feel you lose too much from the lack of Grimdark. I'll begin with a rundown of the faction aesthetics and play style (the fluff is interesting, but I personally wouldn't say it sells the system) to whet your appetites, then move into a discussion of the rules.
The first faction, and the one I play, are the Viridians. They look like a mixture of Death Korps and the GDI, which is a good combination. They play, though, more like Tau meet Guard to maintain the 40k comparison. They're really focussed on shooting, with only one dedicated melee unit (but that's a real monster!)
Then there's the VASA. They're Red Alert style Soviets, with some nasty melee tricks and equally good shooting. I especially like their jump-jet troops with lightning-shooting spears. If you like the idea of real space Reds, then they're the go-to faction. They also get Battlesuits, large-ish units which act as either mobile gun platforms or extra-tough melee units.
Next are the Triads, the token "glorious Nippon" faction. They're a bit better than most, though, because they're properly cyberpunk rather than fantasy. You'll see gasmask wearing riflemen with lampshade hats, cyborg sumo wrestlers with clubs for hitting people with and geisha assassins (some of the best models in any game I've seen.)
So there's Russia, Japan and "generic future helmeted marines." Where next? If you said Ancient Rome, then good guess. The Gladiators are exactly that, and are a curious finesse force armed with flamethrowers and strong melee weapons which can tie up or stun enemies. They also get tamed wild animals, which are interesting.
Hot on the heels of the Gladiators are the Junkers, another Romanesque faction who are completely different in style. You need a core of Legionaries, your stock troop. But then your options include dune buggies, battle suits and most interestingly suicide bombers. They're weak, cheap melee units who explode.
The Syntha are an interesting lot. Even shootier than the Viridians with their lovely high-strength guns and shotgun-wielding mecha, they also have some nice melee units. Aesthetically, they are like the robots from I Robot, with commander choices modelled off the iconic design of Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell. But at the same time they get a unit which is a half-human half-robot snake melee unit like a Necron Wraith if HR Giger designed it. Interesting.
Finally there's the Koralon, or "Zerg-a-like." I must admit, though, they're quite interesting for just bugs. They have almost purely melee units, but get masses of options for stealth upgrades to get them into combat - so they're more like Xenomorphs than anything else. They also have a "Queen" unit which produces little exploding spiders.
Now you've heard about what the factions are, I'll move onto the rules.
The stats are pretty self-explanatory - Assault and Shooting skill, Strength, Toughness, Wounds, Size and Move could all be from any game. But it's Calibre and Command that make Urban War more interesting. You can "promote" a unit by paying extra points for it, and that increases its Calibre. The more CAL you have, the better. Command is basically Leadership, but is used in conjunction with CAL to make the game awesome. Weapons have fixed ranges - in essence 0-48" divided in 12 inch bands sort of like Battletech's range bands - strength and accuracy falls off with range and some weapons have shorter ranges.
The game uses a "double-blind" turn order combined with a Lord of the Rings or Battletech style roll for initiative. Both players secretly decide what each of their units will do out of the three types of turn (Overwatch, Lock Fire or Snap Fire.) Then you roll initiative, and the winner goes first in each phase. First phase is declaring overwatch. In Overwatch, you can shoot at enemies that enter your line of sight if you pass a Command check (roll equal to or over your CMD stat on 1D10.)
Then you do Snap Fire. That's your movan, "MOVE AND SHOOT," shootan and assaultan. You can take an Overwatch shot if you're targeted by an enemy and you're using Snap Fire, but you take a To Hit penalty and lose your turn if you do. High CAL units can take Command checks for extra turns if they use Snap Fire.
Shooting is very much WHFB style - roll to hit, add or subtract modifiers, roll to wound. The difference is there are no armour saves for the most part. Take a Wound and die. It keeps things moving - and makes a save of even 8 or 9+ on a D10 seem godlike.
Finally comes Lock Fire, where you do "one thing well." You can either move fast, or shoot with no penalties save for those your weapon adds. High-CAL units can take Command checks to get bonus movement or modifiers To Hit.
Assault is like shooting, to be honest, so I won't go into it beyond saying it's quick and deadly, and in most cases non-melee units will lose hard to melee ones (no Crisis suits punching a Carnifex to death!)
The deadliness of Urban War is compounded by some harsh morale rules. If you get hit but not wounded, you have to pass a Command check or miss your turn. If someone dies within sight of you, take a Command Check or take a penalty until you pass one. Lose more than 2/3 your units, take a Command Check every turn or lose the game. Urban Mammoth have really pulled out the stops to keep the game fast-moving and keep every unit valuable - my force's leader died turn one to a basic grunt last game, while in another battle an enemy commander got pinned by .50 cal fire and then finished off execution-style by a sergeant. You need lots of terrain.
As a final note, this game has some similarities with WARMACHINE. While you don't need to PLAY LIKE YOU HAVE A PAIR, it abstracts the neat idea of unit cards with all your rules on from PP's system. It also has equal importance on named characters, with every faction having 3 who you can use. They're mostly just "improved" versions of the sergeant variation on regular units, though - not the godlike figures Abbadon or Calgar are. There's also a 40k-sized game called Metropolis which I've never played, and know no-one who does.
Urban Mammoth are bringing out an expansion soon called CLAU Team Actions, which adds rules for fielding light vehicles in the form of Dreadnought-sized mechs. The sculpts for the models are really great, to be honest, although the Viridian one looks a lot like something from Gundam. Just be prepared with your best "THAT'S NO ZAKU, BOY!" when people state the obvious.
In total, then, if you're jonesin' for a spot of Cyberpunk action, or perhaps have fond memories of stuff like Mordheim or Necromunda, then this might hit the spot. I'm going to give it a 9/10, because I sure do.