May 2018 be all you dreamed it would be and be all that you dreamed...
This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.
If you liked the review please thumb the top of the article so others have a better chance of seeing it and I know you stopped by. Thanks for reading.
Game Type - Card Game
Play Time: 30-45 minutes
Number of Players: 2-6 (Best 3+)
Mechanics - Action Point System, Hand Management, Bluffing
Difficulty - Pick-up & Play (Can be learned in under 10 minutes)
Components - Very Good
Release - 2008
Designer(s) - Bruno Cathala (Abyss, Boomtown, Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, Cyclades, Dice Town, Jamaica, The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet, Mission: Red Planet, Mr. Jack, Queen's Necklace, Senji, Shadows Over Camelot)
Bruno Faidutti (Ad Astra, Boomtown, Castle, Citadels, Diamant, Formula E, Isla Dorada, Lost Temple, Mascarade, Mission: Red Planet, Mystery of the Abbey, Queen's Necklace, Red November, Silk Road, Warrior Knights)
Overview and Theme
Welcome to the Roaring Twenties, a time when the law and the Mob ruled the streets in even fashion and the Speakeasy aided the flow of prohibited alcohol to the common Mr. and Mrs. Next Door.
As the name implies, Chicago Poker takes the classic game of gambling so often associated with the underworld and spices things up a little as rival mobsters seek to gain control of profitable establishments of ill-repute.
Bluff and cunning are the mark of a mobster in this well themed design from the French pair that have often worked together in Cathala and Faidutti.
So put on your best flapper outfit and do the Charleston with me to the nearest Gin Joint Sweetheart...buy a drink and join me at the nearest table...it's Chicago Poker time.
The box and front cover art suggest perhaps that Chicago Poker is a game with a little bit of class. Thankfully the components don't disappoint.
Business/Location Tiles – The game offers a raft of Business/Location tiles, which are what each gangster (player) is trying to control.
Each hexagonal tile comes in one of four colours and depicts a type of Business. Each tile features the names of the 6 gangsters that the players can play as and these names serve to offer each player a location to play their cards too.
The artwork is the same for each like-coloured Business but the names of each Business are unique, which is a nice touch. Each type of Business also features a particular way that the cards played there must be placed (face-up or face down). This requirement is illustrated on each tile to make it clear to the players.
The tiles offer a good, quality thickness.
Image Courtesy of fabricefab
Regular Cards - The game offers up 75 numbered cards that can be used to form various Poker hands. To replace the 4 suits from a regular deck of cards, Chicago Poker offers up 5 colours with the numbers 1-14 featuring in each. Each number offers the same artwork of a henchman or a dame (regardless of the colour of the card) and the colour is made clear in the background and in the colouring of the number.
The cards offer a lovely matte/linen finish, which is not always present in a game of this weight but given that French designers are present here I am not surprised that this quality standard was enforced. Gotta love the French's attention to detail.
Image Courtesy of binraix
Action Cards - The game also offers 5 different Special Action Cards, which all only feature once except the Raid Card. These are made to stand out in a hand of cards by featuring a Sepia artistic style. Each card features a full-card illutration to help remind the player as to what it does. More on that later.
Image Courtesy of fabricefab
Summary Cards - A set of 6 Summary Cards serve to outline which gangster is being played by whom. The gangster side also features a summary as to the effects of each Action Card. The opposite side outlines the 11 type of Poker hands that can be made and the ranking summary.
Image Courtesy of fabricefab
Bullets - These could be seen by some to fall into the overproduced category but I think they are so much cooler than the typical token and they support the theme well.
The game comes with 5 silver-painted wooden bullets that are 3cms in length. They are used to denote when a shoot-out is imminent and as such are perfect for the gangster theme.
Image Courtesy of Gonzaga
Rules and Box Insert - The rules are very well written with little if any room for ambiguity and the insert has a place for everything.
Image Courtesy of JudgeLP
Overall the production of Chicago Poker is pretty classy. The boxfront is a real eye-catcher as well as it offers a photo-realistic image that reminds one of the days of Al Capone. About the only complaint can be perhaps the size of the box given the nature of the game. But in truth the inclusion of the Business Tiles required a larger box and it looks good on a bookshelf. Thumbs up from me.
Image Courtesy of JudgeLP
The set-up is really no more difficult than shuffling the cards and dealing 5 to each player to form a starting hand.
Each player should also be given a summary card as it will remind them as to which gangster they are playing as. This is important as each player must play their cards to the corresponding space on the location cards so it is clear as to which cards belong to whom.
All that remains then is to shuffle the Location/Business Tiles and place a number of them face-up to the play area. The number is dependent on the number of players to ensure that competition remains tight.
Chicago Poker offers each player 3 Action Points to use on their turn. Those actions can be used to do one of the following two things and any combination of the two is possible.
Recruit a Gangster - This is a thematic way of saying ‘draw a card’, which is done at random from the deck. The more cards a player holds the more options they have. The only time this action is not allowed is if a player already holds 7 cards. When this happens they are forced to take the second option...
Exert Influence – This is a thematic way of saying ‘Play a card to a Business/Location tile’ or play a Special Action Card. By adding a card in this way the players are building their poker hand in the hope that when the location is resolved they will have the best hand at that location.
By using the 3 actions available per turn it is possible for a player to play 3 cards to a single location or multiple locations. Of course they may also play less than 3 cards in order to draw one or more cards. The only time a player cannot play one or more cards to a location is if there are already 5 cards present there.
Thematically of course, playing cards to locations is actually representing a mobster sending their goons to locations in order to shake them down and eventually control or own them. Where’s my Gangster Emoticon?!
Forcing a Shootout – When a person plays their 5th card to a single location, they must take a bullet and place it on top of their cards. This signifies that a Shootout is imminent and at the start of their next turn the Location/Business will be resolved.
By doing so it allows all other players one last chance to play a card or cards to that location on their turn in an attempt to win the shootout. The only players who cannot play cards in this fashion are those that already have 5 cards present.
A Shootout is resolved by turning all cards at the location face-up and comparing the ranks of the Poker Hands. If there is a tie (two or more players have formed the same rank of hand) then the usual Poker rules to resolve ties are used (usually highest value within a combination).
The winner of the Shootout takes the Business Tile as their reward, which thematically represents the fact that the player now owns that business thanks to the ‘muscle’ they sent to that location.
Provided the game hasn't been won, a new Business/Location Tile is immediately drawn from the pile and added to the table and represents a new location to be fought for.
The Nature of the Businesses – The second twist on classic poker (the first twist being the ability to create hands at multiple locations) is in the nature of how cards are played to locations. Rather than simply playing all cards face-up and allowing the players to see what they are trying to beat (which is more like Schotten-Totten and Battle Line), in Chicago Poker each location requires the cards to be played in a certain way.
For example at the Cafe/Restaurants a player must play their first two card face-up and the next three face-down. At the Clubs, every second card is placed face-down.
What this does is allow the players to bluff in relation to the nature of the hands they are building and this beautifully replicates the soul of classic Poker. It really is a clever design feature of the game.
The Poker Hands - Without going into the background and detail of Poker itself, Chicago Poker stays largely true to the hands that are possible when playing Poker with 5-cards. In addition to standard poker hands, Chicago Poker adds two extra combinations to shoot for…and these are ranked higher than all other hands.
The first is called the Rainbow Straight, which requires a regular 5-card Straight combination but it must also feature each of the colours featured in the game.
The second is called ‘Chicago Poker’ and is essentially a '5 of a Kind' or Yahtzee hand. Given it is the namesake of the game it is the best hand possible here.
The Action Cards – Already the game has two twists on the classic game and in the Action Cards it adds a 3rd. There are 5 different types of Action Cards in the 81 card deck. They are –
Liquidation (1) – This card allows a player to force an opponent to discard the last card they placed to any one Business. The only time this card cannot be used is when a player already has 5 cards at a location. In this case the Bullet Marker protects them from a Liquidation action.
Police Raid (2) – Allows a player to look at all face down cards of one player at a particular business. Only the player to have played the Raid is allowed to see the cards.
Limousine (1) – Allows a player to move up to 4 cards from one Business to another Business. In addition to being moved, the player is also allowed to place them in the order of their choice, which could be important given that each location has different requirements for face-up and face down cards. A player can only move their own cards in this way and it can be handy to challenge a player who may have thought they were unbeatable or to escape a location where you are 'outgunned'.
Revolver (1) – Offers a player 2 extra Actions, although playing the Revolver actually takes an action so therefore playing a Revolver actually offers a total of 4 other Actions for the turn.
Bribery (1) – Allows a player to take any one card from the discard pile. Then the discard and draw piles are shuffled together, meaning cards already used may make it back into the player’s hands.
Winning the Game – Finally we get to the overall objective. To stake your claim as the kingpin of Chicago you are aiming to do the following –
Own 3 of the same type of Business
Own 4 different types of Businesses
Own 5 Businesses in total
The first player to declare they have achieved one of the above goals is declared the winner and Mafia Boss of Chicago.
These victory goals are really a clever addition to the game because they give meaning to the locations themselves. Players are not simply trying to win as many as possible, now they can be strategic in what they target with their hands.
They can hold their powder dry at locations of lesser importance and start to manage the cards in their hand and build a set of cards that can be powerful for a strategic location. It’s good game design.
The 2-Player Experience
I'll admit I was expecting this game to be rather poor when playing it with only two. But having done so last night I was very surprised to find my partner and I totally enjoying the experience and playing three games in succession.
What I assumed would be rather cut-throat play did not result at all. The game felt very 'cat and mouse' like as each player would edge up towards the 5 card limit but be afraid to pull the trigger in case the other player already had the better cards sitting in reserve.
What makes it really work well with 2-players are those hidden cards, as all manner of trickery and subterfuge can unfold. It's also very important to avoid having a small hand of cards when a new Business is revealed, otherwise your opponent may get the jump on you and win with a simple hand such as two-pair, purely because you don't have the cards to get a competitive hand on the table before the Shoot-out is on.
We really enjoyed it and my partner lamented at the fact that I have traded it away...I may have to look into getting a copy back. I simply didn't expect it to work as well as it does with 2-players. Whoops.
The Final Word
Chicago Poker is a streamlined design that can be learned very quickly. There is pretty much no fat to be trimmed here, everything has its place and the rules are as simple as they can be. But that doesn’t stop it from being an excellent design and a fun experience. In this age where the ‘best games’ are regarded as rather complex designs with many moving parts and scoring mechanisms, it is refreshing to remember that simpler games can be just as engaging.
What elevates Chicago Poker above the average 6.5-7 rating is that the theme is so well implemented here. Poker is intrinsically linked with gambling so the Gangster Theme makes perfect sense. There is no doubt that after a play or two players tend to drop the mobster pretense..because the reality is that the Poker shines through more than anything else.
And for me that is the greatest strength of the game. Chicago Poker allows fans of the classic game to play something familiar and yet challenging in a different way. But non-Poker players can also have a great time here and those that don’t like to gamble can be involved and discover some of the thrill of the real thing.
The other major plus worth noting is that the end-game conditions are really well thought out as they can allow the game to take no more than 30-45 minutes so the game doesn’t outstay its welcome. The players need to keep a close eye on what Businesses the other player’s have and what they need to acquire for victory.
How does the play differ from the classic game? Well the obvious difference is that the players are trying to construct multiple Poker hands at the same time. By playing your cards cleverly a player is able to take a particular hand in different directions as they draw new options. The trick to Chicago Poker though is that it really is a game of hand management. You always want to have cards in hand as that means options, but at the same time you can't afford to allow other players to have too many more cards down at a location/Business than you because if they force a shoot-out you may not be able to get enough cards into player to challenge them. It's a delicate balancing act and sometimes you simply have to cut your losses at one location to secure victory at another.
If there was one criticism of the game it would be that there can be a bit of luck in the drawing of those rare but powerful Action Cards and the mix of Businesses that see the table each play may favour one player more than the others in certain situations.
But in a a game as intrinsically linked to luck as Poker (although I won’t deny the skill factor in relation to bluffing) it is a good fit and totally palatable.
Having played games at both the smaller and larger player counts I would say that there is more fun at the higher end of the 6 maximum players as opposed to the 3-player game. This is simply because there are more hands to compete against and the suspense is greater in seeing a higher number of hidden cards revealed.
I am sad to be letting this one go but it simply didn’t get enough play over the past 6 years to keep it any longer (my fault and not the games'). Perhaps I should have created a monthly Chicago Poker meet-up each month. That would have been a good time.
Till next we meet may you keep the perfect Poker-face. Good luck schweeetheart!
Image Courtesy of binraix
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- Last edited Tue May 20, 2014 11:38 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue May 20, 2014 8:03 am
Dave's Running Club
Great review Neil.
I confess I'm most intrigued by the box art - the gentleman is a dead ringer for Cary Grant, and the female on the right looks a lot like Clara Bow. Can't pick the blonde though.
Jesus loves you..... Cthulhu thinks you taste like chicken !
Great review Neil.
I confess I'm most intrigued by the box art - the gentleman is a dead ringer for Cary Grant
, and the female on the right looks a lot like Clara Bow
. Can't pick the blonde though.
Shirley Maclaine perhaps?
Yes a great review, thanks.
- Last edited Thu Aug 28, 2014 9:57 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Thu Aug 28, 2014 9:55 pm