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Welcome to the roaring twenties! The players represent notorious gangster bosses in the heyday of organized crime in Chicago. They try to take control of the main legal and illegal sources of profit -- speakeasies, gambling houses, jazz clubs, and breweries / distilleries. In order to achieve this, each player sends his gangsters to intimidate the owners of these businesses. Most of the businesses even change ownership at the gambling table! The first player to either take control 3 businesses of the same kind, 4 different businesses or any 5 businesses, is the winner in Chicago Poker!
Chicago Poker (Mayfair Games, 2007 - Bruno Cathala & Bruno Faidutti) has a few world-weary people on the cover, looking as if they are simply waiting for the game to end. On the other hand, seeing the pair o' Bruno's as designers excited me, and I know that the poker mechanic has been used to great effect in games. I was quite surprised then, when I found that the game played closer to what I would imagine multiplayer Battleline to be. Yes, the game uses poker hands for scoring, but it was more about playing the correct combination of cards at the right place.
The theme is that of gangsters in the Roaring Twenties, and it works fairly well with the game; but it's mostly just a light game of placing cards down, trying to outbluff and outwit your opponents. While it has similarities to Battleline, it's not as refined; yet I had a lot of fun with the game and think it will see a good amount of play. Games are quick, the chaos that Faidutti brings to games is certainly evident, and the whole affair is one of light, amusing play.
The game revolves around business tiles – each player taking the role of a gangster from the area attempting to control these tiles. The tiles are hexagons, and players are going to play cards from their hands on one of the sides that pertain to them. A deck of cards is shuffled, and each player is dealt five cards for their starting hand. The business tiles are shuffled; and two to four of them, depending on number of players, are dealt face up on the table. Four bullet markers are placed on the table, and one player is chosen to go first.
On the first player's turn, they take one action – either playing or drawing a card. The second player then takes two actions (any mix of playing or drawing), and every player after that takes three actions per turn. When drawing cards, players must make sure that they have a maximum of seven cards in their hand at the END of their turn. When playing a card, the player may play it on any of the business tiles on the board. A player may have a maximum of five cards per business tile. Each type of business has cards played in a different fashion. Speakeasy – First two cards are played face down; last three are played face up. Jazz Club – First three cards are played face up; last two are played face down. Gambling House – First card played face up, alternating after that. Brewery – All cards are played face up.
When any player places their fifth card at a location, a bullet token is placed on the tile, showing that a "shootout" will happen at the beginning of their next turn. When this happens, all face down cards are revealed; and players see who has the best array of cards at the site, even if they have less than five there. Hand value is pretty much identical to that of regular poker, except that there are five suits (green, blue, red, yellow, and green), and the values go from "1" to "15". The player with the highest hand wins the business tile, and all cards played are discarded; and a new business tile is drawn to take the place of the card.
A few special cards can be played to affect the game, although a variant plays the game without them. These allow a player to take two extra actions or take a card from the discard pile, or move cards from one business to another, or look at hidden cards of another player, or discard one card another player put down. The game continues until one player either has won three businesses of the same kind, one of each of the four types, or five total businesses. This player has then won the game!
Some comments on the game...
Chicago Poker isn't attempting to be a variant of Poker, or a successor; rather it's simply a card placement game that uses poker hands to determine area control victory. But that's enough to keep it refreshing as a light, entertaining game. The theme is fun, and players can use all the cheesy lines they've heard in movies while encouraging others to stop so-and-so, since they're winning! And at half an hour a game, it's quick, enjoyable entertainment. I may not be able to keep a good Poker face; but that's okay in this game, since I'm grinning much of the time.
"Real men play board games"
First, let me state flatly that I am NOT a fan of poker. The game just doesn’t excite me, and the bluffing that folks say is critical to success in the game is a skill I just have never properly learned. I don’t necessarily dislike the game, but it just doesn’t do anything for me. Thus, in spite of the impressive “Chicago speakeasy” booth decorations, I wasn’t terribly excited when Phalanx and Mayfair Games premiered Chicago Poker at the Spiel in Essen, Germany.
The latest collaboration between well-known French designers Bruno Cathala and Bruno Faidutti, Chicago Poker adds a few twists on the familiar card game. Players assume the role of famous gangsters and battle to control various speakeasies, gambling houses, jazz clubs and breweries, with the victor being the player with the best poker hand. The poker rules enforced by each establishment vary, however, each requiring different methods by which cards are played. Some require a mixture of face-up and face-down cards, while others require one or the other. In addition, the dastardly card sharks can employ an assortment of resources and tactics to tilt games in their favor, including bribes, weapons, police raids and even forced liquidations. There is no honor amongst gangsters!
The establishments over which players will fight for control come in the four aforementioned varieties, each being represented by a hexagon tile. The difference between them is the manner in which cards must be played. For example, the green breweries require the first two cards of each player’s hand to be played face-down, with the final three being played face-up. On the other hand, the tan jazz clubs require the first three cards to be played face-up, with the remaining two face-down. These variations of card play do give players some information, and helps make game play more varied and interesting.
The deck of cards contains five suits, each valued 1 – 15. In addition, there are six special cards, which allow the players to alter the heretofore friendly proceedings. Players are dealt an initial hand of five cards. Each turn, a player takes exactly three actions, which can include drawing and/or playing cards. A player’s hand limit is seven cards, so hoarding in order to improve one’s chances of gathering a winning hand is difficult.
Cards may be played to multiple establishments, and are placed on the hex side corresponding to the player’s character. Special cards are not placed onto an establishment, but their power takes effect immediately. These cards allow a variety of special actions, including the switching of cards between establishments, the revealing of face-down cards, discarding an opponent’s card, or even searching the discard pile for a desired card.
When a player places his fifth card onto an establishment, it is marked with a bullet and a shootout will commence at the beginning of that player’s next turn. This gives every player one more opportunity to place cards on that establishment, if they desire. A shootout is simply revealing all cards on an establishment and determining which player has the best poker hand. Standard poker hierarchies are observed, with the addition of two special hands: Chicago poker (five-of-a-kind) and the Rainbow straight (a straight consisting of five different suits). The victorious player claims the tile, which is replaced with a new one.
The game ends when one player captures either:
The length of the game is dependent upon the number of players, with all of my games playing to completion in 45 minutes to an hour. The game can be shortened by altering the victory conditions as specified in the rules.
While the game hasn’t improved my taste for standard poker, I do enjoy this clever variation. There’s more going on here than in standard poker, as players have to keep their eye on numerous establishments. One cannot effectively compete for each establishment, however, so a wise player will choose his battles carefully, with an eye on achieving one of the victory conditions. The ability to work on multiple hands at once as you play cards to various establishments does give a player more options and opportunities to build competitive hands. Plus, the fact that some cards are played face-up does give some insight into the possible hands of one’s opponents without completely removing the bluff elements.
Poker purists will likely not enjoy Chicago Poker, as it does significantly alter the game. However, in my opinion, it also makes it more “friendly” and easier to play, yet still maintains some of the key elements of the traditional card game. Whereas I will usually fold when presented with the chance to play standard poker, I’ll go “all-in” when Chicago Poker is the option.