Review of Chicago Poker

Review Summary
Comped Playtest Review
Written Review

December 5, 2007


by: Shannon Appelcline


Style: 4 (Classy & Well Done)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)

A fun card-playing game where you play several simultaneous Poker hands, balancing your cards carefully.

Shannon Appelcline has written 681 reviews (including 203 card game reviews), with average style of 4.03 and average substance of 3.85. The reviewer's previous review was of The Market of Alturien.

This review has been read 3872 times.

 
Product Summary
Name: Chicago Poker
Publisher: Phalanx, Mayfair
Author: Bruno Faidutti, Bruno Cathala
Category: Card Game

Cost: $35.00
Year: 2007

SKU: PHA-US.CPO01


Review of Chicago Poker
Chicago Poker is a Poker-like card-playing game by Bruno Cathala and Bruno Faidutti, published by Phalanx Games and distributed in the United States by Mayfair.

Players: 2-6
Playing Time: 45 minutes

The Components

Chicago Poker comes with cards, hexes to play those cards around, and bullets.

Cards: 87 medium-weight linen-textured cards. These include 75 gangster cards, 6 special cards, and 6 rules summary cards.

The gangster cards make up the heart of the game. They each depict a gangster (actually, a silverscreen star Photoshopped into gangster duds, which looks quite nice) against a colored background. The cards are all quite attractive, but unfortunately their values (1-15) are done in the same color as the background, and have been further obscured with bevelling, making them hard to read from across the table (though perfectly clear in your hand).

The 6 special cards feature pictures with no explanations of what they do, but we were able to remember them within a few rounds of play.

The 6 summary cards remind you of your color (and name) and also include a listing of Poker hands on one side and a listing of special cards and victory conditions on the other; they're quite useful to have.

Hexes: The Chicago locations that you're trying to control. Again, they feature attractive Photoshopped artwork. They come in four different types, each differentiated by color and by how you play the cards to the location. Each side of each hex is labeled with a name, telling the players where they should play their own cards to.

(You play all the hexes with the same orientation, so that everyone always plays in the same direction.)

Bullets: Four wooden bullets, which are neat-looking components.

Overall the components of Chicago Poker are very attractive and good quality. The fact that it's hard to read the card values from across the table is their only deficit, but it's notable enough to keep the game from a perfect score. It nonetheless earns "4" out of "5" for Style.

The Gameplay

The object of Chicago Poker is to take over the businesses of Chicago ... through clever card play.

Setup: The gangster (and special) cards are shuffled, and each player is dealt five. Two to four businesses are laid out.

Order of Play: On his turn a player gets three actions which may be used to recruit gangsters and exert influence.

Recruit Gangster: This means you draw a card. You can't have more thean seven cards in your hand at the end of your turn.

Exert Influence: This means you play a card.

Gangster cards are numbered 1-15 in five different colors. They are played to the businesses of Chicago, eventually forming 5-card (or less) Poker hands. A card must either be placed face-down or face-up, per the rules of the business. For example at a Gambling House you play every other card face-down. At a speak-easy the first two cards are played face down. At a distillery everything is face-up.

When any player plays a fifth card this initiates a shoot-out. This is marked by a bullet being played atop the cards. This keeps the cards safe from various special cards, and also means that each other player has one last turn to play cards to the business.

Special Cards. There are six special cards, which allow the active player to remove other cards, move his own cards, look at face-down cards, take an extra action, or take a card from the discard pile. They're played, then discarded, rather than being played to a business.

Shoot Outs: A "shoot out" occurs on the turn after a player played the fifth card to a business. All cards at the business are revealed, and the player with the best Poker hand wins. Note that though a five-card Poker hand is required to start a Shoot Out, fewer cards could win. For example, if a player had a five-card hand involving two pairs, a player who had just played three cards which were a three-of-a-kind would win.

The Poker hands are mostly normal, except the introduction of a fifth suit creates two new hand types. A "rainbow straight" is a five-color straight with one of each color. It ranks just below a straight flush. Five of a kind is called "Chicago Poker" and is the best Poker hand.

After a shoot out the winning player takes the business, and a new business is played from the draw pile.

Winning the Game: There are twenty businesses total, divided into four types. A player wins if he has three of the same business, four different types of businesses, or any five businesses.

Relationships to Other Games

As a card game that uses Poker hands to determine victory, Chicago Poker shares characteristics with a number of other games, but nonetheless remains fairly unique. It's somewhat like Reiner Knizia's Battle Line (aka Shotten Totten), which similarly lets you play several Poker hands simultaneously. The other notable game in this category is Havoc: The Hundred Years War, which I generally feel is a somewhat heavier and more serious game, because it plays a bit longer, but also allows more control over what cards you get and when you play them.

Chicago Poker also shares a notable element with Bruno Faidutti's own Corruption, which also involves some cards being played face-down, thus supporting bluffing.

The Game Design

Overall, Chicago Poker is a fast and enjoyable card game. Faidutti and Cathala do a good job of using the Poker valuation mechanism to create a game with very different gameplay than the traditional card game.

One of the true joys of this game that makes it stand out is the bluffing. With some of your cards hidden, there's a lot of potential to imply that you have a better hand than you do. If you do it in such a way that it's too expensive for other players to check things out, you could well win a business very cheap.

Beyond that, the play is pretty standard for this type of game. You can engage in a bit of strategy as you try and juggle cards between a few different hands simultaneously, but that only works if no one is pushing any of your businesses to completion ... and generally its to a player's benefit to make a quick run to five cards if he can get out ahead of his opponents.

Because of this, there is a notable element of randomness; when businesses are being completed quickly, card draw has a large influence. It also tends to push the game to be more tactical, as you try and figure out what the best moves are for the cards that you drew. However, given these criteria, Chicago Poker is a fine game. I've given it a "4" out of "5" for Substance.

Conclusion

Chicago Poker is an enjoyable light card-play game that allows for lots of interesting tactical play as you try and juggle the best cards between a few different simultaneous Poker hands.

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