In Chicago Poker, players are gangster bosses in 1920s Chicago trying to control various businesses. While the title implies that this is a poker variation, its similarities to that game are pretty weak. Chicago Poker does have a good deal of bluffing, but poker hands are used to win control of businesses rather than for betting.
Picture courtesy of Mayfair Games
The components are of average quality. Twenty large hexagonal tiles represent businesses. These are a little flimsy. There is a deck of Gangsters cards valued 1-15 in each of five colors. These each depict portraits of gangsters that look to be from old movies. While they look nice, the numbers can be a little hard to read as some of them blend in too much with the background. The cards are a little thin but they have a nice, linen-weave finish and seem to be holding up fine to repeated plays. Mixed in with this deck will be some special action cards. Summary cards explain the special cards as well as the ranking for the various types of poker hands. This is much appreciated by those of us not very familiar with poker.
My favorite bits are the four wooden, silver bullets that serve as "shootout" markers. These are a nice thematic touch.
The rules are only four pages long and nicely illustrated with examples. They are very clearly written.
When a business is resolved after a player has played five cards, all cards next to the business are revealed and the player with the highest ranked hand takes the tile. All the cards played on the business are discarded. A new business tile is drawn to replace the one taken.
Given the designers of Chicago Poker, it should be no surprise that there are some special action cards to throw a little chaos into the game. These are not played on businesses but instead discarded when played after applying the effect. They all have thematic names like Limousine, which allows you to move up to four of your cards from one business to another, and Revolver, which give you two extra actions. Bribery allows you to take a card from the discard pile, Liquidation allows you to remove another player's card, and Police Raid allows you to peek at the facedown cards of another player. I particularly found the Limousine to be useful if I was certain that I was going to lose a particular business. I could move the cards rather than lose them when the tile was resolved.
The game ends and a player wins if he has met one of the following conditions:
Obviously, there is a lot of luck in this game but the fun is to try to bluff with a bad hand and pull off a win at a business. Some players also feel that the action cards make the game too chaotic. In fact, some have suggested leaving them out of the game entirely. I disagree strongly as I think that they add to the theme and allow some clever plays. One in particular though, Police Raid, seems a little weak and having to use an action to get it out of your hand to make way for another card is annoying.
A major criticism that I do have is that the game does seem to drag with more players. For this reason, I enjoy it more with just three or four. With two, the game is not as interesting as there are two business tiles on the table at a time, giving each player a tile on which to concentrate. With more, there is one business less than the number of players and that increases the competition. Too many players though, and you're contemplating the cracks on the ceiling before it gets around to your turn again.
While I wouldn't call Chicago Poker a great game, I have enjoyed playing it. The name was a bit of a turn-off as I'm not a fan of Poker, but I was happy to find that the resemblance to that game is minimal. I'm not sure yet if Chicago Poker has the staying power to keep in my collection for a long time, but for now it is a good choice for casual and family gamers or as a longer filler for our game nights.
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