Chicago Poker
A game by Bruno Faidutti and Bruno Cathala
Published by Phalanx Games and distributed in the US by Mayfair Games, Inc.
Players: 3-5
Time: 30 minutes
Reviewed by Susan Rozmiarek
Chicago Poker

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.

Game play:
The business tiles and gangster cards are each shuffled to form facedown draw piles. Players receive a summary card that identifies which boss they are and then they are dealt a starting hand of five cards. A number of business tiles are drawn from the stack and placed face up on the table depending on the number of players. Players take turns that consist of doing three actions. The actions to choose from are either drawing a card from the pile (recruiting a gangster) or playing a card (exerting influence). The player does his three actions in any order. There is a hand limit of seven cards.

Chicago Poker components
The goal is to "win" the business tiles by playing the best poker hand of five cards on the tiles. Each tile has the bosses' names listed around the edges. When a player chooses to play a card, he places it next to his boss' name on the tile and forms his own column as he places cards. When any one player has played five cards on a single business, a bullet token is placed on it to signify that this business will be resolved (a shootout) when it gets back around to that player's turn again, giving the other players a chance to react accordingly. Much bluffing comes into play because some cards are played face-up and others are placed facedown, depending on the type of business. For example, with a gambling house, the first, third and fifth card played by a player are face up, while the second and fourth are face down. With a speakeasy, the first two are facedown and the last three are face-up and so on. Each type of business is different.

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:

  • controls three businesses of the same type
  • controls four different kinds of businesses
  • controls any five businesses


Chicago Poker components
This game reminds me a lot of the simple two-player Knizia game, Schotten-Totten, with more players and chrome added. There is more bluffing in Chicago Poker since you can only partially see what cards others have played on the businesses and I particularly enjoyed this aspect of the game. The hand limit forces you to play cards rather than hoard them in order to try and build the best possible hand. Often you'll have to risk committing cards to a business early in the hope that you draw the needed cards to complete it later. There are too many businesses on the table to battle for all of them, so you'll have to choose to focus on just a few at a time. The differing victory conditions make this a more interesting choice.

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.

Chicago Poker in play

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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