19 October 2013

King of Chicago [Boardgame review]

Anders from our club introduced me to King of Chicago last weekend, first time I had heard of the game but it turned out to be quite good. The setting for the game is Chicago during the prohibition, each player taking on the role of a crime boss who attempts to carve out territory and power in the city.

The game is won by accumulating 10 influence/power points, power points are awarded to a crime boss for owning the most territory in Chicago, for various businesses he may own and  for every two gangsters in his retinue.

King of Chicago is a pretty straight forward game but it offers a lot of fun and backstabbing as players attempt to take control of the streets. In order to control Chicago each player has a bunch of agents at his disposal, a car, gangsters, turf and resource tokens.

The car is the most important piece as it is used to move around on the board, without it you cannot grab new territory, transport gangsters from one location to the next, gather any resources or set up a business. It is an enormous setback to have the car trashed in a firefight as that neutralizes you for the rest of the current turn.

Gangsters randomly generated each turn by players drawing cards from a deck. Each player starts with a single gangster, but it is worth spending some cash in order to recruit additional muscle. Gangsters come in three categories, offensive, defensive or bonus abilities. Offensive gangsters are best to use to trash enemy cars, attack enemy businesses or characters. Defensive gangsters are best to leave in a business for protection, or have him ride along in the car to increase durability and combat value of the vehicle. The bonus ability gangsters suck at combat but may provide you with resources or money through their special rules each turn. Gangsters can be injured or even killed in a fight, in which case they go to the hospital or the graveyard. Losing a gangster to the hospital is a bit of a pain in the ass since you have to use your car to travel all the way down to the hospital and pick him up in order to use him again. This action takes away opportunity to do other stuff that directly improve your chances of victory. But without gangsters you are very vulnerable.

Turf tokens is a free (but limited) resource type that each player has, as an action your car may claim turf on the board (marked with grey boxes). Owning turf gives you a bit of money per marker on the table, but more importantly, the player with most turf gets a +1 to his victory points. The turf markers are not invincible or permanent, on the contrary they are very vulnerable. A player may claim a piece of turf belonging to another player by driving up with his car, pay some cash and take over the location - swapping the turf token for his own color. The Police may also be used to clean up turf tokens and remove them from the table, but more about the Police later.

Then finally we have the resource tokens, which come in three categories; Booze, Girls, and Henchmen. Resources are randomly spawned on the board at the end of each turn when players draw cards from the stack. You collect resources by driving up to them with your car. Resources are needed in order to build various businesses (bar, brothel, casino). A business generates money at the end of each turn but more importantly it provides victory points to the owner. The larger the business the more victory points. It is as such important to protect your business with gangsters, and a good idea to mess up or capture the business belonging to an opponent.

Now a regular turn of King of Chicago is divided into 4 action sequences, where each player takes a turn moving his car around on the board - and performing one of various actions such as starting a business, claiming turf etc. Once all 4 action sequences are finished the game progresses to the trading turn. Here each player receives cash from his turf and businesses and players then draw cards from the King of Chicago deck.

The deck consists of events/missions, gangsters and resource placement cards. Players take turn drawing cards, placing resources on the correct locations on the board, placing gangsters up for bidding and keep any mission/event cards they may find. This card sequence follows a specific structure, each player draws cards and places resources until he draws a gangster. Once you draw a gangster you discard any further resource cards and gangster cards until you draw an event or mission card. In case you drew a gangster or mission card before you drew resources then no resources are placed by you and the next player in line starts to draw cards. This sequence makes it so that the exact number of resources placed on the board is random, but also limits the number of gangsters up for recruitment each turn to the number of players taking part in the game.

Once all players have finished drawing cards, they begin their bids for the generated gangsters.  When all gangsters have been recruited/or discarded players now attempt to bribe the Police. The Police is a powerful tool in the game and well worth the money you spend on them. The player who wins the bribing gets to control the Police car in all 4 action sequences next turn.

The Police moves faster than regular cars, it may be used to close down a business for the remainder of the turn (this means no income from that business!), remove turf tokens, remove resource tokens or throw gangsters into jail. Controlling the Police effectively gives you two actions in each sequence (your own gangsters and the cops). Sometimes it is well worth bribing the Police just prevent being messed with the next turn. At the end of the turn however, the Police returns to the Police station and players have to place new bids to bribe cops and take control over the patrol car.

King of Chicago is a pretty easy game to get into, the turn sequence and limited actions lend itself to hard decisions and gambling with actions. It is a conflict oriented game where players need to attack each other on the board but the game is also open for trading and alliances between players if they want to team up temporarily.

It's a game with enough finesse and theme to make it enjoyable, I think the recommended number of players is 4+, you can play it with fewer players but then it makes it too easy. The more crowded the table, the more action and conflict over the limited resources and space there will be. King of Chicago is perhaps not a natural first choice of a game for a boardgame evening if you have to pick a single game, but it lends itself well to be part of a boardgame day/afternoon where you want to get a couple of different boardgames played.

It's a solid 7/10

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