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I picked this game up before I got truly hooked on card and board games (Wizard was the game that really set it all off!). Chicago Cribbage is a decent addition to a card gamer's collection, though, as it is very easy to learn and adds a bit of spice to cribbage - which, in my opinion, is one of those games that seems to get "same old, same old" after repeated plays.
Opening the package
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Chicago Cribbage is not a standalone game - instead it is an expansion pack for good old cribbage. You will need a board and pegs, as well as knowledge of how to play cribbage (traditional cribbage rules are not included). Chicago Cribbage comes with a tiny instruction manual: it is smaller than a playing card! The actual "how to play" section of the manual is three tiny pages long, the rest of the manual devotes a single page to each special card and another page to a picture of each special card. That's it.
You also get a standard deck of playing cards, although they are far prettier than any that I've seen. The quality of the cards is quite high; they seem to be lightly laminated and textured. The face cards are interesting, as they have pictures of gangsters instead of Kings and Queens (although the Jacks are all identical aside from the colour of the background).
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Each player gets:
2 Deal Again cards
2 Cut Again cards
1 Reverse Counting card
1 Trade Hands card
1 No Fifteens card
The cards are pretty self-explanatory, but there are some guidelines which must be followed in terms of when a card can be used:
Deal Again cards can only be used immediately following the deal.
All other special cards can only be used immediately following the cut.
Deal Again cards start the round over again.
Cut Again cards are used to demand a re-cut, although if a player had turned up a Jack, he still pegs two points. This is the only card which can be used more than once in a single round.
Reverse Counting cards force one's opponents to count backwards for their hands and the crib. This does not apply to the pegging round. This card is very dangerous because it doesn't affect the person who played the card (or his partner in a multiplayer game)!!
Trade Hands cards are used to - you guessed it - trade hands with an opponent. All cards in a hand must be traded, but the crib is not traded. The card can only be used once in a round, so an opponent can't just play another card in order to trade the cards back.
No fifteens is a card that can be deadly at the wrong time! Once this card is played, fifteens are not counted for the whole round - not when scoring hands, not when scoring the crib, not during the pegging round! How could this card be even more dangerous? Here's how: ALL players are affected by this card, including the person who played it. Obviously, one would want to play this when he has a brutal hand with no fifteens.
Thankfully, there are little descriptions on the special cards which outline these rules, so it is easy to know exactly when one can and cannot play a card.
How to play
At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt a set of seven special cards (listed above). There are four sets of these cards in green, purple, red and blue colours. Each player is given the option of playing a special card (going around the table starting from the left of the dealer) which is placed into a discard pile. No player is forced to use a card; he or she can choose to pass. The dealer has the advantage of being the last person to play a special card. The discarded cards are left face up for the round and only turned over once the round has finished.
After the players have either played a special card or passed, they begin pegging and the round progresses as in a traditional game of cribbage.
Deck quality - It feels like a nicer deck than any other that I use. They seem quite slick while shuffling and I haven't had a problem with cards sticking to each other.
Learning curve - If you've got cribbage figured out, this is pretty easy. If you forget, notable instructions are printed on the top of the special cards.
Theme - Aside from the pictures on the cards, there's really no feeling that anything "gangster-ish" is happening. Do gangsters even *play* cribbage?? Maybe I need to smoke a cigar while I play or something.
Fun - This one was sort of hard to gauge... if I compare it to traditional cribbage, it gets four or four-and-a-half stars. If I compare it to all of the other games I have, such as Wizard or boardgames like Pandemic, it gets a 2.5 or so. Everything's relative, right?
Overall - If I'm going to play a quick game of cribbage, I'll probably stick with the traditional game (no need to teach anybody extra rules or refresh Chicago rules). If I want to play a handful of games, I'll play Chicago Cribbage. If I have my choice of games to play, it'll probably be something else in my collection unless I've got an itch that only cribbage can scratch.