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London, United Kingdom
A mythical beast - a female wargamer! I got back into wargaming in the summer of 2011 after a very, very long break. My current interests are Ancients, ACW, 30YW and SciFi gaming.

Friday, 22 April 2016

AAR - Solo Test Game of The Chicago Way

I had been intending to write a "read through" review of The Chicago Way. I had even started doing so. Then today I had a thought. Why not play a solo game? It might cheer me up as I've been off sick with what seems to be 'flu for a couple of days. A quick check on the website for Great Escape Games showed me that they have posted PDFs of the markers, roster sheets and QRS, which I promptly downloaded (and cut out the markers and driving template). I then set up some terrain on my (currently clear) painting desk and checked the scenarios in the back of the rules, deciding on "The Massacre" as the best option. I then filled out a pair of roster sheets and sorted out the figures and dice I'd need.

However, let's skip back to a quick rules review before we start on the AAR. The rules have been developed from their already successful Dead Man's Hand, although there are some differences and additions.

This is what you get in the basic rules package:

  • 48 page soft-cover, full-colour rulebook
  • Deck of cards
  • A3 campaign map of Chicago
  • Photographer figure (only available for early buyers?)
Great Escape Games also sell a range of figures, vehicles, terrain (from 4Ground) and MDF markers and driving templates to go with the game. Judging by the photographer, the figures will fit well with the Blue Moon, Dixon and Pulp Figures ranges; slightly shorter than Copplestone; bigger than Brigade Games.

The rules are well laid out and mostly clear. There were a couple of things that either weren't clear or which needed reference to other sections.

What you will need to play:

  • The rules, obviously
  • The cards
  • Dice - a few D20s and a D10 each
  • Markers & template - either the MDF ones or you can print the download on card and cut them out
  • Figures - you don't need many to start with; the game is designed for 3-15 models per gang
  • Terrain - buildings, etc to provide cover and block LOS
  • Vehicles - not absolutely necessary for most scenarios, but they do make the game look better and can provide cover
  • Playing space - you can get away with 2' x 2' for some scenarios, up to 4' x 4'

Initiative/Activation order is determined by cards. Each player has a deck of 23 cards - all the red/black 2-10 cards and joker, plus the Jack, Queen, King and Ace of their faction's suit (hearts = prohibition agents; diamonds = cops; spades = moonshiners; clubs = gangsters). The face value of the cards is used to determine initiative/activation order for the models - aces are high, jokers are normally low*. Where two or more cards have the same face value, the tie is broken by rolling D20s.

* If a player's model has the joker for activation it can go last for the full three actions or interrupt the sequence at any point and take two actions.

Each card also has the text for a special effect. For the 2-10 cards these are the same across the suits; the effects for the picture cards and jokers are specific to their faction.

Some cards also have a car symbol with a number in it. These can be used to remove "under fire" markers from vehicles which have been shot at.

Each player first draws a number of cards as determined by the scenario from their deck - these form their "hand". The cards in the hand can be played for their special effect or to remove hit markers from vehicles. Be careful though - you can only replace one card if you have used any during the turn, so if you play more than one in a given turn you will have a reduced hand for the rest of the game.

Each player then draws one card from the deck and places it face up next to a model. The rest of the activation cards are drawn and placed face down until each model has one. If you have a vehicle with models in it, an extra card is drawn. Once all activation cards have been drawn, they are turned face up. Players with vehicles can then assign the cards to the models in them and discard the extra card. There are certain special effect cards and faction special abilities allow you to either redraw your cards or reassign them between models.

Right, back to the AAR. As I told you earlier, I'd decided on "The Massacre" as the scenario for this test game. I also decided that it would be cops v gangsters. To keep things simple, both gangs were identical - a boss/captain, a hitman/sergeant, 3 hoodlums/officers and two thugs/rookies. All were armed with pistols apart from the hitman and sergeant who had pump action shotguns.

Starting positions

The gangsters have a special rule which allows them to move any one model after all have been placed to any other point on the table at least 20cm away from an opponent model.

The gangsters' first hand cards

The cops' first hand cards

Initiative/activation cards all drawn

Revealed - the cops

Revealed - the gangsters
 There were actually several ties for activation order which had to be resolved by rolling dice.

First activation went to this rookie cop who moved twice and shot at the gangster behind the sacks, missing by miles

Next to activate was this punk who moved forward, shot...

...at long range and hit

The sergeant moved twice and shot at point blank rang. After all the modifiers the roll was a 19 - instant kill.

For this gangster I played this hand card which allowed a free shot before declaring actions. He then took three more shots, all at the sergeant...

...who had to take a nerve test, failing miserably... 

...and picking up another hit marker which took him out of the game

This gangster took aimed shots at the rookie and scored an instant kill

I don't recall who shot the gangster, but the boss decided to lead from the front

The hitman rushed forward into cover and fired his pump action - natural "1"; it jammed

As did this cop's pistol

As the last gangster was activated the cops played this hand card...

...and placed a civvie in the rear of the gangsters
 Onto turn two...
The cops played this hand card at the start of turn 2 - that's no civvie, it's another rookie copper...

...who was eager to take down some mobsters

The gangsters played this hand card as this cop moved forward towards cover, ending his activation in the open

New rookie scores his first kill...

...but a dirty rotten crook darts forward and shoots him in the back...

...before darting back into cover

The captain comes forward to take a shot at the hitman...

...even with modifiers that's still an instant kill

...and the hitman bites the dust
 And that was turn two, onto turn three...

...after a quick carnage review!

The boss was the first to activate...

..deciding that his skin was worth more than taking on the cops head on, but they followed him...

The captain's pistol jammed

This gangster had the joker and chose to interrupt. He aimed and shot, killing the nearest cop

Meanwhile a cop darts forward and takes out the mob boss

Dirty rotten crook tried the same trick again...

But the rookie was prepared for him - the cops laid this hand card...

...and this one, meaning his turn was ended as his two shots were wasted

This cop came up to help the rookie out, scoring a hit

and the rookie makes it final, scoring his second kill..

..then makes a move to shoot at the final gangster, but rolls a 1 and his pistol jams!

I'd forgotten to take a "big nerve test for the gangsters when the boss died, but remembered for this one - he passed...

...and decided he needed some soft cover, so played this hand card

...to no avail - a cop slipped past to get an open LOS and shot him dead

The final tally:
Cops - 3 dead from eight
Gangsters - gone to the great speakeasy in the sky

The three turns took me about 2 hours to play, but I imagine games would play much quicker with more than one player and without me stopping regularly to take pics, check rules or look things up on the QRS. A lot of the mechanics were easily picked up and didn't need further reference. I might have forgotten a couple of modifiers, but I don't think they affected any results.

My Impressions After This Solo Test

These rules are good fun. The game mechanics work well and make for an interesting game. There are a couple of rules which could do with clarification. It's not clear whether when drawing and placing activation cards after the first (face up) one if you are allowed to look at them first before placing them face down next to your models. I ended up just assigning them randomly without looking. Perhaps someone who has played Dead Man's Hand could confirm which method is correct?

The cards and markers, although small, do still add to the clutter on the table. However, you could create your own roster sheet and place the cards with the relevant model's stats, which would help with clutter, but it would make it less instantly obvious which models are due to activate when. Maybe somebody could produce some MDF chits with the relevant face values? You could use those on the table and have a reference sheet for the special effects.

I should note that I deliberately avoided using some of the game mechanisms like ducking back/quick shots when being targeted.

I'll definitely be playing these rules again.

Some Cons
Currently you can only get the card deck with the rules, although it should ab available separately at some point (as they've done with Dead Man's Hand). This is particularly annoying if you have more than one player wanting to play the same faction (who doesn't want to play gangster v gangster?) which means that you will need to buy one set of rules for each player to have enough decks.

Edit - the cards are now available separately at a cost of £10

Rules clarity - some aren't clear, but might be if you've played Dead Man's Hand. For instance, it took a little bit of deduction to determine how each player's deck gets 23 cards - the text in the rules doesn't mention that you get the 2-10 cards of both red/black suits. Also, it might have made sense in the combat section to note that when a model has "under fire" markers equal to its Hits it is "out of action".A third thing that was unclear was whether non-cover terrain (eg lamp posts) counts toward obscuring LOS - the text only refers to models which are partly within the LOS.

Clutter - the markers for movement, hits and out of ammo/jam aren't too obtrusive, especially as you get 1, 2 and 3 markers that are the same size. The cards on the other hand are more obtrusive as I mentioned earlier. I guess it's livable with though, but does affect the visual appeal.

Back to discussing some of the rules.

Activation - each model when activated (normally) has 3 actions*. There are five action types -
Move - up to 10cm per action and up to 8cm vertically. It's not clear if that is in combination, eg moving 10cm horizontally up stairs/slope with 8cm climbed. Any help from DMH players?
It also includes entering/exiting vehicles, driving moves and entering hand-to-hand combat.
Aim - allows you to take an aimed shot for a +1 bonus to your shots this turn (if your weapon allows)
Shoot - pretty obvious. The number of times you can fire per turn depends on your weapon.
Reload/Unjam/Change Weapon - does exactly what it says on the tin
Recover - you can remove 1 "under fire" marker per Recover, provided you aren't "out of action"

There are a number of ways that you can interrupt the sequence of play. If one of your models is being shot at, and hasn't yet activated, you can "burn" that model's activation to duck back or take a quick shot. Similarly, if your model is in the path of a moving vehicle and hasn't activated you can burn the activation to duck back out of the way or stand your ground and take a shot - however, you will need to pass a nerve test to do either. If your model has already been activated though, it can't d either and will (probably) get run over.
You can also interrupt the activation order with certain hand cards or if one of your models has the Joker for activation.

Easy-peasy - if you have LOS and aren't jammed/out of ammo you can shoot. Roll a D20 (two for both shotgun barrels; 3 for tommy guns at point blank range). Then apply modifiers for the shooter and the target. Natural "1" means the weapon jams; 1-10 = miss; 11-14 = hit, 1 "under fire" marker; 15-18 = hit, under fire marker and nerve test; 19+ = out of action (instant kill).

Nerve Tests
There are two types - individual and gang (Big Nerve Test). Both involve rolling a D10.
Individual nerve tests are taken when the model is shot at and the modified roll is 15-18. If there are any "under fire markers" each gives a -1 modifier; if any friendly models are within 15cm a single +1 modifier is given. If the modified die roll equals or exceeds the model's Nerve, they are fine; if they fail they take an additional "under fire" marker.
The Big Nerve Test is taken when your gang has taken more than 50% casualties. Again a D10 is rolled, modified by -1 for each model lost beyond the 50%. The roll is against the best (ie lowest) Nerve of the remaining models. If you pass, the game continues; if you fail you call it quits.
Where the number of "under fire" markers on your gang is at least double the number of models remaining, the Big Nerve Test is automatically failed.

I haven't played the Hand To Hand or Vehicle rules, so I'll skip past those.

Each model has 5 characteristics - Hits, Nerve, Shoot, HTH, Drive. The rules contain tables of base character types for each faction. These also tell you how many of each type your (initial) gang can have, the cost and any weapon options (sometimes at extra cost). You also have listed the special rules for each faction.

OK, I'll admit it. This post has been a bit of a stream of consciousness rambling and not as well structured as I might have liked, but it will do the job. Summing it all up - the rules give a good, fun game but could do with some clarification in places.


  1. Hopefully someone else has played and can help you with the placing of activation cards. Tim games and half the stuff I really don't understand, but I do understand that he LOVES dice.

    Do you have a large collection of dice, too?

    And lastly but really firstly, feel better SOON!

  2. Great review, I like card activation systems, the joker rule seems an interesting take on it.



  3. Thanks that was a great review. I've been looking for a set of ganster rules.

  4. Comprehensive review, nice work! The first initiative card is looked at and assigned to a chosen model. Following initiative cards are given blind to your other models.

  5. Comprehensive review, nice work! The first initiative card is looked at and assigned to a chosen model. Following initiative cards are given blind to your other models.

  6. Sounds a great game. I have Dead Mans Hand and we like to play that


  7. Looks interesting, I shall source a copy. Only bit I don't like the sound of is the card clutter..

  8. Apart from the clutter like you said it sounded good!

  9. Now Knowing it is similar mechanics to dead mans hand, parts of which I liked and parts I did not. I will ponder longer on a possible purchase. I personally like rule systems to be different for each period other wise games become generic and it just comes down to what figures to use. Some people may love that approach, personally for me not a big fan.
    Thanks Tamsin I have learnt much from this review.

  10. That was an interesting report. I'd overlooked these rules, but knowing they are similar to DMH has prompted some interest. Uh oh! ;)

    As for chits, you can buy a 'deck' of plastic card tiles on eBay for not too much. At least that's where I got mine. They are a complete set of 'cards' and about the size of a scrabble tile. I think they originate from a board/tile paying game, so you should be able to find them despite my poor description!

  11. Now this does look like fun, but I shall remain strong and resist!

  12. Great stuff. This is on the wishlist!

  13. Hi Tamsin,
    A quick question though not about this post. Were you in any pictures at Salute? There was a photo of the bloggers meet up but I need help in locating you!

    1. An excellent and comprehensive review Tamsin. Looks like we now have the rules, figures, vehicles and terrain for the period, I just need to convince myself that I need to start a new period.
      Thanks for sharing.

  14. @ Lee - cheers x 2 ! :)

    @ Whisk - thanks! :)
    You should never ask a gamer about the size of their dice collection; that's far too personal a question! ;)

    @ Pete - cheers! Card activation does work well for some games :)

    @ Dan - thanks! Also worth checking out is "Mad Dogs With Guns" :)

    @ Great Escape Games - thanks! The rules certainly give a good, fun game. Also thanks for clarifying about the initiative cards :)

    @ Ian - cheers! If you like DMH, you should like TCW :)

    @ Dave D - thanks! There are ways of overcoming the card clutter :)

    @ Francis - it does give a good game :)

    @ Clint - I don't know how different they are to DMH as I've never played that. I'd say they're still worth giving a try, maybe in a demo game at a show :)

    @ Chris - glad you liked the review and found it helpful. That's a good idea about the card tiles :)

    @ Michael A - thanks! but "resistance is futile" :)

    @ Gordon - cheers! :)

    @ Jerry - I am in the pic in my post. I'm the one to Ray's right in the black t-shirt and grey camo trousers :)

    @ Silver Whistle - thanks! The period is definitely quite well covered for rules, figures, vehicles and terrain. If you need any help convincing yourself, give me a shout! :)

  15. I love DMH and I think we'll give this a spin too. Thanks for the excellent review, that was very helpful.

  16. Excellent review! Thanks for sharing!


  17. Well done. I am looking at getting this, and your review is helping tremendously.

  18. Have you tried the campaign portion yet? If it works well, that would be reason for me to buy.


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