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TRADED: 2018 (For Tigris & Euphrates) RECEIVED: 2017 (Bought 2nd-Hand) GAMEPLAY Players are Boss Tweed-like figures in 19th century New York who see a political opportunity in the immigrants flooding through the gates of Castle Garden. After all, these newcomers can probably be swayed to vote for your candidate for a few favors. Gangs of New York: the board game! (But way fewer knife fights unless you consider stabbing your friends in the back for a few points a metaphorical knife fight.) On a turn, a player has two actions: place two ward bosses in the same or different wards, or place one ward boss and one immigrant cube from Castle Garden in the same or different wards while also getting an immigrant favor chip of the same color. Later in the game, players can also use the power of their political office and/or slander their opponents from wards where they are not wanted. The main way to score is through area majority contests that are augmented by immigrant favor chips in blind-bid auctions. The game lasts 16 turns. THOUGHTS Tammany Hall is a dead simple area majority game that plays quick and dirty, a fact which I both dislike and like. On the negative side, it feels a bit simple. Most of the time, you’re going to place a boss and a cube because favors are the main method for winning an election. Then, you can add to your turn by spending a slander chip, which is something you’ll most likely do toward the end of the game, if at all: slander chips are worth a precious VP at the end of the game, and TH is very low scoring. Thus, there doesn’t always feel like there is a lot to think about beyond board position, the cubes in your ward, and which favors your opponents are collecting. Additionally, this game suffers from problems like the rich get richer, king making, and the player in first has a huge target on their back. On the positive side, your city office makes for some more interesting political machinations. The fact that the mayor, who is probably the player in first, has to hand those offices out to their opponents is an even sweeter irony or agonizing decision depending on which side you are on. And, of course, the beating heart of this game—the thing that causes the cries of joy and the moans of despair—the blind-bid auctions are a complete joy. Another point in favor of TH is that it knows it’s a simple game, and so it plays quickly. All this said, TH falls firmly in that 6 or 7 territory, which makes me question whether it’s a game I need to own. PROS -Simple rules so you’re up and playing quickly. -Another point about the rules is that almost all of them are written on the board and yet the aesthetic is not compromised. -Components are simple but top notch. -The city office powers are fun but the fact that the Mayor hands out the city offices is just brilliant. -Maybe the best implementation of blind-bid auctioning I’ve seen in a game. -A lot of potential for negotiation. NEUTRAL -At first, I really did not like the look of the board but it has grown on me quite a bit. Still, I can see how people are divided on this one. CONS -If favor chips are supposed to be hidden information, the game should have player screens. -Even though I know the game is supposed to be simple and play quickly, I want there to be just a little more meat on the bone. It feels a bit lacking, especially when so many games do area majorities that I feel I might as well play El Grande or Colonialism for something richer. -A lot of turtling, especially in the early game where you are trying to get a few wards without making too many enemies or taking too many chances. -Game really only shines with four or five players.
I hear people frequently say how mean Tammany Hall is. I understand what they mean by this, but I'm not sure it's accurate. It's not a mean game insomuch as that it refuses to allow players to ignore the fact that area control games are about ganging up on the leader. The social environment that this creates can be a spiteful one. Table talk is an essential part of this game. It creates a metagame environment where an adept and gentle social player can redirect all the heat onto someone else. This can create a problem in the gaming experience with new players, though, since it's easier to sway them into believing that the person in second place at the end of the first term is more of a threat than the person in last. It's nearly impossible to convince new players that the person in last is actually a far bigger threat, What results is new players get frustrated by the fourth term and start egregiously kingmaking out of spite, making irrational decisions because they just want to make everyone else as mad and frustrated as they are. In the end, the experienced player ends up saying, "This is exactly what I said would happen." To which, the response: well don't play with players who make irrational decisions. To which I respond: and how do I identify those people? The answer, I guess, is don't play this game at all? The weird thing is this game isn't any meaner than, say, El Grande. And people get just as frustrated and spiteful playing that. The difference is nobody is actually talking about it at the table.