Alexander Hamilton was the United States Secretary of the Treasury at the time of Tammany Hall’s founding. As immigrant populations flowed to New York City, they undoubtedly had the hopeful refrain of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics in their minds – “look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!”
Pandasaurus Games took their first steps into the risky world of tabletop game publishing in May of 2012, with the campaign launch of Tammany Hall. The game raised well over $100,000, making it one of that year’s most successful tabletop game campaigns. Nearly a decade after that first campaign, Tammany Hall is finally returning to store shelves with a minor facelift. Let’s raise a glass to freedom, and take a look at this fantastic area control game!
Designed by Doug Eckhart, with artwork from Peter Dennis (A Few Acres of Snow) and graphic design by Stevo Torres (Ctrl, Godspeed). Tammany Hall is designed for 3 to 5 players, takes 60 to 90 minutes to play, and is recommended for ages 10 and up.
Set in the middle of the 19th Century, players are political proctors in a growing New York City, sending their Ward Bosses into the city’s various districts to influence and manipulate growing immigrant populations. The game takes place over four election cycles, each of which involves four rounds of placing their Ward Boss meeples, dropping Immigrant Cubes to obtain Political Favor from those communities, and occasionally spreading slander throughout those same sectors to negatively impact other players. At the end of every four rounds, an election takes place, where each ward votes for their preferred player to become Mayor. Whichever player wins the majority of wards will walk away as New York’s new Mayor, and must assign other players to City Offices, allowing them to make many manipulations in the forthcoming term. Points are scored in several ways – throughout the game, players will score for winning individual ward elections, controlling Tammany Hall itself, and winning the Mayorship. At the end of the game, points are also awarded for retaining the most Political Favour in each Immigrant community, as well as for each unspent Slander token. The player with the most victory points is declared the winner, securing their spot to be in the room where it happens.
In my opinion, Tammany Hall is on par with the greatest area control games of all time. It has the elegant simplicity of El Grande, the tension of Hansa Teutonica, all wrapped in a narrative that can rise up from the table and grab hold of its players. At higher player counts, the potential for temporary alliances emerges, and the players knocking at your most critical ward will suddenly start to talk less, smile more. The game leaves players feeling complicit in a system of dirty politics, with a shadowy grime that is injected into the artwork and overall graphic design.
Most of the artwork is unchanged from the previous editions. However, the window dressing around that art makes for an impactful improvement. New font choices pop out from the game board, political office tiles, and even the box itself, leaving players feeling like they’ve been hit by a propaganda campaign. Player colours have changed slightly – yellow is no longer a Ward Boss option, replaced with orange. It’s a small change that adds to the muted palette of the entire game, adding to the dark, tense undertones, like a powder keg about to explode.
My favourite component upgrade in this edition are the Slander tokens, which were black discs in the previous printing. Debuting in this version of the game are grey speech bubble tokens, and as the rumours only grow, these tokens assist in deepening the flavour of the game. Each player starts the game with three of them, which can be spent throughout the game to mortally wound the prospects of other players. Slander provides players with plenty of opportunity for plot twists, and these updated tokens are perfectly fitting to place your people in a prosperous enough position to achieve electoral victory.
The most important addition to the game is not a game component, but rather, the inclusion of a small sheet of paper, explaining the complexity of this time in New York’s history. Pandasaurus has acknowledged the challenges still present in America with regards to voting and disenfranchisement, along with donation commitment to the Brennan Center for Justice. Many in the tabletop game industry are making strides to correct and improve issues of inclusion and representation. Given the vast number of games that include troublesome thematic material, this is a positive gesture that other publishers would be wise to follow.
“History has its eyes on you.”
New editions of popular games do not always require a complete overhaul, and in this light Pandasaurus Games did not throw away their shot with the new printing of Tammany Hall. The game retains so much of what made it great in the first place, and makes a number of small improvements without diluting the deliciously dirty experience of this highly interactive tactical puzzle of a game.
Little Thumbs, Big Thumbs thanks Pandasaurus Games for sending a media copy of Tammany Hall for this review.