Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Tammany Hall

The Game

Tammany Hall is designed by Doug Eckhart and published by StrataMax, Inc. If I hadn't known this, and had just played the game, I could be easily convinced that this was a game designed by Martin Wallace. It tells the story of a specific time in history, in this case immigrants arriving in a growing New York. It is of medium-to-heavy weight. It is quite vicious and has many tough decisions. Although still being a Euro-style game, it does pay attention to theme and the game feels like a story-first game and not a mechanism-first game.

Players are policitians in New York. Over the course of 16 years (and 4 elections that occur once every 4 years), they try to gain victory points (VP's) by winning wards (districts), by becoming mayor, and at game end, by having the most influence over specific immigrant groups - the English, the Italians, the Irish and the Germans.

The game board. Important information is all on the board, so it's quite practical and useful.

A turn is very simple. You deploy two of your people (called ward bosses) to the wards, or you deploy one ward boss and bring in one new immigrant. Ward bosses are basically your election candidates. You need a ward boss in a ward to be in the running to win that ward. Each ward boss also represents one vote. If you bring in a new immigrant, you get to collect a favour chip matching that immigrant, e.g. a green favour chip if you help bring in an Irish immigrant to one of the wards. These favour chips are a crucial part of the game. When elections are held, they can become votes. When there is more than one candidate in a ward, the competing players do blind bidding, spending favour chips to try to win the ward. Each favour chip counts as one vote, provided that the ward has at least one matching immigrant. So it's important to manage collecting favour chips of the four immigrant groups. At the conclusion of an election, you collect bonus favour chips if your wards have the highest population of specific immigrant groups. It's a cycle - collecting favour chips by bringing immigrants in, spending chips to win wards with those immigrants, then gaining chips again by controlling the most immigrants in each immigrant group.

Cubes are immigrants, head-and-shoulder markers are the ward bosses.

The Immigrant Leader table is used for checking who has influence over the most immigrants of each nationality.

At the conclusion of each election, at each ward, all ward bosses are removed except for the single winning candidate, including the colleagues of that winning candidate. That means if a winning player has more than one ward boss, he must discard all but one of them. So it can be wasteful if you deploy too many ward bosses. You lose them if you lose in a ward. You will definitely lose some if you deploy more than one in a ward. Helping immigrants settle down in New York is attractive because you get favour chips.

You become mayor if you win the most number of wards. You gain a bonus of 3VP, but you then need to assign city offices to your fellow players. Such city offices are basically special abilities that they can use (probably to harm you) every year until the next election. E.g. the Precinct Chairman can move immigrants around, the Deputy Mayor can collect favour chips.

One fun thing you can do is to slander your opponents. You spend favour chips to remove your opponents' ward bosses from the board. If you time it well, you may find that your candidate becomes the only remaining candidate in a hotly contested ward. Oooh... evil evil. Fun fun fun.

The Play

Han, Allen and I played a 3-player game. Probably not as interesting as with more players, but still pretty exciting. Green is not a player colour in this game. It represents the Irish instead. Due to my usual green-preference, the Irish had a special place in my heart, and I decided to be good friends with them.

I played purple, since green was not available as a player colour. THe top row are the three black slander chips, which can be used once each in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th quarters of the game. The favour chips are green for Irish, blue for Italian, white for English and orange for German.

In a 3-player game, only one third of the board is in play initially. The other areas of the board only come into play after the 1st and 2nd elections. In the first election, I did rather poorly in controlling the immigrant groups. I only did well with the Irish. Going towards mid game, i.e. the 2nd election, the wards that I was competing in were rather sparse. Han and Allen were the ones competing in the more densely populated wards. I went for the quick wins, deploying ward bosses to the less attractive sparsely populated wards. I was first to make a nasty slander move. Since Han was the Mayor after the 1st election, he was first in turn order. I came after him, so when I used my once-per-4-years slander against him in the last year before the election, he couldn't counter it. I deployed two ward bosses to wards that only had his candidates, and then slandered both his candidates away. That gave me auto-wins in both wards, without needing to spend any favour chips. Sneaky move, heh heh. Clean politics is an oxymoron.

In a 3-player game, only this zone is in play at the start of the game.

Surprisingly I even managed to become Mayor after the 2nd election, and I was leading in VP's. However I knew it was an illusion. I was still rather weak in exerting influence over the immigrant groups. And now that I was Mayor, and both Han and Allen had seen how sneakily slanders could be used, I knew it was going to be tough. I tried to cut deals with both Allen and Han on separate occasions. When we knew there were multiple wards that we would be competing in, we negotiated to decide who to concede which one, so that both could conserve some favour chips for other fights. I wonder whether this is against the spirit of the game. The designer probably did not intend this to be a negotiation game. I think I just generally dislike blind bidding, so being able to negotiate and reduce uncertainty makes me feel more comfortable. I didn't try to negotiate for all contests, just some of them. Otherwise the game would really drag.

By the time the 3rd election concluded, I was left with only two wards. Looking very bad is an understatement. I wonder whether I had conceded too much in my negotiations. In the final leg leading up to the 4th and last election, it was mostly Han and Allen competing. My only hope was to try to get them to fight as bitterly as possible, and thus allow me to sneak in some cheap wins here and there. By this time we were getting better at protecting ourselves against slander, e.g. by deploying an extra ward boss (slanders can only remove one ward boss in a ward). There were no more new zones unlike previously, so there were no more easy wins.

Han did quite well leading up to the 4th election. His board positions were not bad after the 3rd election anyway. Surprisingly I managed to come back a little too. Allen didn't do so well, probably because being Mayor meant he didn't have any special ability (a.k.a. city offices). By game end, Han and I managed to get some majorities with the immigrant groups. Final score: Han 28, me 23, Allen 18. After the game Han explained to us that the tactic he decided on before the 3rd election was to ensure he didn't win it. He manoeuvred his positioning such that he won just one less ward than Allen. That indeed worked well for him. Mayors not only don't get special abilities, being first in turn order also made them vulnerable to attacks.

The chip icon at the bottom left means whoever wins this ward gains a favour chip of any colour.

That white rectangle at the centre is Tammany Hall itself. Not historically accurate though, due to gameplay reasons.

The Thoughts

This is an area majority game, but one thing that makes it very interesting is how there are two layers of area majority that you need to manage - winning the wards give you VP's, winning the immigrant groups give you favour chips, which is the sole currency in the game and is very important. You need to ensure you have a healthy stock of favour chips all through the game. You need them to help you win wards, to slander others, and even at game end there is a majority contest over them to score bonus points. You need to manage both layers of area majority. Winning a ward with many immigrants improves your chances of gaining bonus favour chips by controlling the most immigrants of each immigrant group, but one ward is still just 1VP. Yet without a good supply of favour chips you will become much less competitive.

Favour chips that you have and locations of the immigrants determine very much where you are able to compete. Managing the immigrant groups is very interesting. Let's say your opponent has great influence over the Italians. When competing over a particular ward, if you are able to remove the last Italian immigrant from that ward, your opponent will suddenly become much weaker. Similarly, let's say you are close buddies with the Germans. If you are eyeing a densely populated Irish ward, you just need to bring in a German immigrant to that ward, and suddenly you can bring to bear your German favour chips.

This is a game with very simple actions turn-to-turn, but with many implications to think about. The blind bidding can be quite tense. Each time blind bidding needs to be done, all players involved need to show the favour chips they have, so you do go into the blind bidding well-informed. Some may not like blind bidding though.

One last thing I must say - I really really like the Peter Dennis artwork. He does the artwork for most of Martin Wallace's games too.


GeekInsight said...

I played Tammany Hall for the first time a few weeks back. It got some mixed reviews among my group, but I absolutely loved it.

I really like that you can slyly make a ward competitive just by adding an immigrant group with whom you have a lot of chips.

nijoos said...

I've been searching high and low for this game and apparently it's out of print. Where did your copy come from?

GeekInsight said...

I got mine from the Stratamax website after they announced that they had brought 80 copies with them back from Essen. I think those have all been sold. :( Hopefully the sellout will prompt another printing.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

the copy that i played belongs to allen, who bought it from taiwan. i think they still have stock.