Tammany Hall Game Review: A nuanced, cutthroat game of winner-takes-all

Best (i.e., Worst) Moment

I felt squarely in control of the game. I had been mayor twice already, was in the lead, and was feeling pretty good about myself. Queue the great fall from grace. A simultaneous, multi-faceted attack from my opponents (yes, we’re still friends…mostly) came during the 3rd term. I did my best but never quite recovered from the onslaught of double slanders, Chief of Police arrests, and Council President lock-ups. Why do I include this in my game review as the best moment? Well, I happen to like the people I was playing with and, with a little time and snacking, I was happy for them. Yes, my sweet wife, who ended up winning, was the catalyst for my downfall. =-)

Gameplay Overview

Play as a New York politician during the height of 19th century immigration bent on accumulating and retaining as much political and not-so-above-board influence as you can. Strategically commission your Ward Bosses across Lower Manhatten, earn favor with incoming immigrant populations through any means possible, and coolly spread slander about your opponents to gain the upper hand.

Quick Thoughts

I dig a solid game built around a historic event, location, or situation. Tammany Hall is just that. Simply learning the game led me down a rabbit hole of research around the mid-19th century European immigration into Lower Manhattan. Having lived in Southern Italy for two years, I have a particular affinity for the honest, proud, and hard-working Italians! While it’s not the focus, this game helped me internalize a level of empathy towards these immigrant families who were just trying to improve their situations.

The strategy at play with Tammany Hall is deep and nuanced. There is a constant, active power play which will either be subtle or overt depending on who you’re playing with. It’s a blast to play with the loud, boisterous type who tries to openly influence others, and it’s just as fun playing with the smooth-on-the-surface player who is conniving behind your back while smiling to your face. It’s also fun to be each of these types or even to take a breather with a more mellow, fun-focused game as opposed to the cutthroat grudge match it can be.

The City Office appointments are hugely impactful throughout the game! They can seriously make or break a player’s success. While the Deputy Mayor is more self-serving, the other three (Chief of Police, Council President, and Precinct Chairman) can be quite targeting and ruthless. It is really hard to plan for and predict how other players will use their Office Benefits, but it is such a fun (and sometimes frustrating!) aspect of the game. Don’t be afraid to be mean, but also be careful about how mean you are and to whom (are you up for sleeping on the couch tonight?). 😉

I love, love, love games with real-world actions where you can just picture in your mind’s eye these mob boss type of men in business suits making shady deals in backstreet alleys. I see the Slander Token being the initiation of an intentional slander campaign via word-of-mouth and the local newspaper. I picture clans of Italian immigrants boxing out the Irish from their wards. I can hear the accents as these immigrants try to communicate and negotiate with New York politicians.

Tips & Tricks

  • Don’t go crazy trying to nail down the best strategy right out of the gate. Give yourself some time to really understand the mechanics and the future impact of decisions.
  • As the Mayor, be intentional about your city office assignments! Don’t just randomly distribute them. There are subtle ways to give cards which least benefit certain players based on their strategic approach.
  • I hate giving this obvious but massively impactful tip away (I’m hoping none of our gaming friends are reading this!), but just like playing classic Risk, try to facilitate position battles between other players. You can benefit greatly from sneaking around grabbing uncontested wards and influence.

Scoring & Wrap-up

Overall, as a medium-weight strategy game, I give Tammany Hall an 8.5 out of 10 (between “Very Good” and “Excellent – Always want to play it” on BGG’s scale) for the following reasons:

Promoters

  • The highly competitive nature of this game is so fun, but make sure you’re in the right headspace for the onslaught!
  • The real-life scenario and actions add depth and reality to the gameplay.
  • The vintage-style map and board suck you into 19th-century New York.
  • Games with simple mechanics yet complex strategy are my favorite!

Detractors

  • There can be a hefty and frustrating ganging up factor with this game. We’ve had players get seriously put out (I’m ashamed to say myself included!) when they take the lead and get reamed for it. The remedy? Set some ground rules before the game depending on the players’ personalities. Is this a play-to-kill kind of game where anything goes? Or is this a less ruthless play more focused on having fun than winning?

If you enjoy a good history-based, “attacky,” or nuanced area-control game, you will really enjoy Tammany Hall. While different in many ways, I can’t help but compare it to one of my all-time favorites, Lords of Vegas, in how it feels. I highly recommend this one for a fun, kill-or-be-killed game night!


Disclaimer: I received this game for free in exchange for my review; but believe me, I post authentic reviews every time and will be brazenly blunt if needs be.