Tammany Hall is a game of backstabbing, corruption, temporary alliances, and taking power at all costs. The edition we used for this review is actually the fifth edition of the game, which was originally published in 2007 by Stratamax Games, then again in 2009 before Pandasaurus Games picked up the game 2012 alongside IDW. Set in the dark and grimy world of Boss Tweed and the peak of New York’s machine politics, Tammany Hall is an area influence game that adds in auctions and shifting powers to represent the chaotic nature of the historical Tammany Hall. Like with Plankton Rising, we decided to send Tammany Hall to some high school students to see if it could be educational and, perhaps more importantly, if they liked it.
What’s In The Box?
1 game board, 100 Immigrant cubes (25 Irish, 25 English, 25 German, 25 Italian), 140 Political Favor discs (35 Irish, 35 English, 35 German, 35 Italian), 100 Ward Boss player pieces (20 of each color), 2 Council President tokens, 15 Slander tokens, 5 City Office cards, 1 Year marker, and 1 Draw bag.
This new edition is a big bigger and a bit shinier than the past, but it still goes a long way to capture the feel of the times in which its set. The map of New York that acts as the game board is detailed and copied directly from maps at the time, but still zoned and colored to be easy to use. In fact, everything from the fonts to the shade of of the paper to the Thomas Nast cartoons scattered around, really deepen the immersion and educational value of the game.
How’s It Play?
This is the second of a series of four games we sent to a high school in Oklahoma to let actual high school students play and let us know what they thought of the game. The teachers involved approached this one a little differently, having the students play the game prior to the actual history material being taught, teaching the correlating US history, and then having them play a second time with the historical context.
I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend that anyone looking to play this game watch one of the available tutorial videos on YouTube instead of just trying to read the instructions and go. Like with our SpongeBob review, the students (and teachers) struggled with just the written directions.
Now let’s look at the gameplay. The students mostly enjoyed the first play-through, but what became interesting was that as the history lessons were taught, students were beginning to actually apply the historical context with how they had previously played. One student even went so far as to complain “Well if I’d have known this then, I’d have played it differently!“
This wound up making for a pretty nice retention tool as the students knew they would have another chance to play through the game, now with the historical context applied. As was expected, the second playthrough had quite a bit of variation from the first, with students taking some of the knowledge they’d learned and applying it to their game-making decisions.
Furthermore, some of the students, being immigrants themselves, reported that their gameplay was radically different in the second playthrough with their approaching strategies on utilizing the in-game immigrant populations.
If, as a teacher, you have the proper investment and temperament, this can make for a very engaging supplement for students learning about the Boss Tweed era of US history as they have the motivation to retain knowledge for a second playthrough, as well as helping deepen their understanding of how “some of these people couldn’t catch a break for nothing!” (historical inequalities) were perpetuated.
That said, it does require a bit of an entry hurdle before being able to play, and we do not recommend that anyone try and make a go of it by just the written directions alone. However, once the rules have been understood, the students did agree that the game was fun to play, though they had a more intense round of gameplay the second time (after the history lessons were taught).
Overall, this is potentially valuable and entertaining teaching tool for older students that can see multiple uses providing a teacher is willing to be engaged with the material and carve out the necessary playing time in their class schedules. Otherwise, stick to lectures or documentaries.
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You can pick up Tammany Hall at Pandasaurus Games or Amazon for $49.95.
Images via Pandasaurus Games and Touchstone Pictures
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