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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Davidson

History & Game - Tammany Hall

I love Gangs of New York. What is there not to love? With Martin Scorscesee behind the helm, Daniel Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio giving stellar performances, and nine Oscar nominations from Best Director to Best Picture to Best Actor to Best Original Screenplay, I ask again: What is there not to love?

Gangs of New York focuses on a period of New York City history during the American Civil War. A time where immigrants from Italy, Germany, England, and, most notably, Ireland were coming to America in droves. During that time, an incredibly corrupt Democratic politician named William Tweed (portrayed on the box cover), known as the "Tiger of Tammany Hall," used his power and money to rig elections and cause voter irregularities by winning the immigrants' support. Remember, this was before any form of official identification. Men would spend months growing out their beards.

Go vote.

Shave off a little bit.

Vote again.

Shave everything but the mustache and chin.

Vote again.

Shave clean, baby-faced.

Vote again.

According to some historical documents, one man reported that he voted seventeen times during the 1863 Mayoral election. Others would be harassed and beaten by immigrant gangs into voting for a particular set of politicians. Quite frankly, during the time of Tammany Hall, the whole city was an absolute mess.

1863 was a time before the socialism we know and understand today established "official" governmental groups. The municipal police were fighting—in the streets—the city police. Firefighting brigades were assembled like gangs, full of rough-and-tumble tough guys loyal to their fire brigade. If a house caught fire and two separate fire brigades showed up, they would fight—in the streets—over which group would be allowed the pleasure of putting the fire out. Most of the time, while the hard-edged men fought it out in the streets, set to a backdrop of the building burning to the ground. The Natives (which you called yourself if you were born in the United States) hated the immigrants, mainly the Irish. Nobody had any protection. As a result, they banded together in small groups or even significant-sized gangs.

From a political standpoint, if you could win the favor of some of (or all) the immigrant gangs, you could control the vote. This is what the "Tiger of Tammany Hall" did to keep himself and his cronies right where they wanted to be: At the top of the food chain.

In Tammany Hall, players assume the role of politicians trying to sway the immigrant vote your way. Every four rounds (each round representing a year), there is an election. The goal of the game is to procure the position of mayor as many times as possible. In short, Tammany Hall is an area influence game with a mild blind betting mechanic around the edges. However, thematically, Tammany Hall gives players the same wicked and corrupt feeling that politicians would have felt. There is a lot of strategic planning as you try to have board control. But when an election occurs, have the support of the four diverse immigrant populations (English, German, Italian, and Irish). However, should you win the coveted position of Mayor of New York City, you are taxed with the job of handing out government positions to all your opponents—Precinct Chairman, Deputy Mayor, Chief of Police, and Council President. These government positions give players a unique ability (that you know they will immediately use against you); unfortunately, being the Mayor of New York City yields the player nothing but points.

The cherry on top of the whipped cream on top of the cupcake that is Tammany Hall is that everything within the game is historically accurate; even the board represents how New York City looked during the mentioned historical period. Tammany Hall is a game torn directly from the history books. The mechanics of new immigrants arriving to having mob bosses to controlling immigrant population influence, the mechanics serve the theme. And as any savvy board gamer will tell you, if a game can pull off the perfect marriage of mechanics and narrative, you have got yourself a winner!

But seriously, watch Gangs of New York.

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