Stats at a glance
Publisher: Pandasaurus Games
Politics were never a clean business and this was especially true during the 19th century in New York. The Tammany Hall was a political powerhouse that controlled the immigrants coming in from Europe and used them in their schemes.
Players are placed in the roles of aspiring politicians and pitted against each other in a power struggle. You will have to use every trick in the book to manipulate other players, while simultaneously helping immigrants settle into Manhattan.
Prepare for betrayals, unfulfilled promises, and alliances that quickly fall through. Be ready to do the same to your opponents because there’s no place for honesty and integrity in Tammany Hall! Read on for our Tammany Hall review.
Table of Contents
Brief Overview of Tammany Hall
Tammany Hall is a territory-driven game with a lot of player interactions that can extend beyond the mechanics of the game. However, you could play it straightforwardly and only rely on the game’s mechanics.
It’s designed for 3 to 5 players as fewer than that wouldn’t pose a real power struggle. Learning how to play Tammany Hall isn’t hard and I’m sure you could figure it out in a single game.
This game relies on the right kind of players to be enjoyable. The constant back and forth, confrontations, and sabotage are at the center of the game. That makes the experience both fun and engaging, but could also lead to spite and foul mood.
Unboxing Tammany Hall
The game comes with the following components:
- 1 Rulebook
- 1 Game Board
- 100 Immigrant Cubes
- 140 Political Favor Chips
- 100 Ward Boss Pieces
- 2 Council President Markers
- 15 Slander Chips
- 5 City Office Cards
- 1 Year Marker
- 1 Draw Bag
Describing the components of Tammany Hall is going to be quite easy because 93% of the components are wooden meeples and tokens.
All of the wooden pieces are color-coded to make them easier to see on the game board. The political favor chips have been screen-printed with the flag/crest of the four immigrant nations in the game: Italian, Irish, German, and English.
Ward boss meeples are cut to shape and look very nice, as do the slander tokens, shaped like a speech bubble. I really like the council president tokens because I’ve never seen a judge’s hammer in a board game before.
The city office tiles are classified as cards, but they’re made of thick cardboard typically used for tokens and player boards. I think this is a smart decision because it eliminates anything flimsy from the box.
Of course, the center of Tammany Hall’s components is the game board. It features a map of lower Manhattan, divided into three zones and subdivided into wards. The map has that vintage look, but nothing comes in the way of gameplay elements.
Surrounding the map are the information blocks that contain the rules you’d likely want to revisit while playing. In combination with the new rulebook, it makes the game a lot easier to learn and follow.
Lastly, I’d like to mention the cloth bag and the box organizer. I’m glad that we’re seeing them more frequently as they help keep the components nice and organized. The bag is primarily used for gameplay, but you can close it and store the tokens inside it.
How to Play Tammany Hall
Tammany Hall is a territory-based game. You’ll use ward bosses (meeples) and political favors to get votes and hopefully become the major of New York.
The game takes course over 4 electoral terms (rounds). Each term is divided into 4 years (turns) where players take 1 action per year. The game ends after the final election, at which point the winner is declared.
To begin, choose the player color and take all the matching ward bosses, along with 3 slander tokens. Place 1 ward boss at the start of the score track, and the year marker at the start of the year track.
City office tiles, council president tokens, and political favor tokens should be placed near the board. Populate the immigrant track as instructed, and set up the map based on the number of players. Take the cubes from the immigrant track and place them on the map.
Put the remaining cubes in the bag, then draw equal to the number of players plus two. Place these cubes in the Castle Garden. Once you’ve selected the first player, you’re ready to go!
At the start of your turn, check if the Castle Garden is empty. If it is, refill it with cubes as you would during the setup.
During the first term, you can only perform one of two ward actions:
- Campaign – Place two ward bosses in active wards.
- Settle – Place one ward boss and one immigrant cube in active wards.
Wards are active when there’s at least 1 immigrant cube present, with new wards unlocked after the elections.
You can place ward bosses in any active wards, regardless of the presence of other players’ ward bosses. When placing immigrants, pick a cube from the Castle Garden and place it in any active ward. This will grant you political favor of the matching nationality.
Political favors can be used in wards where the matching cubes are present to gain election votes or points at the end of the game. These tokens cannot be traded among players, and any verbal contract made is non-binding.
Starting with the 2nd term, you can also perform one or both of the optional actions:
- Slander – Remove a ward boss once per term.
- Office Benefit – Members of the city office can use its benefits once per term.
To slander an opponent, you must have a ward boss in the same ward as the opponent, and your political favor token must match the population within the ward. Use it to remove the opponent’s ward boss from the ward. This is a powerful move to undermine an opponent’s control and swing it in your favor.
In each election, all of the players are granted roles in the city office. Players are given city office cards for the next term and can use their benefits once, whenever they see fit.
The major will receive victory points, distribute the roles, and always play first. The deputy major can gain political favor of any color. The chief of police can remove 1 immigrant cube, while the precinct chairman can reposition a cube.
The council president is the only one that gets 2 actions per term. They can lock up a ward, preventing anyone from placing, moving, or removing ward bosses or immigrant cubes for the remainder of the term.
Once you’ve played through 4 years (turns) it’s time for a new election. This phase of the game involves 6 steps:
- Clear Castle Ward
- Ward Elections
- Name Immigrant Leaders
- Score Points & Appoint the Major
- Appoint City Offices
- Populate the New Zone
To clear Castle Ward, just put the cubes back in the bag. You’ll repopulate the Castle Ward again when the next year starts.
The ward elections are held in the following way:
- No ward boss in the ward – nobody wins.
- Only 1 player’s ward boss/bosses in the ward – that player wins.
- Multiple players’ ward bosses in the ward – a bidding war.
The bidding war is held between players whose ward bosses occupy the same area. Each ward boss is worth 1 point, with political favors granting more. Only political favors matching the immigrants in the ward can be used during the bid.
Players announce how many eligible political favor tokens they have and then secretly select a number of them. The sum of ward bosses and tokens determines the winner, and all ward bosses are removed, except for 1 winner’s ward boss.
Winning wards is important for earning the immigrant leader title. This is determined by the number of cubes under your control. Becoming an immigrant leader grants you 3 political favors of the matching nationality.
Next, score victory points for each ward you’ve won. The player with the most wards is named the major for the next term. The major then appoints the city office, granting other players the roles of his choice.
If you’re playing with less than 5 players, at this point you’d check if a new zone is unlocked. Otherwise, move on to the start of the new year.
Once you complete the 4th term and hold the election, the game ends. Most of the victory points will be summed up on the game board, with the remainder coming from unspent political favors and slander tokens. The play with the most points wins!
Your First Game of Tammany Hall
There are a few ways you can approach your first game of Tammany Hall. You can play a straightforward game, following just the mechanics and avoiding all the scheming. This approach will let you figure out the mechanics a lot faster, but it’s not going to be the full experience.
The other option is to go all out into schemes, sabotage, and manipulation of other players. Set the tone for a cutthroat game and you’ll have a real taste of what Tammany Hall is all about.
Make sure not to powerplay or introduce house rules. The rules of the game are clear – you cannot trade in-game resources and no deal has to be respected. Try not to focus on one person the whole time, even if they are the major. Tammany Hall is all about climbing up by pulling others down, and you don’t want anyone to get too far ahead.
Apart from these tips, there’s nothing more I can teach you. Tammany Hall is really easy to learn and by the time the second election comes, you’ll have a good grasp of all the mechanics.
What makes the game difficult to master is the constant power struggle between players, and balancing it is something you will have to learn on your own.
Pros & Cons
- Easy to Learn
- Very Dynamic Gameplay
- Distribution of Power
One of the main strengths of Tammany Hall is how easy it is to learn how to play. I feel like only one person would need to read the rules, and the rest would easily follow along with their instructions. Within a few turns, everyone should be able to grasp the core mechanics of the game.
Tammany Hall provides player interactions behind every corner, with almost every action you take affecting at least one of your opponents. The game will make you pay close attention to every move made and that’s what makes it so dynamic.
Asymmetric games usually put only one player in power, with everyone else trying to tear them down. Tammany Hall introduces city office roles for everyone, and while the major is still the “most powerful” the power gap is not that big.
- Plenty of Confrontational Situations
- Can Cause Spite Among Players
All of the things that make Tammany Hall great are simultaneously the reasons why you may want to avoid it.
There is hardly a move in the game that doesn’t step on someone else’s toes. Even if you want to “play nice”, you still have to make plenty of moves that hinder others.
The constant back and forth only works if the group of players is not taking it seriously or personally. However, it can cause serious frustration and spite among some players, which will definitely ruin the game.
Tammany Hall is a game of a power struggle, and while it can have a Kingmaker moment, it’s better to just compete for the win until the very end. But if someone starts focusing their sabotage on just one person, both of them are guaranteed to lose and have a bad time.
Tammany Hall Review (TL;DR)
With the right group, Tammany Hall provides an excellent board game experience. The mechanics are quite easy to learn, but you’ll need a lot of skills to balance the power of other players while trying to subtly raise your own.
I wouldn’t recommend Tammany Hall if your group does not like confrontational games or if they take them too seriously. If that’s not the case, then give Tammany Hall a go!
Tammany Hall has been an unusual experience for me, as my board game group tends to “play nice”. Seeing everyone try the manipulation and backstabbing tactics was interesting, but it also revealed a big drawback of the game.
To enjoy Tammany Hall to the full extent, you really need a select group of players that you banter with on a regular basis. It’s a game that could easily go with a few rounds of drinks and be a proper stress relief.
The theme has been used well and at times you really feel like a corrupted politician. No matter what you do and no matter how much other players want to take you down, you will still get a position of power come the next election. It’s a bit terrifying how accurate that feels.
Like I said in the TL;DR section, as long as you have the right group of players, Tammany Hall will offer a great experience. If not, then I wouldn’t recommend it, as I doubt it’ll see much use beyond the introductory sessions.
We hope you enjoyed our Tammany Hall review! Have you tried this political negotiation game before? Drop a comment below and let us know what you think! We’d love to hear from you.
When I first got into the hobby some 10 years ago, my friend circles didn’t know that board games went further than Monopoly and Risk. Now everyone I’m close with is into board gaming and my collection really has something for everyone.
My favorite games are Terraforming Mars and Lords of Waterdeep and I’m a fan of Euro, strategy, and engine-building games in general. I also enjoy the Warhammer 40,000 universe, which pulled me into the miniature painting hobby.