Saturday, July 28, 2018

Game: Boss Tweed

Very Gangs of New York
Tammany Hall designed by Doug Eckhart, Pandasaurus Games 2012

Let's move on from politics to ... a game about politics!

Provenance: This is the Kickstarted version of the game. I purchased it at North Texas RPG Con as my "Big Buy" of the con (I try to limit myself to one, because I have to lug it back). Brought it out for our Monday Night gaming group.

Review: We've played this game three times, and there are issues. But let me give you the lay of the land before I start complaining:

Tammany Hall is a unit-placement game set in New York City in the mid-19th century. This was the time of the rise of the great urban political machines, and I am a fan of the era, and in particular William Marcy (actually Maegar) Tweed, who was the "Boss" of Tammany Hall and the Democratic Party in post-bellum NYC. The board is lower Manhattan, divided into three districts with numerous wards in each district.

A pool of immigrants shows up at Convent Gardens (this is pre-Ellis Island) - four national groupings - Italian, Irish, German, and English (different colored cubes). You have a hefty number of "Ward Bosses" (meeples) and can put a ward boss and an immigrant cube in a ward, OR put two ward bosses in one or more wards. Easy peasy. If you put an immigrant cube, you get a "favor token" for that immigrant group.

After four turns (years) you have a vote for mayor. You only look at the ward bosses in each ward, since they deliver the votes. No other ward bosses? You get the ward. Other ward bosses in the ward, you square off, secretly adding appropriate favor tokens to the number of ward bosses you have. High score gets the ward. Guy with the most wards (and there are all sorts of tie-breakers) gets to be mayor.

The mayor then hands out the city offices, which allow to gain free favor tokens, lock down wards, or move or remove immigrant tokens. Everyone gets an office, so the trick is to hand out the more powerful ones to people you think you can trust. After four elections (16 turns), the game ends and the high score (VPs awarded after every election) wins.

And that's pretty much it. But after playing it three times, I get the feeling we're doing something wrong. And that's not good. First game we were being polite and learning the rules. Second game we got into a little more deal-making. Third game we tried to dogpile on the leader. None of these worked out that well, and in the last two we had to call time (a two hour playing time is a bit rosy in its estimation).

Part of the problem is that mayor is a very powerful office, long-term. Short-term it sucks - everyone else has something they can do. You just get 3 victory points. But since you have to control a lot of wards to get to be mayor, you have more victory points already. The end result is that the mayor (particularly if you can get re-elected) gets a huge head-start on everyone else. The rich get richer. In each game, we had the first mayor get out front, a second place player at about half points, and the rest in a mob at the bottom.

The idea that it is clear that taking down the mayor is a catch-up feature, but it is very hard to do. Challenging other wards requires effort and resources that might be spent better elsewhere, and leaves both combatants weakened. There is a "scandal" mechanic that can take out enemy ward bosses, but it requires a layout of future victory points and favor chips, and requires you have a good setup in the first place. The ideal form of combat is "Let's you and him fight" - getting two opponents to take each other on while you hold down your own territory.

Dealmaking is also a challenge, in that there is precious little you can actually trade at the time. You can't trade the favor tokens, and there is no rule to punish deal-breakers (other than everyone saying, "Oh, Stan! He broke a deal once! Let's you and him fight!"). And since you have to give out all the offices, you have to give good powers to less-than-responsible people.

The quality of the game components are excellent, the rules are fairly clear, and most of the information you need is repeated on the game board. It has an excellent physical design. Tammany Hall gets good reviews, in particular from those that claim that it will turn players against each other faster than Monopoly, Diplomacy, or Kingmaker. I'm not seeing it. Our group gave it the old college try, but it came up empty. Not a bad game, but not as amazing as I expected. Maybe I should check out its ancestor, El Grande, to see if I'm missing something, or if it is just us.

More later.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Jeff Recommend: Primary 2018

OK, its pretty brief up here on Grubbstreet, so let me set things down for you.

Get your ballots in by 7 August. But do it now. Avoid the rush.
You'd have to pay for postage. Drop it in the mail. That simple. Or you can do a drop-box in King County..
But just vote, dammit.
No Republicans.

King County Proposition No. 1 Regular Property Tax Levy Automated Fingerprint Identification System Services - Approved, I guess.

United States Senator - Maria Cantwell, better than all 28 other options.

United States Representative District 9 - Sarah Smith (though that other Smith is OK). And hey, she did an AMA on Reddit.

State Legislature District No. 11, positions 1 and 2 - Zack Hudgins and Steve Berquist - so good at their jobs that no one wants to run against them.

And here are a few that I'm not voting on Usually I don't poach on other areas, but these merit some attention.

State Legislature District No. 44 - Steve Hobbs. Impressive. Did I mention he's part of a gaming tabletop podcast, the Geeks of Cascadia?

US Representative District No.  8  - Not Dino Rossi. This blog cut its teeth on he disastrous run for governor and resulting lawsuit. There are three good Dems running against him, and it would be great if Rossi didn't even make the cut. Check out Jason Riettereiser, Kim Schrier,  and Shannon Hader. I lean towards Hader, but I'm not voting in this one. And it would hilarious if Rossi didn't even get out of the Primary.

We will tune in after the election for the final count.

More later,

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Political Bunker: Proposition No. 1

The primary ballot is actually pretty short this time, and we're already down to the county measure propositions. And there is only one of them - Proposition No. 1 (not to be confused with OTHER Proposition No. 1s you may encounter), Regular Property Tax Levy Automated Fingerprint Identification System Services. It replaces an existing levy and is meant to fund and upgrade AFIS and other identification programs.

And I say Approved, but I my heart just isn't in it. I guess I am suffering from tax fatigue, as so many different  worthy measures come to the taxpayers with their begging bowls for funding. Its like when ALL of friends in the office are selling candy for their kids' school bands. I mean, this sounds important, and if its important, shouldn't it be in the budget to start with? Do we need another revenue stream, which has turned into a regular avenue for funding attractive budget items?

So, yeah, Approved, but even I am getting tired of this.

More later,

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Political Bunker: State Reps, District 11

The 11th district starts east of Lake Young and and runs up to Sodo along the I-5 corridor (which means it is most of my morning commuter) It is a long, spindly thing, and its state senator is Bob Hasegawa, who's not up for re-election this year. It's State Reps are Zack Hudgins and Steve Bergquist, who are. And running against them is ...

Nobody. Nobody? No Chamber-of-Commerce-endorsed Republican? No newly minted Libertarian who is still reading the welcome-to-the-cause literature? Not even a challenge from the left?

OK, then. Zack Hudgins and Steve Berquist. So good that even the GOP wants you to vote for them.

But while I'm here, let me credit the state legislature for actually doing things this session. Not everything I want, but at least it has been progress, over the previous, supposedly bipartisan, deadlocked sessions. A couple things that were pretty dumb, but actually the average of those was lower than usual. So, yeah. Go team.

And even though I'm not voting in this particular election - here's a nod for Steve Hobbs down in the 44th, around Lake Stevens and Mill Creek. I had the chance to talk with the incumbent a few weeks back, and found him to be knowledgeable and engaged with the issues. He's a little more moderate to my tastes, particularly on fiscal issues, but he impressed the heck out of me with the depth of his understanding in a variety of fields. Plus he's a gamer AND he has a podcast. So if you're in the fighting 44th, vote Hobbs.

More later,

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Political Bunker: US Representative District 9

Adam Smith has done a dandy job in the redistricted 9th, dealing with the ever-spreading, new-and-improved swamp in DC. And should he be the sole Democrat on the list this fall, I'll be glad to endorse him. But a stronger choice is another Smith, Sarah Smith. She's running as a anti-war progressive Democrat (Hey kids, remember when we had TIME to be anti-war?), and one of Mr. Smith's weaknesses is that he is deep in the pocket of the Military Industrial Complex, a remnant of when his district included Fort Lewis.

The third candidate, Doug Basler of the GOP, runs a wanna-be InfoWars radio program. And you know how well THAT serves the body politic. It would be great to see the two Smiths duke it out this fall, so I'm supporting Sarah in the primary.

More later,

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Political Bunker: US Senator

So, yes. Maria Cantwell. She's been one of our two senators. And while she steers a little closer to the center than I would prefer, she's done a damned fine job holding peoples' feet to the fire when we need her to. She deserves going to the finals.

Her chief endorsed Republican opponent, Susan Hutchinson, is a former newsreader for a local TV station and former chairbeing for the State GOP. She's been enthusiastic in her support of the squatter occupying the White House, chastising other candidates for not being sufficiently positive of the GOP's leader and excusing his horrible personal behavior by declaring that "he was a Democrat at that time."  So, just say no.

I'd like to say that that there are viable options about the 27 other candidates for the post, but that's not the case. Instead we have the Usual Suspects, the Well-Intended, and the Whack-a-Doodles. I'd like so say there's one that provides a reasonable alternative to the two mainstream candidates, but ... but ...

Look, people, it's time we had a talk.

Have you folk heard about EDITORS? I'm serious here. These write-ups in the Voters' Pamphlet are probably the only chance you have to reach out with your message. So what's with the word salad? What is with the incomplete sentences? What's with the fluid, subconscious, almost unconscious use of capitalization? I know some editors. They cost, but they make you look less like idiots. The state is legally prevented from fixing your language and making you coherent. So GET SOMEONE TO DO IT FOR YOU.

Oh, and under Elected Experience, do NOT put all the times you've run for office before and lost. I mean, seriously?

All that said, Let me give a brief shout-out to Clint R. Tannehill, who actually comes across as a rational human being with a straightforward plan and an engaging backstory. If you cannot bring yourself to vote for a mainstream Dem, take a look at him. Regardless, no Republicans.

More later

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Political Bunker Reopens

And so it begins. Yard signs show up on Mercer Island. Facebook ads show up for people running in the next district over. Mush-mouthed endorsements show up in the Seattle Times.

The election is coming. In this case, the primary.  And it is important. Well, they all are, but this year's elections have primal import.

So this time out I'm going to be a little less glib, a little less fun-loving. Yeah, I will mention the nowhere candidates with funny names but really am not going to spend a lot of time on them. The past two years a positive, humane agenda in politics has been under siege. We're lucky up here in the heavily blue Pacif Northwest, but there is a lot of bad craziness going down across the country, and we need to dig in here.

So, there are a couple rules that I'm looking at before even looking at the candidates.

No Republicans. Now, I'm aware that there are good Republican men and women in office, but for the most part they are cowed by the more radical factions these days. The party is swarming with neo-nazis, white supremacists, self-declared pimps, opportunists and racists. And those who are a bit more centrist still are willing to vote for rewarding the wealthy and punishing the poor. Enough.

And of course, the fish stinks from the head, and on a national level the head is one of the worst I've seen. The Republican presidents in my lifetime have had the ability to make their GOP predecessors look not nearly as bad, and I hesitate to say we have bottomed out as each week punches through the floorboards and finds a new sub-basement. Ethically, morally, professionally, intellectually, this is the worst. So yeah, let that drag the party down as well, since few on that side seems interested in reigning the current White House occupant in. We're doing crap now that we're going to be pretending we didn't do for twenty years, and then apologizing for it once the criminals directly responsible are safely buried.

Even so, professionalism, ethics, and morality would usually be redemptive enough. I'd rather have a good Republican than a bad Democrat most days. Not this time.

Also, No Former Republicans. The current King County Prosecutor has already ditched the GOP for the Dems, but I don't want that to be a saving grace for him. He's been running for years on the "Republicans are the strong, grown-up, law and order group" bandwagon, while they've been a collection of thieves, panderers, yada yada. Now that it looks like he would lose just because he's a Repub, he's scraping off the party label. We have one candidate out there who considers the parties to be flags of convenience, to be jettisoned as soon a the opportunity presents. Libertarians? A lot of them are of recent vintage (one has declared he's "been Libertarian since 2016" - a whole year and a half!). Libertarian-ism is not the Blood of the Lamb. You don't change labels and are reborn.

Other warning signs? "Running government like a business". Big donations from the NRA. Support from the Chamber of Commerce (really, when they come over, count the spoons afterwards). Puff pieces in the Times that use the phrase "Dan Evans Republicans." Declarations that they have "Bi-Partisan Support", which tends to mean all the usual GOP suspects and a retired Democratic party conservative or two.

Hang on, you say, aren't there rotten apples on the Democrat side? There are, and we tend to dump 'em, not re-elect 'em. Mistakes will be made, but the Dems are not the party of doubling-down on the last stupid thing they did (they always look for new mistakes ... I keed, I keed). 

I am done with purity tests as well. If the non-Republican candidate is a centrist with corporate ties, I won't cross him off the list (but I will be digging). If the non-Repist is a wooly-eared progressive seeking cetean rights, I won't say no. But I will mock. Given a choice between good candidates, I tend to veer more to left, and your mileage may vary.

And you're going to vote, right? Vote in the primary to get the best candidates, and in the general in November. This has to change. We tend to get the government we deserve, and in the words of Menken, we get it good and hard.  So vote or give up.

And don't just listen to me. Others are wading in. The Seattle Times, notable for thinking hard on the subject, then choosing the more establishment candidate, can be found here. This time out, they are particularly angry at anyone who voted for less transparency from the state legislature. Unless they're not. The Stranger seems to have lost their pot-fueled sense of humor and are acting like grown-ups this time (This is how far we've come). Voting for Judges does not have a lot for the primary, but they are still present. Here's the Progressive Voter's Guide. Nothing from the Municipal League yet, which is usually a standard, but they should show up.

So, gird up your loins, open you voter's guides, and let's take a look.

More later.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Book: Looking At You, Kid

We'll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood's Most Beloved Movie by Noah Isenberg W.W.Norton & Co. Copyright 2017

The Provenance: Christmas present. The Lovely Bride was listening to Public Radio and they were talking about it, and since I am a fan of the movie (though, oddly, I rank it below The Maltese Falcon), she got me a copy. Started in on it that week, made a good head of steam, then bogged down around the discussions with the censors. The book lay fallow, and risked being added to my shelf of abandoned books, but I picked it up again and polished it off, in bits and bobs, over the next week.

The Review: This is one of the great classic movies. If you haven't seen it (a state that would leave me shocked, simply shocked) you need to take the opportunity to do so. If nothing else, you'll get all the references that everyone else is using.

The book itself doesn't really talk about the movie so much as talks around the movie. Originating in the play "Everyone Comes to Rick's", the story was first and foremost a political play by Murray Burnett and and Joan Alison, based on their experiences getting out of pre-war Europe and smuggling a good chunk of the family treasures with them. Purchased but unproduced, it went west to Hollywood, where it was swallowed by the industrial Hollywood movie machine.

It busts some myths as well. Ronald Reagan was never seriously considered in Bogart's role. It originally lived as a play, though unproduced in part because of the problematic love story (Ilsa sleeps with Rick for the letters of transit). It wasn't a scrappy little success story - the script was purchased for a record amount by Warner. Yes, the original had a ending (Rick shoots Strasser and gets arrested), though getting there in the movie went through many hands. This last bit is a good tour through the studio system, where the script, once sold, gets numerous revisions from various writers with different strengths (comedy, romance, adventure), creating the multi-threaded narrative that creates the foundation for its publication. In fact, Casablanca reveals the success of the studio system in creating film. And it was a hit from the start, its release timing with the Allies taking Casablanca itself, the news reports putting that North African city in the forefront of American thoughts.

And it talks extensively about Paris as a replacement for coitus, for the affair between Rick and Ilsa, a married woman (though the film goes to great lengths to point out that she assumed he was dead at the time, it was a change for modern movie morals of the time). Inspector Renault's sexual preferences (very young, very pretty, and very much in need) bubble up to the surface more subtlety in the movie than in the play.

But the book has some gaps as well. While it goes deeply in the bios of the players (the bulk of the actors were themselves European refugees), it does not get deeply into the production schedule - when the shots were taken and where. It does recommend another book, The Usual Suspects by Aljean Harmetz, for such details, but sadly that is not the book I'm reading. And it is a bit silent on the awards that popped up immediately in its wake (Casablanca took three Oscars - Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay - no small feat - How did that happen?).

And most importantly, the struggle that We'll Always Have... keys in on is the flak that the Warners took in making this movie in the first place. In the wake of the war, we think we were always a country unified against the fascist threat, but such was not the case. Most movie companies soft-pedaled the Third Reich, since most still had business there in an increasingly hostile environment. And yeah, Jack Warner was hauled into a Congressional Hearing where he was peppered with questions about why he was being so anti-German (at this time, there were more Germans living in Milwaukee than in Berlin). It is one of those things that echo in the modern day - as Twain said, History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes.

Ultimately, however, we get the suburbs of Casablanca, but never fully get into the city itself, much less to Rick's Cafe Americain. It remains a mirage on the horizon, with travelers telling us the tale of the city and its legendary waters.

Heck, go watch the film.

More later,