Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Havana Nocturne

I just finished reading Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution this afternoon, and it's a cracking good read, as they say (I'm not sure who “they” are, but they say it).

I had no idea of the history of Cuba in the 1940s-1950s, before the Revolution, but author T.J. English has done a comprehensive job researching that era and interviewing as many of the surviving participants as possible.

Who was involved? Well, let's see—the Mob, military dictators, the CIA, and the revolutionaries, for starters. The Mob paid a truly spectacular amount of money to bribe Cuban government officials to open up the country for the most lavish casinos and hotels ever built. Cuba, briefly, became one of the entertainment capitals of the world, with an epic dose of sin mixed in with the entertainment.

Inside the fascinating narrative are individual stories that are truly amazing. In 1942, notorious mobster Lucky Luciano, while serving a 30-50 year sentence in New York state prison, was approached by the U.S. Government about German sabotage at the Port of New York, which had reached “crippling” levels.

The government's reasoning was simple: since the Mob controlled the waterfront, maybe they could help find the saboteurs. When approached, Luciano agreed to authorize the effort, and within months, the FBI arrested eight German secret agents that had been brought ashore by U-boat.

The code name for this project was “Operation Underworld,” and it was entirely successful in reducing attacks on Allied ships. Less than seven months after the war, Luciano's sentence was commuted to time served by Governor Tom Dewey.

That's just one of dozens of remarkable stories in Havana Nocturne, and in addition to highly recommending the book, it made me realize that Cuba in that era would be an absolutely perfect setting for a game.

Consider the possibilities. There would be three factions: the Mob, the Cuban government (a military dictatorship), and the Cuban rebels. Each faction would be struggling to control the island, but each would have different game mechanics. The Mob would be building casinos and hotels, along with bribing the Cuban government, in a kind of corrupt business sim, while the Government would try to maximize their payoffs from the Mob to finance suppressing the rebels, with their game mechanic focused on the military. The rebels would be trying to convert the populace to their side (think “Republic” but in an actually working version), take over the island, and send the Mob packing.

The possibilities for double-dealing and espionage would be almost unlimited, particularly in a multi-player mode. Calling Vic Davis!

Amazon link: Havana Nocturne.

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