There aren’t many games out there that I’d call stone cold classics. There’s Power Grid, of course – that’s a given when you’re in my house – but one game that definitely deserves that very heavy mantle is Acquire. Originally released by 3M way back in 1962, this release from the legendary Sid Sackson still stands up to this day – and if you’ve not played it, you don’t know what you’re missing.
The premise is simple: invest in some (or all) of the seven available companies, grow them, organise takeovers and get paid. Whoever has the most cash at the end is the winner; it’s so straightforward it hurts. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to see this hit a table in the early sixties. Even now it feels spectacularly tight to play, a near perfect game with just a little hint of randomness to keep you on your toes…
Acquire is for between three and six players – there are rules for two but they aren’t perfect, you really need more to truly get the full experience. The play board is a 12×9 grid that will eventually be covered in tiles placed each turn. These tiles represent the companies players will be investing in that will (hopefully) get bigger and bigger, making plenty of money!
Turns are simple. A single tile is placed from a player’s hand of six. If that tile is adjacent to another that isn’t part of a group, a new company is formed (as long as there’s one available). That player receives a free share in that start-up, then is allowed to purchase a further three shares in any of the currently active companies on the board. A new tile is drawn and play moves on… see? Easy.
If a tile is placed that links two (or more) companies, it’s merger time. Players only have a limited amount of cash at the start of the game and mergers are the ONLY way you can get more money for further investment. It’s really easy to find yourself high and dry with stacks of shares but not a penny to spend – and it WILL happen. Eventually though, mergers will occur: the larger company eats up the smaller one, then investors in the soon-to-be defunct concern will get some much needed money. Maybe.
The two players with the most shares get a bonus payout, as if they were the president and vice-president. Then (beginning with the player who instigated the merger) you go round the table and decide what to do with your shares. You can either:
- Sell your shares, the value of which is determined by the size of the company pre-merger.
- Trade them in, two for one, for shares in the newly-massive company.
- Keep them in the hope that the company may be relaunched at some future time.
You can do any combination of the three options, each one having good and bad points. Getting money is always important, of course – without it, you’re stuck and can’t keep investing. However, it can sometimes be a good idea to perhaps keep a couple of shares back, especially early in the game when there’s a very good chance companies will rise from the ashes. The skill to getting ahead in Acquire is knowing when to switch strategies, pull the trigger and just go for cash. It’s the American dream in game form.
As play moves on, companies will get larger and larger. Once they get to eleven tiles in size, they’re declared “safe” and can’t be taken over, but can still devour the opposition. The game can end in one of two ways: either when all companies on the board are safe and no more tiles can be legally placed, or when one company gets to forty-one tiles or more. It’s down to the active player to call the game as over – they then get to finish their turn, and it’s followed by a mass payout session. Every active company is dealt with as it would be during the game, with money going to the president and VP, then all shares get sold.
I’ve been playing Acquire for a few years now and every game has been different. It’s got to be said I prefer the free-for-all massacres of five and six player games, but it really doesn’t matter how many people you have sitting around that table. Each time is a different experience even though the gameplay remains constant – the tiles will always be placed, the mergers will always happen, but the story is always changing.
The drawing of the tiles are Sackson’s only nod to randomness, emulating the fickle nature of business; sometimes the game just won’t go your way, but you should still be able to stay in with a shout through clever share purchases. Obviously life is a bit easier if you’re triggering mergers yourself, but you can still end up as the winner despite not ever being the majority shareholder in any company.
Acquire is a game that rewards careful, clever play – but it also requires an investment of time. It’s truly a game that improves with experience, maturing as you play more and more, learning when to merge companies and – often more importantly – when to hold off. Choosing to play with secret information adds yet another level to the game: keeping your shares and cash under wraps brings in the need for a good memory, but that’s really for those who enjoy a more masochistic time amongst friends. Keep it simple for your early plays. There’ll be plenty of time for pain later on.
Having been around for so long, Acquire has been available from many producers and in plenty of different versions. I’m far from a game snob – they exist to be played, not to be kept in a safe – but for me, you’ve got to play the Avalon Hill / Hasbro version released in 1999. It’s an explosion of multi-coloured plastic brilliance, a beautifully over-produced tribute to one of the finest games ever made. The latest version, all cardboard chits and (comparatively) understated design just doesn’t feel the same despite the fact everything’s exactly the same under the hood.
Acquire, to reiterate, is fifty years old this year. Despite its age, I honestly believe it’s one of the greatest games of all time and it deserves its legendary status. I also think it would be a fitting tribute for Hasbro to release a beautifully realised fiftieth anniversary edition of the game, with a production quality that lives up to how good this game is. Something that Sid Sackson would be truly proud of.
The campaign starts here.
For more information on Acquire, I heartily recommend listening to Ryan Sturm’s excellent How to Play Podcast. Episode 28 covers this often overlooked masterpiece and Ryan really explains the strategies behind the game in detail – check it out for yourself on iTunes or at http://howtoplaypodcast.com/episodes/episodes-21-30/episode-28-acquire/